Guns n Roses at Donington ’88 – The Triumph and The Tragedy

Guns n Roses Iron Maiden Kiss

The Donington Monsters of Rock Festival in 1988 was headlined by Iron Maiden, but Guns n Roses – and a tragedy – stole the headlines.

Now known as The Download Festival, the annual pilgrimage of UK Heavy Metal fans to a field outside Nottingham (Castle Donington) is as essential a rite de passage for every wearer of denim and leather and dodger of soap as is an Eton Education to a future King or posting photos of themselves shoplifting on Facebook is to a British teenager.

After having traffic issues in previous years, my friends and I decided to take a tent to the 1988 Monsters of Rock Festival at Donington.

This year’s bill was the best yet: Iron Maiden, KISS, David Lee Roth, Megadeth, Guns n Roses and Helloween. 107,000 people were to attend, according to magazine reports of the time.

Guns n Roses’ debut album had come fourth in the 1987 Kerrang! Critics album of the year behind Aerosmith, Whitesnake and Anthrax. Since they had been named fifth on the bill, however, Sweet Child of Mine had gone ballistic and they were suddenly looking as uncomfortably out of place as a famine survivor on Maria Carey’s Live 8 stage.

We drove up the night before. It wasn’t like festivals are now. There was no such thing as a “camping ticket” that you bought for a hundred and fifty quid six months in advance. We just drove up, having heard that you might be able to pitch a tent. There was a bloke at the gate.

“Here for camping? OK – that’ll be five quid. You can pitch your tent wherever…”.

He forced a reluctant arm to do a vague sweeping gesture in the general direction of a small area of tents and cars. “There’s firewood to the right as you drive in”.

We looked at a large pile of broken up pallets. Apparently this was a new concession to campers by the organisers: a reaction to people tearing down trees without permission the previous year. Presumably with their teeth. Those headbangers were pretty ferocious looking…

We grabbed firewood, pitched our tents by a clearing in the woods and lit a fire. As the sun set, we got chatting to the other few hundred people with the same idea. I played my imported copy of Aerosmith’s Night In The Ruts on a boom-box. No-one had heard it before. “What’s this?” asked an older lad…”it’s pretty good”…

Another guy came up slightly more furtively to us. “Want any Black?” he asked, holding what looked like a large roll of plasticine.

I looked a bit puzzled and declined, not really knowing what it was. I wasn’t in the mood for making models out of clay. It didn’t seem the time or place to make stop-motion animation features.

“Cannabis resin” said a more knowledgeable member of the party. I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. He moved on.

It’s a great feeling knowing you’re already at a festival the night before it starts. No three hour drive there and back, anxiously checking the clock to see if you’re going to miss the first band.  No waiting for three hours just to get out of the car park on the way home (that means you V-Fest 96). Being able to have a drink during the day…

Helloween kicked off the day well. A German band who were a cross between early Priest, Maiden and speed metal. Keeper of The Seven Keys pt 1 is a minor classic – a gateway drug to the thrashier sounds of Metallica. Regrettably they jumped the shark very quickly with the ludicrously titled “Pink Bubbles Go Ape” which is as bad as it sounds – but their first three records, from Wall of Jericho onwards – are very good indeed.

After the cheers had faded for Helloween, onstage came Guns n Roses. Classic original line up, including Steven Adler – all shaggy blonde hair and smiles. It’s So Easy, Welcome To The Jungle. Mr Brownstone. They were great. Slash was just a Big Guitar-Playing Top Hat. Axl was imposing and did that weird snaking dance of his. We’d never seen anyone do that before. Izzy and Duff projected L.A. cool. Everyone wanted to see them and people surged forward. I was maybe forty yards from the stage, in front of the sound tower, but even around me we were packed like sardines against each other. The band paused once or twice as individuals were fished out of the packed crowd at the front. I thought little of it at the time, but a couple of young-ish idiots found room to push people in front of them forward and laugh at the surges they were creating.

