Home Gigs Gig Review : Saxon 40th Anniversary ‘Castles and Eagles’ Tour Support: Uriah Heep, Girlschool and Diamond Head O2 Apollo Manchester: 28 January 2022

Gig Review : Saxon 40th Anniversary ‘Castles and Eagles’ Tour Support: Uriah Heep, Girlschool and Diamond Head O2 Apollo Manchester: 28 January 2022

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Review by Pete Finn for MPM

After bunking off work early for the 120mile drive to Manchester and the 17:00 ‘Doors’, MPM Tog Manny and I make our way north. The car is suitably stocked with Guinness, diet coke, sour sweets, and excitement.

This evening is special for a couple of reasons, firstly it’s Saxon’s 40th Anniversary Castles and Eagles Tour (although it was originally planned for October 2019), secondly, it’s a personal one for me, as 40 years ago, as a 14 year old lad, myself and my mate Sean attended our first ever gig, seeing Saxon at De Montfort Hall in Leicester, September 1982 on their ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ Tour. My ticket was £4.00 and T-Shirt £3.00, I do still have the program and ticket stub, but I really do wish I still had that T-shirt…

The reason for the early start, is that we are treated to an amazing four bands tonight. All of which were at the forefront of the NWOBHM era, Saxon’s special guests are Uriah Heep, with Girlschool and Diamond Head, it’s a real indulgence. A run through the bands bio’s and a quick sum on the calculator gives them a combined 188 years in the business…Bloody Awesome!

We arrive in good time, early enough to grab a pint in ‘The Apsley Cottage’, a good old-fashioned boozer right next to the venue. It was full of old rockers, reminiscing about previous tours and shows, what songs they hoped to hear. It’s great to be back, we’ve missed this a lot.

We were told that the ‘Doors’ time was 17:00, the social media sites all said 17:00, the posters outside with the running order stated 17:00. 3500 fans ready and waiting, because they’d been told 17:00, so why make us wait until 17:30, after all the venue has had 2 years to plan it…. Rant complete.

Once inside the 3500 capacity Grade II listed building, we make a couple of purchases at the Merch Desk and enter the hall. It’s an old-style music hall, it has a good slope on the floor down towards the stage, giving everyone a good view, there’s football terrace crush barriers half way down, and includes a nice sized raised wheelchair viewing platform. When I look up at the balcony, I’m half expecting to see the old Muppets Waldorf and Statler leaning out of their box.

Opening tonight’s extravaganza are Diamond Head, formed in 1976, they have Brian Tatler (guitar), Karl Wilcox (drums), Andy ‘Abbz’ Abberley (guitar), Rasmus Bom Andersen (vocals) and Dean Ashton (bass). Metallica name Diamond Head as one of the greatest influences on their music, I’ve seen Metallica cover ‘Am I Evil?’ during their show, and a quick look on setlist.fm tells me they’ve played it an amazing 782 times. I think they like it.

Diamond Head walk out onto to the stage, the hall is only 1/3 full, people are still outside waiting to be admitted, very unfair to the band and very unfair to the fans, they’ve paid good money to see tonight’s show. Credit to those inside, the cheer to greet Diamond Head is huge.

Brian Tatler, stage left, acknowledges the fans, his Flying V primed, Andersen runs out and it’s ‘The Messenger’ from their most recent studio album ‘The Coffin Train’ which was released in 2019, after a nice long instrumental intro, with a strong bass line from Dean Ashton, it has Tatler playing a punchy, circular riff that carries Andersen’s vocal aloft.

Abbz starts the guitar solo, then seamlessly passes the baton onto Tatler. ‘Lightning to The Nations’ the title track from their debut 1980 release, Andersen holding his mic stand high above his head, pointing it at the ceiling, screams and holds the note, Tatler is center stage crouching and swaying, his guitar work is hypnotic as his fingers caress and tease the strings. This is real Diamond Head; the crowd are enthralled.

‘Sweet and Innocent’ from ‘Lightning the Nations’, sees Tatler swap the ‘V’ for a stunning looking Les Paul with Wilcox’s intensity on the drums matched by Tatler’s precision on the fretboard.

