With the festival’s last day rolling around, it’s unsurprising that energy levels seem to be dipping a little. There are almost as many people sitting in camp chairs and nursing a coffee or the infamous hair of the dog brew as there are inside the tent for today’s first band.
Static Dress have a tough job on their hand to liven up this crowd, but “Sweet” and “Safeword” do an admirable job. A little bit of crowd interaction might have helped, but the band seems to want to take every moment to win people over with their music. Not a bad way to start a Sunday morning!
Moving over to the main stage, it’s Saint Agne’s turn to light up the morning. Unfortunately, the rain has other ideas making an already tired crowd even more subdued. But, not to be deterred, frontwomen Kitty Austin is punk rock distilled, kicking amps, throwing guitars, coating herself in blood and singing her heart out so furiously that it’s hard not to be worried about her vocal cords. It’s a great set that I can’t help but feel would have gone down better at any other time.
After a surprise guest appearance during Frank Carter’s Friday set, it’s time for Cassyette to show us what she’s made of. Turns out that’s quite a lot of things with pop, rock and nu-metal all bleeding through. She’s also got an incredible voice, definitely a woman you want to keep on your radar.
Employed To Serve bring us back to more familiar territory with their unbridled ferocity, once again opening up the pits and injecting life back into the moshers. But, while their back catalogue is impressive, it’s the new track played today from their unreleased fourth album that stands out. If it’s any indication of the rest of the album, it’s going to be killer.
With a name like Chubby and the Gang, you would be forgiven for expecting something lighthearted and amusing. But, instead, we’re transported back to the glory when Punk rock was still punk. Vocalist Charlie Manning-Walker can lovingly be described as a gruff singer (he’s also not at all chubby). However, some would argue completely incomprehensible is more accurate. Somehow this only adds to the charm. It’s a roaring good time, but they lack a unique enough sound to be exceptional.
I’ve wanted to see Loathe for a long time, and last year’s incredible album “I Let It In And It Took Everything” was one of my most loved of 2020. It’s a shame then that sound issues once again reared up, dissolving the many-layered nuances of half their songs into blurry messes and occasionally making frontman Kadeem France’s fantastic clean vocals almost inaudible. Despite that, hearing Loathe live is one hell of an experience, with Two-Way Mirror, in particular, one of the best performances of the festival. This is a band that’s going places, and I’m sure we’ll get the chance to hear them again at Download Festival in all their glory.
Higher Power channel the mid 90’s melding influences from all over the place, including grunge, alt-rock and the occasional sprinkle of more experiential bands such as Deftones and Incubus. As this is the kind of music that I grew up with, I couldn’t help but love it despite not listening to them before the show. It seemed like the band were having a great time with permanent grins plastered on their faces. Closer “Seamless” is an excellent encompassment of their various styles, and I’d recommend checking it out if you’re even the tiniest bit curious. Good stuff.
Lonely The Brave’s easy-to-digest anthemic rock provide a nice palate cleanser as the afternoon draws in; even the sun attempts a quick peek out from behind the clouds. Vocalist Jack Bennett elevates the somewhat generic music; his voice radiates emotion and elevates the songs above the sum of their parts.
Moving back to the tent, it’s time for an eccentric treat. Jamie Lenman is one talented individual. He manages to make the audience laugh more than some comedians while simultaneously crashing through a blistering set. It’s an eclectic bunch of songs that somehow coalescences into being a damn good time. If you see this man on the lineup in the future, do yourself a favour and don’t skip it!
Elvana are a strange band. Have you ever wondered what Nirvana would sound like if they were fronted by someone trying to do an Elvis impression that sounds more like Nicolas Cage and Mathew Matthew McConaughey had a lovechild? If so, Elvana are the answer to your dreams. While they perform the songs quite well, the gimmick strips them of their emotional power. It seems a little strange that a slot this high in the billing on the main stage wasn’t given to a band with their own material. Still, they’re a good laugh and sometimes that’s all you need.
Massive Wagons are a band that belongs at a festival. “In It Together” and “Freak Show” are songs that are best experienced surrounded by a few thousand drunk and sweaty rockers having a good time. Frontman Baz Mills is a riot, and he’s seen get people eating out of the palm of his hand. It’s hard not to smile when you’re involved in a giant sing-along about curry.
Continuing the good-time vibes, next up are The Wildhearts. Having been around since the late 80’s they are something of a staple in the festival scene. Sadly it seems sound issues are once again causing problems. However, from my perspective, whatever issues they were having didn’t impact the audience. However, well before their allotted time, it seems Ginger has had enough announcing that the show was “a waste of time” and going offstage. A perplexed crowd waited a while to see if the band would return, but with no sign, fans left disappointed.
It’s incredible that the crowd still has energy for Trash Boat with the non-stop barrage of music courtesy of Download’s two-stage set-up. Somehow the momentum only seems to continue throughout their set with songs such as “Silence Is Golden” and “Synthetic Sympathy”, inspiring mass crowd surfing and spontaneous moshing. Adding to that is a stirring tribute to the late Chester Bennington with a cover of Linkin Park’s “Given Up”.
I’ve never seen a Skindred show that was less than amazing, and tonight is no different. Benji Webbe is a legendary frontman at this point. Despite theatrics such as the shirt swinging Newport helicopter being well worn by now, it’s impossible not to be enthusiastic. I’ve long expected to see Skindred headlining Download one day; sadly, their breakthrough album needed to reach that stage hasn’t materialized just yet. So many great bands are playing this weekend, but no one can compete on pure fun.
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls are sadly the only band I didn’t manage to catch this weekend. Still, I haven’t heard a single bad thing said about their set, which is unsurprisingly considered the mans history of sold-out arena shows.
With the weekend drawing to a close, it was time for Bullet For My Valentine to leave a lasting impression. The band have made no secret of their desire to headline Download, and while I’m sure they would have preferred to have won the slot in better circumstances, they more than prove their worthiness. Songs such as “Scream Aim Fire” and “Hand of Blood” reverberate with power, while “The Last Fight” and “Tears Don’t Fall” provide an emotional connection. Benji Webbe also briefly joins the band for a slightly squiffy but brilliantly memorable rendition of Iron Maiden’s “Run For The Hills.” Here’s hoping it won’t be long until live music is once again commonplace. Still, if it isn’t, Bullet For My Valentine put on a show that’s worth remembering.
This year’s Pilot Festival was an incredible success. The only disappointments were an occasional sound issue and the extortionate pricing of food and drink. It’s truly impressive that everyone involved managed to put on a festival on this scale in the current climate. Despite at least sixteen months passing since the last time, live music was a thing it felt like not a second has passed. For a brief moment, all was how it should be in the hallowed ground of Donnington.