So it’s another trip to London and another trip to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire for New Wave Of British Heavy Metal veterans Saxon, who are currently headlining a tour that also includes includes Fastway and Girlschool.
Girlschool are first up and deliver a great opening set. Even those unfamiliar with pretty much anything the band have put out since the 80s would find lots to like here. I always thought Girlschool’s brand of heavy metal worked best for them when they channelled their inner glam-pop sensibilities (something they always acknowledged was a key influence) and delivered songs that were loud, hard and heavy but laden with unmissable hooks, catchy choruses and memorable riffs. And for much of the set that’s exactly what we get: old favourites like Demolition Boys, Hit and Run, Emergency and (Gun cover) the fantastic Race With The Devil. Fitting very much into that template, too, is new song Come The Revolution, from their latest album: 2015’s Guilty as Sin.
Even thirty-odd years after Girlschool formed all-female rock bands are few and far between but well done the women of Girlschool for keeping the flag flying all these years and for doing it so brilliantly in 2016. A definite thumbs up from me.
Hit and Run
Come the Revolution
Take It Like a Band
Watch Your Step
Race with the Devil
When Fastway was launched in 1983 a heavy rock supergroup was in the offing, featuring former members of Motörhead, UFO, and Humble Pie. Pete Way of UFO left before they even made their first album and, incredible a guitarist though ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke undoubtedly is, the band never really stayed on my musical radar. But at least that allowed me to approach their set tonight with a completely open mind. And my verdict: probably among the most talented performers of all three bands this evening. Eddie Clarke is an awesome guitarist, in particular, and Toby Jepsom (lead singer since 2007) has a great voice and a charismatic stage presence. And all the musicians had a good musical vibe and worked well on stage together. But… and this is a big but … compared to the other two bands this evening with their fistfuls of songs that are always imprinted on your brain and you can sing in the shower, this lot simply don’t reach that bar. In spite of some superb musicianship and a great stage presence having a great set of songs is, for me, a crucial component in distinguishing a good rock band from a truly exceptional one. However, Eddie Clarke’s greatest moment of the night is yet to come.
All Fired Up
Feel Me, Touch Me (Do Anything You Want)
By the time Saxon come on at around 9pm every last square inch of floorspace in the Shepherds Bush Empire is completely rammed. I like being part of a sell-out audience in a packed venue but this bordered on being too close for comfort. Perhaps it’s a welcome sign that Saxon need to start booking bigger venues for their next tour.
Now Saxon have had their ups and downs over the years. After the initial wave of early 80s success, they never managed to attain the dizzy stadium-filling heights of their contemporaries like Iron Maiden (though personally I think Saxon are by far the superior band). Saxon risked being derided as heavy metal has-beens and written off as a bit of a joke. A much publicised documentary in 2007 saw them at constant loggerheads with Harvey Goldsmith as he took up the challenge to help restore the band’s popularity. But whether the band took on board any of Goldsmith’s advice or not it inevitably lead them to reflect on their music and their career. There’s been a significant change around in fortunes since and their bloody-minded determination to carry on serving their old fans as well as looking to gain a next generation of new ones has seen them through.
The album currently being toured Battering Ram stands up well against any of their early classics and it’s great to hear the album’s title track open the set. The album has been played and played on my stereo and so songs like The Devil’s Footprint and Queen of Hearts have become familiar old friends to me now and sit well in the set alongside earlier material. The last third of the set, however, is a non-stop run-through of those early Saxon classics: And The Bands Played On, Dallas 1PM, Wheels of Steel . It’s briefly broken for one of those ‘need-to-be-there’ moments when Eddie Clarke returns to the stage for a cover of his old band’s Ace of Spades as Saxon’s very special tribute to Lemmy Kilmister. Then it’s on with more timeless classics: 747 (Strangers in the Night), Denim and Leather and Princess of the Night.
Saxon in 2016 deliver the old material as good as they ever did, produce truly stunning new material and perform with a confidence and authority as befits one of British rock’s truly great bands. Just book a bigger venue next time, Biff!
Let Me Feel Your Power
Solid Ball of Rock
Stand Up and Be Counted
The Devil’s Footprint
Strong Arm of the Law
The Eagle Has Landed
Queen of Hearts
And the Bands Played On
Dallas 1 PM
Wheels of Steel
Ace of Spades (with Eddie Clarke)
747 (Strangers in the Night)
Denim and Leather
Princess of the Night
Saxon – album review: Battering Ram