Megadeth were excellent, David Lee Roth dug out all his old jokes and one-liners over Steve Vai’s twin necked guitar licks and KISS ran through a strong greatest hits set before the sun went down and fireworks exploded over Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son tour.

As we trudged our weary but happy way back to the tent there was a Police announcement over the p.a: Two kids had died in the crush during Guns n Roses set. A deflating, disbelieving mood swept through the exiting crowd. The saddest possible way to end a memorable day…


The Donington festival was cancelled for a year whilst an inquest took place. It was found that a “crowd collapse” involving 50 people took place fifteen yards from the front of the stage. The mud in that area caused by several days heavy rain prior to the event made things worse. The band (GnR) stopped playing temporarily and called for calm in a scene reminiscent of the Stones at Altamont  in the film Gimme Shelter, but by the time security had fished out the injured people, two bodies (Alan Dick, 18 and Landon Siggers, 20) were found laying down in four inches of mud and were almost covered over. They were pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

For future years the stage was moved so as not to be at the foot of a slope and the mud was made less hazardous. 

I went back in 1990.

Record #52: Guns n Roses – It’s So Easy

Categories: Hard Rock, Live Reviews

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47 replies

  1. I went to this festival too. Unfortunately, it was the first time I drove to the event and made the mistake of exiting the M1 at J23. As a result, I got caught in a huge traffic queue and arrived three hours late. Therefore, I missed Helloween, Guns & Roses and some of Megadeth. I also drove my ex wife crazy by constantly saying “I bet if it was trendies going to a Madonna concert the road would be clear.”
    We did go in 1990 and this time exited the M1 at J24. We got to the festival without problem and had a great time. Aerosmith really kicked ass.


    • The traffic was always a nightmare. There was a lot to be said for camping no matter how shabby the set up…

      Liked by 1 person

    • I was one of the people pulled out the crowd the barrier was pushed over … the crowd surged… was mad

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad you came out of it all right.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Karen, when you say “pulled out” do you mean you were being trampled ?
        The reason why I ask because I was at that gig and I remember nearly suffocating, I could hardly breath and later on I felt someone underneath me. I had to literally punch other fans around me (nearly got battered as a consequence) to get their attention to help me lift up the girl who was collapsed at my feet. I later asked the medics if she was ok, and thank god she was !!!


      • I was lifted from the ground, my arms were pinned to my side’s and I was carried with the surging crowd but couldn’t put my feet on the ground. We were staying at a local b&b and didn’t know about the deaths until the next morning at breakfast the owner came in announcing to the room there was a frantic call for me from my mum. Street cred gone!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good story. Funny how Dave Lee Roth was third on the bill.


  3. I remember my friend down the street bought the Maiden single for “The Evil That Men Do”, and the cover folded out into a ginormous poster for this concert. We just marvelled at the lineup (virtually everybody we loved) and were so jealous because we were only 15 years old, and in Canada!


  4. Awesome post. I’ve never been to a big music festival and I’m not sure if I’d like it or not. Once again I’m pretty jealous that you got to see classic GnR.


  5. What a bittersweet memory. It’s terribly sad when things like that happen.

    As for the description of your time there, as Jason has already commented: awesome. 🙂


  6. Good article. There’s a lot of thought put into this, it reflects the day well…


  7. GNR steal the show.., axl ur great


  8. Long live GNR, stil the dangerous n greatest band in the World..,


  9. Your description absolutely encapsulates that day for me; great descriptions that really bring back memories of our Donnington escapades. I was also fairly near the mixing desk when G&R came on. I remember it clearly, that massive surge, and thank god i was near that sound desk as I’ve never been so scared in my life; I literally couldn’t breath from the growing crush of the crowd. It was only some burly bloke putting his arms around me and walking me around the edge of the mixing desk away from the worst of it, that got me out of a very frightening situation. (I stood well back after that). As you described, it was a blinding set list and Iron Maiden were brilliant but I seem to recall them constantly having to stop to make the crowd take two steps back (?) and it was obvious there were still crowd control issues throughout that day. I clearly remember walking back to the campsite afterwards (much fun was had there the night before – as you say, none of this fortunes-for-a-ticket ‘glamping’ nonsense back then. A fiver got us a space to pitch up so we could drink, sing and explode cans of unopened baked beans on our own bonfire all through the night – rock n roll!) and like you, we all felt such a slump upon hearing that terrible news being announced. Until I read this blog piece I neither knew the names of the poor lads that died, or the details of their death. The thought of their terrible demise, being trampled in that mud is so very distressing (especially as I’m now a mother of two teenage boys, with all the fears you have for their safety). My heart absolutely goes out to their parents; such an awful waste of life. We had some really great Donnington days, but that particular year was most definitely a bitter sweet one.


