Wednesday, 24 December 2014

2014 - A Year In Live Music

Much like I have done for the last few years, I am going to post what will likely be my last blog of the year talking about live music and the gigs and festivals that I have been to over the last twelve months. For anyone that has read one of these blogs before, I tend to split up festival sets and gigs for the simple reason that it makes my life easier. It does make me smile that I have a list of best festival sets after being so adamant that I wouldn’t be going to a festival in 2014, and then ending up at 3 one day festivals and 3 weekend ones (although only for 2 days of one of them). Clearly will power when it came to booking festivals was nonexistent (especially considering the first one for 2014 was booked in the summer of 2013!) Anyway, normally what I would do is copy and paste what I wrote from the various reviews I have done on this page but I have decided against that for this blog – I will just write fresh words.

For last year’s blog, I had 15 festival sets to try and turn into a top 10. I decided instead of plucking 5 out as “honourable mentions” I would just do a top 15. This time things are a little bit easier as I have a definitive top 10, but a lot of great sets that are worth talking about.

Honourable Mentions (in chronological order):

Camden Rocks – The Hype Theory, Ginger Wildheart, The Subways. Camden Rocks was an ace day. The chance to see Ginger and The Subways sold me a ticket but everything else I saw that day made it a great day. The Hype Theory were a band I checked out before going to the festival briefly and decided I wanted to see, and they were excellent. It is something I will definitely consider going to most years now (although annoyingly, it does seem to clash with the Premiership Rugby Final – so if I go in 2015, I’ll be making the decision about going nearer the time).

Download – Skindred, Flogging Molly, Bad Religion, Ginger Wildheart, Linkin Park. Download 2014 was the fourth year in a row I had been at Download in some form or another and it was a great one. Skindred were their usual ace selves, Flogging Molly were ace, Bad Religion were so much better than I thought they would be (not that I thought they’d be bad mind!), Ginger’s acoustic set after The Wildhearts played was a great sing along. Finally, Linkin Park make this list and not the top 10 purely because I only stayed to watch them play Hybrid Theory. I’m not a fan of their albums following Meteora (aside from the latest one, Hunting Party) and decided to leave knowing what I had seen was immense.

British Summer Time – Faith No More, Gallows. This was my first visit to Hyde Park and actually going inside the arena (as opposed to sitting outside and listening for free) since 2008. When this line up was announced, I knew I had to buy a ticket. There were a lot of great bands that day, but Faith No More on the main stage smashed it (despite some sound issues) and over on one of the seemingly many little stages, Gallows were immense. The organisers had replicated a small club venue at their festival and to see Gallows in that environment was superb. However, a light bulb or two inside might have made it a bit better!

Sonisphere – Calling All Cars, Eureka Machines, Iron Maiden, Sweet Savage. I only went to the Saturday and Sunday of Sonisphere (due to the BST line up on the Friday). Calling All Cars were the alternative to Babymetal and I thought they were great. What probably made them better was the fact they had a small crowd and they still smashed their set. Eureka Machines are great live, always (you will see their name pop up a few times in this post) and it was cool to see them at one of the countries “major” festivals. Iron Maiden were great as ever and the Maiden England setlist for 2014 was great. They are an honourable mention as I wasn’t feeling too grand during their set and couldn’t enjoy it as much as I normally would have done. The only honourable mention from the Sunday is Sweet Savage. I saw them at Wacken in 2008 and I’m not sure what happened between 2008 and 2014 but they were far better in 2014. I suspect it could be the fact I was seeing them in a small tent as opposed to seeing them on a massive main stage (when I expected them to be Exodus). Whatever the reason, they were really good and deserve their place on this list.

Wacken – John Diva & The Rockets Of Love, The Vintage Caravan, Hell, Megadeth, Amon Amarth. John Diva and his band played famous songs that John Diva had a hand in writing, or just songs he liked. It was a cracking covers set. The Vintage Caravan and Hell were back to back in the Bullhead City Circus tent and I am really pleased that I enjoyed them enough to include them here as I missed Slayer and Carcass to watch them (along with others). Megadeth were the best I’ve ever seen them on this day and Amon Amarth were just great as well.

Top 10:

10. Eureka Machines – Camden Rocks. This was the second time for me seeing Eureka Machines in 2014 (the first you’ll read more about later) and it was excellent – they were the best band of Camden Rocks for me. One thing which I thought was cool was that they played the Electric Ballroom, the festivals biggest stage and had a decent size crowd. This was cool because when they normally play London, they tend to play in rooms 1/6th of the size of the Ballroom. As I said for their Sonisphere performance, they just seem incapable of having a bad set from what I can tell. This day was no exception to that.

9. Against Me! – Download. My first introduction to Against Me! was on the WWE DVD about CM Punk. I really enjoyed the song (which if memory serves was I Was A Teenage Anarchist) but didn’t bother to check them out properly. A shame really as I did when they were announced for Download and discovered a great band that had just released a belter of a new album. Their set though was something else; they had 30 minutes in the tent and just smashed through song after song only pausing towards the end to thank the crowd and express their hope they will be back soon. It was one of the best sets from the weekend and that is no exaggeration.

8. The Wildhearts – Download. Last time The Wildhearts played Download, they had their power cut after encouraging the crowd to bombard the stage with anything they could find. One memorable moment from this set was Ginger catching an egg that was thrown. This year’s set was slightly calmer in that hardly anything was thrown. That was the only thing calm about this affair though. I found myself front and almost centre right by the barrier and for 40 minutes, everyone was dancing, jumping, singing and having a great time. The set was packed with as many hits as they could play which made for an even more fun atmosphere.

7. The Offspring – Download. I have made no secret of the fact that the only time I had seen them live previously, I thought they were disappointing. This time, around, they were doing an anniversary tour for their album Smash (which would take up most of the set) and follow it up with a short “best of the rest” set. I’m not sure if it was because they headlined the stage this time (as opposed to being a part of the undercard when I saw them last) but they were excellent.  It was really cool to hear them play Smash in full with the slightest of changes to the running order in moving Self-Esteem to the end of the play-through. A smart choice as it got everyone dancing just before they launched into their second set. The Offspring were a great end to the first day at Download for me.

6. Twisted Sister – Download. Whoever decided that Twisted Sister and Fall Out Boy would clash directly at Download is a cruel person. However, I was not missing Twisted Sister again (having opted in 2011 to see Avenged Sevenfold and stay towards the front of the stage for SOAD). Not missing Twisted Sister was an excellent move as they were just fantastic. Performance wise they were just spot on. The main thing I remember from this set, which still makes me smile, was during the song “Burn In Hell”, a plane came into landing at the nearby DHL airstrip. Not expecting this, Dee Snider, the Twisted Sister front man stopped the song as seeing a plane that close shocked him and suggested bands should be warned about that sort of thing and then said “I just had 9/11 flashbacks” and then said “how can I carry on singing a song called Burn In Hell now?!” which made everyone around laugh. Closing on a cover of Motorhead – Born To Raise Hell, I left that stage chuffed to say I had seen Twisted Sister live, and they were every bit as good as I hoped they be, and then some.   

5. Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls – Sonisphere. After seeing Frank Turner for the first time in 2011 at Reading, and realising just how good he is, I was interested to know why it only seemed to be Reading/Leeds of the major festivals that would give him a significant spot on the main stage (Download had booked him to headline the 3rd stage against Linkin Park in 2011). So, when Sonisphere did this year, it didn’t matter who was playing at the same time, I was going to be there watching. It was a good decision as predictably, Frank Turner was ace. The setlist was a condensed version of the arena tour setlist from earlier in the year but that was hardly an issue as that setlist was damn near perfect (I reckon my opinion of that tour might be mentioned later...maybe).

In the various drafting of the lists that appear in this blog, all 4 of the next bands have all been number 1 at some point. What is being posted is my current opinion of how I’d rank them, knowing full well that if I thought about this again, it could well change.

4. Black Sabbath – British Summer Time. In the past, just before seeing Ozzy live either solo, or with Sabbath, I have expressed my hope that his voice holds out. I’ve seen a number of live reports where it didn’t and at Wacken 2011, he was off stage for quite a while in the middle of the set. I am pleased to report that his voice held up and Black Sabbath were once again excellent. A shorter version of their Download 2012 set with some new material thrown in as well was the setlist for the day and this was no bad thing. This show ended their tour and ended with a bang. At one point, it seemed as though this might be their last gig. If it transpires that it was, it was one hell of a way to go out.

3. Avantasia – Wacken. I said after seeing them at Wacken 2011 that I would definitely consider flying to mainland Europe to see them again as they don’t play the UK. Sadly, when they did play the UK in 2013, I didn’t discover until afterwards just how do-able it was, so when they were announced for Wacken 2014, I wanted to go. I don’t know if it was as good as their set in 2011, but what I do know is that it was epic. Given that they were the main draw for me going, they made going worthwhile, which is all I can ask for really. Admittedly, the next day when I was getting harassed by a cleaner at Hamburg Airport (who spoke German and Spanish but not English) while taking a shower, I did wonder if it was all worth it, but that is another story for another day.

2. Metallica – Sonisphere. There have been four Sonisphere festivals at Knebworth, and Metallica have headlined 3 of them. Now, if any other festival with any other band did this, I would likely be critical. However, it is Metallica and I am more than prepared to be accused of having an inconsistent train of thought by being fine with this. This time around, they were doing Metallica: By Request which meant the fans could vote for the set. I had hoped for a set full of rarities but it was not to be (who would have guessed that the songs people like the most would be voted for?). I did get to hear them play their cover of Whiskey In the Jar though, which made me exceedingly happy. This was the 11th time I’ve seen Metallica and I’ve never walked away disappointed. They’ve been announced for Reading and Leeds. There is a chance one of those shows might be number 12. Maybe

1. Aerosmith – Download/Calling Festival. Am I cheating by including both of their sets here? Probably. After they headlined Download in 2010, I didn’t know if I’d get the chance to see them live, let alone twice. Aerosmith are one of those bands that have a very distinctive sound, and a major part of that sound comes from Steven Tyler’s vocals. I would go so far as to say he would be irreplaceable if he left Aerosmith. I knew for me there were a couple of songs which would judge how good his voice still is. One of those was I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing – and he completely nailed it. For both sets, the band were just phenomenal. One final thing to mention about the sets is that in both of them, they covered The Beatles song Come Together. That was not something I expected (the first time at least) but something I loved. I walked away from their set at Download saying they could well be the best headliner I’ve seen play at Donington. They would be up against some stiff competition for sure, but they would definitely be in the top 5, if not top 3.

