Bloodstock '18: The View From The Bar
After many long months spent tirelessly slaving away creating some of the finest cocktails known to humanity, our resident mixologist and roving reporter Malayka Al-abdullah takes a well-earned break from her bar-side duties to soak up the electrifying riffs, booze and top-notch banter of the UK’s premier heavy metal weekend. But from bucket-based, wasp-infested cocktails to lukewarm lager and eye-watering volumes of gut-rot vodka, it fast becomes apparent that her work is anything but over...
Another year, another Bloodstock. Another fun-packed four nights fuelled by good banter, copious amounts of booze and some truly good metal. So putting down my shakers and running for the car, this bartender gets a few nights off to head bang. The funny thing is, for me Bloodstock has always meant more to me than than a simple heavy metal festival. Don’t think for one minute I am giving it airs and graces it doesn’t have (come on, portaloos!) but have you ever had a holiday that, when you came back, it actually seemed to change your life for the better? Well that’s what it has always been like for me. I get four days and nights of easy access to my friends which is hard to do in a world of adult responsibility, and truly good value for our money in the ticket price. Plus this year a large number of our group made it this year, which meant it promised to be an even better than the years before. So here is my account, personal highlights, what we did, what we drank and, let's be honest, what I remember of Bloodstock Open Air festival 2018.
It has been said that alcohol and rock go together like ducks and well...more ducks! (Not ducks to water, it's never that smooth).
Brace yourselves: this is the bartender's eye view...
“Please Faye, can we not get drunk in the queue again?" Famous. Last. Words.
On Wednesday, a small group of us had headed to Birmingham with hope of getting to Catton Hall Park early and missing the queue. We didn't. Which shows fantastically Bloodstock's ever growing popularity, but bad for the aforementioned trying-not-to-get-drunkenness. Before arriving at Catton Hall we had made the obligatory supermarket stop for last minute supplies and of course booze.
Now, what tipple of choice one brings to a festival is an important thing. What are you happy to be drinking for the next 3/4 days? Are you happy to still drink it when it gets warm (and it will) and do you need a mixer? If so what kind? Big decisions, we went with three cases of decent larger, which is always a safe bet at a festival but as we know beer needs shots, so we wandered to the spirit aisle to see what was on offer. Being a whisky girl at heart, my friend and I naturally wandered over to the whiskies to see what selection they had and found myself not disappointed.
Now some may get my mentality, some may not but I am never gonna bring a bottle that I have paid more than £40 for to a festival. So finding Jim Beam Rye on sale for £18 was a good call in my books and, call me a heathen if that’s what you feel, but I personally prefer Jim Beam Rye to the bourbon. I handed it to my friend and told her she can't go wrong. Sitting in the car on the last leg of our journey I tell her what a rye whisky is; for the most part a rye is made the same as bourbon. The difference being bourbon is made with a minimum of 51% corn in the mash bill, rye is made with a 51% minimum of rye giving the difference in flavour. Corn = sweet, rye = dry and spicy. Having rye available in a local supermarket I find an interesting development in current drinking culture as, up until recently, rye has been unknown, hard to get hold of or just uncool. My friend respectfully "Oohh’d" and "Aahh’d" as we cracked it open. Three hours later, a case of beer and a ¼ bottle of rye lighter, we had our tents up. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the arena that night.
The first thing that strikes me as I crawl out of my tent on Friday was thank god I don’t have a hangover. Beating the tradition of the last two years of bloodstock, among our group are two Lithuanians who like to drink like traditional Lithuanians. Which means that, every year without fail, they empty out a five litre water bottle and fill it with vodka. This gives me pause for my many conflicting emotions...
Firstly, like most bartenders I feel kind of blah on the subject of vodka; I don’t outright look my nose down at it like some but to me hearing someone say ‘I really like vodka' is a bit like hearing someone say ‘I like food, I don’t mind which, just bring me food'. My meaning being vodka is blank slate, you can do anything with it. It has been within my experience that the majority of drinkers who say they like vodka tend to fit into one of two categories. One, people who don’t actually like the taste of alcohol and drink it because it can be easily covered or two, those who come from a tradition of vodka-drinking e.g. North and Eastern Europe. So with this in my mind my friends get a pass, but oh god, the flashbacks...the flashbacks! The second conflicting emotions being the previous years' hangovers. Why couldn't they at least have gotten some flavoured vodkas? They can be pretty good (yum, Zabrowka). Be very cautious if my friends hand you a water bottle, it is rarely water.
