Saxon 2013 By John Burrows @ishootgigs@ Newcastle O2 Academy, April 21 2013

On the day a St George’s parade took centre stage in Newcastle city centre who better to prolong the patriotic vibe than ‘Best of British’ metal icons Saxon?

Biff Byford and his merry band of grizzled veterans epitomise everything that is positive about a healthy pride in nationalism and theirs is a soundtrack made for celebration. 

Throw in the parochial fist-pumping of opening act the Quireboys and this was a party that started early and finished far later than expected. But nobody inside a sweaty Academy ever looked like complaining.

With a new Chris Tsangarides-produced studio album due this summer, a critically acclaimed Monsters Of Rock cruise under their belts and a slot opening up for Rush at this year’s Sweden festival inked in at the weekend, these are heady days for the Quireboys.

In another era and dealt a slightly better hand, Spike and co. would be the headline act with Saxon bringing up the rear. As it is one of Newcastle’s finest exports since Brown Ale have carved a quite credible niche as the go-to guys for building an atmosphere and warming up crowds – on home turf the Quireboys more than justified their role.

Hardly a natural fit for Saxon’s metal-laden masses, the bar room rock and rollers boast enough singalong anthems in their locker to get most fans on side. Even the most denim and leather-clad NWOBHM devotee couldn’t help but sing along to the enduring Seven O’Clock or the happy as Larry Hey You.

The paying customers suitably enthused, Saxon strode onto stage with newie Sacrifice sounding as powerful and passionate as anything these metal masters have produced during the past four decades.

If the Barnsley collective never matched the massive commercial success that underpinned the longevity of NWOBHM peers Maiden and Leppard then it’s testimony to Byford’s ear for a bludgeoning anthem that the band’s new album is rammed full of songs more than the equal of former glories.

Quality has complemented quality where most of Saxon’s 20 studio albums are concerned with only a handful of exceptions. Destiny, the band’s late 80s nod to MTV-driven pop metal is an oft-derided case in point.

But even that album stands the test of time when judged alongside the music of the era. How refreshing, therefore, to hear the record’s lead single – Saxon’s cover of Ride Like The Wind – given a rare (outside of Mexico!) live outing. Heavier than (the few) fans of Destiny will remember it went down an absolute storm.

Equally popular was the canny ploy to offer up a slew of the band’s bona fide classics to the assembled throng and allow the paying customers to pick the setlist. Byford is big enough to accept his fans know best and bold enough to take a risk or two after almost 40 years honing a wholly unique stagecraft.

Perhaps the decision to include Warriors Of The Road, from Sacrifice, in the encore was an example of bravery bordering on the foolhardy. Sandwiched in between classics Strong Arm Of The Law and Denim And Leather, it just didn’t work within an otherwise sensational five-song encore.

Saxon rarely get the big decisions wrong and one stumble on the road to metal heaven hardly mattered. This was a journey as invigorating as it was nostalgic and when the time comes for Biff and his mates to park the Wheels Of Steel once and for all gigs like this will be remembered as standard.

Simon Rushworth