    • Thank you for sharing your memories – much appreciated and interesting to hear what it was like right down the front. You’re right about Maiden encouraging people to take a couple of steps back.
      During GnR, I was a little further back but I front of me was a couple of people pushing the crowds in front of them, thinking they were being funny….


  10. I remember that night/day well, there was hardly anyone in the field when I got there about midnight so I just wandered around people’s fires to see what was going on, and then slept in my car. I even had a lay down in the tunnel during Helloween, with a bottle of cider as a pillow! I was unaware of what happened to those 2 lads until I got home the next morning, there being no mobile phones in those days. I can remember being told to take a couple of steps back regularly – being only 19 at my first festival I didn’t get too far forwards anyway. As I remember it the sound was not very good during G’n’R – due to the wind? – but Maiden had a great sound and light show…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I was at Donington it was a fucking shambles king Edward spuds flying all over


  12. I also remember it raining full pint pots which meant looking over your shoulder constantly or moving back out of range. 1990 was completely different, it was sunny as I remember. I went for Thunder but Aerosmith were amazing, however Whitesnake I thought were lacklustre…


  13. My mate got me into GnR in 87 he saw them at Newcastle City Hall with Faster pussycat in support and was only a third full. I had a copy of ‘live like a suicide’ which became the live side of ‘lies’. I just had to see them and the next uk gig was Donington. We knew it would be a mental gig so got some moshing training in on the run up by seeing Def Lep, Motor head and Ozzy. yep traffic was mental around m1 in Nottingham-shire but got there on time. Watched Helloween from a safe distance to save energy for GnR. Then got stuck in for welcome to the jungle, the crowd was mental and I quickly discarded my 2 liter bottle of beer to have both hands free to save myself in what I can only describe as the nearest thing imaginable to a medieval pitched battle. I found myself face down in the mud about 15 yards from the front during paradise city and basically kissed good bye to my life but I saw a glimmer of light and found myself being dragged to my feet by my mate bob, we both preceded to do like wise for the others face down before another surge of bodies came. Axle and the boys tried to mellow us all out by playing ‘patience’. At the end of the set Axle says ‘ cheers, don’t f’ing kill yourselves’. watched megadeath from a safe distance as I was exhausted. Things seemed a bit more mellow for DLR but some security guy climbed up on stage from the front and insisted DLR told the crowd to chill. DLR said ;get the f*** of my stage’ before someone ran on and shoved the guy clean of the stage and into the crowd. I had lost everyone I’d gone there with and went for a £4 pint in a tent before getting into KISS. R.I.P. ERIC CARR. I watch Maidens first few songs from a distance but really got into it so slowly nudged my way to the front. At the end I turned around to see the whole crowd lit up by maidens flood lights ‘Wow!’ no way was I gonna get through that lot quickly so legged it over the barrier and sat down. A bouncer gave me a cup of water and asked if I was alright. I later tried to find the car and I would have walked right past it had my mate Andy not opened the door for the light to come on and me see him. I got in and fell asleep. Next day we were one man short and there radio was reporting deaths at Donington. We went to information points to find more details but nothing. A familiar figure appeared on the horizon covered head to foot in mud, we were no longer on man down we hugged him and he had no clue of the poor guys who had perished.

