Tag Archives: Saxon

Live review: Giants of Rock, Minehead 25-28 January 2019

This was the sixth annual Giants of Rock weekend hosted by Butlins in Minehead – and my fifth. Here’s a small selection of bands that stood out for me this time, as well as one that I’m afraid just didn’t do it for me at all.

Worth seeing

Sometimes you want to see an artist, at least just the once, for the small part they played in rock ‘n’ roll history. For me, original Thin Lizzy guitarist, Eric Bell, was one of those names who fitted into that category. It meant missing the much-praised ‘New Wave Of Classic Rock’ band Ethyrfield on the other main stage, sadly, (but I made up for this by buying Ethyrfield’s CD from the merch stand later). Eric Bell gave us a run-through of rock ‘n’ roll and blues standards. It’s a little ragged in places but we’re soon into a rendition of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ – a slightly different arrangement of the old folk song compared to Lizzy’s version that many of are used to but Bell’s unique guitar sound is unmistakable and this is basically what I came in to hear. Ironically, the drum-kit of Bell’s former band-mate, Brian Downey, sits unused behind Bell’s band because Downey’s own take on Thin Lizzy’s heritage, in the form of his Live & Dangerous tribute, was the next act. Anyone hoping for some form of cross-fertilisation between these two performances, however, would have been disappointed. There are no guest jam spots or even any acknowledgement that the two bands are in the same building on the same stage on the same evening. Compared to the revived Thin Lizzy of a few years ago (which ended up morphing into Black Star Riders) this is more faithful copy of classic-era Lizzy in conventional tribute act format. But Brian Downey has more than earned the right to perform and celebrate these songs as many times as he likes and the band get a good reception.

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Eric Bell http://www.eric-bell.com/

Ones to watch

Now performing under their new identity (but still down in the programme as VOiD due to them still using their old name when they were originally booked last year) Scarlet Rebels emerged as one of the stars of the introducing stage this year. “Unfortunately, there are about a million bands called Void and no-one could ever find us,” lead singer, Wayne Doyle, tells the crowd. I had caught these guys doing a support slot a year ago and what has not changed is their brand of classy, melodic hard rock which immediately impressed me first time around. Lead guitarist, Chris Jones, is an absolute live-wire on stage, injecting wave after wave of energy into the crowd with his soloing, while front-man, Doyle, has a great voice that’s just perfect for modern-day classic rock. Let’s hope any identity issues that the band suffered under their previous moniker are now firmly behind them and that Scarlet Rebels get the recognition they deserve. As one of the triumvirate of introducing stage winners over the three days they’ll be back at Butlins on one of the main stages next year. Thoroughly well deserved.

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Scarlet Rebels http://www.scarletrebels.com/

Surprise of the weekend

Playing only their second gig in 35 years (the first being at Skegness Butlins the week before) the newly-revived Geordie are one of the biggest surprises of the weekend. The band had a handful of hits in the mid 70s but are now best-known as the band that launched Brian Johnson’s career prior to him being tracked down by AC/DC in 1980. Original members Tom Hill (bass) and Brian Gibson (drums) are joined by Steve Dawson (guitar) and Mark Wright (vocals). Powerful, foghorn very Johnson-esque vocals from Wright with a very well-rehearsed band behind him served to breathe new life into some long-neglected songs. It was great to hear the likes of ‘Can You Do It’, ‘Don’t Do That’ and ‘All Because of You’ getting a live airing after all these years. I’ve seen numerous band revivals at weekends like this, sometimes on some really rather tenuous ground. I therefore approached this with a mixture of curiosity and cynicism but they massively, massively exceeded expectations. A real surprise. I was half-hoping that Geordie would encore with a cover of Back In Black or Rock n Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution as a cheeky little nod to the part they unwittingly played in rock ‘n’ roll history – but it wasn’t to be (Geordie – if you are reading this you should absolutely do it!). The job of delving into AC/DC’s back catalogue was instead left to the next act, Chris Slade’s Timeline when the current (and former) AC/DC drummer ran through a selection of classic songs from his various bands. For sheer impact and confounding expectations, however, the afternoon very much belonged to Geordie.

