9th Dec, 2016

Favourite place: Rocking out at Donington Park

Stratford Editorial 24th Dec, 2015 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

ITS about this time of year many of us start dreaming of distant shores and summer holidays.

In recent years the ‘staycation’ has become popular with many opting to forgo jetting off abroad in favour of a destination closer to home.

They say travel broadens the mind. True – but you don’t necessarily need to travel thousands of miles to find that special somewhere. All of us have been to a place which has struck a chord for one reason or another, the memory of which stays with us for a variety of reasons – as our reporting team discovered when they pondered on a place which meant something to them.

Andy Morris rocks.

DONINGTON Park won’t inspire any great poetry or artworks. Its intermittently muddy rolling hillsides and fields, linked by pathways and power cables, are practical rather than picturesque. Boasting no monuments or attractions, its main claim to fame as a motorsport circuit will be lost on most. And yet for one long weekend each year, there’s no place like it.

Because to many, it is synonymous with loud guitars, earthquake basslines and machine-gun percussion. For one weekend each year, the Download Festival transforms it into the UK’s unofficial home of rock and metal music. And – at the risk of overstating what is a fundamentally trivial gathering – that means far more than just high-decibel drinking. Although it would be churlish to suggest that this isn’t central to the, ahem, ‘experience’.

There is a legacy. During the big-haired, tight-trousered 1980s heyday of heavy metal, when the site was better (and somehow more appropriately) known as Castle Donington, the Monsters of Rock festival reigned supreme before fizzling out in the mid-90s when the joke started to wear thin.

But – as genre cheerleader and occasional Donington crowd-pleaser Jack Black has tunefully noted – no one can destroy The Metal; The Metal will strike you down with a vicious blow. And so, alongside rock’s 21st century revamp, came Download.

The event comes with a unique sense of carefree abandon; an unspoken contract that the usual rules on behaviour and boundaries no longer apply. An understanding that this is a place where you can high-five a passing stranger, playfully slag off their favourite band, and even accidentally spill their pint without fear of tension.

There’s a mutual acceptance of the joke; it remains a genre of unabashed melodrama. When the likes of Iron Maiden or Rammstein take to a stage ablaze with pyrotechnics and giant skulls, nobody’s stroking their chin searching for subtext; they’re throwing themselves around like a delirious child in an inappropriately-themed soft play centre.

It is a place where a band by the name of Evil Scarecrow can spark mock worship and hilarity among an audience of mainly butch tattooed men by introducing their absurd papier-mache half-man, half-crab mascot Crabulon to the stage. Ridiculous? Emphatically, joyously so.

Like the notion of serving bacon with pancakes and maple syrup, it just shouldn’t work: parachute any random sample of 70,000 people into this muddy melee and bemusement would reign. But to the initiated – the people who are in on the joke – its a gleefully cathartic excuse to ignore day-to-day expectations about How To Behave In Public.

Maybe it’s not about where you are, but who you take with you.