SAXON with FASTWAY and GIRLSCHOOL at O2 Ritz Manchester – 02 November 2016
Saxon were due to play some dates on their ‘Battering Ram Tour’ with Motörhead. Sadly, this plan had to aborted with the death of legendary Motörhead frontman Lemmy at the beginning of the year. In tribute to him and former Motörhead drummer Phil(thy animal)Taylor a revamped tour package was arranged which would hit the UK at the tail end of 2016. The bill would feature Saxon, along with ex Motörhead guitarist Fast Eddie’s Fastway, and former friends and touring pals, Girlschool. A fantastic bill for fans like myself of that great era of British Heavy Metal from the eighties.
Like many, I was surprised that Girlschool were opening the bill. Legends who have never stopped playing tours and releasing albums throughout the years, I think their billing should be much higher than what it is – certainly in the UK, at least. Unfortunately, only a short set from the girls this time, but it was indeed to their credit that they managed to grab the attention of the Manchester audience immediately from the outset. It was great to see that they were also playing to an almost capacity audience. Throwing in two new tracks from their latest Guilty as Sin album didn’t detract from a great show, despite many of the audience clearly not recognising those particular numbers. Sharing lead vocals between Kim and Enid also gives them a unique approach. I loved their set and I never personally tire of hearing their classic anthems, such as “Demolition Boys,” “Emergency,” and “Hit and Run.” If there is any guitarist that looks as good as Jax Chambers in black leather, then I have yet to see her (and that includes Joan Jett!!) An entertaining, sing-along headbanging and visually pleasing set.
Fastway were up next and the entire hype was that they don’t often tour and their set would once again see the return of former Motörhead guitarist Fast Eddie to treading the boards live. Fastway have had a fluctuating line-up over the course of their history since releasing their debut All Fired Up with Dave King and Pete Way joining Eddie himself. For this set of dates former Little Angel vocalist Toby Jepson would be the man on the mic, and former Mamas Boys bassist John Mcmanus would also be playing some rare personal live shows. Being only familiar with the band’s debut release All Fired Up, the one that broke the band in America. I was surprised how strong their material sounded. My pre-show interview with Fast Eddie had showed how highly he regarded the band’s latest album Eat Dog Eat which he viewed as “the second Fastway album, on which Toby sang like a bastard.” On featuring a couple of songs from that release in the set, it had the effect of piquing my interest and directing me to check out the full album from which they came. Fastway were a surprise package for me, I wasn’t expecting too much and yet came away suitably enthused. Fast Eddie has lost none of his sonic power and melody; it was a delight to see him playing and visibly enjoying what he does again.
Saxon were the night’s headliners, continuing relentlessly on their Battering Ram charge across the UK’s stages. The legendary Manchester Ritz was now completed packed to capacity and the latest album’s title track was the opening call to arms (to echo another recent Saxon track). No matter how many times I’ve seen Saxon live, dating back to 1983, it never fails to surprise me that vocalist Biff has never lost any of any his vocal power or delivery. The band also remain as energetic as ever. Great also to witness Nigel Glocklear back behind the kit after his own personal health problems. While Saxon have continued to release albums in recent years, it was slightly disappointing that there was a notable drop in audience reaction to the newer numbers in the set, many only coming alive for the classics. And although Saxon continue to be a fulltime band touring and releasing albums, I feel for much of the audience – they are a nostalgia act only. I personally wonder how many of the Ritz audience had bought any of the recent Saxon albums. Saxon to me represent a timeless legendary act of massive status.
The regular set staple, closer “Wheels of Steel” brought things to an end before the much-rumoured return of Fast Eddie to the stage to join with Saxon in a run through Motörhead classic “Ace of Spades.” For many bands that would have been an opportune moment to end the evening’s proceedings. However, Saxon were not done yet – not even close to ending. Two more classic songs were delivered in the rocker’s anthem “Denim and Leather,” before exiting on a song about a steam train – yes that one – “Princess of the Night.”
Saxon’s place in heavy rock history is long established. They continue to deliver rock just like it used to be. But give the newer songs a chance – they can serve up their own attractions and may actually be tomorrow’s classics.
Review by Mark Dean || Photos by Christopher James Ryan