Newcastle City Hall was opened in 1927 and has a long and storied history as the city’s first dedicated concert venue. The hall has hosted The Byrds, Lindisfarne and Emerson, Lake and Palmer among others but has a particularly niche place in the city’s musical history when it comes to heavy metal. A keen observer will recognise the concert hall interior in Iron Maiden’s video for 'Number Of The Beast' and the majority of Motorhead’s seminal No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith was recorded here. Joey DeMaio and Ross The Boss reportedly met here at a Sabbath gig, forming the core of Manowar's classic lineup. This rich history can seem odd or even jarring to the visitor who walks through the fancy portico into a 100% seating grandiose concert hall for a heavy metal show, but the building has its own considerable charm and one gets the sense that bands who played here “back in the day” and keep coming back to do so out of a genuine affection- adding to the atmosphere. That’s certainly the case with tonight’s triple-header, a sort of 'coda' to Saxon’s Autumn tour of the UK, with Wayward Sons and Doro in tow.
Wayward Sons kick the evening off. Fronted by ex-Little Angels frontman Toby Jepson, this five piece are every inch the gestalt Planet Rock band and deliver everything that description entails: Simple, energetic blues-tinged rock occasionally flirting with AOR (of course they’re signed to Frontiers). While not necessarily earth-shaking, the band acquit themselves well, clearly have a lot of enthusiasm and deliver a solid set, whetting the early arrivals’ appetite for the rest of the evening. Set highlights are most certainly “Crush” and “Until The End”.
The uninitiated and largely unfamiliar author doesn't quite know what to expect from scene veteran Doro Pesch. Doro quickly appraises the City Hall of the situation: Launching onto the stage and into Warlock’s “I Rule The Ruins” she establishes there is to be 0% fucking around here. The majority of Doro’s set consists of Warlock songs which serves to ensure continuing familiarity and participation from the expanding audience, played with the consummate professionalism one expects from a well-seasoned band such as this. Some crowd banter early on harks back to a previous appearance by Pesch with Warlock in Newcastle supporting the late, great, Ronnie James Dio which feeds into favourite “Burning The Witches”. By the time “All We Are” starts up the concert hall is buzzing and the grandeur of the place feels more in keeping with what’s happening on stage. Doro follows with “All For Metal” and closes out her set with “Revenge”, leaving Newcastle set up for main event.
Saxon approach tonight’s show with an admirable confidence in their new material for a band originating in NWOBHM. Thunderbolt, 2018’s release, boasts six inclusions in tonight’s set alongside a broad spread of classic numbers. The title track opens the set and is swiftly followed by second album track “Nosferatu” and relatively recent “Sacrifice”, leading into signature song “Motorcycle Man” to much appreciation. The only really questionable song choice of the night is “Predator” – understandably present in the set but slightly throwing the watcher off due to the ill-advised growl section originally handled by Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg – it doesn’t really suit the song and takes one out of the moment. In the grand scheme of things this is a minor mis-step and the band quickly course-correct with “Strong Arm of The Law”. The rest of the set continues to flow well throughout, with Biff Byford’s now-classically “cozy” sense of showmanship and banter (an admiral commitment to the correct, ie. Northern pronunciation of the word “bath” is shown in a brief exchange with drummer Nigel Glockler), with references to previous shows at the Hall and a touching tribute to Lemmy and Motorhead leading into “They Played Rock ‘n’ Roll”. We move into the home stretch after this: “And The Bands Played On”, “Sons of Odin”, “Never Surrender” and “Princess of The Night” close the main set but Saxon aren’t done yet. It’s tough to imagine a stronger encore selection from their back catalogue than a powerful “The Eagle Has Landed” leading into “Heavy Metal Thunder”, “Wheels of Steel” and “Denim and Leather”. For the final number Byford encourages a couple of denim vest donations from the crowd who oblige him eagerly, setting up for some solid call-and response on the chorus to end the night.
The word that frequently comes to mind with Saxon is 'consistency'. Consistency in quality of recorded material, consistency of competent live performance. This night demonstrates that in a nutshell. Saxon remind the audience, once again why they stood out within the British metal scene of the early '80s and continue to enjoy a respectable profile within the scene now. Crackin'.
Writer: Craig Stewart