At Northumbria University, Newcastle, U.K., February 24 and 25, 2017

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

Grunge, Hip-Hop and Thrash are all snappy, instantly recognisable names for specific genres of music that also in their own way uniquely, in one word or phrase, describe the music form.  Quite how NWOBHM, arguably the most cumbersome moniker of them all, manged to stick for so long is something of a mystery.

NWOBHM, or to give it its full name, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal embraced the period in the late ’70s and early ’80s where the dying carcass of ’70s Rock was rejuvenated by the spirit and ethic of Punk to bring a leaner, more aggressive form of Metal to the masses.  While Iron Maiden, Saxon and Def Leppard led the pack, going onto sell a squillion albums between them, the likes of Diamond Head, Angel Witch and Samson all flickered brightly influencing many bands that followed, most notably Metallica, who’s drummer Lars Ulrich was obsessed with the whole era to the extent that Metallica have over the years covered many of the bands from those days, giving them a much welcomed boost in the royalty stakes.

Newcastle was at the very epicentre of the whole movement that also rejuvenated the careers of the likes of Motörhead, Gillan and UFO, as Neat Records based in Wallsend threw local bands Tygers of Pan Tang, Venom, White Spirit, Raven and Blitzkrieg into the international spotlight.

It seems fitting that three decades on, Northumbria University, in the very heart of NWOBHM land, is the venue for a two day celebration of that very music and now in its fifth year attracts an audience from as far afield as South America, Greece and Southern Europe along with a strong contingent from Germany, such is the pull and loyalty of the fans.

BroFest was started by a small group of frustrated Geordies, fed up of travelling long distances to see bands they loved and dreaming of seeing bands long since disappeared. Their solution?  To bring the bands to them and to coax long gone bands out of retirement.  5 years later the passion and commitment of the BroFest boys has created a festival that is seen as the genres main event in the calendar.

Spread over two days BroFest boasted its strongest ever line up with the usual mix of big names from within the genre with some playing Newcastle for the first time ever and others who have reunited especially for the show.

Berlyn, not to be confused with Berlin, who’s mega hit Take My Breath Away graced the soundtrack of Top Gun, are one such band, reuniting for a special show.  Guitarist Maurice Coyne prior to Berlyn had been in Evil Ways with Adrian Smith and when he left his place was taken by Dave Murray, both of who ended up in Iron Maiden.  It’s strange how things work out.

Berlyn, were exceptional.  Although they may have looked as though they’d walked straight out of their office jobs, musically they were tight with a classic punchy sound.  Vocalist Tony Thurlow who hails from Stockton, was a revelation.  Imagine a combination of the power and depth of Ronnie James Dio with the abrasive edge of Blackie Lawless or Cinderella’s Tom Keifer and you’d not be far off.  Thurlow delivered a powerhouse performance with songs Judas, the frantic Street Fight and suitably titled Maniac being major highlights.

Local heroes Mythra from South Shields returned to the BroFest stage for their second appearance and it was clear they’d brought a strong following.

The fast and furious delivery of Killer from their debut ’79 EP was just what the fans clamoured for and the early Maiden feel of Life pushed all the right buttons.  Mythra however, weren’t just looking on those classic early days as new songs Still Burning and A Call To Arms showed a band still hungry for more.

Every good Metal band needs a prop or two and Battleaxe‘s Dave King entered the stage wielding surprisingly enough, a battle axe. Their brand of fast paced Judas Priest inspired riffage and granite edged vocals gave a real kick to Battle Axe the song and set closer, the ever green Burn This Town.

No other band over the weekend had the back catalogue of bonafide hits and classics as Oliver/Dawson Saxon. Neatly side stepping the tight one hour timeslot for their set by bludgeoning their way through the curfew to deliver a crowd pleasing set of big hits and classic rarities for the hardcore fans.

Formed by original Saxon members Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson, their set featured songs from the golden days of the band kicking off with Rock and Roll Gypsy and over the next hour and a half punched out Strong Arm of the Law, Denim and Leather and Hungry Years, the first time Oliver and Dawson have played this since 1981.

