The UK’s Monsters Of Rock was the first and most famous hard rock and heavy metal festival. Held near the town of Castle Donington between 1980 and 1996, it was headlined by everyone from Rainbow and ZZ Top to Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden and three-time bill-toppers AC/DC.
The Australian rock icons headlined the festival for the first time on August 22, 1981, at the very end of their Back In Black tour. Also on the bill were Whistesnake, glam rock yobs Slade, Southern rockers Blackfoot and cult British band More. And then there was Blue Öyster Cult, third on the bill. But what should have been a triumphant day for the US rockers turned into an absolute disaster – and sparked a one-sided war of words with AD/DC in the process.
It should have been a walk in the park for BÖC. The New Yorkers were on an upswing at the time. The recently released Fire Of Unknown Origin album had put them back on track after a recent career dip, with the single Burnin’ For You giving them their biggest US hit since (Don’t Fear) The Reaper five years earlier.
But there was history between Blue Öyster Cult and AC/DC. In 1978, long before Back In Black turned Angus Young and co into one of the biggest bands on the planet, they had supported BÖC on an American tour. Speaking to Classic Rock in 2020, Blue Öyster Cult singer/guitarist Eric Bloom recalled that his band hadn’t allowed the opening band to use their full production. “They were pissed off at the time that they didn’t get all the lights and sound and whatever,” said Bloom.
But revenge is a dish best served cold. Come the Monsters Of Rock show, Bloom claims that someone in the AC/DC camp decided to turn the tables.
“They took it out on us at that festival,” Bloom told Classic Rock. “They wouldn’t allow me to ride a motorbike onstage, our soundman said the soundsystem had been sabotaged. We might as well have just played Reaper and got off, cos nobody could hear what we were doing.”
In the headliners’ defence, there was more going on than alleged sabotage. Blue Öyster Cult drummer Albert Bouchard had been fired a couple of days before the show, and his place was taken by their lighting engineer Rick Downey. Still, it was a less than stellar performance, with legendary rock journalist Malcolm Dome describing it as “wretched”.
The drama didn’t end there. To rub salt in the wound, Monsters Of Rock organiser Maurice Jones had commemorative plaques made of the festival poster and given one to each member of every band on the bill. Blue Öyster Cult were handed theirs after they came offstage.
Late Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden witnessed what happened next. “Blue Oyster Cult made a big scene outside their trailer,” Marsden told Classic Rock in 2020, “where two or three of them jumped up and down on their plaque: ‘We don't want this.’”
Eric Bloom didn’t deny this. The frontman remembers furiously putting the boot into his plaque until it shattered. “I was pissed off,” he told Classic Rock. “I took the plaque, laid it on a rock and called over every photographer in the place and said, ‘Here’s a good photograph for you.’ And I proceeded to stomp.”
The band were still seething long after they left Donington Park. “AD/DC shit on us,” Rick Downey told Artist magazine in 1983 (his eleventh hour Monsters Of Rock appearance bagged him the job of full-time drummer until 1985).
It’s not clear whether the two bands have made their peace in subsequent years, though Eric Bloom’s fellow guitarist/vocalist Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser did play at a benefit show in Florida with Brian Johnson back in 2005. Still, even if Blue Öyster Cult have forgiven their antagonists for the events of that day, it’s clear they’ve not forgotten. Speaking in the brand new issue of Classic Rock, Eric Bloom still harbours a grudge at their treatment at the hands of the headliners.
“That was a mess,” he says. “AC/DC just had it in for us.”