Oliver/Dawson Saxon at BROFEST NWOBHM FESTIVAL (Live at Northumbria University, Newcastle, U.K., February 24 and 25, 2017)
Photo: Mick Burgess and Rebecca Burgess

As an original member of Saxon, Steve Dawson, co-wrote the songs that created the legend before leaving in 1986. In 1994 Dawson teamed up with fellow Saxon founder member and took their own version of Saxon out on the road. Now Oliver Dawson Saxon are playing to ever bigger crowds and headline the NWOBHM festival Brofest in February. Mick Burgess caught up with Dawson to talk about the early days and what he’s up to now.

You’re headlining this year’s BroFest festival in Newcastle in a few days’ time. Are you looking forward to getting out there and playing?

We haven’t played in Newcastle for a few years, it was probably 8 or 9 years ago. We did play at Stormin’ The Castle bikers festival in Durham a few years back. We played in Hartlepool too not long ago with the Tygers of Pan Tang but we haven’t been to Newcastle for a good while. We’re really looking forward to it.

What does it mean to you to be playing Newcastle again?

To be honest we always look forward to playing in Newcastle right from when we used to play at The Mayfair in the late ’70’s and after that at the Newcastle City Hall. It’s always a great crowd in Newcastle. They were great venues. The bigger arenas don’t give people as good an experience. At the City Hall wherever you’re sat you get a good view and the sound was always better too. The North East played a big part in our heritage because before we were signed up we played in all of the working men’s clubs in the ’70’s from Sunderland up to Ashington. We played hundreds of shows around the North East and one of the reasons we loved doing it was that we could play our own songs and the audience loved Rock music. We’d live out of a van for a fortnight travelling around the region. We used to sleep on the docks at Newcastle and there was a great café there where we’d go for a bacon sandwich in the morning after a show. We then graduated to staying in digs that were three quid a night per person and you never knew who was going to be in the room with you. It might be a lorry driver or a brickie. Great days.

Is this the first show of the year for you?

We played at the Giants of Rock at Minehead. That was really good. It was quite strange and was like going back in time. Everyone was into the same thing like it used to be. Everyone had cut off denims and leather jackets. There were loads of great bands and everything was on the site from the accommodation and the food. It was excellent. It was great, you just can’t knock it.

What sort of set can we expect from your show?

I’m not sure exactly how long we have to play but we’ll do basically a greatest hits set with a couple of newer songs from Motorbiker. We’ve been re-learning some tunes from our very first album and might do one or two from that as I think it’s an overlooked album. We’ve been playing Stallions of the Highway and Frozen Rainbow so we may play those.

There’s a few old faces from back in the day including Demon, Saracen, Tokyo Blade on the bill. It must be a fair few years since you crossed paths with some of these guys?

We’re really looking forward to seeing some old faces. We’ll be arriving on the day of the show and leaving the following day but we’ll be around at the festival most of the day we are playing so we’ll catch a couple of bands and have a chat with people and a few pints too no doubt. Bri, our singer, played there with Seventh Son last year and he said it’s a great set up so we’re all really looking forward to it. I know fans come from all over the world to see bands that maybe only made one single 30 years ago. No other form of music has that loyalty. It’s like being back in 1980 where everybody is covered in patches and cut off denims. It’s going to be great. We’ll have a bit of a knees up when we get up there.

You and Graham go back a long, long way. Can you recall your first meeting?

When we first met there was just me and a school friend on the drums and we used to rehearse in a house in Swinton. We had a guitarist who wasn’t very good, he was more of a Pop guitarist. He couldn’t play lead guitar so we asked him if he knew anybody that could and he said he knew someone called Graham Oliver. We invited him down and he had hair down to his shoulders. He plugged in and we jammed Cream songs and improvised. After about half an hour this other guitarist packed his guitar away and went home as he knew he’d had it. That’s how we met around 1970. None of us could sing but Graham knew someone who could sing and play guitar so we got him in and we played our very first show at the Canal Tavern at Swinton and that was the first show ever played there. That’s been knocked down now but funnily enough we also played the last ever gig there before it was demolished. So we played the first ever gig there and the last one too years later. It’s a block of flats now.

Your first album, Saxon came out in 1979 but it was the follow up that really broke things for you. Did you feel when recording Wheels of Steel that this was going to be the big one?

Not at the time we didn’t. When we did the first album we were managed by Queen’s management. After the first album came out they dropped us. We didn’t have anything at all. We went to see Carrere Records and told them the situation and they said we could make one more record. We were so annoyed at being messed around that we went to Wales in the middle of winter and it was freezing cold but we were that determined to show everybody what we could do that it just worked out. 747 and Wheels of Steels were songs that came out of such frustration and they turned out to be really big hits for us. When we made the first album, it wasn’t really a true representation of us as we were much heavier live. We didn’t really know what we were doing in the cheap studios we recorded that first album but once we got into a decent studio and we were more experienced then it was a different ball game. We were in the right situation, the right frame of mind and we wrote some great songs and it all came together on Wheels of Steel.

