Saxon @ The Ritz
First up for the evening’s entertainment were Beyond The Black, a German epic and pomp, melodic metal band fronted by the delightfully gorgeous Jennifer Haben. I wasn’t familiar with their music but they were very good, similar in vein to Epica and Delain. Later in the evening I made valiant attempts to talk with Ms. Haben, on a professional basis of course (much to our photographers amusement), but sadly there was a huge language barrier. Oh well, I guess its back to school to learn German.
Next up were Hell, a band I vaguely remembered from the mid-80’s. They had a torrid start back then, their record company collapsed into bankruptcy two weeks before they were due to record their debut album. The guitarist quit the band shortly afterwards and this drove the singer, Dave Halliday, to commit suicide.
The band re-united in 2008 and finally recorded that debut album. Human Remains initially featured Martin Walkyier of Sabbat on vocals but he was soon replaced by actor David Beckford as it was felt Walkyier didn’t suit the bands sound. The album went on to be reasonably successful.
More interestingly the band won a large number of awards and accolades for their performances as well as for the album. And the bands performance here tonight could only be described as pure theatre, a highly choreographed display, and quite conceptual in a horror sort of way. You can start to understand all those awards now.
Beckford, with his clear distinctive voice, comes across as a re-imagined Christ with his white painted face whilst wearing a ‘crown of thorns’. For another song he adorns a large, dark hooded cloak making him look like Darth Sidious from Star Wars. The bass player looks like a fully paid up member of the walking dead – you wouldn’t want to bump into him in a dark alley.
"Pure theatre, a highly choreographed display of conceptual in a horror."
This isn’t imagery covering up the cracks. The music and the songs are solid, Something Wicked This Way Comes, End Ov Days and On Earth As It Is In Hell going down particularly well with the crowd.
Beckford’s voice is key here and with his actors performance it really brings it all together. Its classic heavy metal meets theatre, but without the shitty Ben Elton-ness that makes you want to puke! Hell are well worth checking out live and are highly recommended. I WILL be seeing them again, on earth and not in Hell!
“It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock’n’roll” sang Bon Scott in the intro tape, perhaps prophetically about Saxon’s struggle to survive. But survive they have over 35 years!
Their show started off at breakneck speed with the band launching into Motorcycle Man. Singer Biff Byford taking a commanding presence on the stage towering over the rest of the band in his military tunic. His voice has changed little, perhaps an octave lower and the screams not quite as spine tingling, but he still hits the spot.
The songs sound surprisingly undated. Sacrifice being a prime example with Paul Quinn still riffing away in his trademark baseball cap. Quinn, along with Byford, stand as the only two remaining members of the band who have sacrificed a lot in the name of their music. Fittingly a member of the audience threw an England flag up to the band for The Power And The Glory which was placed on the drumkit (Byford carefully and respectfully folded it and returned it to the fan at the end of the show).
The variety is kept up with Lionheart from 2004, And The Bands Played On documenting their performance at Donnington, all perfectly in place as was Strong Arm Of The Law with the crowd more than willing participants in the chorus.
Back to ’92 and Forever Free was dedicated to all the bikers. Byfords voice was on top form for Frozen Rainbow from the first album – a relatively mellow moment which I think everyone appreciated. Then it was a return to the action with some Heavy Metal Thunder, played like they were being chased by lightning bolts!
"Seeing Saxon is the real deal. It was a career retrospective and not something they were merely paying lip service to."
Another rarity from ’79, Susie Hold On saw the bass player, Nibs Carter, come off stage to play for a wheelchair bound guy for the first part of the song. A small gesture that made a huge impact and I am sure made the guy’s night!
The band were really getting into their stride now, Dallas 1 PM seeming effortless but the poignancy of the song continues to this day. Built On Rock was preceded by Byford reminiscing about the bands previous visits to Manchester at the Apollo and Academy 1. But they like it at The Ritz, and The Ritz loves Saxon.
Another faultless rendition of 747 (Strangers In The Night) was followed by Crusader which received one of the loudest cheers of the evening from the appreciative crowd, followed by set closer Princess Of The Night.
They saved probably their biggest anthems for the encore, Wheels Of Steel had the crowd jumping up and down on the Ritz’s infamous bouncy floor and the band finished off perfectly with Denim And Leather.
What was great about this evening is that this is the real deal. It was a career retrospective and not something they were merely paying lip service to. And for anyone seeing Saxon for the first time this evening was a great introduction to the band. All these songs are classics.
Not a single person could complain about the show tonight. The set list was perfect, there were no fillers and no solos. Tonight may not have been a sell out but if they keep up this sort of performance any return will certainly see a full house. Words: Anthony Firmin | Photos: Phil Goddard