Guns N' Roses
Saturday, June 9, 2018
By Eric Mackinnon
Top of the bill and top of the must-see wish-list for most who are Download Festival bound this summer are a date on the hallowed Donington Park turf with the most dangerous band in the world.
The Sunset Strip swaggering, global conquering, generation defining, Guns N' fuckin' Roses will plug in their amps and unleash an expected three hour set of rock n' roll royalty on a sell-out crowd at this summer's Download Festival where they headline the Saturday night.
I, your humble writer, will be there. As front and centre as I can squeeze myself to witness first hand who are for the greatest rock band in history. A three-union I never dared to allow myself to dream about.
Guns N' Roses have played in Donington before, back in 2006 when Axl brought his new GNR line-up to East Midlands and and famously in 1988, and the band's huge popularity on this side of the pond has helped shape the musical soul of an entire generation and left deeply engrained rock horns on the musical hearts and souls of so many.
Donington Park, which is of course the site of the Download Festival which rose from the ashes of the Monsters of Rock Festival, sits proudly as one of the premier sites for rock music in the UK, and arguably across the world. The rock star's playground has hosted Guns N' Roses at their rowdiest, AC/DC, Metallica, Aerosmith, Slipknot and anyone who has made their mark in the genre we all adore.
Download Festival in all her historic glory is the fist-pumping, head-banging jewel in the rock festival crown.
Attending a rock show of this magnitude has almost no equal for a lover of live music. A show such as this traditionally brings out the best in rock fans and this coming June, Donington Park is bringing us all the best band on the planet for your musical pleasure.
Like so many rock and metal fans who sprung from their mama's loins in the '80's I grew up on a healthy staple ear diet of Guns N' Roses. First dipping my curious lugs into Appetite For Destruction as a 10-year-old before fully embracing Illusion-era GNR and the frenetic shitstorm which seemed to follow the band in their pomp.
At the time they seemed so dangerous, so combustible and a genuine world class rock n' roll band who were dripping in unpredictability as much as star power. Key to that of course was the twin towers of frontman Axl Rose and lead axe-man Slash.
Nowadays, I straddle both worlds as a long-time fan and a working journalist but for me, and many of the friends I grew up with, GNR and a possible reunion of the classic quintet remained at the very top of our wish lists.
Of course when you see the golden trident of Guns N' Roses reunited you can't help but feel a little greedy and wish mournfully that classic era members Izzy Stradlin or Steven Adler were also sitting on the Guns N' Roses branded plane – fully decorated with the bands logo and name – which has been circling the globe for the past two years or so.
Never-the-less I'm itching to go and fully supportive of Guns' version 2018 and this summer's Download Festival is the place to be.
Seeing the interaction and the relaxed, grinning faces of both Axl and Slash on stage during their 'Not In This Lifetime' tour – a clever tag for a tour even the enigmatic frontman himself vowed would never happen – it is hard to believe that it's only a few years since the pair vowed never to work together again.
Axl and Slash were rock music's most painful and bitter musical divorce.
It left almost two camps of GNR fans – those blaming Axl and his alleged dictatorial streak for tearing apart the band and sending them spiralling into the abyss from the top of the musical mountain – and another camp who reckon Slash has some sort of secret agenda and somehow plays the media better than Axl who had a tendency to talk his way into trouble on the rare occasion he grants media access.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle and perhaps we will never know. But comments from Axl – as recently as 2009 – calling his former band mate 'a cancer' and 'better removed' suggest time hadn't healed the rift – that was until the glorious reunion at the Troubador in 2016.
The speculation looks to be confined to yesterdays now after the pair seemed to have made amends. All eyes were on Coachella and the stage, to see the pair who complimented each other in a way few have before or since. Throughout their run of hugely successful shows in 2016 - they reportedly raked in something like $5.5m PER SHOW - the band have been loud, tight and the rapport has been superb between all members of the band.
Of course it is now a whopping near-20-years since Axl lobbed a P45 at Slash as he walked out the infamous revolving door at GNR HQ and Axl was subsequently in a band with the likes of Bumblefoot and DJ Ashba LONGER than he was ever with Slash or Izzy Stradlin.
But despite these facts the clamour for a classic line-up reunion never seemed to subside. Countless bands have changed their line-ups over the year but there is no vociferous campaign to reunite, for example, Metallica with Jason Newsted.
This is simply because Guns N' Roses, certainly for me and it appears for many considering the dozens of dedicated fan sites and forums which remain active to this day, hark back to a golden-era of rock n' roll. A time when the band on top of the rock world were real, raw, exciting and had a comradeship and chemistry unrivalled across the musical landscape.
Bands today haven't been able to bottle that unpredictability and power which seemed to come so easily to golden-era Guns.
Since the end of the classic world conquering GNR animal Slash, on the face of it, looks to have fared between than his old pal. From Snakepit to the heady heights of Velvet Revolver which threatened at times to become huge and with his solo band which are in top form with Myles Kennedy on the mic.
During the years in the cold with his former pals and classic-era band mates Axl of course did drop one single Guns N' Roses album with 'Chinese Democracy' reportedly costing a whopping $13 million.
After such a delay – nearly 15 years - it was inevitable it would never meet the ludicrously high levels of expectations regardless of how good an album it might be.