Andersen is on the monitors coaxing the crowd. ‘Helpless’ is taken from the same album, it has a great dirty sound, Ashton’s bass is at the forefront of the track, keeping the heart pounding. There’s tempo changes and Andersen complements them perfectly with a controlled vocal. He’s on the monitors conducting the crowd. It’s brilliant.

A hard Wilcox drum intro, a quick dirty guitar riff can only mean one thing ‘Am I Evil?’ Iconic. Andersen gets the crowd whipped up chanting ‘Hey, Hey, Hey’ and getting a roaring echo back. Tatler’s solo sees him singled out by twin spotlights, his back arched, finger gymnastics on the fret board and strings, the band lined up across the stage driving him on.

Their 30-minute set is over all too quickly, but it was superb. The hall is now full, I hope that everyone got to see at least some of their set. Diamond Head are playing a few festivals over the summer, including a full 1 hour plus set as special guests at Rockin’ The Bowl.

Setlist: The Messenger, Lighting to the Nations, Sweet and Innocent, Helpless, Am I Evil?

After an amazing 15-minute changeover by the stage crew, next up it’s Girlschool, the longest running all female rock band, they started together in 1978 and still include founding members Kim McAuliffe (vocals/guitar) and Denise Dufort (drums), they also have Tracey Lamb (bass) and Jackie Chambers (guitar).

Their ‘Hit and Run’ album released in 1981 reached No. 5 in the UK Album Charts, they also collaborated with Motorhead and released a number of EP’s under the band name Headgirl, which included the single ‘Please Don’t Touch’.

They appear on stage to a great cheer, the girls punching the air in reply. ‘Demolition Boys’ from the 1980 debut album ‘Demolition’ with its wailing siren provided by Jackie Chambers’ guitar, and start/stop guitar intro and one by one the band join in, then McAuliffe completes the sound with the vocal.

Denise Dufort and Tracey Lamb provide a thumping backbone to the track. McAuliffe encourages us to clap the next track in, it’s ‘C’mon Let’s Go’ the opening track from ‘Hit and Run’ released in 1981, it begins with an almost stuttering guitar riff intro, the short salvo from Dufort, fires the track into action, quick riffs and vocals keeps the tempo and energy high. The band are bouncing they’re enjoying this.

‘Guilty as Sin’ a heavier sounding title track from their 2015 album. The chant chorus and the clapping opportunity is not missed by the crowd, they like me are enjoying this. ‘Action’ punk tempo and angry vocal, fills the room with energy, the fists are punching the air, the heads are nodding in time. Again, Chambers does the business with the guitar solo, as she twirls and spins her white hair like a Catherine Wheel following her movements. Dufort and Lamb keep the sound hard and heavy.

‘Future Flash’ from ‘Hit and Run’, sees Jackie Chambers orchestrating the clapping from the crowd, Tracey Lamb does a series of high kicks Dave Lee Roth would have been proud off. The track is fast, but controlled with a synchronized and pin point accuracy finish. They nailed it. ‘Race with The Devil’ probably one of the most recognizable song intros from the era, this is actually a cover from a band called The Gun. Girlschool recorded it for the debut album ‘Demolition’, it was also included on the 1980 Axe Attack compilation album. This is a real fan favourite, the swaying crowd ebb and flow, as the sea laps against the beach.

Kim McAuliffe pauses to tell the Manchester crowd that she has some great memories of The Apollo venue, especially those with Motorhead, she dedicates the next track to them. ‘Bomber’ the Motorhead anthem, played with passion and respect. The crowd loved it. McAuliffe announces the final track of their 30-minute set, it’s taken from ‘Demolition’ it’s ‘Emergency’ it starts with Jackie Chambers replicating a siren, it’s one of my personal favorites, it has a cross-over punk and metal sound, with a small Motorhead undercurrent. A clever fusion of styles.

Girlschool have played a blinding set tonight, and have gone down very well. In fact, I overhear two blokes in front of me saying it takes them back to their ‘Yoof’, and that Girlschool have some cracking tunes, you forget how good they are…Judging by the crowd response it’s a sentiment shared.