Even when writing that list, I added more honourable mentions to it. The top 10 was pretty much sorted straight away (in terms of what was in it, the order changed significantly as I was writing it up). There were a lot of bands I could have mentioned though. I saw a lot of good festival sets this year. I also went to a lot of good gigs. Much like the last list, I will do honourable mentions first with some words and then count down a top 10. The honourable mentions I will list in chronological order.

Honourable Mentions (in chronological order):

Less Than Jake/Reel Big Fish/Zebrahead – Guildhall, Portsmouth. Originally scheduled for the Pyramids but moved after the Pyramids got damaged during a storm which battered the south coast. This gig was ace. I think the only downside to it for me was that Reel Big Fish didn’t end the night as I preferred them to Less Than Jake, who were still great mind.

Black Stone Cherry – KOKO, London. The Southern Hospitality tour was a special short run in the UK in smaller rooms before they came back and hit arenas. It made me smile that the 1,400 capacity KOKO was now considered a smaller room, as when I first saw them, they were playing the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth (400 capacity). It was a great gig although the Q&A portion of the gig certainly seemed odd.

Amaranthe – o2 Academy Islington, London. After discovering Amaranthe at Wacken 2012, I really wanted to see them live again. I seem to recall them playing pretty much everything I wanted to hear them play, which was great. One thing I do remember is the gig ending and stepping outside the venue to see it was 9.30pm. I knew there was an early curfew but not that early!

The Wildhearts – Electric Ballroom, London. The Wildhearts, The Von Hertzen Brothers and Hey! Hello! – what’s not to like?! This was the last date of the tour and the second night of the tour I went to. I wish I had been able to go to one of the first few nights as they had some songs in that set I’d have loved to hear live (Nexus Icon being the main one). That aside, I loved this set. One of the highlights for me was the first time I had heard something from the album Endless Nameless performed live, which was ace.

Edguy – o2 Academy Islington, London. The previous times that I had seen Edguy, they had been superb. This was no exception. They released an album this year called Space Police which was great and their set contained the best off of that album + some other material. I was chuffed that they played their cover of Falco – Rock Me Amadeus alongside the bonus track England. Makes sense after all, it was in England (and we do have Steve Harris).

Black Stone Cherry – Wembley Arena, London. I mentioned earlier about the first time I saw BSC was in a small club in Portsmouth that held 400 people. There was something very cool about seeing them in a room with 8000+ people, all there to see them. They proved through their performance that they deserved to be headlining Wembley Arena.

Skindred – Talking Heads, Southampton. Skindred played in a pub in Southampton. Do I need to say much more? This band is far too big to be playing pubs and yet, here they were. It was immense seeing them in this environment. They also introduced me to a band called MakingMonsters, who are a good band.

Eureka Machines – Barfly, London. I made a snap call at about 6am the morning of this gig to jump on a train after work and head to London for this gig. I made the right decision as it were excellent. They played a couple of songs off of their new album which is due for release next year (which after this gig I am even more excited about hearing). They also played a cover from their newly released 80s covers EP “Remain in Eighties”. Very happy I decided to go. Eureka Machines just don’t do bad gigs.

A Day To Remember – Guildhall, Portsmouth. This would have been in the top 5 had the band played their full set. Just over half way through, someone jumped off the balcony. That balcony is probably 20 foot high. It didn’t well for the guy who jumped who apparently ended up with a fractured skull. The gig was ended early which (now the information is all out) was a damn shame as A Day To Remember were sounding fantastic.

Epica – The Forum, London. After much contemplation I decided to grab a ticket for this gig. This was a good call as Epica were really good. It was technically a co-headliner with Dragonforce (a decision which still baffles me) who were better than I thought they would be, but that wasn’t hard as I wasn’t overly looking forward to seeing them. So in the end, it all worked out nicely.

Machine Head – Guildhall, Portsmouth. I entered the venue as Machine Head were playing their first song which was decent timing. It was the first time I’d seen them play a full set on their own headline tour and it has to be said, they were excellent. I’ve never seen them be subpar, but when they are headlining and on stage for 2+ hours, even better.

Kreator – The Forum, London. This was the same venue I saw them in last year. Normally I wouldn’t have bothered with this gig but the support was Arch Enemy, who I missed at Wacken in favour of seeing Prong so I wanted to see them. Both bands were excellent and I’d say this gig was the best Kreator show I’d been to.

That was a lot of honourable mentions! However, for me, the next ten gigs were just that little bit special (or in some cases, a lot special).

Top Ten:

10. Nine Inch Nails – LG Arena, Birmingham. This tour falling at the same time as the Heineken Cup final was a ball ache! I was in Cardiff the night they played London so I headed to Birmingham the weekend before to make sure I caught a night on this tour. I wasn’t disappointed as NIN delivered in a big way. The one thing which surprised me was how empty the arena was. That didn’t detract from how good the gig was mind. I really liked Hesitation Marks and we got a lot of it played on this night, which was ace.

9. The Ginger Wildheart “Oh F**K I’m 50” Birthday Bash – The Forum, London. Ginger said something to the effect early on in this gig after belting out two songs from G.A.S.S that this wasn’t really a gig, it was more of a party. He wasn’t wrong. Each section of the gig had a standing band with special guests coming on at different times. Some of the highlights from this show include having the guys from Exit_International join in on bass for Body Parts (that song with 3 bassists is cool), a Mutation song, Rats, being played with Ginger on drums followed by a cover of Howling Willie Cunt’s Country Boy, a number of Wildhearts songs with two drummers, and for Suckerpunch, two drummer and two bassists (as predicted by Ginger, it did sound seismic). Some of the guest vocalists for Wildhearts stuff was pretty special as well – the stand out one for my money was Yolanda Quartey on vocal duties – immense! The gig concluded with 29x the Pain and with everyone coming back out on stage for I Wanna Go Where The People Go. One hell of a party indeed.

8. Against Me! – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. This tour was announced a few weeks after Download if memory serves and with their set fresh in my mind, I bought a ticket as soon as I could. I was also really pleased to hear that the support was Billy the Kid, who I had wanted to see live for a while. She was great. I had wondered though if Against Me! could better their Download Festival set where they crammed in 10 songs in 30mins. They were on stage for about 75 minutes and aside for when they went off stage for a brief period before coming back out for their encore, they smashed through their set. It was better than the Download set and then some.

7. Eureka Machines – The Borderline, London. I had a golden ticket for this gig, which meant that I was among a small crowd of 50 who got an acoustic set, a signed poster and a cup of tea. The acoustic set was ace, in which they played a song I really wanted them to play live called Scream Eureka. I’m not sure how many times I can get away with typing the same sentence but I’ll do it again. I don’t think it is possible for Eureka Machines to play a bad set. A personal highlight for me was hearing them play Do or Die, a song I liked but didn’t listen to very often at all. Following this gig, this song has become one of my favourites. I’m hoping that following the release of their new album (tentatively titled Brainwaves), there will be another tour. If so, count me in!

6. Volbeat – Pyramids, Portsmouth. Volbeat are one of my favourite live bands. I was gutted when they cancelled their planned show at the Wedgewood Rooms in 2010. They said when that tour was cancelled that they would make up for it, and so with this tour, it came to Portsmouth but in a bigger room. That was the only thing wrong with this tour is that it was in the Pyramids as opposed to the wedge but you can’t win them all. The support for this show was Hatebreed which was different but excellent at the same time. Since I’ve started seeing Volbeat live, they tend to play more from their later albums live and very little from the early albums apart from a few staples, which is fine by me (although I do cast an envious eye at the one and only Euro show in 2015 in Denmark which will have a setlist based around the first album). The big surprise of the night was Barney from Napalm Death coming out to do Evelyn with Volbeat. That, like the previous times I’ve seen it happen, was just immense.

5. Mongol Horde – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. Frank Turner, Matt Nasir (from the Sleeping Souls) and Ben Dawson (from Million Dead) make up Mongol Horde and their album is very different to any Frank Turner release since he was in Million Dead, The album is superb. Live however? It was something else. They played their whole album with a few covers as well (including Weenie Beenie by Foo Fighters and Refuse/Resist by Sepultura). I now can’t listen to their album without thinking about just how good that gig was, which is why they are on this list.

4. Pearl Jam – National Bowl, Milton Keynes. I fell to sleep during the main support act, which probably says all I need to say about them. Pearl Jam though were magnificent. They were on stage for nearly 3 hours. I had given thought to trying to get near the front but decided instead to sit on the hill instead and watch from a distance. I’m glad I did that as it was an ace experience. The only downside to this gig was of my own doing which was choosing the worst time to go to the toilet. As I entered the urinals, I could hear Pearl Jam start playing Even Flow. Poor call on my part, but then the whole thing was just immense so it was alright in the end.

3. Foo Fighters – Islington Assembly Hall, London. The Foo Fighters playing a venue that holds 800 people, what is not to love! Billed as The Holy Shits, they played 3 UK shows in the week they were in the country for the Invictus Games closing ceremony. I was lucky enough to be able to snag a ticket to the last one. There was the odd rarity thrown in but this was a set of Foo Fighters playing their more well known songs to a very appreciative crowd. I still can’t quite believe I saw Foo Fighters in that size room and also that I forgot just how good they are live. Anyone going to see them in 2015 is in for a treat.

2. Reel Big Fish – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. I think this gig certainly takes the title of most fun I’ve had a gig in a long time (that is a shit title though, that is under referral). This gig was immense. As soon as they came on stage, the room started dancing and the venue got hot. The centre of the room just turned into a really happy mosh pit – one where people were occasionally bumping into each other but were generally just happy to be there. There is very little more I can say about this gig without stressing again just how fun it was, so there, it was fun!

1. Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls – Guildhall, Portsmouth. Before talking about how good Frank Turner was, I want to just give a quick tip of the cap in the direction of Flogging Molly, who were the main support for the evening. Had they headlined, I’d have left more than happy and that gig probably would have made this list (perhaps not number 1 but still). They were outstanding and set the bar really quite high. I guess the thing about having supports that set the bar quite high is that it means you really have to do something to be better, and Frank Turner managed it with ease. Picking a setlist covering all of his albums, while still leaning heavily on his latest release Tape Deck Heart, he pretty much played the perfect setlist as far as I’m concerned. For some of these entries, I’ve picked highlights but really, this was all just superb. So good in fact I was actually a little bit gutted when I couldn’t make the September tour which took in towns he doesn’t normally play (at one point, I was pricing up a hotel in Bristol for 2 nights so I could go to the gig in Bath on the Friday then go to see Bath Rugby play Leicester Tigers the next day – Bath won that game 45-0!) When I think back over all these gigs, this one was definitely my favourite.

And that is my top 10 gigs for 2014. That was a tough old list to compile which is by no means a bad thing. I said for 2014 that I wouldn’t be doing a weekend festival and I did. As it stands, I won’t be doing a weekend in 2015 and actually sticking to my promise, no matter how much I eye up Download at the moment! As far as live music goes, I’ve got some great gigs already booked already. First up is the rearranged Royal Blood gig at the Pyramids. After that it is Queen and Adam Lambert in London, Slipknot in London, Amon Amarth in Southampton, Fozzy in Southampton, System of a Down in London, Cancer Bats and While Sleeps in London and the mighty AC/DC in London. There are others on my radar as well, so 2015 could be another great one as far as live music is concerned. Aside from what I’ve got booked, I’m hoping that Rancid announce a UK tour following the release of their album, and I’ve heard rumblings that there will be a Wildhearts tour as the anniversary of P.H.U.Q is next year. They would both be great I am sure.

See you in 2015!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Premiership Rugby Salary Cap - Should It Stay Or Should It Go?

Following the news that Dan Carter, the New Zealand fly half, will sign for Racing Metro following the Rugby World Cup (and at the same time, become the world’s best paid rugby player), there has been some discussion regarding the policy in the English Premiership about the salary cap. Saracens CEO Edward Griffiths lead the call this weekend that the cap should be scrapped and claimed he had the backing of six other clubs. I’m not sure how accurate that is considering all I have seen since that declaration is most clubs distancing themselves from Griffiths’ comments and supporting the cap. I intend to discuss the pros and cons of scrapping the cap but before I do, I just wanted to briefly mention what level the cap currently is. For the 2014/15 season, the cap is £4.76m with £240k extra available for academy credits (available for players who joined their club before their 18th birthday, is under 24 at the start of the season and earns more than £30k per season), and each club is allowed 2 excluded player whose salary is not included in the cap. The cap is being increased for the 2015/16 season to £5.1m with £400k extra available for academy credits. Each club will also now be allowed to nominate two excluded players. How I am going to approach this debate is start with the statement “Premiership Rugby should scrap the salary cap” and list the pros and cons that I can think of for this before concluding at the end.

Premiership Rugby should scrap the salary cap.


  • One thing that I just learned that came as a surprise to me is that there is a salary cap on clubs who play in the Top 14 in France. I assumed due to their free spending ways that there wasn’t (one came in for the 2010-11 season). However, it is a much more generous cap than is available for other clubs in Europe, particularly Premiership Rugby clubs. In 2013-14, the cap for French clubs was increased from €9.5m to €10m with young players being excluded from the cap unless they earn more than €50k a season. Additionally to that, each club is allowed to exceed the cap by €100k per member of the France squad they have in their team. With everything factored in, that is essentially double the spending power available to Premiership Rugby clubs (and more than double for Pro-Direct 12 clubs) which naturally gives them a bit of an advantage when it comes to Europe. The last 5 Heineken Cups were won by Toulon twice and Toulouse once (and Leinster twice, from Ireland). By the looks of this year’s European Champions Cup, the French teams are going to have a good showing in the quarter finals, potentially filling 4 of the 8 places available. If Premiership Rugby were to scrap the cap, then English clubs could potentially strengthen their squads to make them more competitive in Europe and make things more level with the French clubs. 

  • In less than 2 weeks time, it will be 2015 and that means we are in a Rugby World Cup year. For all fans of rugby this is a big deal but for English fans in particular, this is even more of a big deal because the tournament is being held in England. This means that all the best rugby players will be coming to Europe for just over a month to compete for the biggest international prize in rugby. I anticipate that this will lead to TV viewing figures to increase as people who may not usually be interested in rugby might tune in to watch some of the world’s best play each other. If Premiership Rugby scrapped the salary cap, a lot more of these players could be signed to Premiership clubs and watching the world’s best players every week could be a reality.


  • The current salary cap is due to increase next season to £5.1m (plus all the extras). Every time the salary cap increases, it widens the gap between the richer and poorer clubs (the haves and the have nots) and makes the Premiership much less competitive. While it could be argued that the league isn’t that competitive anyway (for the last 3 seasons, the top 4 has consisted of the same  four teams), removing the salary cap would completely do away with the competitiveness of the league as clubs who have a lot of spending power at their disposal would just dominate over teams who don’t. Even increasing the salary cap further (as has recently been suggested by the Exeter Chiefs chairman) would increase the gap further and is something to be wary enough. I am sure teams like London Welsh would argue the gap is wide enough as is! Which leads me on to the next point. 

  • This point is quite similar to the last one when it comes to widening the gap between clubs. One thing that needs to be considered though is what happens when a team is promoted to the Premiership. I don’t think it is unfair to suggest that London Welsh are going to get relegated this season. It is quite likely that one of Bristol or Worcester will replace them (I’m not sure how many teams in the Championship are actually eligible for promotion, but that is another issue for another day). London Welsh came up, and with limited funds at their disposal, they built a squad they hoped would be able to compete. That clearly hasn’t worked out well. I seem to recall in the build up to the Championship final, barely a day would go by without Bristol announcing they had made a signing pending on their promotion to the Premiership. Now, they didn’t win promotion and some of those players didn’t end up joining them. Would scrapping the cap mean promoted clubs being at a disadvantage from the off? There are already question marks over the fairness of the funding the clubs receive from Premiership Rugby, scrapping the cap would mean that newly promoted clubs (unless it was Worcester or Bristol) would receive less money than everyone else and then have to try and spend a really significant amount of money just to maintain their Premiership status. 

  • There has been some discussion this season regarding a rule that came into place in 2011 (I think it was) regarding England and their selection policy. It is fairly straightforward – if you are qualified to play for England but play your rugby outside of England, you will not be picked for the England national team barring “exceptional circumstances”. What this means is the best English players are in the Premiership and get regular game time to improve their game against competitive opposition. Would this still be the case of the salary cap was scrapped? I’m not so sure it would be and the best example I can give of this is looking towards another England national team – the football team. There is no real control of spending in football and clubs in England have signed a large number of players from abroad (and on the flip side, very few of England’s top players play abroad). One of the knock on effects of this has been that the national team just doesn’t have enough good players to compete. The English players are not getting enough opportunity at the top level to become world class and as a result, the England football team just cannot compete on the world stage against the best teams (or as was shown in this year’s football World Cup, even against teams that aren’t the best). If spending controls were removed from Premiership Rugby clubs, there would be nothing stopping them from filling their squads full of the best players from Europe and the southern hemisphere and all of a sudden, there are fewer opportunities for the best players from England to play at the top level.

In conclusion, I would say that I am in favour of keeping the salary cap and keeping it at the level it is currently at. While I agree that it is necessary that English clubs are competitive in Europe, I feel as though our domestic game is more important and having a stronger national set up is essential. There is very little that can be done now to close the gap between the richer and poorer clubs, but opening it even more would create a two-tier top level of English rugby which wouldn’t be good for anyone in the lower tier and would mean the only games worth watching would be when the two richest teams played each other. That might seem like quite a dramatic picture I am painting there but it is certainly a possibility. For the future of domestic rugby in England and a strong national team, Premiership Rugby needs to keep the salary cap. As a final note, it was interesting that the day after the Saracens CEO said the cap needs to be scrapped that it came out investigations are taking place about salary cap breaches for both Saracens and Bath – the two richest clubs in the Premiership (I believe). I’ve long heard rumour about Saracens and questioning how they are under the cap, but it was the first time I’d heard anything about Bath. From what I read, it was a disgruntled former agent that has revealed that Saracens operate in breach of the salary cap regulations, whereas Bath are being investigated for the number of high salary offers they appear to be making to players. As a Bath fan, I hope it is not true, but if both clubs are found to be in breach of the cap rules, they both need to be punished to send a message that breaching the salary cap regulations is not acceptable. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

European Rugby Champions Cup - The Story So Far

It is the half way point in the pool stages of the European Rugby Champions Cup (the Heineken Cup replacement) and so far, it has lived up to all expectations. Before the competition started, I looked over the pools in an attempt to predict who would qualify and didn’t get very far. Not only are we half way through the pool stage but this week (starting tomorrow) is the second game in the double header games. I love the way this has been organised. I’m going to talk about the tournament so far and go pool by pool. I am going to make predictions to how I see the pools ending up but just like earlier in the season when I tried to predict how they would end, this will be a tough ask!

Pool 1

Current Standings:
1.       Clermont Auvergne – Played 3, Won 2, Lost 1. 10 Points
2.       Munster – Played 3, Won 2, Lost 1. 9 Points.
3.       Saracens – Played 3, Won 2, Lost 1. 9 Points.
4.       Sale – Played 3, Won 0, Lost 3. 2 Points.

Well, this pool could hardly be any tighter after 3 games. I seem to recall reading an interview with the Sale Sharks Director of Rugby Steve Diamond who said that Sale were not just in this group to make up the numbers. I saw this as him doing his job, but really I gave them no chance of qualification. After their first game, where they came so close to beating Munster at home, I wondered if I was wrong to have written them off (they wound up losing that game 26-27 with Munster claiming the win in the dying minutes of the game). Unfortunately they then went to Clermont and got taken apart 35-3. After a narrow loss at home to Saracens, Sale find themselves at the bottom of this pool and facing elimination (I think with the way things are going across the board, even if Sale got 3 bonus point wins, they still wouldn’t have enough points to qualify). Clermont picked up a huge win away at Munster, becoming the first French team to win at Thomond Park I think. Their only defeat so far coming in a close game with Saracens where it was just the one score that separated them. The one defeat that Saracens have had in this pool has been against Munster at Thomond and I think that Saracens will be disappointed they got nothing out of that game.

