It’s hard to believe that six months have passed since the legendary Ronnie James Dio passed away. The one time Elf, Rainbow and Black Sabbath singer had been working on this release prior to his death, and now it’s finally appeared in all its double disc glory.
Now I’m so old that I was actually at both of these festival dates, back in the heady eighties when the Castle Donington Monsters of Rock Festival was the only place for a young headbanger to strut his stuff. I’ve also (and I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this bit quiet) had copies of both shows since not long after the respective events took place. Both on cassette and, latterly, CD. So I can vouch for the fact that these cleaned up, official versions sound an awful lot better than their bootleg counterparts, even if the 1983 set still has a muddy drum sound.
The first show was their debut on British soil, and it was strange to see Dio opening the show. But ably supported by former Rainbow sparring partner Jimmy Bain and Black Sabbath colleague Vinny Appice, he took things in his stride. Something that was no surprise, considering his pedigree. The real surprise was former Sweet Savage / future Def Leppard man Vivian Campbell, a relatively unknown guitarist then, but one who was obviously destined for the top flight.
Dio was up for the fight, opening with two tunes from the then new Holy Diver album in the shape of “Stand Up and Shout” and “Straight Through The Heart” before churning out some old classics in the shape of “Children Of The Sea” and “Stargazer” amongst others. This was when he felt he had to prove a point – that he was his own man, and could take on the best and win. Well he could, and it really did bring memories of my youth flooding back, and caused a bit of a back spasm as I tried in vain to replicate the shapes I threw back in the day.
Fast forward four years and Dio had moved up the bill to the special guest slot (and how we laughed at headliners Bon Jovi and their banner which misspelled Donnington). By this time, the guitar slot had passed to Craig Goldy, and with the Dream Evil album to support the title track, “Naked In The Rain” and “All The Fools Sailed Away” get an airing, with the latter tucked away in the middle of a medley, the likes of which I never really enjoy, so don’t go thinking you’re getting full versions of “Children Of The Sea” and “Heaven And Hell”. The more radio friendly fare like “Rock and Roll Children” hasn’t aged very well, but there is still room for plenty Black Sabbath and Rainbow tunes to keep the faithful happy.
It’s not as enjoyable as the first set, but as it’s out as a mid priced digipak, complete with replicas of the all access laminates from both shows, and some dull liner notes from Dante Bonutto, it’s certainly worth the price of admission, even if most of the faithful will have had copies of the shows for a couple of decades now.