    I was a huge Anthrax fan as well so me and Bob, the dude who had pulled me from death during GUNS, took the national express to London from York a week later, met up with a bunch of metal heads and continued on to Monsters of Rock in Bochum Germany. We saw Great White, Testament, Anthrax DLR, Kiss and Maiden. I remember these two groups of bikers started fighting during the Testament set so me and Bob wadded in, declared we were English and that they should keep there fighting until afterwards. There was no riot. Must have looked pretty funny a couple of English teenagers telling rival biker gangs to back down. Someone said we had balls but we explained what had happened in England the week before.

    What a week. I will never forget and to cap it off when I got home from Germany my dad kicked me out, Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey – thanks for sharing your story – amazing to hear from other people who were there so many years later. Sounds frightening, and I bet that wait for your mate at the end must have seemed like forever. Glad all was ok and kudos for going on to Germany!


  14. Was my first every concert, my brother took me on the back of his GPZ750 so we didn’t have an issue with the traffic. We turned up, got our ticket and then somehow bumped into a guy we knew from Maidstone to my brother annoyance as this guy was now dating his ex but would soon to be my brothers first wife. All I remember about the day was trying to find somewhere for a piss when in the arena area and heading to the nearest fence. It being cold, wet and windy day. Bottles and plastic cups flying everywhere. Losing my brother just before Helloween. The sound system going off during Gun’s n Roses who I was massively into due to seeing Welcome to the Jungle on MTV in 1987 and one of my friends having “It’s so easy”. Funny how a lot of people had not heard of them at the time, shame they become so massive. Thinking how I would like to get near the front for David Lee Roth and then realising what a massive mistake it was due to the amount of people having the same idea and not liking getting a bit squashed. Jonathan King being there and give some stupid speech on stage? Sitting and reading my program at the back during KISS and then witnessing one of the best Iron Maiden performances I have seen whilst trying to balance myself on a crash helmet so I can get a better view. Fireworks at the end and hearing the sad news about the guys who died during Guns n’ Roses, then holding on for dear life for a good 3 hours as we travelled back to Maidstone on my brother GPZ 750 and then being unable to sleep as my ears were still ringing!

    Such great memories even 27 years on!


  15. I remember the day very vividly.
    I’d been every year since ’81 & was amazed by how many people were there that year.
    This was mainly due to Guns n Roses’
    Rise to stardom since the bill was announced.
    It was my 1st time down the front & it was mayhem. Little did we realise the tragedy that was unfolding as we all struggled to stay on our feet with all the mud underneath us.
    We stayed near the front till midway through Kiss’ set & it took an age to get out of the crowd.
    Didn’t hear about the 2 guys who’d lost their lives until we got home the following morning. Such a terrible loss of life on a day that was so memorable, now sadly for the wrong reasons.


  16. I was at the 88 gig and was trapped in the surge when Guns n roses came on. Muddy and wet. Two people tragically lost their lives and many injured….. A massive crowd watched an amazing show ending with only the best… IRON MAIDEN…


