It’s been a long wait to see NWOBHM legends Saxon on their 35th Anniversary ‘Warriors of The Road’ tour, but here we are at last, ready for a night of heavy metal thunder.
Tonight is a re-scheduled affair originally planned for December but delayed after drummer Nigel Glocker was taken seriously ill with a brain aneurysm. Now back home and on the mend after two surgical procedures, Glockler is replaced – tonight and on the remaining dates – by Sven Dirkschneider, the son of Accept’s Udo.
With the unique antics of Hell out of the way, it’s back to a night of who we really came to see. With 9 on the clock AC/DC’s classic “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” blasts out of the PA, priming us for the entrance of Biff and the boys.
Heading out to their 1980 stormer ‘Motorcyle Man’ off the back of which comes ‘Sacrifice’ the title track from their most recent album, Saxon demonstrate the longevity of the best of British. Frontman Biff Byford works the crowd as he has always done, with hair flailing exuberance and ease, before ‘The Power and The Glory’ takes us back to those halcyon days of the mid-eighties when we were buying our first inspirational heavy metal albums.
For anybody who doesn’t know the iconic, long-standing history of Saxon, Biff reminds us that it’s been 36 years since their first appearance in Wolverhampton, next door at the Civic Hall with Motörhead. With this and a nod to Nigel Glockler and his planned return to the drumkit as soon as possible, it’s with a little more meaning than usual that they launch into ‘And The Bands Played On’.
It was 30 years ago that I saw Saxon live for the first time, inspired mostly by listening to the 1982 live album ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ with a track listing from the three great albums: ‘Wheels of Steel’, ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ and ‘Denim and Leather’. Tonight they sound no different to way back then, with a cavalcade of hits from those albums including ‘Dallas 1PM’, ‘20,000 ft’, ‘Never Surrender’, ‘747 (Strangers in the Night)’, ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ and ‘Princess of the Night’.
Biff Byford is still more than capable of an incredibly strong vocal performance with founding comrade Paul Quinn being a proficient and versatile guitarist. The original lads from Yorkshire along with guitarist Doug Scarratt and bassist Nibbs Carter show absolutely no sign of calling it a day just yet.
In amongst the really big numbers comes: ‘To Hell and Back Again’, ‘Solid Ball of Rock’, ‘Forever Free’, ‘Suzie Hold On’, ‘Crusader’ and the more apt than we probably know it: ‘I’ve Got to Rock (To Stay Alive)’. A selection from such an extensive catalogue, well thought out and paced throughout the set.
The title tracks from the aforementioned “three great albums” make up the encore. Three fantastic anthems that have us singing our hearts out to the choruses of ‘Wheels Of Steel’, ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ and what is probably the best song ever written about the mutual love between bands and fans: ‘Denim And Leather’.
Saxon have influenced the likes of Metallica, Pantera and Megadeth and yet probably don’t get quite the same recognition as other bands from the NWOBHM era. However, it goes without saying that they were, and continue to be, no less a vital part of the machine that has created modern metal music, perfectly highlighted in a classic performance tonight.
Review & Photography: Steve Johnston