|Saxon/HammerFall - London, Camden Koko - 20th December 2011|
|Written by Jim Rowland|
|Wednesday, 04 January 2012 05:00|
I can still remember what my best Christmas present was in 1981 because I've still got it - it was Saxon's mighty 4th album, 'Denim & Leather' in all its vinyl glory. As my mum wrapped the album up on Christmas Eve, she probably had a good look at the picture on the back of the five hairy rockers, some with slightly dodgy moustaches, sat astride five stallions of the highway, wondering what the hell she'd just bought me. But, this was heavy metal, and as I entered my teenage years, she probably thought it was just a phase I was going though, and before long, I'd grow out of it. Thirty years later, as I'm hot footing it down to Camden to see Saxon perform 'Denim & Leather' in its entirety, it's clear I never quite managed to grow out of it. 'Denim & Leather' was of course the last album from the original Saxon line-up, and for some, they never quite reached those heights again. It's a true NWOBHM classic, so the prospect of seeing it all live brings a huge crowd down to Koko tonight.
First up are Swedish power metallers HammerFall. HammerFall are considerably more popular in mainland Europe than they are in the UK, so you wouldn't get them supporting Saxon in, say, Germany, but over here they're a damned good fit. There are plenty of HammerFall fans in attendance tonight though, and they go down a storm. Fists are pumping and heads are banging as the hardcore HammerFall heads sing along to the likes of 'Bang Your Head', 'Last Man Standing' and 'Let The Hammer Fall'. The best one for me was the extremely catchy set closer 'Hearts On Fire', which actually sounds like they're singing, "arse on fire". Now we've all been there after a vindaloo haven't we? I've seen Hammerfall a couple of times before tonight and although they're not entirely up my street, I couldn't argue with the reception they we afforded here, and this surely can only help to raise their UK profile.
With this being Christmas week, there's a party atmosphere in the air tonight and who better to have a heavy metal party with than the Barnsley barnstormers Saxon? They hit the ground running as they kick off their 2 hour set with a lightning fast one two of 'Hammer Of The Gods' and 'Heavy Metal Thunder', which gets everyone in the mood straight away. With the prospect of 'Denim & Leather' coming up later in the set, the band take advantage by unleashing three from this year's very well received 'Call To Arms' album in the shape of 'Hammer Of The Gods', 'When Doomsday Comes' and 'Chasing The Bullet' which all go down well enough before the classic 'Motorcycle Man' revs the crowd up.
'Call To Arms', according to Biff, has been the best selling Saxon album for quite a few years, perhaps because it's heading in the direction of the classic old Saxon sound, so there's no less than six tracks from it in the set tonight. It's the nostalgic anthem 'Back In '79' that provides the precursor to the first section of the 'Denim & Leather' album. The band choosing to perform it in two chunks and not in the original running order, but with songs of this quality, we don't really care what order they're in. 'Never Surrender' is first up which of course gets a huge sing along, before 'Fire In The Sky' and 'Midnight Rider' are fused together as one. The awesome Donington themed anthem 'And The Bands Played On' brings the first chunk of 'Denim & Leather' to a riotous close.
It's good to see 'Strong Arm Of the Law's 'To Hell And Back Again' get a rare outing before we get a couple more newies ('Call To Arms' & 'Mists Of Avalon'), then 'Rock the Nations' and a Nigel Glockler drum solo. Biff then gives the crowd a choice of either the majestic 'The Eagle Has Landed' or 'Broken Heroes' from the 'Innocence Is No Excuse' album. Now I personally never rated the 'Innocence' album much so I was somewhat surprised to see the crowd plump for that track rather than 'Eagle' but there you go. I went to the bar in protest to top up just in time for the rest of 'Denim & Leather'.
'Rough and Ready' and 'Out Of Control' are probably the weakest songs, if you had to pick any, from 'D&L' but it's great to see them get a rare live outing. 'Denim & Leather' itself is up next & the place literally explodes. This has got to be the ultimate anthem about those glorious days of the NWOBHM and it gets a rousing reaction. The younger members of the audience may be wondering just why we used to listen to the radio every Friday night, or why we had to queue for tickets through the ice and snow (forget the internet, we didn't even have computers then!), but for those of us of a certain age these lyrics mean so much. The classic 'Princess Of The Night' wraps things up before the encores commence and once again gives us a little reminder (if we needed one by now) of just how great those early Saxon songs were.
By now the beer has been flowing for quite a while, the party is in full swing and there's drunkenness all around for the sizeable encores. 'Crusader', 'Power And The Glory', and the timeless '747' all go down a storm, but it's the final two - 'Strong Arm Of The Law' and 'Wheels Of Steel' that finally blow the place to pieces, and ensure that people will wake up in the morning with sore throats due to screaming along with every word. 'Wheels Of Steel' is simply awesome, and brings back memories of that superb live version on 'The Eagle Has Landed'. This was the perfect way to bring a top class Christmas Heavy Metal party to a close, and I'm certainly not ashamed to admit that I woke up the following morning with no voice and no brain, and it took me two days to recover from this one, probably because I'm thirty years older than I was when I received that copy of 'Denim & Leather' for Christmas back in '81! Thirty years on, it's simply fantastic to see that Denim & Leather is still bringing us all together though.