The mighty Saxon have completed the first leg of their European tour and have now landed in the Roman City of Bath to continue what has been a much-awaited visit to the U.K.
The crowd flood into the magnificent Art Deco auditorium that is Bath Forum and everywhere you look are warriors of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal; battle jackets, beards and bald heads dominate the crowd as they await two iconic bands of the genre.
Smoke lights out and a roar seldom heard for support greets the legendary Diamond Head as they take the stage and rip into ‘The Prince’ followed by ‘Death by Design’. Vocalist Rasmus Bom Anderson runs around the stage encouraging the crowd to clap and sing along to which they obey.
Founder and guitarist Brian Tatler, at first wielding a flying V and then a Les Paul, and 2nd guitar Andy ‘Abbz’ Abberley, again on a Les Paul, share solo and rhythm throughout as they chug their way through ‘Messenger of Death’ then into the classic track ‘In the Heat of the Night’, prompting the first big sing-along of the gig.
As they belt out more of their classic collection, it’s clear that apart from Anderson’s antics, there’s a noticeable lack of movement on stage. That’s mirrored by the crowd – this isn’t a mosh, it’s a tribute to the NWOBHM and the audience are loving it – and the musicianship is superb.
Guitarists and bass player Dean Ashton get together for a synchronised head bang during ‘Helpless’, and Anderson yells “you know what’s coming!!” as the iconic riff at the beginning of ‘Am I Evil’ triggers a huge cheer. Drummer Karl Wilcox steams through the song and Tatler’s signature solo seals the deal. The crowd are rapturous as the band takes a bow to end their set. A solid performance from this influential band.
After a wander and a pint, the return to the auditorium reveals a sparse but tasteful stage setup for Saxon – a tall drum riser for Nigel Glockler’s double bass drum setup with three sets of steps left, middle and right, and a traditional line up of twelve Marshall stacks with bass cabs each side, each stack surmounted by stage lighting.
The lights go down and the crowd roars as Saxon takes the stage, launching into their new album ‘Carpe Diem’s’ title track. Biff Byford struts around the stage wearing his signature military-style jacket happily recovered from his recent health problems, as they segue into ‘Welcome to the Sacrifice’. The stage lighting goes blood red as Nibbs Carter throws himself around and bashes his explorer bass like a maniac surrounded by a devilish fog; then they’re straight into ‘Age of Steam’ with the smoke puffing like a stage full of steam engines.
Biff greets the audience, mocking his Yorkshire pronunciation of “Bath” and introduces ‘I’ve got to Rock to Stay Alive’, pogoing around the stage as he lectures the crowd on the need for rock, followed by ‘Dambusters’ – a real thrash feel, with Paul Quinn playing the guitar solo and played out by fellow guitarist Doug Scarratt.
Biff’s voice is as strong as ever whilst Glockler thrashes away on the drums as they play ‘The Thin Red Line’ from 1997’s ‘Unleash the Beast’ album. Then it was time for ‘Living on the Limits’ taken from their new album ‘Carpe Diem’ before they ploughed through the rest of their hefty set list.
The more modern material then gives way to the songs everyone wants to hear beginning with the epic ‘Dallas 1PM’ and ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’. The audience shifts up a gear in response, a sea of nodding heads and clapping hands.
Biff introduces ‘Metalhead’ as “a song from our 6th comeback album; we’ve had a few” before their next track ‘The Eagle has Landed’ which raised another roar from the crowd. ‘Black is the Night’ followed as they headed back to the classics with a rip-roaring rendition of ‘Wheels of Steel’. The band leave the stage and the throng are desperate for more.
The inevitable encore is long and much appreciated by an ecstatic crowd as they launch into ‘Strong Arm of the Law’, ‘Solid Ball of Rock’ and ‘747 (Strangers in the Night)’. A triumphant rendition of ‘Denim and Leather’ elicited yet another roar as the late presenter of the Friday Rock Show is mentioned in a subtle change to the lyric – “Did you listen to the Radio, Tommy Vance on Friday Night?”.
Saxon bring a tremendous evening of memorable songs to an end with ‘Princess of the Night’. Biff thanked the crowd and the audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation whilst the band took a bow.
After what seemed like a mammoth set, the sea of smiling faces showed that Saxon still rock with the best.
Review: Dave Smith Price
Photography: Emma Painter