It’s time for the seemingly unstoppable metal machine known as Saxon to once again make the rounds, and Bristol is awash with metalheads and dusted off, patch strewn denim jackets. Mixed amongst them are more than a few ‘howling mad shitheads’, here to see the return of British mini legends Wolfsbane. A hot and sweaty night is promised, but first there’s the matter of relative newcomers Fury UK, propping up the bill and hoping to make some new friends. Unfortunately, the early start means we miss all but one of their songs, but thankfully it’s their lengthy signature tune “Death By Lightning”, a piece that takes a core of traditional heavy metal and runs with it naked through the streets. Most notable is the searing solo from Chris Appleton, easily the smartest piece of guitar work I’ve heard in years, and it’s nice to hear his live vocals are getting stronger all the time as well. There’s still a few people over the road in the pub, but those in attendance roar their approval, even going so far as to chant for an encore.
I remember seeing Wolfsbane when I was just a pup, supporting Iron Maiden (little did they know), thoroughly enjoying the energy and dynamism of the whole thing. Well, they’ve been away for a while but Wolfsbane are definitely back, and with original members Blaze Bayley, Jase Edwards, Jeff Hately and glittery shirted drummer Steve Ellett. They’ve not been given a whole lot of time, but they use it very well, belting though the likes of “Black Lagoon”, “Loco”, “I Like It Hot” and my own favourtite stooped metal song “Manhunt”, which can officially only be sung with a smile on your face. They also trot out a new track, “In It For The Money”, from a brand new album due out in the Autumn. It’s a good, solid track that stays true to the band’s style and bodes well for the future. Blaze Bayley, as usual, treats every song like it spilled his pint, and at one point tells the audience that anyone who doesn’t buy the new EP will be murdered and made into pies. With promises that the new disc will be “The greatest album ever that will melt the ice caps and save you all from boredom and misery”, any other musicians reading this are advised to just give up and go home. In seriousness, Wolfsbane are very tight and look like their having a great time, just like they used to. Drummer Emmett also deserves special mention for going at the speed of sound during “Temple Of Rock”, with bonus points for the worst shirt in drumming history. One of those bands you don’t realize you miss until they come back, Wolfsbane prove there’s life in the old dog yet.
Saxon, it has to be said, don’t fuck about. The venue is like a sauna when they come out, and a two hour set is kick started with their latest single “Hammer Of The Gods”, which lets everyone know exactly what they’re in for. It’s immediately followed by three classics, “Heavy Metal Thunder“, Never Surrender“ and “Motorcycle Man”, all three of which nicely set up a new track “Spirit of ‘79”, about the heady days of NWOBHM. It’s a good track, bombastic and in the tradition of “Denim & Leather”, and it’s obviously been written as a crowd pleasing live track, complete with a “Show me your hands” refrain. These opening five tracks set the tome for the rest of the night, as Saxon dip into most of their back catalogue from the past 30 years or so, not forgetting stuff like “Man & Machine”, “Dogs Of War” or the ever impressive “Demon Sweeney Todd”. Sadly, they completely ignore the “Innocence Is No Excuse”, “Destiny” and “Rock The Nations” albums - it would be nice to hear “Back On the Streets”, “Rock & Roll Gypsy” or even “Party till You Puke”, but maybe on another tour. There’s also a couple more new tracks seeded into the set, namely “Call To Arms”, the title track from next month’s album, and “When Doomsday Comes”. To be honest, both are a bit ploddy, and whilst they have plenty of pounding drums and riffs, there’s no real excitement. My fingers are crossed for the album a bit more than they were, at any rate.
As a live band, Saxon are certainly a well oiled machine, and in Biff Byford have a talented and charismatic front man. The voice is as good as it was back in the day, and he has a great way with the crowd. Oddly, he tells us that one song “Features Paul Quinn on guitar”… surely that’s all of the, Biff? Speaking of Quinn, he doesn’t tend to turn up in Best Guitarist type lists, but when you see him live it’s a bit of a revelation. Along with Doug Scarratt (in the band for 15 years now) he pulls off some brilliant solos, the two of them really emphasising why Saxon need two guitarists that can play their arses off at any given time. It’s so good to hear them trade licks on classics like “To Hell & Back Again” and the ever awesome “Princess Of The Night”. Saxon are tight, talented and fully deserve to still be around after all this time. The evening ends, predictably, with “Wheels Of Steel”, and an ocean of sweaty denim and leather clad arms are raised in appreciation, metal horns and fists pumping in the air. Britains Big Three may also include Iron Maiden and Motorhead, but for me Saxon have eclipsed both of them as the band we can be most proud of. No pretension, no backing down, never surrender - some things never change, and thank fuck for that.
Review & photos by Alan Holloway