Review by Pete Finn for MPM
This will be an emotional one, a happy emotional one, because this is a trip back to one of those moments in your personal history with a date that’s engraved into your subconscious forever, like your first kiss, the birth of your child, the death of a loved one.
This is a trip back to Genesis, Ground Zero, The Big Bang. It was 40 years ago, the moment that started my musical life and journey, 21st September 1982. As a 14-year-old lad, myself and my mate Sean attended our first ever gig, it was Saxon, at De Montfort Hall in Leicester on their ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ Tour, with support from Cheetah My ticket was £4.00 and T-Shirt £3.00.
Their setlist that night was; Motorcycle Man, Princess of the Night, Never Surrender, Hungry Years, 20,000 Ft, The Eagle Has Landed, Heavy Metal Thunder, Strong Arm of the Law, 747 (Strangers in the Night), Wheels of Steel, Dallas 1 PM, Suzie Hold On, Denim and Leather, And the Bands Played On. I’m hoping that a few of those have made it onto tonight’s setlist.
MPM Tog and fellow ‘Old Muppet’, ‘Statler’ Manson picks me up in our tour bus, coincidently it doesn’t look dissimilar to The Electric Mayhem’s Tour Bus, then it’s the short 20-mile trip to Leicester’s De Montfort Hall.
Nestled at the edge of the city’s leafy Victoria Park is De Montfort Hall. The hall’s opening ceremony took place on 21 July 1913, and has been used for various events for nearly 110 years. For much of its life De Montfort Hall has been associated with live music either in the 2,000-capacity auditorium or in the green of its gardens during outdoor festivals.
It’s true that almost every popular recording artist of the 20th century has played or sung a note on the historic stage. Among this impossibly long list they can count The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. In more recent years the likes of U2, Tina Turner, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, KISS, AC/DC, and The Prodigy have all played on the stage, which also includes a 6,000-pipe organ.
We park up in the adjacent car park, only £2.00 after 17:00, considerably cheaper than the £7.00+ we pay at Rock City. A security lady on the door, greets us and takes us to the Box Office to collect our passes, all very polite and efficient.
My ticket allows me into the standing section, something Sean and I were unable to do 40-years ago, as we were too young. Looking around at the demographic, there is a strong possibility that I might not be the only one who was here back in 1982. Continuing with ‘Old Rockers’ it was great to bump into my old mate and fellow Download campsite buddy, Beany, who was trying to remember how many times we’d seen Diamond Head and Saxon in the past.
Opening tonight’s show are Untamed Silence, Formed in Yorkshire during 2019. According to their website, “Untamed Silence delivers a unique blend of Heavy Rock with hints of Prog, Metal and Psych-Blues creating a precisely defined signature sound.” The band consists of Debbie Wade (vocals), Ryan Smith (drums)., Nigel Bennion (bass) and David Jones (guitar). This is my first time seeing them, I’ve listened to the singles they have on their website, I’m looking forward to this.
Their first track tonight is ‘The Game’ a quick tempo, Debbie Wade’s vocals out front, a bit Heart-ish. It’s a clean and fresh sound. Wade is swaying with the music, some heads at the front nodding along. Jones’ solo plays the track out to a close.
Wade finishes with a scream and raised horns. It’s a ‘Long Time Dead’ next, Wade is chanting the words, Ryan Smith fires out a drum salvo, Jones is smashing the riffs as he plays one foot up on the monitor, he moves towards the crowd as he begins the solo. Wade is asking for De Montfort Hall to clap along, which they do, Nigel Bennion has his bass rumbling as Wade starts bouncing around the stage, the track finishes with the band all raising horns in thanks for the crowds participation.
We have ‘The Power’ it starts with a narrative voice before the band fire into action, this is heavy, Wade’s lyrics fast, a rap. Bennion is slapping his bass strings. Jones’ solo has his guitar singing. Debbie Wade gets the De Montfort Hall crowd clapping along. The track builds to a big finish with a huge scream. Wade addresses the crowd, “Thank you, you beautiful audience.”
There’s a synth/electronic beginning, then Ryan Smith’s drums start ‘Deadspeak’, Debbie Wade’s vocals start slowly but the addition of David Jones guitar riff injects pace. The crowd in De Montfort Hall are nodding in time. The band producing a heavier sound now.