Clermont – Munster (H), Sale (A), Saracens (H)
Munster – Clermont (A), Saracens (A), Sale (H)
Saracens – Sale (H), Munster (H), Clermont (A)
Sale – Saracens (A), Clermont (H), Munster (A)

Clermont are in the driving seat in this pool, but only just. Had Munster or Saracens picked up an extra bonus point in one of their games, this pool would be even closer. As it happens, they didn’t and Clermont have the smallest of advantages. What they and Saracens both have though is the benefit of two home games left out of their three fixtures. In Europe, you have to see your home games as winnable, and when you start to lose them, that is when you start to look at elimination. Clermont will see they have Munster at home, who no doubt will be smarting after their home loss, and still see that as a winnable game – Saracens will be the same except they will be looking to gain some revenge on Munster (after losing at Thomond). I am expecting to see both Clermont and Saracens win their home games this weekend and then be fighting it out for the top 2 with the winner of the pool being decided on the final game of the pool...where Clermont are at home. Munster lost their home tie to Clermont last weekend and if they lose this weekend, I think they will be all but eliminated. Sale at this stage could use this time to bring in some new faces into their team to give them European experience against some top clubs, but they could still influence the outcome of this pool. They came very close against both Munster and Saracens to getting the win. It would be a real shame if they went through the pool stages losing all their games, but I fear that is what will happen. My prediction for this pool is that Clermont will win the pool with Saracens finishing runners up and maybe qualifying for the knock out stages.

Pool 2

Current Standings:
1.       Harlequins – Played 3, Won 3, Lost 0. 12 Points
2.       Leinster – Played 3, Won 2, Lost 1. 9 Points
3.       Wasps – Played 3 Won 1, Lost 2. 7 Points
4.       Castres. Played 3. Won 0. Lost 3, 1 Point.

There are only 2 teams in this tournament so far who have 100% records, and Harlequins is one of them. They kicked off the tournament with a 25-9 win over Castres, went away to beat Wasps 16-23 and last weekend beat Leinster 24-18. Leinster started off their campaign with a home win against Wasps (25-20) and went to France and got the win against Castres (16-21). Wasps could argue the biggest disappointment of their campaign thus far was the home defeat to Harlequins. They have picked up a bonus point in all 3 of their games so far (a feat made even more impressive when you consider their winning bonus point was away in France), so even though they have lost 2 games, they are not out of this competition yet. Castres are having a bit of a nightmare season so far – bottom of the Top 14 and bottom of Pool 2 with no wins. I think it is safe to say that they will likely be eliminated.

Harlequins – Leinster (A), Wasps (H), Castres (A)
Leinster – Harlequins (H), Castres (H), Wasps (A)
Wasps – Castres (H), Harlequins (A), Leinster (H)
Castres – Wasps (A), Leinster (A), Harlequins (H)

Harlequins go into the final 3 games undefeated but have to travel to Leinster this weekend. That will be a nasty game for them and I expect Leinster will be unhappy with having lost on the road and will want to win at home to make up for it. If Quins lose this game, they have to get their first bonus point of the competition to keep things tight at the top. Quins have already received a double blow in that both Robshaw and Evans are out of this match injured. If they get the win in Ireland, it will be a famous European victory for sure! I think the game against Wasps could go either way (although they have now won their last 4 against Wasps) and I would expect them to get a result against Castres, even though it is away. Leinster could lose this game and still qualify but it would make life very hard for them. Wasps have to win all 3 of their remaining games. They, like Leinster, are fortunate enough to be in a position where they have 2 home games in their last 3 fixtures. Their game this weekend is Castres and normally I would expect them to win this game, but as it is the last game at Adams Park before they move to the Ricoh Arena, it could well be a very emotional game for fans and players alike, so I am convinced they will go all out to get a win. Wasps could win all 3 of their games but it will be a tough job. Then again, there are no easy paths to the knock out stages in this tournament! The last game, their first European home game at the Ricoh against Leinster will be tasty. Castres I expect with one point to their name will likely turn up for these games but I don’t see them putting up much of a fight. I imagine now their main focus will be to get off the foot of the Top 14 table so they will field their strongest team in those matches, as opposed to a European Cup that they are already all but eliminated from. I predict Leinster will win this group, and Harlequins will be a very close second and they will qualify for the quarter finals.

Pool 3

Current Standings:
1.       Toulon – Played 3, Won 2, Lost 1. 9 Points
2.       Leicester Tigers – Played 3, Won 2, Lost 1, 8 Points
3.       Ulster – Played 3, Won 1, Lost 2. 6 Points
4.       Scarlets – Played 3, Won 1, Lost 2. 4 Points

The last winners of the Heineken Cup, Toulon, got their campaign off to a start with a 28-18 win over Scarlets that had a lot of people saying that Toulon will need to be much better if they want to win this tournament. They then won away at Ulster 13-23 before going down 25-21 to Leicester Tigers, picking up their only bonus point so far. Leicester started off their campaign with a 25-18 win against Ulster before losing 15-3 to Scarlets. I was surprised to see them lose to Scarlets in all honesty. Ulster’s single win of the campaign came in round 3 against Scarlets when they beat them 24-9 at Kingspan. Scarlets biggest result was of course the win against Leicester.

Toulon – Leicester (H), Ulster (H), Scarlets (A)
Leicester – Toulon (A), Scarlets (H), Ulster (A)
Ulster – Scarlets (A), Toulon (A), Leicester (H)
Scarlets – Ulster (H), Leicester (A), Toulon (H)

I think all eyes will be on the rematch between Leicester and Toulon this weekend. Last week’s match was a fiery affair in which Leicester deservedly won. After the game there were a couple of incidents including Martin Castrogiovanni (former Tigers player) launch into an expletive-laden attack aimed at Leicester Tigers and Richard Cockerill. Another incident that remains alleged surrounds Delon Armitage and him abusing Leicester Tigers fans. In a recent interview, Richard Cockerill said he doesn’t think this will add anything extra to the weekend’s game but I can’t see how it won’t. It will be an excellent game, that is for sure and if Leicester play just as well as they did on Sunday, there is no reason why they couldn’t get the win. As for the rest of Toulon’s games, I think they will beat both Ulster and Scarlets. I think now that Leicester have seemingly reduced their injury list, they are a much harder team to play and as a result, will likely also beat both Ulster and Scarlets. Ulster away could be a tricky one for Leicester though. Ulster comfortably beat Scarlets last weekend and I think it will be a tighter affair this time round but I see Ulster getting the win. I suspect the winner of the second Toulon/Tigers game will likely end up winning the pool. I think that Toulon will win that game at home and go on to win the group but Leicester will be a very close second and they will qualify for the knock out stages.

Pool 4

Current Standings:
1.       Toulouse – Played 3, Won 3, Lost 0. 12 Points
2.       Glasgow Warriors – Played 3, Won 2, Lost 1. 9 Points
3.       Bath Rugby – Played 3, Won 1, Lost 2. 5 Points
4.       Montpellier – Played 3, Won 0, Lost 3. 2 Points

Much like Harlequins in Pool 2, Toulouse are undefeated so far and are looking pretty decent as well. After a bit of a rough start in the Top 14, they seem to have steadied the ship domestically just in time for Europe and have come out swinging. Their first win was a close match with Montpellier, with Toulouse winning 30-23. Their second game was a massive away win at Bath (the 19-21 score line flattering Bath somewhat) before beating Glasgow at home last weekend 19-11. Glasgow started off their European campaign by battering Bath 37-10 before beating Montpellier in France in a very close contest (13-15 the final score). Bath’s campaign got off to a poor start with the away defeat to Glasgow (in which they very much looked like the second best team) and a home defeat to Toulouse (where very rarely did they look like they would threaten the Toulouse defence). Last weekend was the final roll of the dice for their European campaign really and they beat Montpellier 5-30. Montpellier, much like Castres, are yet to get a victory in this seasons competition.

Toulouse – Glasgow (A), Bath (H), Montpellier (A)
Glasgow – Toulouse (H), Montpellier (H), Bath (A)
Bath – Montpellier (H), Toulouse (A), Glasgow (H)
Montpellier – Bath (A), Glasgow (A), Toulouse (H)

I think Glasgow will definitely consider the Toulouse game at Scotstoun to be a winnable game. If they do win, and Bath win their game against Montpellier (with a bonus point), it really opens this pool up. I think though if that happened, then the runner up in Pool 4 would not make it to the knock out stages. Toulouse if memory serves have an excellent record at home in Europe, and I would imagine they will get the win against Bath at home. That win would definitely eliminate Bath from the competition, regardless of what they could achieve against Montpellier and Glasgow. If Bath turn up and play their best, there is no reason why they can’t beat Glasgow at The Rec in January. Glasgow however will be hunting for a place in the knock out stages. I think their home match with Toulouse will be very tight. If Glasgow can get the win against Toulouse, then I can see them going on to win the pool. It was widely predicted that Montpellier will field a weaker team against Bath as there is no chance of them qualifying for the knock out stages now and it has been announced they are making 8 changes to the team that lost 5-30. However, due to my lack of knowledge of their squad, I am not in a place to comment on whether or not they have weakened their team (although one would assume with that many changes, they have). Bath on the other hand are starting Sam Burgess and Francois Louw for the first time this season – if that is not a signal of intent, I don’t know what is. I predict that Toulouse will win this group and Glasgow will finish second, but I’m not sure if they will qualify for the knock out stages.

Pool 5

Current Standings:
1.       Racing Metro - Played 3, Won 2, Drawn 1, Lost 0. 10 Points
2.       Northampton Saints – Played 3, Won 2, Lost 1. 10 Points
3.       Ospreys – Played 3, Won 1 , Drawn 1, Lost 1. 7 Points.
4.       Treviso – Played 3. Won 0, Lost 3. 0 Points.

Racing Metro started their campaign with a bang by beating Northampton at home and denying them a losing bonus point (the final score was 20-11). Their next game was away against Treviso where they won 10-26 – the biggest surprise here being that they didn’t get the try bonus point. Their game last weekend against Ospreys ended in a 19-19 draw, so far the only draw of the European Rugby Champions Cup. After losing their opening game, Northampton won their next two games very convincingly, picking up try bonus points against both Ospreys and Treviso (34-6 and 15-38 respectively). Ospreys have had a mixed campaign so far. Their 42-7 home win against Treviso was to be expected. Their best result so far though has to be the 19-19 draw against Racing Metro (a game I am sure many people, myself included, expected them to lose). As for Treviso, there are no easy pools in the top European competition for an Italian club. I can’t say I’m surprised that they are on 0 points though.

