Saxon – Download Main Stage, June 13 2010

Saxon’s is a story of an amazing triumph in the face of commercial adversity. Within the space of three years the NWOBHM pioneers have gone from relative obscurity to Download’s main stage and it’s great to see them back.

Significantly Biff Byford and the boys follow up their Castle Donington comeback with an appearance at High Voltage next month. It’s the latest leg of a remarkable journey for the Barnsley boys and recognition that one of the UK’s most talented rock bands are still the perfect foil for any festival.

Saxon may owe their rejuvenation to a rather dodgy reality TV show but like their good mates Anvil they’re not about to let a second stab at stardom pass them by. Working harder and faster than ever – and with their entire back catalogue remixed and remastered – these are heady times for a true staple of the domestic metal scene and this sun-baked set showcased a band back at the very top of the game.

Focusing on the career-defining 1980 record Wheels Of Steel – celebrating its 30th anniversary at the same time as Castle Donington’s rock festival – this was an opportunity for Saxon to remind the masses of their position in the cannon of homegrown rock.

And as Biff blasted his way through the magnificent 747 (Strangers In the Night) and the pounding title track it was difficult to understand how Saxon endured so many barren years.

As the crowd went mad for some retro metal grooves it could be argued there’s never been a band better suited to Donington’s main stage and more and more Saxon tees poured into the main arena desperate for a glimpse of their hard rocking heroes.

Once Wheels Of Steel had been delivered note for note it was time for Biff to dedicate And The Bands Played On to their dear departed mate Ronnie James Dio. And when the opening chords to Denim And Leather rang out around this famous old site the 30th anniversary celebrations could start in earnest.

Download is renowned for its diversity and determination to blood young guns as well as celebrate veteran talent. But Saxon delivered a defiant message on day three: the old ones are the best.