  17. Having seen The Cult in 1985 aged 13, Donington 88 was my next gig. Me and my friend were well up for Gn’R mainly, but to me, the whole line-up was just insane. I was gutted not to have been old enough to go in ’87 as I was a massive Bon Jovi fan, but…
    From Exeter, we got the Concert Travel Club coach (remember them?!) at 1.00am which got us to Donington at some crazy early hour. It says on the posters ‘gates open 11.00am’, but I swear we were running into the site at around 7.00am. Ridiculous. Even at that time, there were a few hundred people down the front. My friend managed to squeeze in right against the barrier and I stood directly behind him – for the next 6 hours!
    Funnily enough, I don’t remember ANY rain at all during the day. I remember finally when it all kicked off with the Baily Bros playing their tunes and their constant shout-outs (“Anyone here from ….?”). When Helloween finally arrived on stage, the crowd down there was quite wild, but for a just 16-year-old newbie, I thought it was OK – I certainly wasn’t scared. I remember thinking “If it stays like this, I think I can handle it”.
    When Gn’R came on, it all seemed to go mental. During the set, I remember pulling someone who had slipped/fallen up from the floor by their leather jacket. He looked at me and said ‘thanks’. Again, during all this going on, I never felt scared, but it did get too much in the end and I signalled to a security guard that I wanted out. He reached out and I grabbed his arm and he just yanked me right out and shouted (above the music) to immediately make my way out along the barrier and out the side, right past Duff & Izzy on the left of the stage.
    My friend stayed against the barrier all during Gn’R and didn’t see me get yanked out, but we met up at the Dunlop bridge after Gn’R and we revelled at how fucking great they were. Neither of us was freaked out or anything.
    We watched a bit of Megadeth (neither of us was real fans), we sat against a wall near the back and watched DLR – couldn’t see much, but could easily spot the black drum kit with white trim! We ambled across the other side of the site for KISS and watched from maybe 50 yards back from the sound tower. Again couldn’t make much out apart from Paul Stanley’s white moon boots! We then went right across the other side again to watch Maiden. At the end, they had a huge Iron Maiden logo that was a sort of fire/firework burning thing – I remember seeing that underneath the stage when I was down the front.
    Despite the two tragic losses, I have fond memories of that day and everything that went with it. I went again in ’90, but it was a totally different experience. It had lost a lot of the magic, though ’91 was better (still puzzled why there were only 5 bands on the bill for both those MOR festivals though).
    The main thing that REALLY puzzles me is what the 1989 line could have looked like. I know the license wasn’t granted in the end, but the organisers must have put together some preliminary planning for suitable bands. ANyone got any ideas??


  18. My first ever gig a day I will never forget …..30 Years later I am off to see Maiden again in August

    Liked by 1 person

  19. My favourite ERTAS post! Great comments too.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Was a great start to the day … band were rocking guns and roses played …. they asked a few times for people to move back xx then there was a almighty surge forward …. we were penned together like sardines in a tin could not move once more slash shouted get back the set was stopped the security were trying to pull people out but we were stuck in the mud and the tangle of arms and legs … people even scrambled over the top of us …. then there was a small space and people were dragged and thrown over the barrier
    I was lifted and placed on the floor at the side of the front run of the stage .. we were checked over and given water … a few people were not breathing but were being worked on …. we were moved out the back area to join the concert crowd once we had got the all clear … was scary one guy was still being worked on by us …. it was only once iron maiden came on stage when we herd the tragic news of the loss of the two guys … the last set was dedicated to them it was a wonderful but teary set xxx
    fellow rockers
    Love and hugs karen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Karen – thank you for sharing your memories of the day – sounds really frightening. Quite amazing to hear it…


    • Hi Karen, I understand from your post that you were not the person I helped up because you said you were taken to the front, whereas the girl I helped, we carried her by her arms and legs to the top of the field, beyond the sound-desk.
      I can’t believe I’m chatting to people about this after all these years. So glad to hear about the survival stories, I don’t think I realised at the time how bad things got that day. Like I said, I almost suffocated myself that day especially since I was only five-foot-nothing back then.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. So I was 22 and went up by train (from North London) and used the free bus service to the gig. Was (and still am) a massive Maiden fan. Was slightly pissed off as I’d caught every tour at the Hammersmith Odeon since Beast and was now going to have to stand in a field in the rain and wind. Took the girlfriend at the time and she was not keen on getting into the crowd. So we sat at the back for Helloween, G’n’R, Megadeath and DLR. I wanted to be close for Maiden so we decided to start in during Kiss.

    We got in front of the sound stage and then could get no further. I was a strip of piss back then and for large parts of the Kiss set my feet were not on the ground and I had trouble breathing let alone look after Kim. At one point a group of people carrying a woman above them made their way out of the crowd. Inevitably they made their way up to me and asked me to move. Told them to push me as my feet weren’t on the ground.

    Kim was getting scared and so we bailed and watched Maiden from further back. Really enjoyed their set. I remember it took Bruce to actually get the crowed to step back two steps. Prior to that every band had asked but the crowd kept pushing forward.