But now to the bands...
Mortishead opened up with intriguing intros to every song. The pulled you in with their good balance between heavy brutality and colour-filled rhythm. They hit an unexpected good spot with tracks like "Aslaved Asleep" and "Shit Storm" being tracks I will return to later and add on to my party lists. All in all very good, they are clearly great showmen, but I did find the wandering of the keyboardist a bit distracting. Seriously, though, give them a look-in.
Clearly, no one was happy when it was announced that, due to problems with their flight, they would not be playing their original allotted time slot on the Ronnie James Dio stage, but they would be swapped with Love Bites' set some two hours later on the Sophie Lancaster stage. Because of this, I feel the crowd who did turn up was probably less than expected. You can forgive this reviewer for thinking that maybe they would not go down so well in a more metal-inclined audience, but I was clearly wrong as everyone took to them like ducks to water. Despite adversity, they still pulled out the stops and gave a fun, brutal riot of a performance.
They had me from the get-go. Let's be honest here, they speak for themselves. They are classic for a reason. A reason they show with professional and confident mastery of everything they do. Well-polished to a shine performances and mastery over the audience as they had us in the grip of their hands and screaming for more. Songs like 'Turbo Lover' had us singing along and 'Breaking The Law' was the nostalgia hit we all wanted. With a huge 19-song set list they really show their strength. They are something that youngsters and newbies need to pay attention to too. 'Cos if you think you're hard enough, they just showed you...you're not.
Later that day safely back at our tents a rather portly gentleman (I am being very diplomatic here, he was no gentleman) wanders over asking if we would “Like to drink from my bucket". For obvious reasons, this gave me pause, firstly because of the implied innuendo. Also because what the hell was in the bucket in the first place! After a bit of questioning I found out it was a mixture of a few different booze and fruit juices he had brought with him. Finding nothing else to mix them in, he bought a bucket, which seamed reasonable enough. Throwing caution to the wind, I gave it a sip. It was blah at best. I could taste nothing but apple juice and maybe a bit of mango. It gave my bartending senses a real disappointment. As any good bartender worth their salt knows, making a good drink is all about balance of flavours. There was no balance, there was no depth. Offering to improve the flavour a little, I grabbed my lime juice and orange liqueur and went to work adding a little more sweet and sour to add a bit more depth. It was far from the best I have ever done, but it was the best I could do without back bar behind me. Drinking from a bucket and swapping witty banter, surrounded by the music I love, I felt quite at home.
This was the big one for me, all of my favourite acts were playing today. So, putting on my best outfit and achieving tea as breakfast, we started our day. At this point I realised we had not touched the booze I had brought. I had decided festival cocktails, because what is the point of having these skills if I can't show off to my friends? So I had brought tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice to knock up margaritas, a classic and one of my favourites. Simple, easy. This is the way to go if you want to do festival cocktails and who doesn't? Easy 3 part cocktails will be the way to go if you don't want to prebatch like I didn't. Something like a daiquiri (double rum, single lime juice and single sugar syrup) will always be a hit.
Margarita’d up, me and girls headed to Ronnie James Dio to catch our first act.
Beautiful but unsettling artwork on the backdrop had me excited for what was surely one of my highlights of Bloodstock. Opening up with ‘Portrait of a Headless Man' before heading into ‘The Vampire of Nazareth’ showed their dark promise, but it was opening riffs of ‘Martyr’ that really revved up the crowd and opened up the pit. This is what I like about Septicflesh; their music tells stories. Be it stories spun from mythology or dark dystopian tales. These tales line up with their beautiful, layered brutality. ‘Communion’ washes over me like thunderous reverence. ‘Anubis' had me singing along, its riffs like black smoke curling in the air. I loved every moment so much they made me briefly consider moving to Athens to pursue career option 3 as a Septicflesh stalker. Not sure how I am supposed to make money out of that, but that is later Malayka's problem. Plus, it's worth noting the father that had his son on his shoulders in the pit. It's nice to see parents educating their children properly.