The mid-section has an instrumental break which again allows the tempo to increase as Nigel Bennion’s bass drives the track on. Jones is leaning back, his guitar pointing at the ceiling as he plays his solo. The band call for claps, before building to a big finish. It’s met with a good cheer. The sound was spot on. The band pose for a photo with the audience, before waving and leave the stage. De Montfort Hall enjoyed Untamed Silence, as did I.
Setlist: The Game, Long Time Dead, The Power, Deadspeak.
We have a quick 20-minute change-over for the crews and a visit to the bar, I can see into the foyer and there’s a good size huddle around the merch stalls.
Diamond Head were formed in 1976 in Stourbridge by Brian Tatler and Duncan Scott whilst they were still at school. They, like Saxon were one of the prominent members of The New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and are acknowledged by thrash metal bands such as Metallica and Megadeth as an important early influence. Diamond Head released their debut studio album ‘Lightning to the Nations’ in 1980 and have followed it up with a further seven, the most recent being 2019’s ‘The Coffin Train’. Diamond Head are Brian Tatler (guitar), Karl Wilcox (drums), Andy ‘Abbz’ Abberley (guitar), Rasmus Bom Andersen (vocals) and Dean Ashton (bass).
Diamond Head open their set tonight with ‘The Prince’ taken from their debut album ‘Lightning to the Nations’. Abbz’s solo gets us going. It’s quick, the riffs of Tatler and Abbz are matched by Wilcox as he crashes his kit. Andersen charges across the stage calling for Leicester to raise the horns, and is up on the monitor as he fires out the lyrics. Ashton slaps the bass strings as he joins the party. The instrumental parts give Rasmus Bom Andersen chance to get up close and introduce himself to the crowd. Tatler is leaning back as he rips through his solo. High energy, great start.
Next, it’s the title track from the debut album ‘Lightning to the Nations’. Big riffs and hooks a feature of the intro, De Montfort Hall is on ‘Woahs’, before Andersen’s vocals take over. The quick circular riff propels the track, there is a fabulous undercurrent of pounding bass. Andersen is prowling the stage wielding his mic stand. Abbz is rocking out as Andersen demands some ‘Yeah’s’ from the crowd. It sounds great.
Wilcox’s drum volley indicates some more from ‘Lightning to the Nations, with ‘It’s Electric’, his kit is sparkling in the strobe lighting. Quick riffs and beats, complimented by Andersen’s equally quick lyrics. The guitar sound has Diamond Head’s fingerprints all over it. The band start clapping, hands above their heads, De Montfort Hall copies, Andersen is down on the pit barrier choreographing the routine.
Andersen asks Leicester to sing with him, they don’t need asking again as a chorus of ‘Woahs’ erupts. ‘In the Heat of the Night’ is from ‘Borrowed Time’ released in 1982. This is slower, ballad like, Andersen’s vocal clear and controlled. Tatler is stroking and caressing the notes from his guitar as he plays his solo, illuminated by a pair of spotlights. This has emotion. Wilcox’s drums entice the band into picking up the tempo to bring the track to a close.
‘Set My Soul on Fire’ is taken from ‘Diamond Head’, it’s slow, heavy and dirty, a pounding marching beat and spoken lyrics deliver the track with force. Andersen gets to demonstrate his vocal cord strength and control. It builds to a flash-bomb of a solo from Abbz, all hell breaks loose, Tatler’s fingers cartwheeling across the strings.
Wilcox’s drums start the intro, ‘Helpless’ is again from ‘Lightning to the Nations’, fast drums and a crunching guitar catapult Andersen’s vocals to the forefront. The riff is really heavy, the heads and nodding around the crowd.
This is fast, and powerful, the mid track bass line rattling this old building. The stop/start tempo towards the end of the track add real character. The De Montfort Hall crowd meet the conclusion with a huge cheer, that went down very well.
Andersen stood on the monitors thanks the Leicester audience for coming down to see Diamond Head. That haunting start, a hard Karl Wilcox drum intro, a quick dirty guitar riff can only mean one thing, ‘Am I Evil?’ arguably one of the most famous rock/metal tracks ever, Metallica regularly include a cover of it in their set. This is another track from ‘Lightning to the Nations’.
