Saxon, Uriah Heep, Girlschool, Diamond Head – Manchester Apollo – 28th January 2022
Is it really our first live show of the year? Is it really the long awaited, many times postponed Saxon 40th (now 42nd…) Anniversary show? What a way to open the 2022 account.
The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal is alive, well and kicking. Positively rocking and cooking to be fair, courtesy of four bands whose genuine delight at the return to live perfromance was felt by one and all. Biff Byford expressing his admiration for those who’d managed to hold onto their tickets for so long. “I’d have lost mine by now!” he admits.
Brian Tatler, Mick Box, Kim McAuliffe – names etched into the annals of Heavy Metal; Emergency, Easy Livin’, Gypsy, Wheels Of Steel and Am I Evil? – songs similarly burned into the brains of Rock fans most everywhere. In fact that seems to be a theme for the evening – a long one at that – never being more than a few minutes away from a classic Metal tune.
The much delayed 40th Anniversary Castles & Eagles Tour sees Heavy Metal overlords Saxon joined by not one, not two, but three stalwarts of the scene. You could even look on the evening – assuming you were on of those those lucky people in Manchester and London – as the NEWOBHM (Never Ending Wave Of British Heavy Metal) or the OGOBHM (Old Guard Of British Heavy Metal) as the YOBOBHM (Yorkshire Branch Of British Heavy Metal) of Biff and his Saxon troops staunchly retain their roots – “This one’s from nineteen eighteee” he says later as he introduces Strong Arm Of The Law.
Most of the crowd would have been watching these same four bands back at the end of the Seventies and early Eighties. Heavy Metal is a job for life. A religion. Plenty of denim jackets are in evidence as the fashion item of the evening; faded, frayed and awash with those badges of honour that declare the owners allegiance to Metal. Many of tonight’s crowd will have been there back at the birth of most of these bands and done the whoel journey.
And so, at the ungodly gig hour of 6pm, Diamond Head took the stage. Plenty must have bunked off work early as the place was healthily full for a band who are capable of still pulling a decent support on their own. Brian Tatler is possibly the most unassuming Metal legend you can imagine, a regular bloke whose band have been what we’d now term ‘influencers’. A proper Metal band amongst other proper Metal bands. Half an hour at 6pm might have been the death slot but the turn out and response showed the respect in which they’re viewed. Throwing all the shapes, feet planted firmly on monitors, they needed little more than the plain black backdrop to show that it’s the music that counts.
Girlschool provided some balance in the gender stakes as well as churning out their no-nonsense Metal jabs. Their Emergency coupled with a cover of Motorhead’s Bomber a reminder of how they were embraced as genuine contenders in what was essentially a male dominated genre. The spirit is still willing and no one else tonight was going to get their feet anywhere near Tracey Lamb’s trouser testing high kicks.
And while three of tonight’s four bands were there at the launch of the grand rebirth of British Metal, Uriah Heep, with their blend of Hard/Heavy/Progressive Rock, were already several albums into their career before the young upstarts launched their Heavy Metal offensive. Mick Box, along with Dave Brock, is probably in league with some higher power to be able to still do deliver the goods in his seventies. The rest of the band aren’t bad either, Bernie Shaw doing the energetic frontman role, stepping back to let the band cook by themselves for a spell and the fizz of the Phil Lanzon’s keyboards adding a texture to the tunes and the grand ballads that punctuate the hefty rockers. None more mighty than Gypsy (arguably – and some will – the highlight of the night…)which stomped like a mighty neolithic beast – no matter when it was written, a good song is a good song. As always, and with apologies for having to crank out an overused cliche, Heep remain very ‘eavy and very ‘umble
Saxon need much more than half an hour to pack in their hits. Commanding a huge stage set, constructed around video screens and castle platforms, the vast roadcrew (impressive all night with some rapid changeovers) their set opened not with their usual tape for a video montage of their forty plus years. From Motorcycle Man to Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law and Denim & Leather, Saxon’s work in providing an aperitif was done in their first half dozen numbers. Plenty of set time then to scratch at the tip of the iceberg from their vast catalogue.
Like master of ceremonies Biff, Paul Quinn is still in there; one of those rare things – an original member – although you could argue the case for the combo of Nibbs, Doug Scarratt and Nigel Glockner providing the stability of (again) arguably the best Saxon lineup. And they back up the visuals with a set and a performance to match; eighteen songs that, even without the buzz of playing some new material (that’s yet to come) is a bit of a fan’s dream set. They even don some of the denim and leather; one badge festooned jacket tossed from the crowd (Biff – “I’m never going to fit into that“) fitting Doug rather neatly.
The crowd, many into their fourth or fifth hour on their feet or at the barrier get a second (or maybe third) wind, some even crowd surfing over the top into the pit. This is forty year old Metal gods Saxon – not the berserk post punk of Idles – evoking this response. It’s thrilling and exciting and nothing to do with post pandemic release. Simply terrific stuff.
Ever onward. We have the release of Carpe Diem to look forward to this week and we’ve just had the announcement of the tour for the album which will hit the UK in November. Diamond Head in support, Grab those tickets and stash them safely. On this evidence, Biff and the boys are on form!