Lemmy’s sad death in January this year meant that the opportunity to see Saxon and Girlschool perform on a bill with their natural peers was denied. This tour was no substitute for what would have been a pretty unforgettable night but the introduction of ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke’s Fastway to the main support slot made the trip to the O2 for a night of both nostalgia and new material. It’s been two years since Saxon played at the O2 but the queue that stretched up the hill as we arrived demonstrated that the band’s popularity remains high. Thankfully the O2 carrying members of the Musipedia crew used the priority entrance and we could secure our regular spot on the balcony and place our trusty Ddraig Goch in full view of the stage and the numerous countrymen who had made the trip across the bridge. Just once guys, play in fucking Wales.
It’s been a couple of years since we saw a rather shambolic Girlschool (7) play in the early hours of the morning at Hard Rock Hell. For a band who were part of the NWOBHM movement, they’ve aged well. Musically they are never going to be anything special, with their binary approach to songwriting and rather clunky delivery. What they do have is the right to be on the bill and to deliver hard rock in their own inimitable style. To have maintained their passion and belief through the macho sexist 1980s and on is a testament to just why these four ladies are so admired and loved by the metal fraternity. With Enid taking more of the vocals than I’d seen for a long time, Girlschool put in a solid shift which ended with the nice retro combo of Race With The Devil and Emergency.
A short turnaround was followed by the arrival of Fastway (8), complete with Toby Jepson on vocals, John McManus (Who I remembered from Northern Irish 80s outfit Mamas Boys) and Steve Strange on drums. Whilst the focus of the band is obviously Fast Eddie, whose sublime blues soaked playing still oozes class, Jepson once again gave it his all up front and is the ideal foil for the much more reserved ex-Motorhead man. An eight-song set list comprised four tracks from the corking 1983 self-titled debut, including Another Day, Feel Me, Touch Me and the obvious set closer Easy Livin’. For an old rocker like me, who hadn’t seen Fastway for a long time this was a lovely trip down the nostalgia road and bloody magic it was too.
As the strains of AC/DC’s homage to baked goods (It’s A Long Way to The Shop … If You Want a Sausage Roll) blasted out of the PA, the excitement notched up another level. It doesn’t matter how many times I see Saxon (9), they always leave me feeling good and enthused. Opening with Battering Ram, Saxon do what they do and they do it well. Heavy as hell live, something you don’t always appreciate when listening to the boys on record, they work the audience from start to finish. Sure, Biff uses the same lines he used in 1981 but hey, it works. With an audience who warmed up quite epically as the evening wore on, the temperature started to bubble from the moment that Never Surrender kicked in. A well-paced set comprising some of the newer tunes (The Devil’s Footprint and Queen Of Hearts from Battering Ram and Sacrifice amongst them), some rarer stuff (Terminal Velocity from Unleash The Beast a favourite) and of course, enough classics to fill those denim and leather clad concert halls.
What is interesting to observe from the balcony is just how much work bassist Nibbs Carter gets though. Although he’d be the first to admit that his bass lines aren’t the most complex in the world, he is also responsible for all the pedals that cue the effects which flesh out some of the songs, as well as using them to instigate some other aspects of the show. He works incredibly hard, all the time raising the devil horns and rampaging around the stage. At the back of the stage Nigel Glockler demonstrated that he is fully recovered from the harrowing brain complications that threatened his life a mere two years ago. His drumming is brutal and a big part of the reason why Saxon can still hold their own with anyone in the live arena. Guitar is a huge part of the Saxon sound and Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt are beasts, shredding insanely throughout. Of course, it’s the gravitas that Biff exudes that makes Saxon the metal machine they are and even when he’s not on top form, his voice is still top quality.
As the classics cascaded through the Academy, the sight of hundreds of middle aged bald men losing their shit was hysterical. In the pit, the arrival of 747 (Strangers In The Night) heralded much bad moshing and some incredible ‘dad dancing’ whilst on the balcony one over enthusiastic punter was in danger of toppling off the top tier such was his enthusiasm. It was unsurprising to see him mixing it up in the pit for the encores. Toby Jepson joined Biff for a rendition of Wheels Of Steel which the Fastway frontman strangely needed lyrics for, before the first encore saluted Lemmy with a cover of Ace Of Spades, the band joined on stage by Fast Eddie to a huge ovation. Denim And Leather, full of audience participation moved the evening towards the inevitable set closer, the mighty Princess Of The Night. The Saxon juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down. Long may it continue.