Racing Metro – Ospreys (H), Treviso (H), Northampton (A)
Northampton – Treviso (H), Ospreys (A), Racing Metro (H)
Ospreys – Racing Metro (A), Northampton (H), Treviso (A)
Treviso – Northampton (A), Racing Metro (A), Ospreys (H)

I suspect that Racing Metro will beat Ospreys on their patch and go on to beat Treviso there as well. I predict similar results for Northampton as well setting up a final day clash to decide who will win the pool. I’d say Northampton would go in with a slight edge as the game is at Franklin’s Gardens but Racing have beat them already in this competition. Both teams are going well domestically so this final week clash will be tasty. Ospreys I suspect probably will lose their next two and go into the game against Treviso with little on stake but pride.  Treviso will do well to get some points on the board. If they can cause an upset, it could change the way the group will play out, but I don’t see it happening (otherwise it wouldn’t really be an upset then would it?) I predict that Northampton Saints will win this pool with Racing Metro finishing second. If both teams go into this game having got maximum points out of their other games, there is no reason why the runner up shouldn’t qualify for the next round.

And that is it for the first 3 rounds of the European Rugby Champions Cup. There has been some excellent rugby with some more to come as well I am sure. It is interesting to note that out of 5 pools, only one is not currently being lead by a French team (Pool 2). Based on the predictions I have made, the quarter finals could contain Clermont, Saracens, Harlequins, Leinster, Toulon, Leicester Tigers, Toulouse, Glasgow, Northampton Saints and Racing Metro. Any combination of those teams making up the final 8 means we are in for a belting European tournament which concludes on May 2nd at Twickenham. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Premiership Rugby 2014/15 - The First Six

I haven’t written a blog for a while (not since my review of the 2014 Wacken festival) and with this one, I’m going to write about something I’ve not written about for quite a while – rugby. The start of the Premiership season has been one of the reasons I haven’t written about anything on this page because I’ve been spending so much time keeping up with everything that has been going on. I took the plunge before the season started and invested in BT Sport and it was a great investment because it means I am watching more rugby from other teams in the division (before I had the channels, I only made an effort to watch Bath). This Premiership season has been outstanding so far. I’m not sure if there is one solid reason as to why this has been the case, but regardless, as a fan of rugby it has been great to see what is going on and what happens each weekend. The Premiership is about to take a break as the teams play their first games in the two new European competitions and then the LV Cup kicks off as well. We’ve had 6 rounds of Premiership rugby and I’ve decided to put down some thoughts on this remarkable season so far. I’m going to go team-by-team in terms of their current league position from top to bottom and just discuss my thoughts on how their season has been going from what I’ve seen and read.

1.       Northampton Saints. Despite the blip against Wasps a few weeks ago, Saints have looked frighteningly good. The opening round battering of Gloucester was a real statement that they were ready to defend their Premiership crown. They are the highest try scorers thus far with 24 in 6 games and they do look dangerous. There are no doubts in my mind that they will be in the top four come May and to be honest, with the way they are currently playing, I could see them defending their title successfully.

2.       Saracens. Another team with only 1 defeat from their first six games (they lost to Bath) but the big difference between Saints and Sarries so far is that there has been some talk about how their performances have not always been great this season. Now, with only the one defeat, things aren’t going that badly. The Friday night win at Harlequins when they won 0-39 must be the season highlight so far. They had a tough old game against Gloucester at the weekend but they showed their class by coming away with the win. They are another team that will be there or thereabouts again come the end of the season.

3.       Exeter Chiefs. Despite their lofty league position, I’d say they’ve had a bit of a mixed season thus far. They came very close to beating Leicester at Sandy Park and a few weeks later were significantly better than Harlequins when they won 36-13 at home. However they did come close to throwing the game against Gloucester away and in round 5, they lost to Newcastle. Still, they are looking pretty strong so far this season and I’m sure the loss to Newcastle was a blip which won’t happen very often for them this season. It is a tough one to call where they will finish this year. I can’t see them finishing lower than 7th this year, but I’m just not sure. If they put in more performances like they did against Harlequins, there is no reason they cannot make the top 4 when the season ends.

4.       Bath. I might be a tad biased here in this entry because I am a Bath fan. It has been a very exciting season so far as a Bath fan but also it has been a frustrating one. The 45-0 win against Leicester at the Rec was one of the best moments I’ve had as a Bath fan. The two biggest wins of the season have clearly been that one against Tigers and then the one 2 weeks later against Saracens. The one big problem Bath has is consistency. Bath managed to stop Leicester scoring any points, yet conceded 4 tries against London Welsh (more about them later). The performances against Tigers and Saracens were just immense and fitting of a team challenging for the title, but then against Saints and this weekend against Wasps, Bath just didn’t play as well as they can do and they lost both games as a result (although both have featured late comebacks which have almost resulted in draws). If Bath can sort out their consistency when the Premiership returns, there is no reason why they can’t finish in the top 4. I also think there will be greater representation in the England squad of Bath players as players like Eastmond, Joseph, Rokoduguni, Ford, Attwood, Webber and Wilson have all made strong claims to be included when Lancaster names his EPS ahead of the November internationals.

5.       Wasps. So far they have won 3 games and lost 3 and two of those have been against Saracens (during the London Double Header) and Harlequins (at The Stoop). They also came close in both of those games. The loss to Sale wasn’t the best but aside from that, they have had a decent season so far and are looking good. They have beaten Northampton Saints and most recently Bath, and are playing good rugby. It seems as though the impending move to Coventry won’t affect them on the pitch in terms of being a distraction so I think they will have a good season. Could they be top 4 challengers in May? There is no reason why not.

6.       Gloucester. After the opening round and seeing the new look Gloucester get comprehensively taken apart by Northampton, I wondered if Gloucester were in for a long season. However, it seems as though all they needed was time to gel. They are looking a much better team already. The result against Sale was a good one and the one against Leicester even better. They also did very well going to Allianz Park and taking a losing bonus point out of the game against Saracens. I think they will be looking to push on for the top 6 this year but I’m not sure if they’ll make it. I think other teams that might also be in the mix could be stronger come the business end of the season.

7.       Harlequins. Harlequins beat London Irish during the London Double Header and I think anyone who watched that game knew Quins had to improve on that performance or a better team than Irish would take them apart. That is exactly what happened the week after when Saracens came to the Stoop and beat them 0-39. You can never rule Quins out when talking about the top 4, but they will need to improve if they are going to get there. They weren’t good against Exeter and the result was a fair one. As I said, you cannot rule Quins out when talking about the top 4, and I think they will be there or thereabouts when the season concludes (ideally not at the expense of Bath this time around though!)

8.       Leicester Tigers. 3 wins, 3 losses so far for Tigers. It really hasn’t been the best of seasons for Richard Cockerill’s men. The loss to Bath was something else. They lost the next two on the bounce, at home to London Irish and away to Gloucester. There was some talk about Cockerill being under pressure after these results which to me seemed a bit silly. They have an absolutely huge injury list with players just starting to return to play (Manu Tuliagi returned this weekend in the win over Harlequins). It most certainly hasn’t been the best of starts for Leicester, but I’d never bet against them finding their way into the top 4 come the end of the season. I think when that injury list gets shorter, they will get significantly stronger and the formidable Leicester Tigers of old will return.

9.       London Irish. So far, Irish have looked decent this season, much more than last term. They were so very close to a famous home win over Saracens and went to Welford Road and beat Leicester. The only game so far that they have really looked clearly second best in this season has been against Exeter and even then, they looked good at the end of the game (just a shame they conceded 5 tries before starting to look like a real threat). If they can keep these decent performances up all season, they certainly could be in the mix for the top 6. I wouldn’t pick them to finish in there though.

10.   Sale Sharks. Sale have won just two of the 6 games they have played so far and I would wager they would consider their season thus far to be a bit of a disappointment. Granted, I wouldn’t expect them to have beaten Saracens or Saints, but that is not to say it was an impossible task (indeed, they beat Saints last season at home). I suspect they will be looking forward to the Premiership restarting to try and climb up the table. I wouldn’t have picked Sale to be 10th at the first break. I think they will still be in the dogfight for the top 6 come the end of the season, but they will be there with a few teams.

11.   Newcastle Falcons. Seeing the table and seeing they are 11th is no shock, I don’t mean that statement to be disrespectful but a fortnight ago, they ended a near year-long losing streak. That is a long time to go without a win and although they have strengthened, I don’t think they did so anywhere near like enough to kick on up the table. I think they will be towards the bottom but thanks to the team that are currently bottom, I don’t see them getting relegated.

12.   London Welsh. Well, what can be said about London Welsh? 6 games played – 272 points against them. They’ve only scored the one point (a try bonus point against Bath) and they are rock bottom of the table. The truth is they haven’t looked very good this season. After they convincingly beat Bristol in the RFU Championship playoff final, I thought they would have a tough ask staying up but I never imagined their season going the way it has gone thus far. Their defence has been pretty bad so far (they have had 36 tries scored against them in 6 games). Is it too late to save their season? Seems ridiculous to ask after 6 games out of 22 but it really could be too late. Newcastle are 8 points clear so Welsh need to win two games just to close that gap. I don’t see where those wins are going to come from either. I hope they manage to find one, because going the whole season without a win would be rough (that said, as long as that win doesn’t come against Bath...!).

The season has been magnificent so far. More important than anything else, there has been a lot of entertaining rugby. I think this season could go on to be one of the best in the professional era if things carry on the way they are going. The Premiership has taken a break now as the new European competitions kick off this weekend and it has to be said, the European Rugby Champions Cup is looking tasty. I think the English clubs in it could have a good showing and we could see several make the last eight of the tournament (if you were to press me, I’d say the teams from England with the best chances of progression are Saracens, Harlequins, Saints and Bath – though of course, anything could happen!) I’m really looking forward to seeing what unfolds in this competition as with a reduction in teams from 24 in the Heineken Cup to 20 in this new competition, it is a whole lot harder to win. One thing is for sure though, with a cracking start to the Premiership season, a couple of new European Rugby tournaments starting, and a Rugby World Cup on the horizon, this is just the beginning for what will be an excellent season.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Review: Wacken Open Air 2014


Another year, another installment of the Wacken Open Air festival has come and gone. This review is all about my experience at Wacken 2014 as well as my journey to and from the UK to Wacken. I’ve posted a few photos that I took on my Instagram but I really didn’t take many photos this year. This year’s Wacken Open Air festival was probably the one festival on my calendar this year I was least excited about due to the fact I thought the line up was lacking in areas. Truth be told, if I didn’t book my flight in January of this year, I would have sold my ticket before going to the festival. However, I did have a good time so this review isn’t all going to be doom and gloom. As with any review I write, all the band ratings are my personal enjoyment of the set, not what I made of the performance itself.

