Saturday, January 03, 2009

Castle Keeper

Not long ago, Umlaut was going through his old albums (Note for the kids: I'm referring to VINYL... not CDs... and I wasn't scrolling through my iTunes playlist..) and in the course of my vinyl flipping, I came across an album I'd forgotten about:

Castle Donnington - Monsters Of Rock
Various Artists
Polydor Records (PD 1-6311 - 1980)

To use that Music Geek cliché: This album changed my life.

In 1981 I was just becoming aware of a whole world of Hard Rock bands that were not being played on the local FM Rock radio stations. The majority of these bands were from Europe and I had started reading about them in imported music magazines that the local Tower Records would get from England. One afternoon I rode my bike to the local Record Factory for my weekly visit.

(Note for the kids: In those pre-Internet days you had to physically visit what were called "record stores" to see what new "albums" had been released.. Yes, it required a lot of work to be a Music Geek in those ancient times.)

On that fateful day, the Castle Donnington album caught my eye in the racks; it featured recordings from a huge August 1980 outdoor concert in England. A couple of the bands featured were ones I'd either read about or who I'd recently heard for the first time. The track listing of the album ran like this:

Side 1:
Stargazer - Rainbow

Loving You Sunday Morning - Scorpions

Another Piece Of Meat - Scorpions

Backs To The Wall - Saxon

Side 2:

All Night Long - Rainbow

I Like To Rock - April Wine

Don't Ya Know What Love Is? - Touch

Road Racin' - Riot

Saxon was one of those bands that I'd read about in the English magazines.. Rainbow and the Scorpions had some radio airplay, but this was still a good year or more before the Scorps broke big in the U.S... and I had seen April Wine at the San Jose Civic on The Nature Of The Beast Tour ('Sign Of The Gypsy Queen'..). I would soon become acquainted with Riot from listening to their track (which was followed by the release in '81 of their classic album Fire Down Under..)... and I had no clue who Touch were and I still don't! Once I got the album home, I played air guitar quite heavily to it over the next several weeks, especially to the Scorpions and Saxon tracks.

However, I was more intrigued by the album cover than the music... I couldn't stop staring at the aerial shots of the concert site on the album's cover. Holy shit!! Look at the size of that crowd! Where the hell is that place?!

At that time I'd been to around 5 or 6 concerts in my short life (Blue Öyster Cult, Cheap Trick, The Who, Van Halen..) but the concert on the cover looked like nothing I'd experienced. I had been to a couple of Day On The Green festivals within the confines of Oakland Stadium, but the concert on the album looked like it was in the middle of nowhere! It looked like Woodstock, but it wasn't a fucking Hippie concert!

The album's cover got my imagination spinning: What had it been like to BE in that huge, sprawling crowd? How did people GET to that concert?? What was ENGLAND like?? Will I ever VISIT England?? THAT many people KNOW about these bands?? The picture on the back cover showing a British Bobby directing concert traffic on a English country road only added to the foreign intrigue of the album for me.

The Castle Donnington album changed my life because it helped me realize there was a whole other world of bands and other fans far away from my bedroom in the S.F. Bay Area suburbs... It made me want to find out and explore this other world of loud music... to hear those loud foreign bands... to visit those foreign lands... to meet those foreign people who also liked loud music.. and eventually I did all of those things. It set into motion my attitude about music in general; while this space tends to rant about Hard Rock / Metal, you might be surprised by the reality of Umlaut's music collection here in the 21st Century. For those who give a shit, I'm listening to that last CD by The Kills as I type this...

Anyway, I later learned that Judas Priest had also played that 1980 Castle Donington concert but had not been included on the album; BUMMER. A year or so after buying the Donnington album, a penpal in England traded me his copy of the concert's program (I think I sent him a Van Halen tour program in return), so I was able to experience the event vicariously via the merchandise. Better late than never!

As far as I know the Castle Donnington album hasn't been reissued on CD... but I could be wrong. However, Saxon's complete performance from that day was issued on CD in 1997.

Click HERE for some eyewitness accounts of Castle Donington 1980... and if I'd seen this footage back in 1980 my teenage brain might have exploded along with Ritchie Blackmore's amp...

Rainbow > Ritchie Blackmore > Smashed Strat > Exploding Amp > Fireworks
Castle Donington 1980

After all these years, I JUST noticed that they misspelled Castle Donington on the album cover! Funny...