Let's be honest here, I didn't want to like them. Like, come on, pirate metal? Since when was that a thing? But quite against my will, I did. Isn’t that the pirate way? How could I not? They are such utter shameless fun. Everyone sang along to all they knew, and it was from Alestorm’s set that some of the best photos of this years Bloodstock came from. ‘Drink’ and ‘Hangover’ were sing-along, crowd-pleasing hits that only got mildly disturbed by a drunk and falling asleep Lithuanian. While I wont be running out to buy their entire back catalogue, I will be downloading a few select tracks because they really make a party and who doesn't like a party? Only boring people.
Feeling quite tired and tipsy from all the excitement of the day, not to mention many swigs from my flask containing Havana club 3yr, I headed back to my tent for a quick disco nap. Determined not to miss Saturday’s headliner and my second favourite band on this years line up, I set my alarm and headed off.
Waking up at 11:30 having missed the entire set, it could be heard around most of the Midgard Camp ground “I CAN'T BELIEVE I SLEPT THROUGH GOJIRA!!!"
To say l wasn't happy doesn't even begin to cover it.
Waking on the last day feeling like this whole thing had gone too quick and still reeling from missing Gojira, we looked around and reeled again. We still had unholy amounts of alcohol left. No, this will not do. I am not carrying this back. Taking stock of what we had left...
That vodka, completely gone, thank god, and mostly to the same, aforementioned Lithuanian. Still some rum, tequila but no more orange liqueur. So, no more margaritas, which is terrible, and more than I would like to say cases of beer. Having a cup of tea first so we didn't feel like total alcoholics, we proceeded to finish what we had left.
Looking back on my notes, one sentence jumped out at me, my favourite new find. A bold statement that I believe Mantar will hold to. For a two-piece they really fill a soundscape. Sludgy, heavy, beautiful and right up my ally. The side-to-the-audience is different but necessary as you watch the duo feed off each other's energy. A performance that had me dancing along track after track. 'Seek and Forget' is a new anthem, with hints of hardcore. 'Era Borealis' is a punchy, fistpump-along track, with 'The spell' having guitar lines that feel like bliss in my brain. They slide easily from hardcore to black metal within a space of a song. I truly believe there is something here for everyone. I really could not gush enough. I consider myself a newly-converted fan. I expect big things from them in the future.
In all honesty, the rest of the day passes in blur. I know I caught Devil Driver, Demonic Resurrection and Srd. All of which I was quite looking forward to, but it passes in a haze of Havana Club 3 Year, which I had brought along for sentimental reasons. It was, in fact, what I had brought with me to my first ever festival (Bloodstock ’16). Later, sending super-drunk videos of all of us to a friend of mine, I made it to Sunday's headliners Nightwish, but for me they have always been a bit like house wine. Perfectly serviceable but not something I am gonna write home about. Not to say they were bad, just not my cup of tea!
Waking up on Monday feeling many conflicting emotions, like, for example, I would stab a hobo for a shower and salad right now (Bloodstock food is 70% carbs) but also feeling like I could also dive right back in, we head home. With Alestorm and Skindred (Bloodstock ’17) circling around my head, knowing how exhausting the whole thing can be with marathon drinking, not mention mosh pits and headbanging-related strains. Not to mention the nightly chorus of snores and that Bloodstock never sleeps, plus the guy who kept shooting marshmallows at me. Oh, I forgot to mention that earlier! I still feel I could have jumped straight back. Seriously, metalheads, I love you guys. The banter is always witty and top-notch. The atmosphere alive and captivating. This bartending metalhead is hooked. I will see again next year, Bloodstock. Probably again with unholy amounts of alcohol.
So until then Bloodstock, please tip your bartenders. It's how we pay our bills!