At O2 Academy, Newcastle, U.K., October 28, 2016

SAXON (Live at O2 Academy, Newcastle, U.K., October 28, 2016)
Photo: Mick Burgess and Rebecca Burgess

Saxon and Girlschool were scheduled to play at the City Hall on 23rd January as special guests to Motörhead but the sad passing of their iconic frontman, Lemmy, meant that was never to be. It was the end of an era.

Saxon frontman Biff Byford, however decided as part of their own headlining shows to not only bring Girlschool out on the road with them but also Fastway, featuring none other than guitarist, Fast Eddie Clarke from Motörhead’s classic lineup.

There can hardly be three more acts as compatible as these as all were regulars together on the early ’80s touring circuit so this was the perfect combination for a night of classic British Metal.

Tonight was the first night of the tour that stretches well into December and a couple of early tour gremlins meant that openers Girlschool, were still sound-checking as the punters filed into the Academy.

With a ridiculously early start due to the early Friday night curfew, Girlschool made the most of their short slot opening with a punchy Demolition and Hit and Run with Kim McAulliffe and bassist Enid Williams sharing vocal duties.

With just enough time to drop in a couple of newer songs Take It Like Band and Come The Revolution before hitting home with Race With the Devil. Set closer Emergency rocked hard, matching the boys every step of the way and showed why Lemmy had taken them under his wing in their early days.

Fast Eddie Clarke is a bona fide legend. As a member of the classic Motörhead lineup he co-wrote the iconic Ace of Spades and played on the timeless records that defined a genre. Motörhead were never quite the same after he left.

Following his departure from Motörhead in 1983 he formed Fastway, initially with UFO bassist Pete Way and headed in a more classic Hard Blues Rock direction giving him the chance to spread his musical wings.

It’s been nigh on a decade since Clarke has toured and in that time has only played a handful of festival shows. The loss of his Motörhead brothers, Lemmy and Philthy Phil last year spurred him into action and the Saxon tour was the ideal opportunity to get back onto the Rock ‘n’ Roll saddle.

With 2011’s Eat Dog Eat being such a strong release it was almost criminal that singer Toby Jepson bailed in favour of reforming Little Angels before the band could tour and the album slipped by virtually unnoticed which was a crying shame as it showed Clarke at his absolute best.

With Jepson back on board along with former Mama’s Boys bassist John McManus and Steve Strange on drums, Clarke was ready to put that right and a hugely accommodating Saxon crowd was the perfect place to witness Clarke’s first steps back on stage in a fair few years. Cries of “Eddie, Eddie Eddie” at every possible moment showed how much he’s been missed.

With a setlist drawing heavily on the first two albums including opener Misunderstood and the Zeppelin-esq epic Heft, Clarke grabbed his return with both hands and although those first night guitar gremlins kicked in once or twice nothing was going to derail his comeback.

Toby Jepson may have been a surprise choice as frontman having made his name with the altogether Poppier Little Angels, but working with Clarke has really brought out the best of him. His vocals were rich and powerful and brought a new lease of life to oldies such as Easy Livin’. With any luck a return headlining tour next year will feature more songs from Eat Dog Eat than Deliver Me as those songs need to be heard on stage.

As a first night return for Fast Eddie Clarke this was an unequivocal success and the crowd absolutely loved it. He’s back and raring to go. Welcome back Fast Eddie.

Saxon are something of a Metal institution in the UK. At the turn of the ’80s they became flag bearers alongside Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Diamond Head for a resurgence in British Heavy Metal and over the years, even during those lean times in the ’90s, have stayed true to their roots when others have wavered and tonight they were back to support their latest release Battering Ram.

One of the main strengths of Saxon as a band is that they have been around the block a fair few times and know what their fans want and know how to keep their sets fresh from tour to tour so there was plenty of changes from their last tour to keep things interesting.

Opening with the title track from their Battering Ram album set their stall for the night. It’s tough, riff heavy and the perfect opener and with Sacrifice and Let Me Feel Your Power from their last clutch of albums, Saxon proved that their creative well still surged with vibrant ideas.

The set flowed well over the course of the night with fan favourites (And The Bands Played On and Never Surrender) mixed liberally with rarely played vintage cuts such as Stand Up and Be Counted as well as newer songs like Lionheart and Chasing the Bullet from the Call To Arms album, before which he dedicated the song to the staff of the RVI Hospital who cared for drummer Nigel Glockler after his health scare in Newcastle a couple of years ago.

Biff Byford gave a charismatic and commanding performance particularly during the show stopping epics, The Eagle Has Landed and Queen of Hearts, surely the only song in the history of Rock about a game of chess, while guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt traded riffs and solos as if their life depended on it.

Closing the set with perennials Dallas 1pm and Wheels of Steel, complete with its monstrous riff, set the bar high for the encores.

How do you match that? Try bringing out Fast Eddie Clarke and a rampaging run through Motörhead’s Ace of Spades for a truly unbeatable moment. A beaming Clarke was clearly having a blast and any doubts he had about returning to the road must surely have vanished with the crowd treating him as the conquering hero.

With the fateful 10:00pm curfew looming there was just time for one more and what else but 747 (Strangers in the Night) sounding every bit as good as it did back in the early ’80s. And that was it, well, not quite. This is Rock ‘n’ Roll after all and rules are made to be broken so Biff and the boys blasted through the curfew with Princess of the Night before the Academy disco rolled in to town.

There may be more polished performances on this tour, there may be less technical glitches elsewhere but there is unlikely to be any as highly charged as this show in Newcastle where the return of Fast Eddie Clarke to the touring scene and a powerful and inspiring performance by Saxon gave Newcastle what may well be the best night of the tour.




  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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