What about the song writing. How did you go about creating those classic songs?

No one person wrote any one song. We all wrote together all the time. Somebody might have a guitar riff or someone might have a title. We were all mates and it was just a natural process to do it like that. We were lucky enough to have a hit with Wheels of Steel and then 747 and when that momentum starts it sort of takes off. The time was just right for that type of music with Motorhead and Iron Maiden and there was the Friday Rock Show with Tommy Vance that helped a lot too. We got national press in Sounds magazine. It was just the right time for us.

You released 7 albums in the 1st 5 years as a recording band. That’s pretty prolific. Did you have so much material ready or were you just fast writers?

As we were Northern lads and we were all used to working hard and doing jobs, we treated being in a band like working in a factory. We started in the morning and finished at tea time and had a lunch break. We sat down and set about writing a certain number of songs each day and worked by the process of elimination. We might write 5 songs and out of those we might get two good ones. We’d sometimes take an intro from one and put it with a riff or solo from another and build them up like that. All our favourite songs had great beginnings. All Right Now or All The Young Dudes are memorable before you even get to the words. We always tried to write a great intro. 747 has a great intro and there I suggested to Paul Quinn to put a lead break at the start like All The Young Dudes and then we added the main riff so we took the good bits and tried to put them together in a song. It was Biff’s job to come up with a melody. For 747 I wrote the guitar riff and Paul Quinn wrote the bass line so we wrote each other’s parts and that ended up being the best bass line I ever played and it was written by Paul. That’s just how it works out sometimes.

You appeared at the very first Monsters of Rock Festival along with Rainbow, Judas Priest and Scorpions. Would you say that was one of the high points of your career?

Oh, definitely. Just to be on the same bill as Rainbow was amazing. Seeing Ritchie Blackmore was incredible. You just can’t describe how it feels. Monsters of Rock at Donnington was a new thing. You had the Reading Festival but not a festival just for Rock. It was great. The Bands Played On was written about us leaving home in Yorkshire, travelling to the gig and playing and finally seeing Rainbow at the end. What stood out about our time on stage was the noise of the crowd and it was over so quickly. It seemed like we were only on stage for 10 minutes and then it was over.

What was it like backstage?

The dressing rooms were about half a mile from the stage and they were like an office block and each band had a room. I’ll never forget coming out of our room and Judas Priest were coming out and Rob Halford had the full regalia on, his leather stuff, the hat, the glasses and 10,000 studs and I just looked at him and our inadequacies crept in. I thought that was a real Rock band. I also remember talking to Whitesnake and David Coverdale said how much he liked our album and I was thinking that Whitesnake’s album sounded better than ours. I think we found it hard to appreciate what we’d done and what we’d achieved.

Your current singer Bri Shaughnessy has been with you for a few years now. What does he bring to the band?

Bri’s voice really suits those songs. He is such a fantastic person. He’s so down to earth. Previous singers we’ve worked with seem to have had a few problems!! He’s been playing as long as we have. His band Seventh Son had been around when we first started and we were in the right place at the right time and got the break but Bri is a great singer and a great person too. We also have a new guitarist, Gavin Coulson, who’s a great player and also a pretty good singer too so we have some backing vocals now that work really well.

Your last album Motorbiker came out in 2012. When can we expect the follow up?

We did a live one fairly recently called Blood and Thunder Live as we wanted to put something out with Bri singing to show everybody that we had someone different. We are actually working on songs at the moment and we’re talking to BMG about a new record. It’s difficult making new music now as people now expect to get music for free. We do want to put a new album out though as I think it’s important for a band to continue to be creative so we do hope to get a new album out sooner rather than later. It won’t take us long to do it. We have loads of songs nearly finished and it doesn’t take long to record these days. We have one that’s the follow up to Dallas 1pm called Who Shot Oswald, it’s a sort of conspiracy song and one called Road Roller. We thought of the heaviest thing you could get on the road and they don’t come much heavier than a road roller. It’s also an analogy for a Rock band rolling into town on tour. We’ve also got one called The Battle of Orgreave about the Miners Strike. That’s going to be an epic. We have loads of stuff, it’s just a question of getting on with it and we hope to have it out later this year.

What about the rest of the year?

We have more shows being lined up than we have done in years. I think as more people see us word gets round that we are a great live band. We hope to do more festivals this year and we are talking about coming back and doing Stormin’ The Castle in Durham again later in the summer.

Oliver Dawson Saxon headline the BroFest festival at Northumbria University, Newcastle (UK) on 24th and 25th February. Also appearing are Demon, Saracen, Tokyo Blade, Mythra and Battle Axe and many more.


  • 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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