Sonisphere festival made a triumphant return to the UK over the weekend of 4th to 6thJuly 2014 at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire.
The festival celebrates the best of rock and metal and all of the bands seemed determined to cement their place in rock history as Sonisphere commemorated 40 years of rock music at Knebworth.
Following on from the likes of the Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin and Queen it was the turn of The Prodigy, Iron Maiden and Metallica to entertain the 50,000 contingent that had attended the Sonisphere weekend.
The set itself was impressive and quite cozy by comparison to, say, Glatonbury. Rather than having a festival area the size of a small town, Sonisphere’s 5 stages were easily accessible to all including people with limited mobility, indeed disabled access was available throughout the festival site. The two main stages, Apollo and Saturn were within about 600 metres of each other and the bands performing on each were timed so that there was no overlap. Apart from one rather amusing slip up on Sunday with Airbourne starting their riotous set on the Apollo stage before Karnivool had quite finished on the Saturn stage the alternating stages worked well to the extent that if you carefully chose your berth on the festival field it was possible to listen to both stages without moving an inch, apart from to the bar and the toilets, of course! The three smaller stages, Satellite, Jaegermeister and Bohemia, were tented, which made for some rather sweaty sets but the fans revelled in the intimacy of the smaller stages. On the smaller stages the highlight of the weekend for me being a fabulous Sunday morning set by The Cadillac Three on the Bohemia stage, who had set off from Nashville Tennessee at 5pm local time on Saturday but still had the energy to pump out a great half hour set of songs from their recently released Tennessee Mojo album, to the delight of a small but vocal and knowledgeable crowd.
There was, inevitably, some overlapping of performances on the smaller stages with the main stages so sadly I did not manage to see every band but there was something for everyone across the weekend.
On Friday The Defiled kicked proceedings off on the Apollo stage on Saturday followed by Gary Numan, Limp Bizkit (ably assisted by the Lounge Kittens on Rollin’) and finally headlining on Friday the Prodigy made sure everyone went back to their tents suitably entertained with a virtuoso set, Firestarter and Spitfire among the tunes belted out.
It was an early start on Saturday to see so called “pirate metal” band Alestorm get the day off to a fine start on the Saturn stage after which southern rockers The Winery Dogs and rockney specialists Chas & Dave played under rainy skies to ensure that whilst the weather dampened us all the music didn’t. The mosh pit revelled in Snooker Loopy, Ain’t No Pleasin’ You and The Sideboard Song in an entertaining 40 minute set. Slayer brought things to a close with their unique metal sound doing the trick, they were excellent. On the Apollo Stage there was much anticipation for Saturday’s headliners Iron Maiden but Anthrax gave us a spellbinding set through their back catalogue and the controversy surrounding Frank Turner’s booking soon died down after he rocked the crowd albeit with an acoustic guitar! By the time the Deftones had finished the festival was in party spirit and the mighty Iron Maiden gave it their all as they ploughed through some of their greatest hit including Run To The Hills, Can I Play with Madness and 2 Minutes to Midnight.
If I was expecting a day of rest on Sunday it was dispelled with a great start from the Cadillac Three, who played a small acoustic set afterwards for rock royalty ticket holders in an exclusive area called The Barn where various artists played throughout the weekend. The festival was bursting with anticipation for the Metallica “By Request” set which had been put together following an online poll for festival goers but the other artists were not satisfied with being merely the warm up acts and, yet again, brilliant performances from Reel Big Fish, The Dropkick Murphys, Devin Townsend Project, Mastodon, Airbourne and Alice in Chains to name but a few ensured that rather than twiddling our thumbs waiting for the main event we would throwing our horns with regularity whilst salivating at the prospect of the Metallica set. So to the main event, Metallica “By Request” and what a performance, showing why they are the main event not just at Sonisphere but on the heavy metal scene. On stage for two hours they rattled through a 30 year back catalogue including Enter Sandman, Master of Puppets, One and their unique take on Whisky in the Jar. A fine festival brought to a fitting end by one of the best bands in any musical genre of all time.
In terms of value for money Sonishpere was hard to criticise. We had bought the rock royalty package, which meant our tent was provided for us and we had access to The Barn and ample toilet, shower block and bar facilities. The bar was a little pricey but we had expected that and whilst Iron Maiden’s Trooper beer was the official beer of Sonisphere it was only in limited supply, which was a tad disappointing for bitter drinkers like me but the Tuborg on offer was acceptable and each bar sold wines and spirits. Soft drinks were in good supply, which was handy given the balmy conditions and tap water was available in abundance and for free. The standard of food was quite high and there were numerous stalls for merchandise and all those things that you inevitably forget to take with you as well as providing mobile phone charging facilties. Lockers were available for hire at a very reasonable charge and cash machines were on site but they charged a flat fee of £2.95 so the idea was to get as much cash as you could safely withdraw to reduce the overall percentage charge for access to your money.
So all in all welcome back Sonisphere and if you’re thinking about next year keep an eye on the website and pencil in July 9-12 2015!
By Simon Robinson