Graspop 2008 – Day 1

We’d arranged to meet Marina outside the festival campsite around 11:30, so we had plenty of time to grab some food and get packed. The train station is only a short walk up the road from the hostel and within 20 minutes we were sat on a train (filled with long-haired people in black clothes) heading north.

One quick change and second train pulled into Mol on time for us to run straight onto a shuttle bus to Dessel. This year, even those with e-tickets (like us) qualified for free transport within Belgium. A superb addition to an already well-organised festival.

So there we were, bang on time… and no sign of Marina who’d got there the night before. I tried to SMS her and got no reply. Tried to blip her phone… and she picked up just as I was cancelling my call. Then I ran out of credit. Grargh.

Finally, after an hour, she located us. She’d been waiting at the wrong bus stop. As this is my blog, it is therefore all Marina’s fault. So there. Regardless, we all (Dave, Pete, Marina, Hans and I) walked through to the campsite. This year, no annoying rummaging in rucksacks by security staff looking for gas canisters or bottles. We felt trusted. Also no need to change our e-tickets as yet. We could get settled and do that later – again, an improvement on previous years.

Marina had brought a big tent with her, enough room for her and Dave in one segment and the rest of us in another, plus all our luggage. Not a bad spot either, round the back end of one of the shower blocks and with some Germans next door having moderate success with their “Show boobs for beer (pretty ladys only)” (sic) sign.

Hans wanted to catch as many bands as possible over the weekend, so we dropped him off at the festival area while we walked into town for a beer and some shopping (which may have involved more beer…). The first supermarket we arrived at was all out of beer, except for that in bottles which isn’t allowed onto the campsite. Fortunately, there’s another supermarket in Dessel so we made our way round to that one.

Armed with two crates of Jupiler and some munchies, we stepped out into the sunshine to begin the walk back to the site. A BMW with a very attractive young woman in it pulled up and asked uus how to get to Graspop (twice – the first time in Dutch). We volunteered directions then Dave stuck in “if you’re heading that way, any chance of a lift?”

Cheeky. But it worked. She drove us about half way as she had to detour to collect some kit for the stall she was working at. So “thank you” mystery lady! At the entry to the festival area, I handed my stuff over to the others and went in to find Hans as we were running late. This also saved me carrying all that beer back to the tent. Convenient.

I caught up with Hans outside the Belgacom tent, where free internet was on offer. He’d seen Tesla (not so good) and Behemoth. While we were stood around, Yngwie Malsteen insulted our eardrums until Saxon came on and pretty much rocked the place. Not bad for some old guys who’ve been playing since I was three, and much better than I was expecting. Sadly no Ride Like The Wind, though – it’s the only song by them I know.

The others hadn’t appeared by the time Saxon finished and we wanted food and beer, so opted to walk back to the tent. We picked up some grub from one of the local houses that had become a cafeteria for the weekend then strolled into the campsite. Where we couldn’t find the damn tent. Anywhere. And we were missing Def Leppard. So not all bad, then.

We gave up after a while and walked back to the festival site where we found the others before running into Marquee 1 for Testament. I’ve been waiting to see these guys for many years and they didn’t disappoint, although the sound quality wasn’t great. I can now say that I’ve moshed and crowdsurfed to every one of the major Bay Area thrash bands. Finally. I can also say that I destroyed my £7 trousers which I’d hoped would last me all weekend. Small price to pay.

We met up with the rest again, and Marina offered to take me to the tent to grab some beers. It meant missing Whitesnake, but hey ho. There were better bands on over the weekend. It turns out that the tent had been moved from where it was originally which why Hans and I couldn’t find it – not our fault at all [may contain traces of outright fib].

Beered and snacked up, we walked back to the music area in time to hear the ending notes of Still of the Night. We split up as we wanted to see different bands in the tents. Hans headed in the direction of Marquee 2 for Morbid Angel while Dave and I went to see Ministry. I have to say that if this really is their last tour then it’s a hell of a loss to live music. Hans wasn’t so impressed when he came in halfway through (he got bored of Morbid Angel), but Dave certainly liked them.

And on to the headliner of the evening – Judas Priest. Currently touring on a huge concept double-album, it was always going to be a worry that there was too much new stuff. And also that frontman Rob Halford is 56. Soundwise, they were superb. Note perfect and Rob’s vocals are as good as they ever were. Atmospheric on the new songs, melodic on “Angel of Destiny” and screamy as you could wish for on “Painkiller”.

However… physically, he’s definitely struggling. Most of the set, he was sat down or singing entire songs while bent double. When he did move, it was very slowly as if he was struggling to gain any momentum.

Overall, not a bad performance and a decent mix of tracks including most of the old favourites. A small crowd for a headliner, though. Still very enjoyable.

The walk back to the campsite was aided by the secondary exit put into the festival area, so no bottlenecks as in previous years. We were all pretty much pooched after the hot weather and milling around so we had a comparitively early night. And again I was glad for my earplugs. No car horns, but several hundred stereos and several thousand drunk metalheads singing and screaming into the night.

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