The logical place to start is briefly mentioning the Tuesday before. I went for a pre-festival pub trip and didn’t fall to sleep until gone 11pm.


“It’s too fucking early!”

I woke up at 2.50am in order to get ready for the flight to Germany. I’ve been told that it is advisable to get to the airport for a flight from the UK to mainland Europe 2 hours before the flight. In order to do that this year, the taxi was booked for 3.30am (flight was 7.05am, so needed to be there at 5.05am). Managed to get very little sleep in the taxi to the airport and when I got out, I realised it was 4.30am. No traffic on the road at that time meant we got to the airport with no delays whatsoever. After a cigarette and multiple declarations that it was in fact, too fucking early, I was able to drop my suitcase and stroll around the airport. Heathrow Terminal 5 is bloody massive but there isn’t a whole lot to see before security. Passed through that without any bother (although was held up for a little while due to a person in front having a problem – could have been to do with religious dress but I wasn’t too sure) and went to get breakfast. It was too early really to be eating a big meal but I figured I may as well get something decent as the next few days, most of my meals would be likely covered in dirt (how right I turned out to be) so it would be nice to have a clean meal. After eating, I discovered just how big Terminal 5 was as I had to get what was essentially a tube train to another building where my gate was. After doing that, there really was nothing to do except walk around Building C of Terminal 5 and find my gate. I didn’t have long to wait there which was quite nice. I had hoped to sleep throughout the flight but I kept waking up. Waking up on the descent gave me the chance to take some photos out of the window of the plane which is always fun. The flight was painless and before long, we had landed in Hamburg to start the next leg of the journey, travelling to Itzehoe. Final note about this leg of the travel – everything just seems to run so perfectly at Hamburg airport when you arrive there. Customs is painless as is collecting your luggage and it is usually there waiting for you. 

After getting a subway train from the airport to the central station and buying a ticket for the train to Itzehoe, I was then met with an issue. Aside from one year where I was able to get a direct train to Itzehoe, I have had to change trains on the journey. So I’d get a train from Hamburg Hauptbahnhof to Elmshorn and change there for the Itzehoe train. However, this time there appeared to be no trains running to Elmshorn from Hamburg Central. After a brief panic, I wandered over to the information desk to find out I could get a subway train to Hamburg-Altona station where I could get a direct train to Itzehoe. Annoyingly, if I had stayed on the same subway train as I was on from the airport, it would have lead to Altona station. However, I wasn’t to know that at the time. Anyway, after finding the platform and jumping on and off a train that would have taken me to Altona (I thought I was on the wrong train, I wasn’t), I eventually did get on a train that would take me to Altona and all was well. I didn’t have a long wait at Altona and I was on the train to Itzehoe. I was surprised at how quiet the train was considering it was now late morning on the day that I assume most people arrive at Wacken. However, the real surprise came when we arrived at Elmshorn, the station where on this day each year, you will find masses of people heading to Wacken. However on this day, there was hardly anyone at the station. I think one group of people got on the train I was on, which was good. Had a bit of a wait at Itzehoe to get on a bus to Wacken but luckily when I got on one, I was able to find a single seat that I was able to put my luggage on and stand in the seats legroom area. We took a slightly different route to the festival as I’ve never seen the village of Wacken before and this time we drove right through it, which was cool. The bus pulled up on the huge stones by the entrance way that I am sure have ruined a pair of shoes or two and we made our way into the campsite. Much like last year, it was a case of being let into the festival and then getting your wristband sorted. I set up in roughly the same spot as I have done for the last 4 years (close to the exit, close to the arena) and wandered off to get a wristband. It was on this walk that I saw someone wearing one of the festival shirts with the line up on the back. I noticed that Doro was on the back of the shirt. I know she was doing a meet and greet but her logo was next to the Avantasia logo (who played the longest set of the weekend on the main stages). I still don’t know why this is. If anyone has the answer, please do tell me.

Walking round the Wacken campsite, you always see some strange sights and this year was no exception. I could be here for paragraphs talking about all the things I saw but I will just mention the main one which made me turn my head. On the way to get a wristband, I walked past a cluster of cars/tents where plenty of things were set up, but there was a guy using a cross-trainer (exercise equipment normally found at gyms). On the way back past that tent, the cross-trainer was not being used but this time I noticed they also had a small trampoline and a foosball table. I struggled with my two cases this year, I don’t know how these people managed to bring all this stuff (there were other bits and pieces as well including couches) to the festival but fair play to them! Anyway, I was walking round the campsites in order to get my festival wristband. I arrived at the area where you collected them from and made two observations. Firstly, the queue was huge! (I later discovered there were actually 3 huge queues). Secondly, this area was really dusty which meant whenever anybody walked by, the end result was a face/lungful of dust. This was a recurring issue over the weekend when around the Wackinger Village or the Bullhead City Circus. The queue for wristbands was moving constantly which made the queuing bearable. I had thrown on some sun protection which had proven to be a great idea as it was baking hot. I would say it probably took about an hour queuing in total to get the wristband which was a bit annoying as the year before it took nowhere near that time. However, when getting quite close to the front, it became apparent why it took so long. The tickets were personalised and they were checking everyone’s ID to make sure they had the right ticket (and not bought one from a tout). A great idea but one that has been abandoned for the 2015 festival, which is a shame I think. After getting the wristband, I headed back to my tent. While on this walk, I could hear Mambo Kurt playing. It reinforced my opinion that he isn’t for me but whatever. I popped to the supermarket for some food and headed back to the tent. I had decided at one point to watch as much of the Metal Battle finals as I could, but at this point, I was shattered and wanted a sit down and possibly a nap. I managed to have a brief nap and headed back into the area of the Bullhead City Circus stage for the evenings fun.

I arrived as Red Helen (6) were close to finishing off their set. I didn’t get to hear much of their set but the one full song I did hear, I enjoyed. They were the last Metal Battle finalist of Wednesday and there were other things going on in the tent to close out the night. First up was Bembers. Now, I thought Bembers was Broilers, and we were going to see a punk band. As you can probably work out, I got that one wrong and Bembers was a comedian. Now here’s the thing about Bembers. He is a German comedian who speaks German. Given that I don’t speak German, his set somewhat passed me by really. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. The people around me seemed to enjoy it I think. Looking back on it, I’m not sure why I stayed inside that tent for 40 minutes listening to a man talk in German, but I did. Anyway, after him was Ax N’Sex (5), a band who played the first Wacken Open Air Festival and played twice more after that before breaking up in 1996. They reformed for this show by the looks of things. They were alright but in all honesty, they bored me after a while. The final act of the day that I saw was John Diva and the Rockets Of Love (10). John Diva had a hand in writing a lot of iconic hair metal/rock songs in the 80s and his band basically covers them all. He had a 90 minute set and just played a set packed with belters and sing-along’s which was great. I left the tent after he had finished as Mambo Kurt was about to do his second set of the day which didn’t interest me. Instead, what interested me more was sleep.


Day one of the festivals main stages being open. My day would be mostly spent in front of the WET and Headbanger stages which was fine by me. I had hoped given the festival had given all festival goers a water bottle we could take into the arena that there might be a water point by all the stages and in quite a few places around the arena. This was not the case. After a couple of short showers, the sun came out and we were in for a scorcher. I saw all of the Metal Battle finalists that played on this day. The truth is I can’t remember specifics about all of them so I will list them now with the rating I’ve given them and if I remember anything specific about their set.

Dismorial (6)
Trouble Agency (7)

Convivium (7) – This band finished in the top 5 of the Metal Battle competition, which was cool.
Agni Kai (5)
Room Of The Mad Robots (4)
– I had really high hopes for this band, mostly due to their name. I don’t think they had a bad set – I just wasn’t into it.
Hellhound (5) – They were really overexcited about the concept of “metal”. I’ve not heard any band say the word “metal” as many times as they did in 20 minutes. Also, I wasn’t a fan of the lead singer’s screeching vocals either. Musically I thought the band were pretty decent mind.
Revolution Within (8) – They had a great set. They were my second favourite of the Metal Battle finalists that I saw.
Evocation (4)
Juodvarnis (3)

After this band had finished, it was time for Bullhead City Circus Wrestling. The ring announcer/timekeeper/hype man came out and plugged what was going on. I had no idea what he was saying (you’d think given this was my 6th festival in Germany I’d have tried to learn some more German than the absolute basics) but he was accompanied by 5 models who were dancing around the ring, which provided a nice distraction. They had a few short matches (I think two of the matches were shorter than the introduction). They had one decent-ish match which was billed as a revenge match. The main event was basically a 340 pound man hitting a 400 pound man. The bigger guy got pushed through a bit of wood (which wasn’t that thick) and that was that. It was all a bit silly really but hell; they put on wrestling at a festival. It was never going to be to an amazing standard and killed some time. After the wrestling finished, it was back to the Metal Battle Finals.

Cosmogon (5)
Earth Divide (4)
In Mute (9)
– This were my favourite of the Metal Battle finalists that I saw. It was cool to see that they won the competition overall.
Huldre (5) – I saw a flyer plugging their show, on which had a quote saying “you have to experience a Huldre show at least once”. Firstly, you don’t. Secondly, their stage show involved trees and costumes. I don’t see how any of these things are necessary for a 20 minute set (much like I didn’t see the point in it last year with GOD The Barbarian Horde).  Clearly I am wrong though as they finished in the top 5 in the Metal Battle Finals.