As it happens Democracy was a really good record, better than the critics would have you believe and with a handful or tracks which wouldn't be out of place on an earlier Guns' album with the classic line-up. It even racked up sales into the millions but it had an impossible legacy in a different era to live up to.
But since the 2008 release there has yet again been a deathly silence on new music although recent years were peppered with promises of 'coming soon,' 'album nearly ready' and the likes but there was never any new music forthcoming as we approach the ninth anniversary of Chinese Democracy.
Perhaps Axl was fearful after some of the low blows which came his way towards Democracy? Or maybe the shadow cast by the classic-era line-up is too great? Or it could just be he, and the band, have been too busy on the road so much to put the finishing touches to a new record?
Now with Duff and Slash reuniting with Axl the hope will be the trio will lay down some new material for a possible future record capturing the reconciliation permanently.
Current guitarist Richard Fortus has insisted the band are constantly throwing around new ideas during soundcheck and the entire band are on great terms.
Taking a stroll down some of the forums on the big UK festival sites it is easy to see the impressions and feelings the younger rock fans have about Guns N' Roses.
A generation has missed out on the pomp of GNR and only know the new line-up. Of course they will know of the classics on CD and MP3 but they missed the carnage and excitement when the band were on the road, selling out arenas around the globe, or releasing double albums on the same day which nestled in both No.1 and No.2 slot.
Very few gig going fans will now have seen Axl and Slash live together before their surprise reunion and the pair, alongside Izzy, Duff and Adler, have been elevated to almost mythical status which feeds the clamour for a reunion somewhere down the line.
To older fans the concept of seeing their heroes plug in and explode onto a live stage just one more time takes them back to what for many was the golden-era of their beloved genre and perhaps to a time when they too were younger and more carefree.
This is why I think the jungle drums never stopped beating with regards to a classic-era reunion. Now they seem to be back, it remains unknown yet for how long, the clamour now will be to lure them to Europe and her plethora of rock festivals this summer and beyond.
Of course last year marked the 30th anniversary of Appetite For Destruction so to be seeing the band this summer at Download - is wonderfully fitting for a long time fan.
As recently as 18 months ago it seemed highly unlikely, to me at least, that Axl and Slash would be sharing a warm embrace and joking about the old days any time soon but the return of Duff McKagan on bass for a handful of live shows during Guns last tour reignited faint hope.
Perhaps the reason Axl took so long to release any new music was it took him that long to find guitar players which compliment his voice and ideas in the same way Slash had.
Ex-GNR manager Alan Niven told me once that he would bet on a reunion happening in the end as a whole generation was waiting for it. But he has been ostracised from the GNR inner-circle longer than even Slash has so it was debatable how much he knew nowadays.
For me, a self-confessed Guns N' Roses fan, I am thrilled beyond words they are back and I am crossing all ten fingers and all ten toes they stay together for long enough for a couple of tours and at least one record of new music.
Even if it is for the cash and they don't even talk to one another back stage. I was 15-years-old when Slash quit the band, and too young to have travelled the country to have seen them live in the UK three years earlier.
'Appetite For Destruction' remains the greatest rock album of all time and to see the men who created that magic take to the stage to unleash their joy over an eager crowd is too good an opportunity to pass up.
Watching Axl snakedance his hips over to share a mic with Slash while Duff sends his fingers dancing up the fretboards is an image that I can't wait to enjoy in real life.
In just 80-odd days I will be alongside 80,000+ like minded rock revellers on the sacred turf for the latest thrilling chapter in Donington Park's epic journey.
I can already see the scene as the sun sets and the sky moves from deep sea blue to purple in the East Midland's sky while Axl Rose prowls the stage for their first show on Donington soil in 12 years.
If history is anything to go by then Guns will continue for anything up to three hours and they will still be playing long into the fading light to an ocean of happy, grinning rock fans – scattered throughout the vast expanses of Donington.
Standing in a field full of your musical brethren, shoulder to shoulder with your best friend or other half with the sun (hopefully) bearing down on your back, a cold drink in your paw, the other arced skywards in the traditional rock horns shape.
As the gates open to the promised land on Friday, June 8, we will charge onto the turf like an army of paper cup and grin wielding Spartans.
Finding a spot to settle in as the bands plug in and the music … begins.
As the opening bars crank in, the majority of the current 'Not In this Lifetime tour, has seen the band kick-off the set with the snarling and fast-paced 'It's So Easy', a wall of noise rushes forth from the stage like a ravenous beast looking to reclaim its territory.
In the crowd, you begin to stomp your foot, swing your hips, raise your spirits and break into a face splitting smile – Donington Park and Guns N' Roses welcomes us home.
For most of us it passes like a motion-blur, over too quickly but it leaves its musical bootprints on your soul until the countdown begins for the next visit to the hallowed turf of Donington to prepare to make another head and heart full of unforgettable memories.
Guns N' Roses are more than a band, they are king of the pride, and it was long overdue time for them to return to the jungle they welcomed us all into back in 1987.
Now I can't wait to hear them roar all over again.
It's almost time to head to East Midlands, the gates to paradise are almost open and it's time to go the promised land once more.
Horns up and see you in a little more than 80 days.