Download 2015: Blackberry Smoke & Billy Idol

As the daylight tips gently into dusk, Atlanta's finest warm up for a punk exile

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Thick with rich, warm, vintage-vinyl vibes, Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke bring an authentically muggy Deep South country-rock twang to the main stage on Sunday afternoon. Their analogue aesthetic is pure Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Allman Brothers, right down to their steam-powered valve amps, bell-bottomed threads and alarmingly abundant facial hair.

But these harmony-drenched, honky-tonk singalongs feel rooted more in first-hand experience than in fuzzy Instagram nostalgia. “This is a song about a bar fight we got into in Roswell, Georgia,” grins singer Charlie Starr as he launches into Sleeping Dogs. Sadly there is no room in this brief set for the band’s regular Stones and Zeppelin covers, while the laidback pacing is more suited to a stoned sunshine picnic in Dixieland than a rain-sodden field in Leicestershire. Which just goes to show the old adage is wrong: sometimes you do get Smoke without fire. All the same, this is a refreshingly sepia-tinted flashback to the Woodstock era smack in the middle of Download. (SD)

Donington regular and punk survivor Billy Idol seems nervy and wired, joking apologetically that his handful of signature hits are now three decades old. Still rocking the razor cheekbones and peroxide spikes, Idol remains impressively youthful at 59, even if his increasing resemblance to comedian Freddie Starr is a little unsettling.

A Hollywood casting director’s notion of a punk rebel, Idol has never been convincing as a heavy rocker, but to his credit, he no longer even pretends. His torso-baring striptease during the soft-porn disco-funk workout Flesh For Fantasy has got to be one of the oddest sights of the weekend, while Eyes Without A Face is still one of the most achingly sublime songs ever to crack the pop charts, with a macabre beauty that even survives Idol’s bizarre attempt to rev it up it into a rap-metal power ballad. He ends with Rebel Yell, a pure bubblegum blast and testament to the enduring potency of three-minute pop. (SD)

Stephen Dalton

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.