Setlist: Demolition Boys, C’mon Let’s Go, Guilty as Sin, Action, Future Flash, Race with The Devil, Bomber, Emergency

Uriah Heep were formed in London in 1969 and were part of the early 1970s rock scene. They have often been referred to as pioneers of Rock music.Their current line-up consists of Mick Box (guitars), Phil Lanzon (keyboards), Bernie Shaw (vocals), Russell Gilbrook (drums), and Dave Rimmer (bass).

They have experienced numerous line-up changes throughout their 53-year career, leaving Box as the only remaining original member. The band has sold over 40 million albums worldwide, some of which include their 24 studio albums.

2020 saw Uriah Heep celebrate their 50th anniversary. Sadly, the worldwide pandemic forced the band to cancel their 50th anniversary tour. But two years later, the band are ready to celebrate this extraordinary landmark. Tonight, is the first night of an extensive 63 dates across 28 countries, 2022 European tour.

The huge curtain covering the stage drops, strobe lights and smoke cannons leap into life, the two bass drums emblazoned with a ‘U’ and ‘H’, we start with ‘Grazed by Heaven’ it’s the opening track from their most recent album the 2018 release ‘Living The Dream’, the sound is classic ‘Heep’, it could have been released in 1978. Rimmer’s bass punching you in the chest, Lanzon has the Hammond purring. Bernie Shaw gets his daily step count in during the first song. WOW, what a way to start.

Mick Box, stage right, black guitar sparkling is grinning and pointing at the crowd, next it’s ‘Too Scared to Run’, from the 1982 album ‘Abominog’, a great tempo, the band join in the harmonies, Box and Lanzon are in perfect time with each other. Russell Gilbrook’s arms are a blur and the sticks crash down on his kit.

Shaw mentions how great it is to be able to play some Rock ‘n’ Rock again, Mick Box then introduces ‘Gypsy’, from their debut 1970 Album ‘…Very ‘eavy…Very ‘umble’, this is probably one of the albums that helped form the Heavy Metal music that we all love.

The drums start the track, Shaw is really telling us a story, Box is center stage leaning back and teasing the crowd. Box, Rimmer and Shaw leave the stage, Lanzon and Gilbrook then jam together, the others return with a crescendo of sound. The Manchester crowd have enjoyed this track.

‘Look at Yourself’ the title track of the 1971 album, Mick Box is finger clicking the crowd as Shaw holds a scream, the Lanzon keys and Box riff’s feature heavily throughout, Rimmer’s bass fret board is now illuminated with blue lights.

Phil Lanzon gives us a brief solo, the drums of Gilbrook and Rimmer’s hard bass, power this track to the end. ‘July Morning’ from ‘Look at Yourself’ was a ten-and-a-half-minute epic on the album. Delicate, soothing, caressing start. Mick Box has his guitar hanging low down between his knees, Bernie Shaw is sat on a monitor at the front of the stage, his vocals passionate and powerful, a true Minstrel telling a story, the song builds to a big jam finish, Box bathed in red spotlights as he holds the final note. Epic.

The stage lighting turns yellow for ‘Sunrise’, this is from the fabulously titled 1972 album ‘The Magician’s Birthday’. There’s a heartbeat of bass and drums, it’s clapped in by the band, encouraging the crowd to join in. It’s an anthem. We’re all invited to join the band after the show for some ‘Mexican Mouthwash’, this is greeted with a huge cheer.

Finally, it’s ‘Easy Livin’, the classic Heep song, and a brilliant way to close their set. It’s taken from the 1972 album ‘Demons and Wizards’, the high-speed rolling intro instantly recognizable. The crowd bounce and punch the air. Everyone is singing and enjoying it. Smoke cannons signal the end of the show. The band applaud the crowd as ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ plays, they leave smiling and waving to the fans.

Setlist: Grazed by Heaven, Too Scared to Run, Gypsy, Look at Yourself, July Morning, Sunrise, Easy Livin’

Now it’s the turn of the ‘Headline’ act Saxon, who were formed in Barnsley in 1977 by Biff Byford (vocals) and Paul Quinn (guitar), and originally called ‘Son of a Bitch’ until in 1979 the band name was changed to Saxon. They had eight UK Top 40 albums in the 1980s including four UK Top 10 albums and two Top 5 albums, with the 1980 release ‘Wheels of Steel’ staying in the charts for six months.

