Bullet for my Valentine on stage at Download Pilot 2021

Download Pilot festival 2021: we head to the UK festival test

Government sanctioned, last weekend’s three day Download Pilot festival was a huge success, but maybe not in ways officially envisaged.

A trial designed to ascertain the viability of live music music events, attendance at the annual metal fest had been scaled back from 100,000 to just 10,000.

The format followed similar live music events in Liverpool in April and May – club nights on April 30 and May 1, and a mini-festival in Liverpool’s Sefton Park headlined by Blossoms. Data gathered at these Covid experiments confirmed no significant spread of the disease.

Ticket holders to the Download Pilot, held in Donington Park, were required to take both a PCR test and a lateral flow test on the first day of the event, followed by a second PCR test afterwards. 

Saint Agnes on stage at Download during the sound check

Once inside the festival ground, there was no requirement to wear masks or socially distance. Crowd surfing and moshing were positively encouraged. The general consensus was you’d more likely catch something from the loos than fellow festival goers.

With no international acts participating because of travel restrictions, the three day bill comprised British bands only. This provided a unique opportunity for home grown talent to shine on the  hallowed Download stage.

Headlining Download Pilot were Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, Enter Shikari and Bullet for my Valentine.

Pulled together at short notice, organisers Festival Republic reported a loss to stage the event.  However, band after band expressed their relief at playing live before an audience again. The crowd was similarly euphoric.

Show opener Carter delivered a blistering set of spiteful rock ‘n’ roll, with help from guests Cassyette, singer Lynks and Idles’ Joe Talbot. Those not fully committed to his cause were won over by a sensational cover of Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’. The benchmark had been set high.

Saturday headliners Enter Shikari were altogether rustier, struggling to maintain the momentum of While She Sleeps, who paved the way before them with a slick set of power chord bangers.

Bullet for my Valentine closed the show on Sunday with a polished collection of hard rock anthems. There was precious little crowd banter, just a barrage of juicy cuts – ‘Tears Don’t Fall’, ‘The Last Fight’ and ‘Scream Aim Fire’ grow exponentially played live. Skindred’s Benji Webbe joined for a cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘Run for the Hills’. He read the lyrics from a scrap of paper, got the chorus wrong, but it didn’t matter. Festivals are made for moments like this.

Static Dress on stage while security staff wear masks

Download Pilot saw New Emo rising: upcoming bands generating a buzz included Wargasm, Neck Deep (who needs Californian Skate Punk when we have our own from Wrexham?), Leeds-based Static Dress (pictured above), and St Alban’s brawny Trash Boat, who delivered a muscular cover of Linkin Park’s ‘Given up’.

Leading this pack though were second stage headliners Creeper (pictured below). Think MCR via Meatloaf; theatrical pop punk with perfect hooks. Vocalist Will Gould was almost moved to tears as the crowd sang along to their set, word perfect. 

Progenitors A claimed the Saturday afternoon main stage, with a perfectly executed collection of Nu Metal (‘Nothing’) and zippy pop (‘Starbucks’). Singer Jason Perry arrived in full Deliveroo garb, complete with backpack. We’re left to guess why: had he just clocked off from his day job? Having ascertained a sizeable percentage of the crowd were double jabbed, he initiated an ‘age appropriate’ circle pit, which involves a large percentage of the crowd taking a leisurely stroll.

Lancaster riff-monsters Massive Wagons were so loud they nearly demolished the nearby fish and chips stand, while Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls delivered a feel-good collection of singalong anthems for their second stage headlining slot. The singer-songwriter seemed to fret over his metal credentials. He needn’t have worried, as the circle pit turned into a conga line.

If you really wanted to see credibility metal stretched, look no further than Elvana – an Elvis Presley/ Nirvana tribute act (“we come from Disgraceland!”) which was as bonkers as it sounds.

But great bands kept on coming: Those Damn Crows, Saint Agnes, Vukovi, and more. Chubby and the Gang, who belt out freshly baked old school punk rock, hail from West London. Frontman Charlie steadied himself with a bottle of Jack Daniels throughout, seemingly unable to comprehend he was played to the Download massive – and it was glorious.

Creeper on stage at Download Pilot festival

Download Pilot may have been downscaled, almost intimate (if you don’t count the trudge from car park to overcrowded field) but it felt blissfully authentic. The weather was awful, turning circle pits into muddy circle slips, and the crowd were positively gleeful. Crowd surfers poured like lemmings over the security barriers.

“I’ve hurt me ribs…” moaned a burly bearded guy holding his side, dressed as Snow White.

Most importantly, the hastily assembled bill proved a superb showcase for UK bands and artists, who having been benched for 18 months, and with only a few weeks to prepare, delivered career defining sets. 

Download festival returns June 10-12 2022.