Huldre were the last Metal Battle finalist to play the festival. After them was a very odd booking. There is a band that plays Wacken fairly regularly called Van Canto (they played again this year, more on them later) who are an a cappella band who cover rock and metal songs. Regardless of your opinion towards vocal groups playing Wacken, at least they cover songs which fit in to the general theme of the festival (I’ve got to be very careful here not to go off on a tangent of how I don’t understand the point of the Wackinger village and stage). Fork (5) on the other hand, are an a cappella band who don’t cover metal songs. In fact, the rockiest they got was Muse – Madness. They are obviously very talented at what they do or else they wouldn’t have been booked, but I can’t help but feel they were booked for the wrong festival. I left Fork’s set early to head to the main stages to watch Hammerfall (8). I found one of the water points during Hammerfall and it was quite small. I think they had 24 official taps on 3 water points that was supposed to deal with potentially 75k fans who might need water and any staff who also needed access to drinking water. That isn’t enough really. Anyway, Hammerfall were really good. It was a special Glory To The Brave show where they would play that album in full which was cool. I didn’t know much off the album but I liked what I heard. They finished off with a small best-of set and a new song I think (it says it was the songs live debut on setlist fm). Closing out on Hearts on Fire, Hammerfall had a triumphant set and ended their hiatus with a bang.

Back in the Bullhead City Circus tent, a band called Beyond The Black (7) were playing. I knew nothing about them other than the fact they had one redeeming feature – they weren’t Steel Panther! (I like some Steel Panther music, but just think the whole “gimmick” that comes with it is cheesy and not that funny). Anyway, I enjoyed Beyond The Black’s set. After them was Letz-Zep (8), a Led Zeppelin tribute band. They were really enjoyable actually and provided a decent sing-along at times. I couldn’t stay for the whole set as I had to head off to the main stages again but I really enjoyed their set. Taking a look at the crowd, it was clear to see I was going to be very far back for the next band, so just decided to watch them on the movie field screen (they were playing behind me, so it still counts as seeing them live!) Anyway, I think that Saxon (9) are incapable of having a bad gig. I mean, it must happen from time to time but I’ve never seen them and thought they were bad. They appear to be worshipped at Wacken so it is always cool to see them in that sort of environment. The set contained all the songs you’d expect from a Saxon show which was cool, ending on Denim and Leather which is ace as I love that song. They had a mini orchestra with them this time and other musicians for half of their set which was cool. You’d think with the effort they had put into their show, they would be the night’s headliner. Unfortunately this was not the case. The headliner of the night was Accept (5). Due to my disappointment of this announcement not having shifted by the time they came on stage, I just couldn’t get into their set and walked off after about 4 or 5 songs into it. Had they been a middle of the day band or even late evening band, I’d have watched the whole thing and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more. The idea of them headlining though seemed very odd to me (I know they headlined before in 2005 but that was a reunion show with Udo I believe). Considering they claimed to have a headliner booked back in September, I just do not believe that Accept were the band that the festival waited 9/10 months to announce. Anyway, my night ended slightly early and I headed off to call it a day at that point.


Friday, much like the two days previous, was another really hot day. Another similarity that Friday had to the other days is that I would be spending most of it inside the Bullhead City Circus tent. If you had told me back in April that I’d be missing Carcass and Slayer, I wouldn’t have believed you, but that is what happened. The opening band I saw on the Black stage. Chthonic (8) had a really cool video screen backdrop with lots of different artwork on there as well as song lyrics. They also had an orchestra on stage with them which was cool. After they had finished, I headed back over to the Bullhead City Circus tent. By the time I got there, the German death metal band Nailed To Obscurity (7) were on stage. I’ve often said I like some death metal and some I don’t. In this instance, I liked it. The next band up for For The Imperium (7) who I also thought were pretty decent. They were a real mixture of styles so it is hard to pigeonhole them but all that matters really is that I enjoyed them. Next up was Neopera (6). They can be compared to Amaranthe in that they have 3 vocalists, a female vocalist, a male clean vocalist and a screaming male vocalist. That is where the comparisons between the two bands should end though. Neopera are more operatic (wonder if the clue is in their name...) and while they were good, I did find myself bored at times during their set. A band from the UK was on stage next as Collibus (8). I had unfortunately missed them at both Download and Sonisphere but I was able to watch them here and I thought their set was great and as a result, have turned me into a fan. I actually have their debut album, The False Awakening, on as I type. Following them was another UK band called Crimes of Passion, shortened to COP UK (5). They reminded me a lot of Steel Panther to be perfectly honest in that I found some of their banter to be very cheesy. I enjoyed their music though for the most part. One thing I thought that was cool was they came off stage and handed out copies of their second album for free. This stint in the tent would end with me watching Torment (9). This was a 30th anniversary show for the thrash n’ roll (their words, not mine) band and I have to say it was really quite good. I thought at the time the lead singer looked remarkably like the wrestler Steve Austin. At one point in the set, the singer grabbed a chainsaw and sliced up a guitar, which was then thrown in bits to the crowd. I will now show my inexperience with this band but I find it hard to believe they do that at every show – unless the guitar being cut up is very cheap and so therefore it doesn’t matter what happens. Logistics aside, it was pretty cool to see. 

Out of the tent and back into the heat, I headed over to the infield this time to watch Heaven Shall Burn (9) who are just fantastic on the big festival stage (I saw them at Wacken in 2011 as well and they smashed it then as well). Heaven Shall Burn are almost unknown in the UK and I find that hard to understand, considering the two times I have seen them live they have been absolutely brilliant. After them was a band I was really looking forward to seeing (I missed them at Wacken 2011 because I think they played the late night/early morning slot) and that was Children of Bodom (8). Just before they came on stage it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually seen them since they supported Slipknot in 2008 (Slipknot, Machine Head and Children of Bodom...that really was a great gig). Anyway, they didn’t disappoint at all. I wasn’t too familiar with the stuff off the new album despite having it (awkward) but aside from that, I thought they were great, They were very well received which was deserved. Following Bodom was a set I had been looking forward to. Apocalyptica (5) are excellent musicians and they were bringing a full orchestra to play with them. I think the idea in my mind was better than the execution on the day though. That is not to say they performed badly, because they didn’t. I just found myself being very bored. I think I would have enjoyed a standard Apocalyptica set more if I’m honest. One positive that came out of this was that I was going to head back to the Bullhead City Circus towards the end of Apocalyptica’s set. I left earlier and was able to catch the last 20 or so minutes of HÓ“matom (8). They were excellent. I wish I had gone to see their whole set now but can’t do a lot about it now. At the end of each song I saw, the whole crowd was chanting their name. I wouldn’t be shocked if next time they play, they play on one of the bigger stages. I was left wondering one thing though; in 2011 they clashed with Mayhem. Why the hell did I watch Mayhem?! Bad call by me, they were awful.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this day’s review, I planned to miss Carcass & Motorhead (who clashed) and Slayer. Given my misgivings that the line up overall was weak, why would I miss some of the biggest acts that were playing? The reason for this is simple. When it became apparent that the line up for Wacken 2014 was not as good as previous ones I’d been to (despite the organisers claiming otherwise), I made the call to see as much of the stuff I wanted to see. Obviously I would have liked to see Carcass and Slayer but I had seen them a few weeks earlier and seeing them again would mean missing 4 bands, 3 of whom I really wanted to see. All of these bands were in the Bullhead City Circus tent. The first of these bands was The Vintage Caravan (10) who were just superb. I had high hopes for how this band would be live after listening to a small amount of their material and they were better than I imagined they would be. After them was Hell (10). The first thing I observed about Hell was that the lead singer has an earpiece microphone (or something that looked like one) as opposed to a standard handheld one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the singer in a rock/metal band opt for that type of microphone before (seen comedians use it and pop singers). Anyway, that is hardly worth focussing on when the show was as great as this was. The band were on their game and their show is somewhat mesmerising. The singer, not trapped behind a microphone stand, was all over the place and appeared at one point to be “healing” crowd members (I likened it to something I’ve seen from the US before where a priest “heals” a crowd member by touching them although other than The Simpsons, I cannot think of such an example now). There were other aspects of the show which were a touch satanic but overall it was an excellent set. It did inspire me to come up with the concept of a movie that would be really offensive to most people who are Christian but that is another story for another day. After them was Nightmare (8), a band who came to my attention I think because they were due to play Hellfest 2012 (which I was due to go to before injury ruled me out). They were due to play one of the main stages so I was surprised to see they were booked for the tent stages at Wacken (I’ve since learned they are a French band so it makes more sense they’d have a higher slot at a French festival). Anyway, their set for the most part was really good. I did find myself starting to tire as they were on which took away from my enjoyment slightly but that wasn’t their fault in the slightest. They played a great set. The final band of this run of 4 I was watching was A Pale Horse Named Death (7). I had been interested in them since they were announced for Wacken back in September. The first thing I latched onto was the song “Heroin Train” and after that listened to both of their albums and thought they were great. I thought they were very good at Wacken as well, however as I noted during Nightmare, I was starting to tire. A gothic/doom band probably wasn’t the best of ideas at that time. They had a really good set though and I left during the last song (or what I thought was the last song) slightly disappointed they didn’t play “Heroin Train” but that wasn’t enough to ruin the set for me. I walked back to my tent passed the infield to catch a very short amount of King Diamond before calling it a day.


After spending most of the festival inside a tent (either the one I was sleeping in or the Bullhead City Circus tent), I was looking forward to the Saturday as almost all of the bands I’d be watching were on the main stages. One thing I haven’t mentioned this year is the major change to the arena in that there were fewer search points, so when you were in the plaza, you were in (no getting searched again at entrances to the stages). By the Saturday, I think some of the security had been instructed to just get the big crowd that had formed in front of the entrance I was using into the plaza. This meant searching had been abandoned and there were significantly more people drinking from cans of beer in the arena that day (I observed that whenever I walked passed an entry later that day, people were being searched, and so I’m guessing someone made a mistake somewhere). Anyway, I’m not here to review the security policies of Wacken, I’m here to review the music. The first band I saw on the Saturday was Prong (8). The clash between them and Arch Enemy was just horrible but i figured I was seeing Arch Enemy in London later this year so it wasn’t the end of the world to miss them on this day. Prong were really good live and they played everything I wanted to hear them play live which made me happy (granted, that was only 3 songs but still). I was happy with my choice. The opening band on the True Metal stage was Sodom (5) who I had seen in 2011 and really enjoyed. On this day though, I couldn’t get passed the fact they seemed to have really bad sound. One thing which put a smile on my face was they played their cover of Surfin’ Bird. I had hoped they would do that in 2011 but they didn’t, so I was pleased to see them play it.