In August 1980 they were invited to play at the very first ‘Monsters of Rock’, and their track ‘And the Bands Played On’ from ‘Denim and Leather’ commemorates the event. The line-up which has been together for many years has Doug Scarrett (guitar), Nibbs Carter (bass) and Nigel Glockler (drums) with original members Biff Byford and Paul Quinn. Next week on 4th February 2022, sees the release of their 24th studio album ‘Carpe Diem’.

A huge white curtain is lifted in front of the stage. With 5 minutes to go before Saxon are due on stage, Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ is on the P.A. The Manchester crowd sing along to the whole song, they’re very excited, ‘Saxon, Saxon’ is the shout.

The lights go out, a video starts on the screen, it’s a Saxon history scrap book, the curtain drops and the familiar sound of a motorcycle racing along announces the opening track ‘Motorcycle Man’ taken from the 1980 album ‘Wheels of Steel’. Biff is stood on the drum riser and screams “Make some fucking noise!” Nigel Glockler behind an immense drum kit, twists his wrists and takes the drum beat straight into the redline, it’s not long before Doug Scarrett’s full throttle solo joins him. High above the stage the Eagle is looking down. Manchester goes crazy.

Next we have ‘Battering Ram’ the title track of the 2015 album, Nibbs Carter’s bass and Glockler’s drum are banging on the door to this song demanding to be let in, the crowd open the door and let the wall of sound charge in. Biff gets the ‘Hey, Hey, Hey’ chant going.

The stage set battlements are all lit up, with red and yellow looking like flames. Biff thanks everyone for keeping hold of their tickets during the pandemic. ‘Wheels of Steel’, classic Saxon, classic rock, it’s very difficult to find other words, I’m afraid I’ll probably use it a lot during this review of their set. That starting riff, makes the hairs stand to attention as if on parade. Biff has everyone bouncing with an encouraging flick of this hands. Nibbs is stood at the back on top of the stack. Biff leads a sing back with the crowd…apparently we’re pretty good.

‘They Played Rock and Roll’ is a single that was recorded as a tribute to their good friends Motorhead who took Saxon with them on tour in 1979-1980. It has a Motorhead vibe to it, fast and frantic, a very fitting testimonial. Paul Quinn is leading the charge from the drum riser.

The screen behind is showing photographs of the tour with Motorhead. ‘Strong Arm of the Law’, another Saxon classic, this the title track from the 1980 album. The stage is swamped by red and blue flashing lights. Nibbs bass reverberates around the hall, you can feel it though the floor. Paul Quinn’s riffs and solo screaming like a wailing siren, the atmosphere is electric.

‘Denim and Leather’, a true anthem and long-time fans favourite, released in 1981 from the album of the same name. A ‘Battle Jacket’ is thrown on stage, Biff carefully hangs it on this mic stand. Scarrett and Quinn are front and centre performing a duel axe attack.

Classic riffs and beats, together like denim and leather, the crowd take on vocal duties as Biff turns his mic to the crowd, he passes the jacket to Scarrett to wear. ‘Thunderbolt’ from the 2018 album of the same name. Biff’s vocal is sounding magnificent, Glockler’s drums are immense. Quinn and Scarrett share the lead solo switching from one to the other.

Next it’s ‘Backs to the Wall’, from the self-titled 1979 debut album, Doug Scarrett’s power riff pushes this track along, Paul Quinn joins in with a spine shattering lead solo, the track concludes with all three guitarists on the drum riser. ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ is taken from the 1983 album ‘The Power and the Glory’, the Eagle lowers down above the band, hovering and watching its prey.

The introduction is slow, moody and atmospheric, as the song builds with the band precisely adding layers of sound. Biff’s vocal cutting through them like a surgeon with care and respect. Quinn and Scarrett ‘tag team’ the solo.

