Well, that was emotional!
After the last 18 months of hell, no festival last year and the possibility that it may not happen again this year had there been any extension in lockdown rules, Bloodstock Open Air finally opened its gates and welcomed the whole family back for a truly unforgettable celebration for its delayed 20th anniversary.
Fans piled into the site on Wednesday with a feral excitement to experience their first festival in two years and the emotion was clear to see across everybody’s unmasked faces. With Covid affecting everyone for the last 2 years it was incredible to see people enjoying themselves with a carefree abandon for once.
Covid’s only influence was on the line-up, with a handful of bands unable to turn up and play, but the ones that were able to step in for them both showed up and stepped up and although it must have been frustrating for those bands that had their plans ruined everything went off smoothly.
Thursday saw the opportunity to see bands on both the New Blood and S.O.P.H.I.E. stages with some incredible sets from the likes of Slavesteel and Northern Ireland’s The Crawling. The standout though was Punk Rock Factory who, standing in for Hacktivist, brought some high energy punk rock versions of classic TV and film themes. Seeing a tent full of gnarly metalheads singing along to hits from Frozen or Moana is by far one of the best things you could ever witness.
Friday got off to a great start with Foetal Juice opening the main stage with a bang, but it wasn’t until the early afternoon in the blazing heat that things really livened up with UK thrash legends Acid Reign taking the stage. They suffered a few technical issues but made the most of it with frontman H cracking jokes and entertaining the crowd who lapped it all up.
The disappointment of hearing that Loathe had been forced to pull out was clear, but it didn’t last long as Leeds hardcore group Higher Power took to the stage. They were a revelation. On the surface they seem a bit cool and edgy for Bloodstock but they absolutely nailed their set and made a lot of new fans. “It’s good to be back in a field with a bunch of freaks like ourselves.” stated mischievous frontman Jimmy Wizard.
From there on out it was pretty much just one big party.
The sun was shining, the beers flowing, and it was the perfect time for The Wildhearts to take the stage. They all looked like they were having an absolute blast as they belted out riff after riff with the classics like Everlone, I Wanna Go Where the People Go and Caffeine Bomb causing absolute chaos in the crowd. After the technical glitches that scuppered their Download Pilot set this felt like a bit of redemption – not that they need it – but they must have been gutted with what happened at Donington so absolutely smashing their set and getting an amazing response must’ve felt great.
There are not many bands that can follow a Wildhearts set like the one they played, but if anyone can Skindred can, and they absolutely smashed it outta the park. Benji’s incredible stage outfit wasn’t the only thing that was on fire the whole band were, and who can’t love the spectacle of the Newport Helicopter? Their whole show is built around celebrating music and getting the crowd bouncing and it went off big time from the moment Darth Vader led Benji on to the stage until they left with Warning ringing in everyone’s ears, but the beautifully poignant Saying it Now was a big highlight of the set.
It appears that Devin Townsend has made the biggest sacrifice to be able to play this show, having come to the UK very early, quarantined right up to the event and only played one warm-up show with the hired guns he’d only met in real life the day before. He played an epic career spanning by request set list chosen by fans, that had the level of insanity you’d expect from a man who’d been holed up in a Manchester hotel room for the last 14 days.
As Devin said his year’s been a little weird but brass wielding Gorillas, a drumming elephant and a guitar battle with Ziltoid the Omniscient didn’t seem out of place at all in the bonkers world of Devin. A beautiful touch to close the show saw Devin present the BOA organisers a special birthday cake.
Saturday was skewed to the heavier more extreme side of things and openers Borstal, playing their first ever show, got things off to a brilliant start. They sounded brutal and will be one to look out for. Wargasm were a late call-up to fill in for Jinjer and were due to play on the Sunday but helped by playing early on Saturday. They brought a bagful of exuberance to the stage and were enjoyable with a fresh and energetic set.