https://www.facebook.com/GeordieFanpage/

Old favourites

Sweet delivered a blistering set and hopefully gained a few more “oh, I just thought they were just a pop band I didn’t realise they were such a great rock band” converts in the process. However, I’ve written about this band many, many times before and readers of Darren’s music blog will be left in no doubt at all of my affection for all things Sweet. Instead, I’m going to give a mention to Oliver/Dawson Saxon. After they had both walked away from Biff Byford’s Saxon, guitarist, Graham Oliver, and bass player, Steve Dawson, got together and formed their own version of the band. Now I’m not saying Oliver Dawson Saxon are better than the actual continuing Saxon – but they are certainly more fun. With his on-stage patter, lead singer Brian Shaughnessy is more Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club than Hallo Wembleyyyy  and cuts a hilarious and quite bonkers stage presence but he is an absolute dynamo of a vocalist. When it comes to belting out all those old Saxon classics there is always so much energy from this band and Minehead 2019 was no exception. There are no pretensions to be anything else with this performance. It’s just good old-fashioned New Wave Of British Heavy Metal played exactly the way it should be. The perfect party band to end the night with on a weekend like this. Oliver/Dawson Saxon we salute you.

http://www.odsrock.co.uk/

And one that just wasn’t for me

Paul Manzi had quite a busy weekend. He did an excellent job filling in as a temporary member of Sweet on the Saturday night due to Pete Lincoln’s absence and then he was back on the Sunday night fronting Cats In Space. There’s another Sweet connection, too, because former Sweet bass player, Jeff Brown, now carries out that very same role for Cats In Space. Like Sweet, harmony vocals and hook-laden melodies are in integral part of the band’s sound. Rather than the British glam rock era of the early 70s, however, this band very much take their cues from the American AOR/ power pop era of the early 80s, when albums were as shiny, polished and lavishly-produced as an episode of Dynasty. Unfortunately, as with that TV series it’s a genre of rock that simply leaves me cold. It’s clear that Cats In Space love what they are doing and they execute it with total professionalism. I really wanted to like them but three songs in I realise it’s never going to be. If the previous night was Sweet this, for me, was saccharine. I up and leave for the other stage. Raw, raunchy down to earth blues rock from guitar maestro, Rob Tognoni was the perfect antidote to what I’d just walked away from – and someone I look forward to seeing more of.

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Rob Tognoni https://www.robtognoni.com/

Related reviews:

Giants of Rock 2018

Giants of Rock 2017

Rock & Blues weekend, Skegness 2018

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Have we been seeing a creative renaissance for our vintage rock and metal acts?

OK, so Black Sabbath may have played its last ever tour, we have seen one devastating rock star death after another and a number of acts are no more. But, in spite of all that, have we been witnessing a real renaissance for some of our classic rock and metal bands in recent years? I would contend we have.

After some difficult years in the late eighties and nineties for many of our much loved rock giants, one band after another have been releasing albums that stand up really well against their early classics. The aforementioned Black Sabbath released the brilliant 13 album in 2013, which in my view can happily sit alongside the first four Sabbath albums as a genuine bona fide classic. Uriah Heep’s Outsider released in 2014 can unashamedly sit alongside the David Byron-era material in terms of Heep’s unmistakable brand of melodic hard rock. Girlschool’s Guilty As Sin is every bit as good as their era-defining early albums, with lead track Come The Revolution a match for any of their well-known classic tunes. Saxon’s Battering Ram from 2015 and Judas Priest’s Redeemer Of Souls from 2014, each reviewed elsewhere here, both stand up well and offer everything you’d want to hear in a new album from either band. Even The Stones have got in on the act with their critically-acclaimed back-to-basics Lonesome & Blue album celebrating their R&B roots.