‘Never Surrender’ can be found on ‘Denim and Leather’, Scarrett’s riff starts the crowd jumping and punching the air. Paul Quinn is kneeling down by the crowd for his solo, the back drop is a video of ‘The Battle of Britain’ featuring the brave men and women who were involved. Biff thanks the other bands that have played tonight, the crowd show their appreciation too. Then we’re into ‘Dogs of War’ is the title track of the 1995 album.

The Eagle is lit up with red, its red eyes looking down at the crowd. Glockler launches covering fire with his drums, Biff is crouched over, head banging. It’s straight into ‘Solid Ball of Rock’ from the same named album released in 1991. Biff chants ‘Hey, Hey, Hey’ we chant it back, he calls for the Eagle to be lowered down over the band, and to fire up all its lights.

‘And the Bands Played On’ from ‘Denim and Leather’ another classic anthem, it needed no introduction, the crowd rise as one and sing all the way through. Looking around the crowd in Manchester tonight, I bet there’s a fair few in, who were at that first ‘Monsters of Rock Festival’ back in 1980. ‘To Hell and Back Again’ from the ‘Strong Arm’ album sees Biff on top of the stack directing operations, he makes his way down to ground level before leading the crowd into some head banging, the track finishes with a volley of smoke cannons.

‘Power and the Glory’, the title track of the 1983 album, a trademark Saxon intro riff from Scarrett, swiftly followed by a Glockler rolling beat. ‘Hey, Hey, Hey’. Biff asks if we can ‘Feel the Power?’ too right we can, my whole body can feel the power…Scarrett’s solo is blistering. As the track closes the assembled masses chant ‘Saxon, Saxon’ the band smile and applaud.

Biff introduces the next track by saying he wanted to call the ‘Strong Arm’ album by this name, but he was out voted. He screams “Fill your heads with” the crowd scream back, he pauses, and screams again, “Fill your heads with” holding the scream, he laughs as we cheer and comments, “Not bad for someone who’s Seventy fucking One!”. As ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ starts so does the mosh pit, strap yourself in tight. This is genuine high-speed Rock ‘n’ Roll, it’s brilliant. They walk off stage, the noise from the crowd is deafening.

Encore time, the title track from their 1984 album ‘Crusader’, Biff leads the clapping, the sound from the band is perfect, Paul Quinn is down on his knees as the solo brings the horns and fists into the air. The castle walls around the stage are lit up. At the conclusion the band leave again. We chant “Saxon, Saxon”

We don’t have to wait too long before they’re back, the Eagle is back down, flying above, covered in lights. ‘747 (Strangers in the Night)’ the 1980 classic from ‘Wheels of Steel’, Biff is pogoing as Quinn’s guitar introduces the track, the crowd adopt lead vocal duties. The Eagle is rocking and swaying like a 747 landing in a crosswind. The band take the volume down, the crowd are singing a cappella. We finish the song at full volume and speed, breath-taking. Biff apologises if the Eagle appears to be slow, but he’s been locked up in Germany for two years.

Biff points at Quinn and the famous riff starts, ‘Princess of the Night’ the opening track from ‘Denim and Leather’, the crowd are already taking on the lead vocal, Nibbs and Glockler come steaming in, crashing the party. A kaleidoscope of lights and smoke cannons, and then it’s over, the band gather at the front of the stage, the crowd show genuine appreciation for what has been a truly fabulous show. Again “Bloody Awesome!” describes it best.

It’s 40 years since I first saw Saxon, as an excited, wide eyed 14-year-old teenager with my mate Sean. We left the gig buzzing, amazed and totally captivated by the band that had played, and I’m doing exactly the same tonight. Saxon, I thank you for setting me off on the most magical musical journey, one that I hope will continue, for as long as The Bands Play On…

Setlist: Motorcycle Man, Battering Ram, Wheels of Steel, They Played Rock and Roll, Strong Arm of the Law, Denim and Leather, Thunderbolt, Backs to the Wall, The Eagle Has Landed, Never Surrender, Dogs of War/Solid Ball of Rock, And The Bands Played On, To Hell and Back Again, Power and The Glory, Heavy Metal Thunder, Crusader, 747 (Strangers in the Night), Princess of the Night

Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

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