From titanic tyros to the final frontier, Motley Crue’s longstanding love affair with Donington will end on June 14, when they play for the last time at the Download Festival.
It began at the Monsters Of Rock Festival in 1984, when the Crue, then the hottest new name in rock, were the opening act on a day headlined by AC/DC and featuring Van Halen, Ozzy and Gary Moore. Seven years later, they were back, third on the bill to AC/DC (again!) and Metallica, joined by Queensyrche and The Black Crowes.
In 2007, they played for the first time at the Download Festival, headlining the second stage on the second day, while Linkin Park topped the bill on the main stage. Two years later, they were back on opening day, again headlining the second stage, with Faith No More doing the honours on the main.
This year, as the band continue their final tour, they will be special guests of Kiss on the main stage, completing a journey that started with them being regarded as unquenchably sybaritic headcases and ends with them hailed as untouchably entertaining showcasers. And no other band has played as often at Donington (across Monsters Of Rock and Download) without headlining the main stage. That itself makes them unique.
These are Vince Neil’s recollections on Motley’s 31-year Donington road trip.
“Oh, I have very vivid memories of that one. It was our first festival in Europe, and we were outta control kids back then. That was the time when we were into biting everyone. We’d run around, grab people and bite them. It didn’t matter who they were, or where we bit them! I actually bit Eddie Van Halen’s hand. He wasn’t happy at all!
“I also remember Nikki Sixx standing close to Malcolm Young. Now, Malcolm is really small, and Nikki is very big, especially in his platforms and with big hair. So you can imagine the contrast. Anyway, Malcolm must have said something nasty to Nikki, because the next thing I knew, Nikki had Malcolm by the throat and was lifting him off his feet against the wall! Great, we’re the openers and they’re the headliners. But we didn’t care about things like that.
“We were told beforehand that the opening band at Donington always get bottles thrown at them. So, I went on the stage wearing a hard hat, the sort you see on building sites. I didn’t care about image, I wasn’t gonna be an easy target for anyone. But we got nothing thrown at all. The crowd liked us, which was a relief. I know Nikki threw his bass into the crowd at the end of our set. I have no idea if he got it back.”
“That was during the Dr. Feelgood era. We were headlining almost everywhere else in the world, except here. And we’re on with AC/DC again! But the great thing is that AC/DC are so brilliant they never put a foot wrong. So, if you wanna live with them you have to up your game. That’s what they did for us in 1991. Made us realise that however great we thought we were at the time, we still had to get better just to try and compete with them.
“I think we had a great slot on the bill. The time we went on suited us, because the crowd were so up for us. Any later in the day and we might have lost our moment.”
“Everything had changed by the time we got back to Donington. It wasn’t Monsters Of Rock any more, but Download. Headlining the second stage was fine for us. Does it really matter whether you’re on that stage or the main one? You are still the day/s big attraction.
“Personally, I don’t like headlining at festivals, though. You’ve got people who’ve been there for eight hours or more, and by the time we went on they were tired out. We had to work extra hard to get a reaction. Going on late afternoon is ideal. Any earlier, and the fans aren’t warmed up. Any later, and they’re lacking energy. But late afternoon, that’s when everything’s peaking.
“I think it rained that year. It usually does at Donington. But nobody cared. They all stand there, determined to enjoy themselves.”
Vince Neil onstage at Download in 2007. Pic: Getty Images
“I have to be honest and say I have little recollection of this one. Not sure why, but I do remember there was a real buzz backstage. You get this at festivals now. There are so many bands around that you are not only meeting old friends, but also young bands. The whole idea of multiple stages and over 100 bands is so cool. I wish we had something similar in America. But it doesn’t seem to work for us.
“I know after we finished I went to the main stage, to see Faith No More. People think all we do is turn up, play and get the hell out. But I love seeing what other bands are doing.”
Motley Crue backstage at Download in 2009. Pic: Mick Hutson/Getty Images
“This is it, then. The final Motley Crue appearance at a British festival. I hope I’ll be back at Download fronting my own band, but we as band won’t do it again. So, it’ll be special for us, and hopefully for the crowd as well. Donington means a lot to Motley Crue, because we have so much history there.
“I’m aiming to get there early, to see Billy Idol; his guitarist Steve Stevens was in my band for a while. And also Slash. Once we’re done, then I’ll stay to see Kiss.
“It’s the end of a long relationship for us. Will we be emotional about it? Well, every gig we now do is kinda like the last one somewhere, but we’ll aim to sign off in a way that will make people remember the good times with Motley Crue. All four previous occasions we’ve been there, it’s been great. I hope the fifth is the climax.”