My theory is that all of these bands have reached a stage in their musical careers where, unlike some often painful attempts a decade or two ago, they have more than proved themselves. They now no longer feel obliged to sound contemporary or try to keep up with modern trends but can simply concentrate on sounding like themselves and producing the kind of music and the kind of albums that brought them to the public’s attention in the first place.

Of course, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be championing newer rock acts and none of the bands I’m talking about here are going to be around forever. However, I think we could still be seeing a few more classic releases yet from some of our favourite rock veterans over the next few years.

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Review: Giants Of Rock Weekend 2017, Minehead

Giants Of Rock took place at Butlins Minehead again this January for the fourth year running. Apart from the first year (when I was already booked into another Butlins music weekend the week before) I’ve been each time. With three days of music, two main stages and a smaller ‘introducing’ stage there is always plenty to choose from but here are the performances that particularly captured my imagination this year.

Friday

Eschewing both main stages for the first start of the Friday evening programme, we opted instead for The Troy Redfern Band on the introducing stage. I’d seen Troy and co a couple of times before so it was less of an introduction and more of welcome re-acquaintance with the band’s high-octane brand of blues rock. It’s good to see the band go down well.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://troyredfern.com/

After Troy we moved to one of the main stages for a gloriously bonkers set by Dutch flute-playing, Hammond-pounding, yodelling prog-rockers, Focus, which gave all of us in the crowd the chance to let ourselves go wild to a suitably deranged version of Hocus Pocus.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://www.focustheband.com/

Former Gillan guitar legend, Bernie Tormé, is on next and delivers a blistering set as always. Consistently original, the self-styled glam punk shredmeister has been enjoying a real career renaissance of late with two very well-received solo albums and a third on the way. With drummer, Ian Harris, and bass-player, Chris Heilmann, these three make a classic power trio which is the perfect showcase for Torme’s  guitar wizardry. Not only are the Minehead crowd treated to a great selection of some of the more recent material we also get some Gillan-era classics, too, like No Easy Way and New Orleans and a stonking Smoke On The Water as an encore (the first but not the last time we would be hearing that particular song over the weekend). It was a fantastic end to the first night.

bernie-minehead
Photo credit: Lisa Valder

http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/

Saturday

Live Dead 69 are a reincarnation of The Grateful Dead with original keyboard player, Tom Constanten, currently touring the UK performing the band’s classic Live/Dead album in full. The Grateful Dead are not a band I’m hugely familiar with, although I’ve long been aware of the epic jams which the band are renowned for. A brilliant bunch of musicians, I was finding the initial part of their set perhaps a little too jazzy for my tastes. But then more of a blues rock vibe kicked in and I found myself more and more drawn in. Certainly, I’m pleased to have tasted a little of what this legendary band were all about.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://www.tomconstanten.com/

To kick things off on the Saturday night, Bernie Marsden was an obvious choice for me. I’ve seen him solo several times before (plus, of course, I saw him with the classic Whitesnake line-up back in the day) but this is a completely solo set – just Bernie and an acoustic guitar. He completely holds the audience for the full hour: some solo blues material, some Peter Green material and, of course, some Whitesnake material, the latter turning into a beautifully intimate communal sing-along to the likes of Ain’t Gonna Cry No More and Here I Go Again. Superb.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://www.berniemarsden.co.uk/

With a quick change of venue we were ready for Ian Paice with Purpendicular. OK, Giants of Rock is not supposed to be about tribute bands but here you’ve got the legendary Deep Purple drummer himself, together with a cracking bunch of musicians. They absolutely nail the Mark 2-era Deep Purple sound, from the chugging bass lines, to the majestic Hammond organ, to the blinding guitar solos, to the Gillan-esque screams.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://purpendicular.eu/

