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Artist: Saxon

Venue: London, Wembley Arena

Date: 21st March 2024

"We were witnessing a masterclass in Metal. They left the stage to a well-deserved standing ovation. If I had to choose one word to describe tonight’s performance it would be victorious."

© Myke Gray
© Myke Gray

Saxon have shown they are seasoned campaigners who have the resilience to survive the bloodiest of battles. In a forty five year career they have released 24 studio albums. A remarkable achievement that underlines how this band will not lay and die for anyone. Their classic albums ‘Wheels Of Steel’, ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ and ‘Denim And Leather’, along with releases from Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Diamond Head and Motörhead, defined Heavy Metal in the eighties. Shoot forward forty five years and they are still releasing high quality records. They have rightfully earned the title of Legends. Tonight’s show at the Wembley Arena is part of the Metal Masters package, a triple bill that features openers Uriah Heep, and headliners Judas Priest.

As the lights go down an almost deafening roar comes from the twelve thousand strong crowd. A reception of this magnitude is normally reserved only for the headliners. But no one in the auditorium was under any illusion about the true status of this band. As the intro tape echoed around the arena, the five band members made their way onto the stage. A line up that featured iconic vocalist Biff Byford, long standing drummer Nigel Glockler, bassist Nibs Carter, guitarist Doug Scarratt, and the most recent addition, guitar legend Brian Tatler.

They opened with a blistering version of ‘Hell, Fire And Damnation’, the title track of their new album. It was clear from the outset they were not here to make up the numbers, they had come to steal the show. The addition of Brian Tatler has got to be one of the smartest decisions in the history of Heavy Metal. As a founder member of Diamond Head he is a legend in his own right. He has always been class and it’s well documented how his playing influenced a new generation of metal guitarists. Second song in and the classic ‘Motorcycle Man’ sounded mightier than ever. Any rocker of a certain age will have the adapted version for the Tommy Vance Friday Rock Show ingrained into their memory. ‘Sacrifice’ showed that they were not going to be outdone by anyone in the Metal stakes.

The joint experience between the band members is vast and it shows in their performance. Byford commands the stage with supreme confidence, his presence is akin to a general on the battlefield. Some people are just natural born leaders. The obvious chemistry between Tatler and Scarratt would have you thinking they’d been playing together for decades and not months. At one point I asked myself “How on Earth is Nigel Glockler” able to play like that at 71 years of age?’. Additionally, Nibs Carter’s seemingly inexhaustible energy levels had him bounding about the stage like an Olympic athlete. My only conclusion is that playing music keeps you young, or at least young at heart. ‘There’s Something In Roswell’, taken from the new album, showed they are still capable of writing the anthems that made them famous in the eighties.

‘And The Bands Played On’ was the cue for everyone to start playing air guitar. A song that features one of the most instantly recognisable guitar intros ever, arguably the great Paul Quinn’s finest moment. For me this is what Saxon do best. Heavy Metal anthems that make you want to sing along. Songs like ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath, ‘Running Free’ by Iron Maiden and ‘Ace Of Spades’ by Motörhead show that you don’t need a ton of chords, just a classic riff, a catchy melody and a clever lyric. In the early eighties Saxon were as good as anyone at this elusive skill. This successful songwriting formula also applied to the following song, the majestic ‘Power And The Glory’.

Looking around the arena, it would’ve been very easy to think that Saxon were the headline act, such was the engagement from the audience. At this point they were playing like a football team who were 5-nil up at half time. It would be easy for this band to spend the rest of their career playing songs from their extensive back catalogue, but ‘Madame Guillotine’, also from the new album, shows they still have the passion and desire to continue writing future classics. Next up was an electrifying version of ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ which to my ears had never sounded better. I think Tatler’s influence on the band’s overall sound had a lot to do with that. One man really can make the difference.

The epic ‘Dallas 1pm’ with its monster guitar riff played over a pulsating bass line was a moment of high drama. Byford had the audience in the palm of his hand. The rhythm section was watertight and the newly formed guitar duo were riffing in perfect synchronicity. They ended their set with a foursome of bonafide classics. ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’, ‘Denim And Leather’, ‘Wheels Of Steel’, and ‘Princess Of The Night’. Very few bands have a collection of anthems of this standard in their arsenal. We were witnessing a masterclass in Metal. They left the stage to a well deserved standing ovation. If I had to choose one word to describe tonight’s performance it would be victorious. In all my years of attending concerts, I have never seen an artist who was not the main attraction get this kind of reaction from an audience. On this evidence I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if they were back as headliners in the very near distant future.


Review & Photos: Myke Gray





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