    After the set the lights came up and the police made the announcement. Killed the mood, yet there were still huge crowds pressing to get on the buses. I found myself at one point standing on the side of a bus pushing back, as the crowd surged to get on, trying to protect the girlfriend. Insane.

    Maiden announced a tour of smaller venues after, and got to see the set properly from the front row at the Hammy O. I didn’t go to a festival or outside gig again for a decade.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I was only 14 when I went with my older brother. I been to see AC/DC and G’N’R. What happened was G’N’R stopped because it was getting dangerous (p.s. they were asked to stop by the organizers), David Lee Roth came on there was another surge Dave himself pulled out one person the concert was stopped for 10 mins. Then started again. there was an inquire hence no festival the next year. It then had its its trouble from 1990 – 1996 when finance/reputation etc ended it. for 10 years. I’ve been to everyone since/including 1988 and seen how its changed.


  23. I was one of the 50 that were on the floor. Luckily I was picked up and I picked others up. It was terrifying and I still recall it vividly. People forget or are unaware that the carnage was caused before GnR started playing. The band were pissing about onstage while the roadies set up and the DJs decided to play some Slayer. The whole crowd surged to the left, people went down on the floor and then the whole crowd surged back to the right. Just horrific and I’m so grateful to have survived it. All the other bands had to play knowing that people had died. I can’t really believe that the event was allowed to just continue after that happened.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is amazing to think that the bands played on – I’m not sure that would happen nowadays. The report/review in that week’s Kerrang! suggested David Lee Roth was unaware of the fatalities when he performed, but I do wonder when the terrible news was shared with the performers. I’m glad you’re okay and thank you for sharing your experience.


      • Wow..that’s terrible. I was there and posted on this thread some time ago now and have been follwing updates ever since. It’s been quite cathartic in a way as I’ve never got over the tragedy of it. Never realised just how early on the organisers might have known. The whole event should have been cancelled immediately they realised, not just out of respect but to prevent other possible fatalities. To this day, and especially now being a mum of two boys myself, I cannot imagine the heartache for their family and the questions. So, so tragic. No event is worth that.


  24. I was there. My first trip abroad (from Italy) by motorbike – a Ducati Indiana 650 – with a friend: England, Ireland, Scotland and – on the way back home – Castle Donington, of course under a black sky that had poured everything and more on the hill facing the stage, making it as slippery as if it were covered with oil. With thousands of drunken and excited metalheads, it was a recipe for disaster, which regularly occurred.
    Helloween were made target of plastic bottles filled with mud and/or piss. G’n’R I don’t even remember because I couldn’t stand them and went to grab a bite, just as the two boys’ tragedy was consumed. During Megadeth’s set I started (oblivious to what had transpired) heading down to the stage: it was absolute mayhem and I lost my friend in the crowd. David Lee Roth, with a line-up from Heaven, was this far from causing an apocalypse by keeping up inciting the crowd.
    I was right on the verge of a bunch of fellow metalheads who had slipped in the mud in the hundreds and I kept leaning back so I wouldn’t fall into it myself. Those were very long minutes with the knowledge that ending up in there could have been potentially lethal, until one of the security folks – a black fella as big as a wardrobe – made a decision with which he saved I don’t know how many lives: he jumped over the barriers and started literally throwing behind the barriers anyone he could pull up from the mud and limbs tangle, so that the other security and the Red Cross volunteers could them away to rescue them. Fortunately, someone got on the DLR stage and told him to stop being a jerk and tell people to back off to save those below, so the pressure eased a bit. The security guy continued to pull people out until he could, then – after the push from behind had relieved a little – many people got up on their own. One of the few times, perhaps the only one, in 40 years of concerts and festival, during which I’ve gotten really scared because there was no way to control anything.
    Curious to see Kiss playing before Maiden (when the situation was reversed 8 years earlier), which of course blew up the stage, and not with the fireworks at the end.
    I returned to the B&B where I was staying and I found my friend worried because he had heard the news from the telly and I, having gotten lost, arrived very late at night.
    31 years later the memories are still very vivid…



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