If only everything in life was as reliable as Saxon. You can set your watch by the fact the enduring Yorkshire stalwarts of the NWOBHM will be touring every spring, usually to coincide with St George’s Day. And you can guarantee a top quality professional performance, and a set list with a perfect balance of new material, unexpected cuts from their lengthy career and, as the set wears on, the classics that those of us of a certain age grew up on.
On this occasion a clash with their London show sent me and other stalwarts of the London gig scene on a Bank Holiday ‘away gig’ 60 miles up the road in Oxford. First support band Redline were a perfect fit for Saxon, making up for a rather amateur stage presence with enthusiastic traditional metal tipped off by the excellent vocal range of singer Kez Taylor.
In contrast the Quireboys‘ booze-fuelled, Faces and Stones inspired mayhem might have seemed an odd choice to back the tea drinking metallers. Yet the two have a lot in common – quintessentially English bands who enjoyed a brief spell in the spotlight, hit on hard times but have bounced back and enjoyed a rejuvenated career, with a revised line up but with a distinctive singer and engaging frontman, in the Quireboys’ case Spike, looking like an extra from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and hobbling from a football-related injury.
Their 40 minute set showed them in the best possible light – the sound was excellent and brought out interplay between Keith Reid’s honky tonk piano and the guitars, including plenty of slide work from the well matched pair of Paul Guerin and Guy Griffin.
A well chosen setlist included old favourites like opener ‘Tramps and Thieves’, ‘Misled’ and ‘Hey You’ but also looked to recent cuts – ‘Mona Lisa Smiled’ has become a modern Quireboys classic, and even two brand new songs - ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’, with its AC/DC inspired riff, and ‘Mother Mary’, with a melancholic feel that reminded me of Mott the Hoople, before they ended with 7 O’ Clock, still one of the great singalong party anthems.
Saxon opened with the title track from their new Sacrifice album, which featured heavily on alongside some vintage gems – ‘Power and the Glory’, which as Biff Byford pointed out has just celebrated its 30th anniversary, and the rarely played ‘Rock and Roll Gypsy’, with its commercial chorus and a great solo from Paul Quinn. Biff as always was the ringmaster and did his usual asking the crowd what should be played, with ‘The Bands Played On’ winning the day.
Of the new songs ‘Night of the Wolf’ and ‘Stand Up and Fight’ were more instant than much of their more recent material, harking back to their earlier days, while there was a smattering of non-obvious songs including a heavy ‘Conquistador’, complete with Nigel Glockler’s drum solo, and ‘Iron Wheels’, the song about Biff’s miner father, with acoustic guitars taking the pace down.
Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt were as solid if unflashy an axe pairing as ever, the former even cracking a rare smile as he donned a 12 string, while the latter was pulling some great metal poses to entertain the crowd at the front.
Another surprise from the late eighties in ‘Ride Like the Wind’ and an epic ‘Dallas 1pm’ sent us into the home straight of Saxon classics, which were predictable yet so evocative for those of us who grew up on metal in the early eighties – ’747 Strangers in the Night’ and ‘Wheels of Steel’, with Biff orchestrating the usual call and response.
Nibbs Carter’s unmistakable rumbling bass intro set the scene for another classic in ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ before fists were punching to ‘Denim and Leather’, the unofficial soundtrack to the NWOBHM era.
Seemingly impromptu they slipped in a furious ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’, though to the disappointment of some at the expense of ‘Crusader’, before Paul was ushered forward to play the opening riff to another, much loved, early classic in ‘Princess of the Night’.
If truth be known I may have seen better Saxon gigs yet, to quote their contemporaries Judas Priest, few bands are more consistent at delivering the goods time after time. I will never tire of seeing both them and the Quireboys and long may both continue to rock it old school.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Stephen Fourie
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Power Plays w/c 21 July (Mon-Fri)
DANNY BEARDSLEY This Fool (indie)
KRIS BARRAS Ignite (Light It Up) (Provogue)
MIND KEY Vertigo (Where The Cold Wind Blows) (Frontiers)
HOLLOW HAZE A Different Sky (Frontiers)
KIN SOUND SYSTEM Live Again (indie)
SAPIEN TRACE Precipice (indie)
STONEWIRE FTM (indie)
FIFTEEN LIONS So Serene (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 21 July (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 JANET GARDNER Your Place In The Sun (Pavement Music)
12:00-13:00 THE NEW ROSES Nothing But Wild (Napalm Records)
14:00-16:00 JESSE KINCH I’m Not Like Everybody Else (Curb Records)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
LOVE & MONEY Dogs In The Traffic (1991)
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