The energy was taken up several hundred notches when While She Sleeps brought a headliners stage show to their afternoon set. They absolutely pummelled the audience for nearly an hour. You’d never know frontman Loz was suffering the after-effects of Covid as he launched himself around the stage, into the crowd and ultimately up the sound tower at the back of the arena. An incredible set that staked a claim for them to return much higher up the bill in the future.
The amazing thing about Bloodstock is how well they support new music and dedicate a whole stage to it. Add to that the willingness of the audience to discover new music and you’ll always find it full, and you always find a new favourite band somewhere across the weekend. Hawxx have to be right up there for a lot of people as they absolutely killed it with their mid-afternoon set.
Paradise Lost delivered a flawless production of their 1995 album Draconian Times which was all the more impressive as Nick Holmes apparently had a local taxi driver talking in his ear throughout the set.
Headliners Kreator were the epitomy of German efficiency giving the main stage an absolute kicking with their ‘ein-zwei-drie’ count ins and classic thrash bangers. A touching tribute to all the fallen rockers from the last year was a beautiful touch and a cameo from Dani Filth for Betrayer was another highlight.
Sunday saw many of the band’s anniversaries coinciding with Bloodstock 20th anniversary. Orange Goblin who played the very first BOA Festival celebrating 25 years, Saxon 40, and headliners Judas Priest their golden 50th and even with a downpour during Saxon’s set the atmosphere never dampened. As Vicky said to me, she thought the weather had been the main headliner as it had been glorious all weekend.
The start of Sunday was a wonderful way to begin the day with a set of relaxing Viking music played on traditional instruments as the trio were joined by some painted ladies for a low-key fire display. A perfect start to the final day of the festival.
Nobody in the whole festival site across the 5 days looked as excited to be back as Orange Goblin’s giant frontman Ben Ward. They brought the groove to Catton Park and looked like they were having fun doing it. They are the kind of band you need to buy 6 pints to keep with you so you don’t have to visit the bar while they’re on.
Living legend Brian Blessed appeared on the main stage to introduce Saxon and really got the crowd going with just 2 words… Gordon’s aliiiiiiive! It looked like he was a bit taken aback by the response of the BOA crowd but the love they showed him unbelievably drowned him out. Launching into a bit of Shakespeare he hilariously started to leave the stage forgetting to introduce Saxon but quickly made amends.
Biff Byford has felt this good since his first shag apparently, but BOA stalwarts Saxon celebrated their 40th anniversary in magnificent style by rolling out the hits. Wheels of Steel was accompanied by the wonderful sight of a wheelchair crowd surfer and they closed the set with 747 and Princess of the Night, but in between they rolled back the years and looked like band enjoy every single moment of their time on stage.
Judas Priest’s 2018 headline set at Bloodstock was their last UK show, and truthfully, looking back it was a bit lacklustre. Tonight’s return was far from that. The band and Rob Halford in particular looked to be far more up for it than before and they delivered a set of unexpected deep cuts and classics with opener One Shot at Glory never having been played live before.
Resplendent in gold studded black leather Rob stalked the stage and interacted with the crowd, who were delighted. It was a set that showed everyone exactly why they are metal legends with 50 years under their bullet belts.
Bloodstock 2021 was like starving yourself for a week then going ham on the all-you-can-eat buffet. It was more the fact that it happened than what happened, and it’s probably true that you could have dropped the same 20,000 people in a field with no music and they would still have had a massive blowout on their own, but Bloodstock is all about family and this reunion, however long it took to bring together, was a total success. Pandemic schmandemic this was a fandemic.
Massive shout outs must go to all the organisers. Vicky Hungerford, Adam Gregory and their whole team from top to bottom put on a spectacle that meant so much more to people than it would have at any other time.
Plans are already full steam ahead for next year’s gathering, with headliners Mercyful Fate, and Lamb of God already announced. We will see you on the battlefield once again for yet another celebration of heavy culture.
To see a full gallery from an extraordinary weekend click here