by Owen Sheppard
The last time Saxon were in Newcastle there was no rock and roll celebration. Drummer Nigel Glocker had fallen ill on the trip from Glasgow and was consequently rushed to a Tyneside hospital. Diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, he was slowly nursed back to health in the North East but his band’s tour came shuddering to an abrupt halt.
This, the first night of the rescheduled UK tour, proved a roaring success for Saxon. But after the last-minute postponement last time around you could forgive members of this near sold-out crowd for being tentative.
They had no need. Saxon were on fire and it was fitting that the band bounced back in such style in the Toon.
While Glocker progresses on the road to recovery, replacement drummer Sven Dirkschneider – son of Udo - looked young enough to be any Saxon member’s grandson. He missed a couple of beats during the 90-minute set and, ironically, looked far more exhausted than his four bandmates by the end. But Dirkschneider will do these metal legends justice.
Frontman Biff Byford was in jovial spirits and looked like he’d been cast straight out of a Lord Of The Rings film.
Standing well over 6ft, with flowing silver hair and a barrel chest, and wearing a double-breasted black tunic with knee-high boots, you’d think Viking might have been a more apt name for the band.
Biff’s pipes were in fine form too. Most Saxon tracks don’t require the greatest range with crowd pleasers like Wheels of Steel, Heavy Metal Thunder and Denim And Leather all written to cater to hordes of blokes who like to bellow in unison.
But Biff’s voice sounded powerful, clear and confident nonetheless. He still nailed those high-pitched, tortured screams on Motorcycle Man – the kind that Slayer’s Tom Araya gave up on years ago.
Guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarrat can still shred with best with them, head bang like gorging hyenas, and look incredibly lean gents in their 60s.
Bassist Nibbs Carter’s visibly intricate playing added to the overall barrage of noise but was somewhat lost in the mix through the O2 Academy’s PA system - which also got a touch tinny for some of the higher frequencies.
Every mullet-headed, heavy metal dad in attendance with their mates, or their impressionable teenage son or daughter, knew they’d be heading into work the next day with a ringing in their ears. But it was worth it. And this cracking show gave them every reason to do it all again when Saxon’s next UK tour inevitably comes to town.
Because they simply love what they do so much, Saxon are a band who will tour until the day they die.