saxon new@ Newcastle O2 Academy, April 15 2011

Biff Byford is a proper metal man. And Saxon play a proper metal show. Just heavy enough, just flashy enough and just about long enough. It’s just what the doctor ordered.

Enjoying a long overdue run of sustained success the Barnsley mob have set about reminding thousands of fans the world over why they were always regarded as one of the finest live bands around. 

Their meaty, singalong, no frills metal is guaranteed to get the party started and Saxon fans know exactly what they’re getting for their money: the anthems, the attitude and the answer to why the NWOBHM continues to exert such influence on generation after generation of wannabe performers.

Byford has cannily honed the art of delivery to reflect his advancing years and if the face looks a little more craggy, the hair a little limper and the limbs just a touch less agile then the voice is still powerful enough to pack a mighty metal punch. Limiting his stagecraft to the odd wave of the arm and pirouette around the mic stand, Saxon’s irrepressible frontman concentrates every last ounce of energy into belting out the big hits.

If the warm-up lasted roughly an hour then the final countdown was one glorious romp through the great and good of the band’s bulging back catalogue. Denim And Leather was the moment when fan and band became one and from that point the sea of sweaty bodies sang in unison with the leader of this iconic British rock choir.

No song better sums up the ethos of Saxon. Never followers of rock fashion, they ploughed their own furrow often at the expense of the huge global hit or the commercial jackpot. Biff and co. have always kept thing simply and, as a result, they’re simply the best. The best at making every heavy metal fan’s dream come true.

On the face of it – and on record – 747 (Strangers In The Night) doesn’t sound like a typical Saxon song. It never has. But live this signature tune belongs to Byford and his merry men and as part of a 30-minute encore it offers a glorious throwback to the summer of 1980 – a time when it seemed nothing could stop Yorkshire’s finest from surging to the front of the NWOBHM movement and pulling clear of the opposition.

Iron Maiden and near neighbours Def Leppard might have ended up as the breakout bands of the era but at their peak Saxon were probably the pick of the bunch – live, at least. And while they might not be making the top notch records in the 21st century there’s still little competition when it comes to doing the business under the lights on a big stage in a big rock city.

Simon Rushworth