To round off Saturday we had a non-stop run-through of Saxon classics by Oliver Dawson Saxon. Original Saxon members, Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson, have been touring their alternative version of the Barnsley NWOBHM heroes for twenty years now and, impressed as I am with Biff Byford’s continuing version of the original Saxon, Oliver and Dawson do also offer something brilliantly entertaining. Lead singer, Bri Shaughnessy is a powerful vocalist and a charismatic front-man in his own right and he has absolutely made what might have been a difficult role his own. And as you can never really have too many crowd sing-alongs to classics like Denim And Leather, 747 (Strangers In The Night) and Wheels Of Steel, the fact that there is not just one but two bands out on the road doing this is a bonus in my view.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://www.oliverdawsonsaxon.co.uk/odsroot/

Sunday

In spite of a love 60s R&B bands, I’d never actually managed to see The Pretty Things live until now or even listened to one of their albums in full. But front-man Phil May and guitarist Dick Taylor still cut it live after more than half a century together. The two original members are joined by second guitarist/harmonica player, Frank Holland, who has been playing with them since the late eighties, together with a fantastically energetic young rhythm section in Jack Greenwood and George Woosey. Obviously, a band that’s been around since 1963 is going to have a hefty back catalogue to choose from and, while I enjoyed the whole set, I found they had more to offer when they concentrated on their mid 60s R&B period rather than their later stoner rock phase. Fortunately, the former makes up a significant part of the set and anyone who is currently enjoying the Rolling Stones new back-to-basics Blue & Lonesome album and wants an authentic slice of 60s rhythm and blues should certainly try and get to see The Pretty Things live.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://www.theprettythings.com/

Still in the mood for more music after The Pretty Things, we headed off to the introducing stage and arrived just in time to see an awesome performance from the band KilliT. Great vocals. Great musicianship. Great guitar solos. Great stage presence. And, importantly, great songs, too. Instantly memorable numbers like Calm Before The Storm and Shut It Down from their debut album meant that this classic-sounding heavy metal band could wow the audience with some classic-sounding heavy metal songs. The best new hard rock band I’ve heard in ages, I was genuinely delighted for them when they were officially voted top act on the introducing stage that day. That means they will be back at Giants Of Rock to perform on the main stage next year. KilliT are a new band that have clearly arrived fully formed and deserve to go far.

killit-mineheadPhoto credit: Sally Newhouse

http://www.killitband.com/

That pretty much wraps up a brilliant weekend of music for me. There were more bands on the Sunday evening and for head-liners that night punters had a choice between Steve Hackett doing Genesis or Ian Anderson doing Jethro Tull. I looked in on both but it was all getting a bit proggy for me and I just didn’t seem to have my prog head on. Reflecting on what a great range of performances I’d witnessed over the weekend, I was happy to call it a night.

A great bunch of bands. A great crowd. A great weekend. Here’s to Giants Of Rock 2018.

2016 – The top ten most popular reviews on Darren’s music blog

Happy New Year and thanks to everyone who visited this blog during 2016. Here were the ten posts with the biggest number of hits this year:

