Saxon: 02 Academy, Oxford
Back in December Saxon drummer Nigel Glockler experienced a life threatening brain haemorrhage which resulted in the band postponing the conclusion of their Warriors of the Road tour. Thankfully, Nigel appears to be on his way back to health. Thanks to Brett, the opportunity to catch the band with stand in drummer Sven Dirkschneider at the 02 in Oxford remained and we headed East to see how the band had coped with the disruption and the re-jigging of personnel.
Once again the 02 had an early curfew as the gig was on a Friday night and so we arrived too late to catch German outfit Beyond The Black, although this wasn't really an issue for us as we’d seen them at Bristol in late November 2014 on the original leg of the tour. We did arrive in time to catch one of Musipedia's faves, Hell doing their stuff. Sticking with the same set that they delivered on the original tour, Hell (6) struggled with a number of technical demons, most noticeably a lack of guitar sound early in the set and then some quite frustrating microphone difficulties with Dave Bower’s head microphone cutting out completely with three songs to go. Despite these problems, Hell have been around long enough to deal with such problems and provided a thoroughly entertaining 40 minutes. The frustration was obvious with Andy Sneap particularly irritated. As the venue slowly filled towards the end of Hell’s set, it was also clear that the majority were only there for the headliners with limited audience response to the theatrics unfolding in front of them. Hell did manage to obtain a very healthy cheer at the end of what must have been a difficult set. Having seen these guys destroy in the past, this was slightly below the standard we've come to expect.
Bang on 8pm the strains of AC/DC’s It's A Long Way To The Top... hit the PA, with the now very busy Academy bursting with anticipation. Blasting straight into Motorcycle Man, Saxon (9) proceeded to deliver yet another masterclass in how to work a crowd, supplemented by their massive back catalogue of quality metal anthems. Biff was in fine form, engaging with the crowd from the off, encouraging regular audience participation which is an easy thing to do with tracks such as And The Bands Played On, The Power And The Glory and Dallas 1pm which arrived early in the set. Our review of Saxon at Bristol in November 2014 provides a detailed breakdown of the set list but suffice to say it was classic after classic. So, what about young Dirkschneider? Well, I'm pleased to report that, with one or two exceptions, Udo’s boy did well, working with Nibbs Carter’s cavalier bass lines to underpin the excellent fretwork of founder member Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt. There were a couple of moments where the odd fill was missed, but overall Sven managed to keep the heavy metal thunder flowing. Biff, always the focal point was on blindingly good form; his voice is top drawer and he remains capable of hitting all the notes. The classic tracks flowed, with the crowd demonstrating their appreciation of the old school stuff which included The Eagle Has Landed, Crusader, 20,000 ft and Never Surrender. As always, main set closer Princess Of The Night provoked a massive response before the closing hat trick of Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law and the anthem Denim And Leather left everyone content and happy as they left the venue to brave the bitterly cold evening. I think I've said before that you rarely get a bad Saxon show, and this was no different. A full two hour set crammed with classic after classic. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish and once again a demonstration of a band who are always worth seeing when they tour.