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Thursday, 25 October 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Saxon (Live Review By Paul H)

Saxon & FM, Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Saxon. It must be close to ten in the last six years alone. One of the hardest working bands in the world of hard rock, the band continue to release high quality albums and put in two hour shows despite their veteran status. Having seen them blow the roof of the Great Hall in Cardiff earlier this year, we tripped the EasyJet fantastic and headed to the iconic Barrowland Ballroom to catch the band on Part II of the Thunderbolt European tour.

Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom is a fabulous venue. Located in one of the less salubrious parts of the city, the venue is split over a couple of levels with the main Ballroom at the top level. The iconic sign which lights up the outside set the hairs standing on the back of the neck whilst the security at the main entrance were welcoming and full of humour.

We deliberately missed opening act Wayward Sons as we were having a drink in the very decent Solid Rock Bar, a venue so impressive and one that our own local venues could learn a thing or two from. Clean, spacious and with a decent variety of beers, this looked to be the place for a pre-gig pint.

Entering the Ballroom with its 2100 capacity about 90% full, last minute support FM (8) were in the process of blasting out That Girl, their seminal track receiving a superb response. Every time I see this band I remember how slick and polished they are. Steve Overland has a superb voice whilst the rest of the band, Merv Goldworthy, Jen Davies, Jim Kirkpatrick and Pete Jupp are one musicians. Their smooth AOR style may not suit everyone but the band played it straight, picking out a range of tracks from their 11 album back catalogue including a couple from their most recent Atomic Generation album which received a warm Glasgow roar. Little chat, just plenty of music and the place was close to bouncing by the time the band finished their 40 minute set.

We moved to the far side of the venue which proved to be a good move as the show had sold out on the day of the gig and like many buildings of a similar age, the installation of air conditioning had clearly passed by without a thought. It was pretty warm. I’ve reviewed Saxon (9) many times in the past and there are few superlatives left to use. Led as usual by the reliable Biff Byford, whose voice shows no signs of aging, the band crashed through a 22 song set which contained several tracks from Thunderbolt, as well as title tracks from Sacrifice and 2016’s Battering Ram. In essence, the set list changed little from that gig back in Cardiff, with one of the weaker songs from Thunderbolt, Sons Of Odin replacing Sniper and the reintroduction of Solid Ball Of Rock into the setlist about the only variations.

It was clear that whilst the new songs were known to the majority of those present, it was the 1980s stuff that most Saxon fans wanted to hear and as always, they didn’t disappoint. Pick your hit list from the first few albums, and that’s the set list in a nutshell. Motorcycle Man appeared early, a thumping Dallas 1PM nearly took the roof off whilst the standout track was the brooding The Eagle Has Landed which opened the first set of encores. Saxon do it old school, and that’s usually alright for me. Occasionally you wonder whether they would do something a little different, and throw in some curved balls from other albums, but as they arrive at their 40th anniversary next year, it’s hardly a surprise. The famous Glasgow roar arrived at various times, with the volume of the crowd impressive. Despite their reputation, I did feel that the energy levels in the audience at times didn’t match that of those on stage and towards the end of the set it appeared a little subdued. Wheels Of Steel, complete with sing-along and the reemergence of a balloon that Brett had released over 90 minutes earlier which bounced off Biff’s head galvanised the crowd for one last push before the anthem that is Denim & Leather sent everyone home happy.

Saxon have been on the road for most of 2018. Their tour schedule is punishing. The list of countries they’ve travelled to this year lengthy. It’s amazing that they can still do it and with drummer Nigel Glockler showing no ill effects from his subarachnoid haemorrhage from a few years ago, the band appear tighter and healthier than they have in years. Sure, it is at time a bit of a cabaret with Biff playing the ringleader with aplomb, but there is no doubt that Carter, Glockler, Quinn and Scaratt remain fantastic musicians. Their energy and intensity, even on tracks they play night after night is incredible. 2019 should be a brilliant year for one of the best British metal bands of all time. Let’s hope so. They deserve it.

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