Next up were Behemoth (6) which was an interesting experience in the middle of the afternoon. That was a show that needed to take place when the sun wasn’t up. At one point, two upside down crosses were lit on fire. Now, this wasn’t anything shocking if you know anything about Behemoth but given most people must have had their vision impaired by the sun, it wasn’t as impressive as a visual as it perhaps should have been (it didn’t help they went out very quickly as well). In terms of the music, I actually enjoyed Behemoth live a lot more than I thought I would going into it which is always a plus. After Behemoth was an artist whose band I saw some of the set at Sonisphere this year and was really looking forward to seeing the whole thing at Wacken, and that is the Devin Townsend Project (8). The performance was just as good as Sonisphere for me if not better. The songs played at Soni were all played at Wacken including one extra when the set was coming to an end but Devin realised he still had 15mins left to fill, so we were invited to talk amongst ourselves while the band chose a song to close the set on. The way that was handled, as well as a lot of the stage banter was really funny and confirmed my opinion that the man is as mad as a box of frogs. He inspired a large group hug, which was great. After Devin was another one of the first announcement bands and one of the main draws of the day (I am sure for some people), Emperor (7). The band were for Wacken 2014 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album In The Nightside Eclipse. Emperor were another band who should have played when it was dark (I guess it is difficult to accommodate all of the bands that want to play when it is dark, but considering Emperor were one of the major announcements, it was surprising they ended up being a middle of the day band). The fact it was so bright was even referenced by the person who introduced them on stage who said something to the effect of “this is supposed to be In The Nightside Eclipse, but i guess today it is In The Daylight Eclipse”. Considering before the festival, I had considered them in the same category as Mayhem, I enjoyed their set, significantly more than I enjoyed Mayhem’s set from 2011. I didn’t stick around for the whole thing as I wanted to head off to see the only band I’d be watching in the Bullhead City Circus tent that day.

I don’t remember who recommended The Ocean (8) to me, but I remember listening to their latest album Pelagial and thinking it was just superb. After listening to the album, they were announced for Wacken and I was told again that if I could, I had to try and see them live. Here was the opportunity and they were great. They played the whole of Pelagial in full which was ace to be perfectly honest! (I would say Wacken should have advertised that, but it seems as though The Ocean have been playing the album in full on the tour they are on). They were one of a few bands who played on one of the tent stages who had a video screen backdrop which was cool to see. I was very pleased with my decision to leave Emperor early to watch The Ocean. It did mean missing some of Amon Amarth (10) but they were on top form from the moment I arrived. They had a really cool stage show which involved a whole heap of pyro. Performance wise, Amon Amarth were absolutely spot on. I did have a chuckle at the fact that Johan Hegg smiles far too often for someone who fronts a death metal band but then, his band were playing a major slot at one of the biggest metal festivals in the world and the crowd were going nuts – what is there not to smile about? After they had finished, a curtain was put up with Avantasia’s name on it. That made me happy as I knew what was coming up. Before they came on stage though, it was the job of Megadeth (9) to keep us entertained. Consider it mission completed as Megadeth put in one of the best performances I’ve seen them do, certainly the best in a festival setting. They played a set half made up of songs from Rust In Peace and Countdown To Extinction which was ace because they are Megadeth’s two best albums (in my opinion). Aside from a concern about their sound at the beginning, the set was pretty damn near perfect as far as a Megadeth show goes. I would have liked to hear Sleepwalker and A Tout Le Monde but you can’t win them all. For a brief moment, I wondered if Dave Mustaine was going to walk off stage after waving and just saying thanks to the crowd, but we got the signature sign off – “you’ve been great, we’ve been Megadeth, good night!”

I won’t lie, at this point of the weekend I was a bit fed up of the whole festival experience and was looking forward to it ending. Basically, I was fed up of being tired all the time and was just looking forward to getting to Hamburg Airport so I could stand in their shower for a month (or 20minutes...either way). At the end of Megadeth’s set, I took a spot towards the back of the True Metal stage so I could have a clear view of the stage and the screens. I may have been tired, but the next band was Avantasia (10) and they were one of the main reasons why back in August 2013, I bought a ticket for this festival. As soon as the curtain dropped, all of my little annoyances just went away. I was completely lost in the moment of seeing one of my favourite bands. You can probably work out that I enjoyed them immensely. The beginning of the set made me fall in love with their latest album all over again and by the time they had kicked into The Scarecrow, I knew they were going to be my favourite band of the festival. The set list was pretty much what I wanted to hear (aside from not playing The Wicked Symphony) and the performance was spectacular. One final word on the set, Tobias Sammet could be one of the best front men working at the moment. His on-stage banter (when he spoke in English) was very funny and he even ran over to the adjoining Black Stage and asked the Kreator fans how they were enjoying the “gay metal of Avantasia” which was quite entertaining. After declaring his love for Kreator and Mille Petrozza, the band launched into “Lost In Space” which was one of the best moments of the set. I walked away after they closed on the melody of Sign of the Cross/The Seven Angels with a huge grin on my face, declaring once again, there aren’t many bands who would convince me to get on a plane to go and see them, but they are one of them. It breaks my heart just a little bit that they are relatively unknown in the UK because I would hope for another UK show but I just don’t think that would happen. I do wish I had gone to see them at Bloodstock when they played their UK debut, but I was trying to find a hotel and couldn’t find one nearby (I’ve since found out today in fact that I could have stayed relatively nearby and for cheaply as well...argh!) After grabbing a really questionable burger in the campsite, it was time to sleep. When I would wake, it would be time to go home. Before falling to sleep, I could hear from the arena a bizarre mix of Kreator and Van Canto which was interesting. At one point, I heard Tarja Turunen singing a Nightwish song that she originally sang on, Wishmaster. As a fan of Nightwish who never got to see them with Tarja, that was pretty cool to hear (even if it wasn’t with a full band).


“It’s too fucking early!”

Much like last year, someone walked past my tent at 5.30 in the morning. However this time it wasn’t talking that woke me up. No, these people were playing music from a stereo as they were walking round the campsite. You know, just ouch. I did briefly try to fall back to sleep but it didn’t work out for me, so I packed my bags and left the site and headed for the airport. This journey was fairly uneventful other than the concern I have every year that I’m the only person on the bus who hasn’t showered in 4 days. Thankfully I knew that wasn’t the case this year, but you still worry. After arriving in Itzehoe, I was asked if I wanted to be a part of a group train ticket which would save everyone money in the process. Usually the train would cost just over €13 but it ended up costing me €10. The people we were travelling with both tried to offer €2  so we were all level but to be honest, I was pleased with having saved any money. We got a direct train to Hamburg Altona, where we would change to the S-Bahn train for the airport. Now, I didn’t see any ticket machines here and it didn’t seem as though anyone was stopping to buy a ticket so it was a mystery to me what was going on. I’ve never been ticket checked on the S-Bahn but I just know the one time I don’t have a ticket, I will be checked. I went down to the platform to see if there were any ticket machines there, and there wasn’t one. I jumped on the next train and figured if we do get checked, I’ll play the dumb tourist card and try to talk my way out of it. By the time I reached Hamburg Hauptbahnhof though, I was feeling fairly guilty about this and I got off there to buy a ticket (as I knew where ticket machines were there). Not long after that I was back on the train and at the airport.

Just like the year before, I was at the airport massively too early for my flight but I didn’t care. I was at the airport, and the airport had a shower. The information desk confirmed that what was on the Wacken website was accurate; that the showers were free to use and pointed me in the direction of a shower room. I joined a short queue for a shower room, during which time I encountered a member of the cleaning staff who spoke German and Spanish but not English. As you can probably imagine, I had some communication issues with her - I speak neither German nor Spanish but do speak English. When it was my turn to head into the shower room, she went in first to see if it needed cleaning (which it didn’t) and ushered me in. Quite frequently when the door was shut, she would knock on the door. Once or twice I can live with, but this was really quite frequent and very annoying. Considering Hamburg Airport had clearly entered into an agreement with Wacken Open Air regarding their facilities, they really should have let the staff know that there would be a lot of people coming from the festival who will likely be using the showers, and there is a good chance they might take slightly longer than your usual user of an airport shower having just spent over half a week standing on muddy grounds and not showering. This obviously didn’t happen and I can only assume that everyone from the festival that used the showers were annoyed much like I was during this time. That is the end of my journey really – other than rediscovering a German magazine called Beef! – very little happened at the airport of note. I boarded my flight and left Germany. I do want to say that when I arrived back in the UK, the turnaround at Heathrow was fantastic. I was off the plane, through customs and reunited with my bags really quickly. Usually, somewhere along the line you get held up at a UK airport, so it was quite nice to not be this time. That is my Wacken Open Air 2014 in a lot of words. If you have made it this far, kudos.


As I said (some time ago now, admittedly), if I knew in January what I knew in April in that the line up wasn’t great and wasn’t going to improve dramatically, I would have sold my ticket and not gone. It has to be said though; I did have a good weekend while I was there. I saw a large number of bands I’ve never seen before and a smaller number of bands that I was seeing again. One of the great things about Wacken is there is that from 11am – 12pm on the Thursday and until 3am on Friday & Saturday, there is always something on. So, taking an example from this year, if you don’t want to be in the infield when Endstille, Five Finger Death Punch and Bring Me The Horizon are all playing, you can go elsewhere and watch some music. That is what I did this year and found some bands I really enjoyed (in that particular example, Collibus is a fine example of discovering a band). Seeing Avantasia again made me happy that I didn’t sell my ticket as they were just that good live. The weather was pretty much perfect for a festival this year which always helps matters. The dusty floor around the Wackinger Village and Bullhead City Circus wasn’t too much fun to deal with, when you were getting large clouds of dust everywhere, but there was nothing that could have been done about that. I did say earlier that I think Wacken needed to install more water points, particularly have 1 or 2 close to the Bullhead City Circus stage (I guess the argument against that would be they sold still water at the bars, but given they made the drinking cups smaller this year, I didn’t particularly want to buy water unless I had to). They did a lot this year though to help people out who just drink water so I was grateful for that. The funny thing is that despite all my misgivings about Wacken 2014, and the amount of moaning I’ve done about it (including some on this very blog page), as soon as they made the first 2015 announcement, there was a small voice in my head saying “you know you want to book a ticket”. Well, I didn’t book a ticket and the festival sold out in 12 hours of it going on sale. That is some impressive stuff. I’ll likely keep an eye on who is announced for the festival but for the first time in 5 years, I will not be making the journey to the north of Germany for Wacken 2015.

Until next time Wacken, whenever that may be.