Andersen is stood high up on the stack behind the drums. I’m drawn in and like all those in here totally captivated and let the sounds engulf the ears. Ashton has his bass above his head, Andersen asks us to sing it…we scream it, he’s now back in the pit, he points to Brian Tatler who obliges with the solo. De Montfort Hall is jumping, with their horns in the air. Awesome. If you listen carefully, you can pick out sounds that later bands have used in developing their own sound. This track was/is ground-breaking, and it was an honour to hear it played live by the band that created it.
“Thank you very much, Leicester”, cries Andersen, before he and the band leave the stage, flicking picks and sticks into the raised hands of the crowd, who are cheering and whistling their appreciation.
Setlist: The Prince, Lightning to the Nations, It’s Electric, In the Heat of the Night, Set My Soul on Fire, Helpless, Am I Evil?
Originally called ‘Son of a Bitch’ when they were formed in Barnsley during 1977, the name changed to Saxon in 1979. 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. February 2022, saw the release of their 24th studio album ‘Carpe Diem’. This is the penultimate show of what has been a highly successful 14-date UK tour.
The hall lights go out, a chant of “Saxon, Saxon” explodes inside, a few seconds later a cheer ripples back from the front, as those there can see the band appear on stage. The bright red lights burst into life. The stage is a wall of Marshall amps with the Saxon eagle on, literally from one side of the stage to the other. In the centre Nigel Glockler’s gleaming drum kit, up on riser with three sets of steps leading up to it. Behind is a huge red back drop with “Saxon” in huge letters emblazoned across it. Biff Byford is wearing a long black military style jacket, and silver looking Doc’s.
Saxon open with the title track of the new album, ‘Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)’. The movie score intro is soon blown to pieces as first Nigel Glockler’s drum salvo and Biff Byford’s scream announce Saxon’s arrival in Leicester. De Montfort Hall has just been repositioned six feet to the left as the crowd take-off. This is quick, vocals, drums, and riffs. You can feel the energy charging around the hall. Paul Quinn, foot up on the monitor unleashes the solo. Biff is pointing at the crowd, and giving ‘Thumbs up’ as they cheer back. Wow! What a start.
“It’s good to be back”, shouts Biff. There’s no let-up as we crash into the title track from the 2013 album ‘Sacrifice’. Biff is front and centre organising the troops, Glockler’s double tapped bass drum keeping everything in line. Scarrett and Quinn’s guitar work is phenomenal. Nibbs Carter’s is headbanging, his bass is jumping up and down on my chest bone. Smoke cannons are going off, Biff is up on the drum riser mimicking Nigel Glockler before calling for Leicester to cheer.
Again from ‘Carpe Diem’ we have ‘Age of Steam’. This track has a slightly different construction, it’s still as hard as nails, but it’s layered. Biffs vocals, the riff’s and guitar breaks from Quinn and Scarrett with a foundation of seismic bass beats from the rhythm section of Carter and Glockler.
Each has a different tempo, it brings a great depth of sound, if there was such a thing, I’d describe it as a 3D effect. Biff is headbanging, then driving his fist, like a steam engines wheels. It sounded amazing, complete with steam/smoke effects rising from the front of the stage.
Biff thanks the other bands who have performed tonight then continues to tell the crowd that someone once said that the next song title should be engraved on his tombstone. ‘Never Surrender’ can be found on 1981’s ‘Denim and Leather’, Scarrett’s riff starts the crowd jumping and punching the air. Quinn plays his solo before De Montfort Hall sing the chorus. There’s a huge cheer as the track finishes, a popular track.
2007’s release ‘The Inner Sanctum’ gives us ‘I’ve Got to Rock (To Stay Alive)’. From memory I think the single or video included Lemmy, Angry Anderson and Andi Deris. Biff confirms that Angry Anderson was in the video. Solid beats and heavy guitars being the backbone, but it’s all about the vocal delivery. Scarrett and Quinn are delivering the riffs from the drum riser, Biff is pointing and waving to people in the balcony. The crowd clap along with Glockler’s drum beats, Biff has moved to the edge of the stage coaxing the crowd.
