It’s a Classic Rock NWOBHM 40th Anniversary spectacular as Yorkshire stalwarts Saxon headline a four band bill showing why they are the undisputed Kings of British Heavy Metal.
NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) was an acronym used constantly in the late 70’s and early 80’s which spawned the likes of Saxon, Diamond Head, Angelwitch, Venom, Raven to name just a handful. Those that were able to survive the onslaught of MTV friendly US attention went on to greatness, the likes of Def Leppard and Iron Maiden never looked back, but Saxon seemed to remain true to their British Roots, releasing 2 albums in 1980 ‘Wheels of Steel’ and ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ which became the bedrock of any Denim or Leather clad youngster’s vinyl collection.
Some 40 years have past and this gig in Manchester was really to celebrate the anniversary but due to covid it was rescheduled over 2 years later to a Friday night in January. However, these loyal supporters held on to their tickets and the apollo in Manchester is ‘Sold Out’ for the return of the tea drinking rockers from Barnsley.
Saxon have brought with them Uriah Heep, Girlschool and Diamond Head and Brian Tatler’s men are up first at the very early time of 6pm, so its half full when they open with ‘The Messenger’ from their recent album ‘The Coffin Train’. Tatler’s Gibson Flying V is on show for most of the set except unusually for ‘Am I Evil’ – the key track that most revellers tonight will remember. Metallica famously covered it, and continue to play it live at their shows. Rasmus Bom Andersen is the current vocalist (Tatler the only remaining founder member) and he puts on a great show with plenty of energy and he thrills the early attendees with a run through of ‘Helpless’, ‘Lightning to the Nations’ and ‘Sweet and Innocent’ all very early tracks from the Diamond Head back catalogue.
Then its the turn of Girlschool, they were one of the first all female heavy metal bands (Est. 1978) and tracks like ‘Emergency’, ‘Race with the Devil’ and ‘C’mon Lets’s Go’ are still implanted in my brain along with various photos of leather jackets and tight jeans. Kim McAuliffe and Denise Dufort are the remaining founder members although bass player Tracey Lamb and guitarist Jackie Chambers have been around them since the 90’s. They are a very tight unit, getting the crowd going and we even get a few spirited high kicks from Lamb and some guitar histrionics from the very blonde Chambers. Lots of mentions of Motorhead tonight, but it’s the girls that dared to cover the classic ‘Bomber’ and not bad a job they do too.
Uriah Heep’s Bernie Shaw runs out on to the stage like a man possessed, bearing more than a resemblance to Meatloaf (RIP) he contrasts guitarist and founder member Mick Box dramatically, as Mick, bless him, prefers to tootle around the stage reserving his energy for some blistering guitar solos. That said, the combination of the two plus some great Hammond sounding keys from Phil Lanzon breathe real life into some of these old tunes. Lets go back to the start with ‘Gypsy’, circa 1970 and yet tonight it sounded like it was released in the last 5 years. Uriah Heep had their planned anniversary tour postponed due to Covid and have announced that they will be touring in the Autumn this year. My personal favourite album from them is 1982’s ‘Abominog’ and I’m quite shocked that they play ‘Too scared to run’ from it, made me immediately want to play the album when I got home that night. Of course ‘Easy Livin’ is reserved to the end, but this is a show that needed to be longer, so I’ll be getting myself a ticket for their performance at York Barbican on 9th October ‘22.
Biff Byford of Saxon is 71 years old, how has that happened? And yet he is still a formidable frontman, still shaking his long hair, still has the audience where he wants them, still able to put that searing voice out over the PA. ‘Wheels of Steel’ sounding as epic as it did in 1980 and they casually tossed that out in the first 3 songs. A huge steel eagle with lights is seen as a backdrop to a raised stage with smoke bombs going off every few minutes. This was a show worth waiting for, and we have been waiting over 2 years, so its actually a 42nd Anniversary, which doesn’t quite sound the same but nevertheless we are going to rock all night to some of the finest NWOBHM songs around.
Motorhead dedications again on ‘They Played Rock n Roll’ and you realise that these bands are like old soldiers returning from a battlefield lamenting over their lost comrades. They are all at an age now where they are losing fellow soldiers every week (Burke Shelley, Meatloaf in the last fortnight) they should be celebrated now before it’s too late. ‘Denim and Leather’ a battlecry for the 80’s and someone throws out an old denim jacket with patches adorned, which is worn by guitarist Doug Scarrett, this feeling of cameraderie between band and audience goes on through the whole night.
Classic after classic track are played with the same venom that they did in the eighties, some band members may have changed but Paul Quinn and Biff Byford have remained to see it all through to the end. However, that end isn’t happening anytime soon as they are about to release a new album Carpe Diem and a UK tour this autumn which will see Saxon through to their 43rd anniversary. Lets hope we are all still here for that. Saxon play York Barbican on 23rd November with Diamond Head as support.
Motorcycle Man, Battering Ram, Wheels of Steel, They Played Rock n Roll, Strong Arm of the Law, Denim and Leather, Thunderbolt, Backs to the Wall, The Eagle Has Landed, Never Surrender, Dogs of War/Solid Ball of Rock, And the Bands Played On, To Hell and Back Again, Power and the Glory, Heavy Metal Thunder, Crusader, 747 (Strangers in the Night), Princess of the Night.
Words and Photographs by John Hayhurst (@snapagig)