London to Derby: A Headbanger’s Journey

The End. A portentous farewell looms over Ozzy’s stage awash with violet… and we once thought it would never end.

The last decade saw us tire from bidding adieu to legends. Dio, BB King, Lemmy, Bowie – mere mentions still sear like fresh open wounds. As rock veterans from Aerosmith to Zeppelin start making their goodbyes count, the end of an era seems less preposterous than inevitable.

So, we did it. My sister Alysa and I travelled 7,000 miles from Singapore to the United Kingdom, ready to be ankle-deep in mud for Black Sabbath’s final tour – at Download Festival 2016.

Now, Download Festival was something special. On my frayed seven-year-old bucket list, “attend Download” had lain idly between “befriend Eli Roth” (someday, maybe) and “go to space” (physics was never my strong suit).

Never had I thought I would be rocking out to Iron Maiden in their home country so soon. Nor did I imagine being able to afford my first long-haul flight at the age of 25, but frugality paid off.

Of bars, signs and wit.

Ahead of the big event, my sister and I landed in London. There was nothing quite like seeing the familiar backdrop of superhero brawls and prop tanks first-hand. Faster than you can shout ‘nerd’ in my face, I imagined stepping out of a blue police box on the cobbled streets of Trafalgar Square, where stone lions danced to laser lights in the middle of the night.

Birds outnumbered the talents, who in turn outsung the birds. Buskers filled every empty corner, spilling onto the spaces of Covent Garden. All in all, it seemed destined that we were about to have a good day. The uneasy act that greeted us however, was not the ideal introduction to the quaint shoppers’ area.

Sparing you classic touristy shots, I bring you the stranger parts of London.

Redacted: Increasingly disturbing photos. Spoiler alert: He survived.

Cue uncomfortable applause before the disturbed crowd petered out. Seconds later, we left the red-faced man for more conventional attractions. From the peaceful Westminster Abbey to the contrastingly loud M&M’s World, we explored as many heritage sites as we did tourist traps.

The busy day still remained incomplete. After all, what is a trip to London without the eminent Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre? As soon as we were seated, the curtains drew open.

The show must go on.

Two fantastic hours later, you ask, “Was it utterly amazing for the over-excited Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, squashed in the tiny seat three rows away from the vibrant masquerade?” I nod enthusiastically. You bet it was, my friend.

The next morning began with the Tower of London. We stood patiently on the dry moat for the guided tour. In contagious good spirits, Yeoman Warder Bill Callaghan took great pains to explain the meaning of ‘moat’ and finally, introduced the place of horrible histories. Tales of executions have never been told with a bigger smile.

A “we were there” tourist shot.

We continued the bloody streak through claustrophobic tombs and a faux-Leatherface at the London Bridge Experience (real horrorshow, in Nadsat speak), before boarding the less exciting city cruise towards the Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster.

Through Baker Street to Camden Town we paced on. There was much walking over the week, not that we minded. The breezy weather with just a slight chance of rain was much preferable to the sweltering heat of Singapore. Azure skies stretched in vast space, a gorgeous view usually hindered by towering flats in my hometown.

In an extraordinary stroke of luck, we found The World’s End… and the sun!

Brimming with character, the unending streets of Broadway theatres and rock/metal bars satiated my eclectic taste. Led Zeppelin at The Camden Eye segued into System of a Down at The World’s End to the clink of pints. Great way to spend a night barhopping in London.

Finally came the fateful weekend. Festival-goers shuffled onto the packed train to Derby, repeat attendees armed with bragging rights on their wrists. Beer cans docked on the opposite table, where four Downloaders settled. I searched my mind palace in preparation for drunken speak:

“I would sooner kill myself than watch Dave Mustaine live.”

“It would be a laugh if Jon Bovi (sic) headlined Download. Why not?”

“Those twenty-somethings, they ruin everything.”

As the quartet crooned painfully to a rewritten Living On A Prayer, the long ride was also an entertaining one. Past nine, we arrived at Derby train station and headed straight to the hotel. The next three days was it.

To be continued.

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