Saxon – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London – April 23rd 2008

4 stars (out of 5)

1

SaxonSaxon are a band full of very loud clichés. They’ve ‘got to rock to just to stay alive’, they ‘never surrender when their backs are against the wall’ and they just love to ‘feel your power’.

Corny? Maybe.

Spinal Tap-esque? Certainly – especially as they were one of the main influences for that famous mockumentary.

Enjoyable? Too bloody right. To coin a much-used phrase (some may call it a cliché…) – these guys ROCK!

As the band take to the stage (following a slightly shaky but gutsy performance from Girlschool – officially the longest-serving all-girl band in the world, apparently), it becomes immediately evident that neither silver-maned singer Biff Byford, nor the hairy, sweaty throng before him give a damn about whether the material has a few clichés in it. As long as it’s spine-shakingly loud and it’s delivered with power, everyone’s happy.

It’s an attitude that’s all the more refreshing in an industry that’s become weighed down by it’s own coolness. And this particular brand of good, old-fashioned, unpretentious, honest English heavy metal seems to be working for Saxon, who are riding a wave of resurgence in all things rock. As a result, the Empire is heaving.

Tonight is a special night to celebrate St George’s Day, with Saxon’s setlist only involving songs with a particularly ‘English’ theme. As a result, there’s no room for their two biggest hits – Wheels of Steel and The Strong Arm of the Law. There are not many bands who could get away without playing the crowd favourites but Saxon pull it off by producing quality riff after quality riff, even if the songs are not so well-known.

For the uninitiated, that’s one surprising aspect of Saxon: the quality. Debuting in ’79, they’re one of the original New Wave of British Heavy Metal, along with Iron Maiden and Motorhead. But while a Motorhead gig experience can sometimes be akin to strapping a 747 to each ear, Saxon are tighter than a gnat’s arse when it comes to playing. Guitarists Doug Scarrat and Paul Quinn pull off some mind-blowing solos, while bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glocker form a pummelling backline upon which Byford delivers his powerful vocals. It makes you wonder why Maiden made it while Saxon didn’t quite… not that anyone cared about that tonight.

Byford used the occasion to announce that they’ll be appearing alongside Kiss, Judas Priest and Motorhead at this year’s Download festival at Donnington Park, before charging out with Lemmy on a double-headed UK tour with Motorhead.

Half-a-dozen or so TV cameras were rolling tonight, collecting footage for an upcoming 30th anniversary documentary on the band. My guess is that if the doc matches the quality of this gig, the fans will lap it up.