It’s back to the new album for ‘Dambusters’. “Let’s go fucking crazy!” bellows Biff. Scarrett’s riff gets us going, It’s the story of those brave airman and their endeavours during the war. The beats are quick and Quinn’s solo is electric. The white spotlights crossing each other, the same way the airmen set their targets before releasing the ‘bouncing bombs’. Doug Scarrett’s solo leads the outro.
Biff tells us that as it was Remembrance Sunday recently this was added to the set. It’s back to 1997 and the ‘Unleash the Beast’ album for ‘The Thin Red Line’. The stage is lit by red spotlights. The marching beat with the squealing guitar and Biff’s chanted lyrics give another example of Saxon’s ability to mix it up. The mid-section is slower with a steady beat and savage guitar. Biff calls for claps from the crowd. Biff applauds the crowd, before saying it’s hot in the hall tonight.
Biff introduces the next song by saying it was written about his son who is a bit of a ‘wild child’ and a ‘nutter’, a bit like himself. It’s the final track on the ‘Carpe Diem’ album, it is ‘Living on the Limit’. The guitar of Scarrett starts the track, the beats are fast, Biff’s vocals are delivered as if they were coming from a machine gun, rapid and on target. The pace is like their classic ‘20000 Ft’, Glockler’s hands are a blur, I can feel his bass drum through the floor. Nibbs Carter is going crazy.
This is a personal treat, one of, if not the favourite Saxon track of mine, it’s ‘Dallas 1 PM’ taken from one of their classics in ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ released during 1980. Carter’s bass beat is making the hairs on my neck stand to attention. The iconic yet simple riff fills the hall, the heads are nodding. The band line up across the stage, the gunshots take the lights out, the spotlights then illuminate Scarrett for his solo. Biff is bouncing and clapping, Nibbs Carter is stood balancing on the monitor. I’m just watching and listening, soaking it all in. Awesome.
Biff asks us a question, “I’m feeling your power tonight, would you like a slow one or a fast one?” “Fast” is the unanimous cry, “You crazy Bastards” his response. ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ is the opening from ‘Strong Arm of the Law’. Scarrett and Quinn are back up on the drum riser. This is a “Strap yourself in, foot to the floor” banger of a track. It’s a high paced, high energy tidal wave of sound crashing down on De Montfort Hall. We are swept away by the pure power. Fabulous.
Biff tells us that they are recording and filming the show tonight. Next, it’s the title track from the 1999 album ‘Metalhead’. The hard-hitting marching beat, and chugging riffs get the arms punching the air. The guitars sound dirty, Biff mic cupped in his hands, the mic stand pulled towards him is nearly singing at speaking pace, it’s very effective, creating the image of a robot army heading into battle. The crowd are punching the air in time to the marching beat.
Biff tells us we have a choice, depending on the loudest cheer the band will play either ‘Broken Heroes’ or ‘The Eagle Has Landed’. Biff turns to Nibbs Carter, “Mr Carter, take us to the moon…” Taken from 1983’s ‘Power & the Glory’ it’s ‘The Eagle Has Landed’. Nibbs Carter’s eerie bass and Paul Quinn’s squealing guitar brings the track in, white strobe lights flashing across the stage. There’s no eagle with them tonight which is a shame. However, Biff’s voice is powerful, the riffs crunching. Glockler controlling the pace with steading strikes on the skins. Quinn eases his way to the front of the stage as he launches his solo. With or without the Eagle, it was brilliant.
It’s back to the new album, and the recent single ‘Black Is the Night’. It starts with heavy drum and bass beats. Biff is chanting the lyrics, against a backdrop of driving riffs. Paul Quinn’s solo is passionate, the arms are waving in time. The stage lights go out each time the title is mentioned.
As Download celebrates its 20th Anniversary next year, the next track is about the first Monsters of Rock Festival back in 1980. ‘And The Bands Played On’ from ‘Denim and Leather’ another classic anthem. Looking around the crowd in Leicester tonight, I bet there’s a fair few in, who were at that first Monsters of Rock Festival, which was just 20-miles down the road at Castle Donington. Biff is bouncing, De Montfort Hall are on backing vocals, Biff cups his ears at “The crowd begins to roar”, which we do. Paul Quinn plays the solo out to close. The response from the crowd was deafening.