  1. Sweet at Bilston – December: “The band produced some excellent hard rock back in the day and it’s nice to see that side of the band being properly celebrated, in addition to the more obvious but still equally wonderful glam rock side” – full review here
  2. AC/DC at the Olympic Stadium – June: “as I’m listening to Axl Rose belting out the likes of Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and High Voltage I can’t help feeling he’s absolutely nailing those old Bon Scott tunes – full review here
  3. John Cooper Clark & Hugh Cornwell at Kentish Town – November: “It’s a veritable celebration of late 50s/early 60s pop culture and it is, my gig companion for the evening whispers to me, the most surreal gig I’ve ever been to.” – full review here
  4. Saxon / Fastway / Girlschool at Shepherd’s Bush – November: “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.” Full review here
  5. Ian Hunter at Shepherd’s Bush – November: “The Rant Band are on great form, as ever. Ian Hunter continues to be both a great rock and roll performer, as ever, and a thought-provoking singer-songwriter, as ever. Let’s hope there’s a good few more tours in him yet.” Full review here
  6. Ian Hunter at Minehead – January :(yes – clearly a lot of Ian Hunter fans visit my blog!) “not only is Hunter still going strong, still singing and still performing but that he is still a major creative force, writing songs and making albums as consistently original and wonderfully compelling as the ones he made over four decades ago.” Full review here
  7. Mott The Hoople Fan Convention at Hereford – June: “Forty-two years after their original demise Mott The Hoople is still a band that’s loved, celebrated and cherished by its many fans – and rightly so.” Full review here
  8. Mick Ralphs Blues Band at Minehead – January: Sadly, the band have now called it a day following Mick Ralphs’ stroke this year. Let’s hope Mick has a full recovery and let’s hope it’s not the last we have heard of lead singer Adam Barron “he is, in my mind, fast establishing himself of one of the finest blues rock vocalists of his generation.” Full review here
  9. Me! – yes my own biography at number 9. You read the blog, you want to find out a bit more about who is behind it so here I am. Full details here
  10. Slade UK and Pouk Hill Prophetz at Wolverhampton – March: Another fan convention – Slade this time and a chance to see the Pouk Hill Prophetz. “Where the band really excel, particularly in the later set, is in the delivery of pre-glam era “before they were famous” Slade songs – stunningly authentic versions of songs like Know Who You Are and Dapple Rose.” Full details here

Thanks to visiting everyone and here’s to 2017. Although it’s now inevitable that a number of music icons from the 60s and 70s are passing away let’s hope the rock obituary writers are not kept anywhere near as busy in 2017.

Darren

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Sweet at Bilston -our number 1 for 2016 (Photo credit: Eileen Handley)

 

Saxon / Fastway / Girlschool at Shepherd’s Bush Empire 5/11/16

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.

Girlschool setlist
Demolition Boys
Hit and Run
Come the Revolution
Take It Like a Band
Future Flash
Watch Your Step
Race with the Devil
Emergency

http://www.girlschool.co.uk/

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.

Fastway setlist:
Misunderstood
All Fired Up
Another Day
Deliver Me
Telephone
Heft!
Feel Me, Touch Me (Do Anything You Want)
Easy Livin’

http://www.fastwayofficial.com/site/

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!

Saxon setlist:
Battering Ram
Let Me Feel Your Power
Sacrifice
Solid Ball of Rock
Never Surrender
Crusader
Stand Up and Be Counted
The Devil’s Footprint
Strong Arm of the Law
Killing Ground
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

http://www.saxon747.com/

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Related review:
Saxon – album review: Battering Ram

Metal: album review – Saxon ‘Battering Ram’

Whatever the genre of music and however talented the musicians, without strong tunes and hummable melodies no band is going to make much of an impact on me. And that goes as much for my heavy metal as anything else. It’s one of the reasons that attracted me to Saxon in the first place, thirty-odd years ago.

And while there’s not necessarily the next Wheels of Steel or 747 (Strangers in the Night) on this album, there are certainly some strong and memorable songs here. Title track Battering Ram is a classic slice of Saxon and a strong opener.. Biff Byford’s voice is as powerful as ever and the album rocks hard as you would expect. But there is light and shade here, too. Proggy, choral backing vocals on tracks like Queen of Hearts add texture and atmosphere to the hard, driving guitar riffs.

Kingdon of the Cross, Byford’s poignant reflection on the slaughter of the First World War is another stand-out track on the album. “Comrades of their different coats, Came to fight and die, From all sides they stood and fought, And fell beneath the sky”. Apart from the choruses this track is delivered entirely in spoken word. That may sound strange for a Saxon track, but it works. In fact, Byford has such a wonderfully characterful speaking voice you could almost imagine him doing the voiceover for a BBC4 documentary.

Any some-time fan of Saxon who feared this is a band who had lost their way years ago should get this album and have those fears immediately dispelled. And don’t just take my word for it. “This is cool. What’s this music?” asked a friend’s 15 year old daughter when her and her mum popped round just as I was playing the album for the first time. Biff would be pleased, I’m sure.

Released: October 2015

http://www.saxon747.com/

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