Day one of Download Festival, over recent years has definitely been moving towards the arena of the classic/hard rock, see previous headliners of Ac/Dc(2010), Def Leppard(2009) & Kiss(2008). Again in 2011 we find another cracking Friday lineup which I could not resist. I had to be here!

CKY

After the substantial journey up from London town, I took up the position I’d be in most of the day, down front on the main stage for the arrival of the skate born, alt-hard rock band CKY. A surprisingly large crowd had gathered and we were not disappointed, as they plundered out wah soaked hard rock riffs with graceful efficiency. The seeming endless barrage of melodies were both catchy and had most of the crowd leaping/banging head like there’s no tomorrow. The standout tune had to be the epic guitar riffed 96 Quite Bitter Beings which sparked the days first circle pit, bodies literally flew in all directions. A cracking opening to what was to be a legendary day.

Puddle Of Mudd

In a bit of a throwback to my younger days, Puddle of Mudd emerged to a much more youthful (and tightly packed) crowd. You would not have guessed they had been away from the UK shores for 10 years, support seems as eager as ever. Playing the best of their early album’s which had so much commercial success, lead singer Wes Scantlin let fly his nasally snarls led by some crunching post-grunge guitars. The biggest roars came with an Ac/Dc cover TNT and their love/hate ballad She Hates Me which had the biggest vocal backing of the afternoon thus far. Yet, they did not play Blurry, a song a lot of people had come to hear. Whether a timing issue was to blame, I dunno? But this soured the performance as they trundled off stage to an unsatisfied chorus of “blurry, blurry, blurry...”.

Young Guns

A short hike back up the arena I managed to catch the end of the Young Guns set on the second stage. They seemed very engaged with the crowd, trying to start a teenage riot with multiple calls of “I want you to go crazy to this one”. From the back It was hard to see what the fuss was about. Clean and scream vocals mixed up well in their post-hardcore melodies many of which were pretty cool, but nothing of distinction sets them apart. 10/10 for effort in pleasing the festival youth.

Duff McKagan

I returned to the main stage to catch the latter half of ex- Gun’s & Roses man Duff Mckagan and his band Loaded. It was clear nothing much had changed since the last time I saw them, still plugging away with sleazy punk slanted hard rock. Much of their original material was met with indifference despite a few catchy guitar and vocal hooks. The same cannot be said for their closing cover tune It’s So Easy. It’s always a pleasure to see a ex-Guns n’ Roses man playing classic material as if it was 1987 all over again.

Black Stone Cherry

Black Stone Cherry followed up next with a the set of the day so far! Full of southern Rock swagger and muscular guitar riffing so deep south it chills with the penguins. Set was comprised equally of from all three albums and mixed mid tempo rockers and all out hard hitting clout with effortless ease. Swinging from the latest  vocal wah (Sambora Stylie) driven single White Trash Millionaire to the  powerful chorus centric chanter Blind Man and the frenzied headbangers paradise on the Lonely Train. Despite these cracking tunes, there was an unexpected highlight…a cover version!

Heavy Metal Devil Horns out in force!

Taking a step aside from the usual hard rock covers they went all live lounge on our asses and pumped out a rocked up ‘Magic FM‘ listener friendly tune,, Adele’s Rolling In The Deep. An uplifting and very popular choice which had many a black clad, leather bound macho man singing his lungs out…this alone, provided a classic Download moment! A superb performance from a band totally fulfilling their potential!

Alter Bridge

Somehow four more bands had to grace this stage. First to try were the ex-Creed associates plus one of my favourite vocalists Myles Kennedy, as Alter Bridge picked up where BSC left off! Soaring heavy rock anthems are what these guys do best, hence it was not long before they kicked into belters such as Find The Real and Ties That Bind which spark sing-a-longs and circle pits in equal measure. There are not many bands who write songs as big as Alter Bridge. Mark Tremonti as ever was a total genius with his guitar this afternoon firing off shredded solos, chugging metal riffs and harmonious sweep picked melodies at will. His arrangements are probably the most badass and technically accomplished of any hard rock band on the planet. The key to their success is his partner in crime Myles, who not only had one of the iconic rock voices of modern times, but boy he can play guitar too. An axe battle ensued towards the end of the set with both corners trading powerful knockout blows. A mesmerizing display of virtuosity from both men…I call it a tie! The crowd absolutely reveled in what was a terribly uplifting set that stuck the middle finger up towards the falling rains plans to scupper the show.

Thin Lizzy

Up next I am proud to have witnessed one of the legendary bands of rock. Innovators of the dueling guitar solo, performers of live shows that have gone down in history and true classic rock icons…Thin Lizzy are back! Albeit with a roughly cobbled together lineup of ex-members and newbies, yet with original members Brian Downey and Scott Gorham providing the core of the sound, this was probably the closest I would ever get to their 70’s magic.

Special Guest…Def Leppards Vivian Campbell

It was a set packed with nostalgia and legendary tunes such as The Cowboy Song, Whiskey In The Jar, Jailbreak…(I could list every song)…and of course The Boys Are Back In Town. New lead singer Ricky Warwick was most definitely not on par with Phil Lynott but he did a good job of belting out the chorus and getting the crowd onside. With such a huge chunk of the former lineup(s) missing it was never going to recreate the magic, but it was as good a set of rock and roll classics you will ever likely to hear!

The Darkness

After Wednesdays encounters with tonight’s Sub Headliners still fresh in the rss feed, I’ll be brief. The Darkness did exactly what they do best, entertain! A huge portion of the crowd you could feel were willing them to be rubbish. Those were soon won over by jaunty pop rock numbers and some good old fashion showmanship from the moustached Hawkins. By far the most spectacular set of the day. Comprising of all the usual glitz of confetti, streamers and fireworks, with the surprising addition of giant flame throwers. You can’t fault them for trying to keep the crowd on their toes! I was having a whale of a time, but then it is The Darkness, they only know how to make the good times roll!

Nothing like a naked flame to warm the cockles

It was an agonising wait in the ever plummeting temperatures and drizzling rain for tonight’s headliners Def Leppard (ring, ring…2009 called, says they want their headliner back)! Only 2 years since they last graced the Donington stage, they were back for more stadium sized rock. Their sound can only be described as gigantic. You really can feel with every beat of the drum skin, every hi-hat smash and every massive power chord. Yet it is so melodically balanced, making their pop rock classics sound great! To be honest I hadn’t been expecting much,  but with each passing intro I kept thinking…damn I know this!

Def Leppard

With an arsenal packed with livewire rockers and a bursting heart full of soppy ballads this was the finest show of pop metal outside 1984. Tunes such as Animal, Rocket, Two Steps Behind and Pour Some Sugar On Me ignited my Def Leppard flame which had long been extinguished. They turned in a superb performance, one absolutely worthy of their Headliner status.

Acoustic Time

With jubilation at what was one of the best days of rock I’ve seen and sadness that it was all over, I trekked back out the front gates and back down the M1…singing Def Leppard tunes all the way home at the top of my very weary lungs!