It’s the classic ‘Wheels of Steel’ the title track from the 1980 album. Doug Scarrett starts the riff, De Montfort Hall is on backing vocals. Scarrett continues from where he started with a screeching solo, the head bangers are going crazy, the others screaming the words and punching the air. Nibbs Carter is charging from one side of the stage to the other. Biff calls for De Montfort Hall to start clapping, the band pause as Biff takes out his phone and videos the crowd, saying that they are going to be seen around the world.
The band wave and leave the stage. The stage goes dark. The crowd are clapping, cheering and whistling. It’s not long before the chant of “Saxon, Saxon” starts accompanied by the stamping of feet. We don’t have to wait too long before they return, it’s ‘The Pilgrimage’ again taken from the new album ‘Carpe Diem’. White search lights cut through the darkness. It’s slow and steady, Scarrett’s solo played over a strong riff from Quinn, Biff’s vocal piercing the darkness like the searchlights, that are now covering the hall in a yellow light.
Nibbs Carter is up on his monitor, slapping his bass. ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ is the title track from the 1980 album. The stage is awash with blue lights. De Montfort Hall is jumping. Paul Quinn is centre stage right at the edge, as he leans towards the crowd and fires out the solo. Then, we’re straight into ‘Solid Ball of Rock’ taken from the 1991 album of the same name.
All the guitarists are on the drum riser. The rhythm sections beats are shaking the room. This time Scarrett is on solo duties. A battle jacket is thrown onto the stage, Biff comments that it has no Saxon patch, it’s placed on his mic stand. We then have a sing back with Biff as he goes through the scales, he introduces us to Nigel Glockler, referring him to us as ‘The Engine Room’. Carter puts the battle jacket on, and another one appears which Biff puts on over his own jacket.
Biff says this is not the last track, but says Thank You, and starts to introduce ‘747 (Strangers in the Night)’ but, he’s drowned out by the cheers as soon as he cries “747” it’s from ‘Wheels of Steel’. De Montfort Hall has taken on lead vocals, the hall has just taken off. Paul Quinn’s solo leads us out, the smoke cannons explode.
Not encore, encore. Nigel Glockler’s drums bring in ‘Denim and Leather’. Fists are punching the air. The bass and drums are colossal as Quinn rips through the solo. Biff encourages us to sing along, he didn’t need to, we were doing so already. Arms, hair and fists all flailing, Doug Scarrett foot on the monitor rips out his solo. The crowd sing to the outro, then finish with big cheers and applause. Biff signs both of the jackets before returning them to their respective owners.
Biff speaks, “Over to you, Mr Quinn”. Paul Quinn is stood at the stage edge foot up on a monitor, and he starts the riff for ‘Princess of the Night’ from ‘Denim and Leather’. De Montfort Hall has just been bounced back six feet to the right. We’re encourage to sing one last round of ‘Hey, Hey’, Paul Quinn plays a solo. The band line up across the front of the stage, as they power the track and the set to a finale, with a Doug Scarrett solo. The stage is flashing strobes and smoke cannons as the band clap the audience, wave, line up and take a bow, flick picks and leave the stage. Wow!
It was an amazing show put on by three great bands, one new, the other two legends, who have been there, done it and I’ve got the T-shirts. The sound in the hall was a credit to the guys on the desks, brilliant for all three. I was trying to think of a way to close my review that best summed up my emotions, I make no apologies for pinching my words from my review of Saxon earlier this year in Manchester, they still feel right.
“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…”
As a final word on how I feel, another Saxon track feels appropriate, this time a more recent one… Carpe Diem (Seize the Day).
Setlist: Carpe Diem (Seize the Day), Sacrifice, Age of Steam, Never Surrender, I’ve Got to Rock (To Stay Alive), Dambusters, The Thin Red Line, Living on the Limit, Dallas 1 PM, Heavy Metal Thunder, Metalhead, The Eagle Has Landed, Black Is the Night, And the Bands Played On, Wheels of Steel, The Pilgrimage, Strong Arm of the Law, Solid Ball of Rock, 747 (Strangers in the Night), Denim and Leather, Princess of the Night.
Photography by Manny Manson for MPM