The sprawling, dramatic The Eagle Has Landed gave vocalist Bri Shaughnessy the opportunity to shine before hitting the home straight with biker anthem Motorcycle Man that had the crowd in a frenzy, Dallas 1pm and Princess of the Night.  How could you possibly fail with two diamond encrusted classics in your set in the shape of 747 (Strangers In The Night) and Wheels of Steel sounding every bit as delicious as they did back in the day?

Oliver Dawson Saxon showed their class and with a set list to die for ensured that their imposing headlining performance went down a storm.

On day two, an early highlight came in the form of Pomp Rockers Saracen bringing a welcome diversion from the heavy duty riffing from earlier in the show.  Their pre-show reservations about not being roadworthy before their first live show in five years proved totally groundless as they produced a masterclass in dramatic, cinematic Rock. Crowd favourites Horseman of the Apocalypse and the classic Heroes, Saints and Fools both from their timeless debut were majestic.  Vocalist Steve Bettney must have been frozen in ice for the last 30 years as his voice resonated with the same warmth, power and range that he had at the turn of the ’80s.  His beaming smile after hitting the high notes to perfection in Crusader were the mark of a man who just knew the band had pulled off a triumphant return to the live stage.

It’s incredible to think that after a career spanning well over 35 years and 13 albums, Demon have never ever played in Newcastle. Tonight they had an hour to put that right and they seized their opportunity with both hands.

Boasting a set more varied and dynamic than any other, Demon showed why they remain a big draw on the live circuit, particularly in Europe. With a set skewed more in favour of their heavier earlier material as Night of the Demon, Into The Nightmare and their very first single Liar not surprising went down a storm.

Demon however have far more to offer than straight forward Metal and were arguably the only band over the weekend that could have delivered two totally different sets to two different audiences.  The Pink Floyd-esq of The Plague was drenched in atmospheric keyboards and the epic Life On The Wire bristled with drama as the excellent emotive vocals of Dave Hill never wavered throughout.

One Helluva Night and the evergreen Don’t Break The Circle closed their set as the crowd duly showed their enthusiastic appreciation after a long, long wait to see them as their classy set and powerful performance showed a band who have continued to grow creatively, never making the same album twice and fully deserve their treasured status.

Following Demon’s set was always going to be a challenge but High Spirits from The States certainly gave it a go.  The majority of the band were probably not even born when the NWOBHM was in full flow but their sound was in its very spirit as Another Night In The City, Nights In Black and an energetic High Spirits showed that they had learned their lessons well.

Whereas Demon and Saracen showed the classy, sophisticated side to Metal, Ghoul on the other hand, stood right at the other end. Their frantic Psycho Punk Thrash and bizarre theatrics were the real curveball of the weekend.  Songs such as Shred The Dead, Wall of Death and Graveyard Mosh all played at breakneck speed, paint a certain picture.  Visually they were compelling.  All four members wore sacks concealing their identities and a freakshow of props appeared on stage including a huge Spirit of Punk skeleton, a cyber Stormtrooper and a huge helmet wearing knight who tussled and fought each other, not to mention the liberal use of fake blood throughout the show where bassist Cremator, even warned the photographers in the photo pit to stand well back. Certainly not for the fainthearted but hugely entertaining and all done with tongue firmly planted in the cheek.

Festival closers, Tokyo Blade saw the return of original singer Alan Marsh to their ranks alongside the other originals, guitarists Andy Boulton and John Wiggins and drummer Steve Pierce together with bassist Andy Wrighton who jumped aboard for 1984’s Night Of The Blade.

For an hour Tokyo Blade delivered a set brimming full of prime time Metal with tight harmony guitars and scything riffs backed by Pierce’s thunderous drumming.  Sunrise in Tokyo, Lightning Strikes and Highway Passion from the first E.P kept the temperature at boiling point while Night of the Blade and signature classic If Heaven Was Hell perfectly encapsulated their high energy Metallic edge.

With the most diverse bill to date Brofest 5 was a resounding success with an intoxicating blend of Metal bands putting the festival and Newcastle firmly on the Metal map.



  • 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.

    View all posts

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.