Tonight the Great Hall of Cardiff University Students Union was full of mainly black-clad folks of a certain vintage (mine!), many of whom would have been 14 or 15 in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Saxon and their two support bands were taking the NWOBHM by storm.
The current incarnation of Rock Goddess reformed in 2013 and is back to the original version of the enduring all-girl band. The group dished out a set of old and new tracks. Rock Goddess recently released an album and a new EP – It’s More Than Rock And Roll. All songs in their short but sweet set were delivered with enthusiasm, drive and smiles all around.
The focal point remains Jody Turner on guitar and vocals, with the pounding rhythm section of sister Julie on drums, and the pocket rocket Tracey Lamb on bass. Solid riffs and driving beats are the constant, and the crowd really appreciated the set, in particular, the band’s first single from 1982, “Heavy Metal Rock’n’Roll” and a cracker from their new EP, “Back Off”.
Diamond Head was one of my favourites of the NWOBHM scene, and I own the White Album with pride, bought directly from the band back in the day. Brian Tatler is the sole remaining member from back then, and my first live show in 1983. The band was down to a 4-piece tonight, as they initially were, and while there is plenty to like about the band, Tatler and the riffs that defined much of the early heavy thrash metal bands like Metallica and Megadeth, are still the core of the show.
Opening with “Helpless”, they then gave the crowd their epic ballad “In The Heat of the Night” showcasing the vocals of Rasmus Bom Anderson who provides a great counterpoint onstage to Tatler, and then basically played most of that classic first album from 1980. There is a new album in the can, but songs from the record don’t feature in the set tonight.
The crowd were treated to “Lightning to the Nations”, “It’s Electric”, and a ferocious version of “The Prince” with the variety of riffs and the off-key vocals delivered with energy and bit. It always sounded like more than one guitar onstage, but clearly, Tatler was doing it all by himself and harmonising key melodies with bassist Dean Ashton.
Diamond Head close out their set with a rip-snorting version of the classic “Am I Evil” which spawned so many copycat riffs, none of which delivered with quite as much menace as this. The staccato drums from Karl Wilcox lead into the virtuoso lead break, and the key guitar riff blending Sabbath and Metallica on steroids, which then switches into the amped-up version through the second half of the track, with the band hitting every accent, and Tatler blitzing the solos – absolutely crushing.
Barnsley metal legends Saxon need no introduction. Even after all these years the likes of “747 Strangers in the Night” and “Wheels of Steel” still receive regular airplay on Planet Rock Radio. Frontman Biff Byford appears to be ageless, along with guitarist Paul Quinn who has been in the band from 1977 to the present. Second guitarist Doug Scarratt has only been with the group for 21 years, and the twin-axe attack has become incredibly slick in that time. Drummer Nigel Glockner was first there from 1981 and has had a couple of stints since then, adding up to a mere 30 years behind the enormous kit.
The current line-up is well-known and was given a heroes welcome on this opening night of the Thunderbolt 2018 tour. The band waste no time in introducing their latest offering as they kick off the set with the title track itself with “Nosferatu” following shortly after. This being Saxon’s impressive 22nd studio album.
We return to the 1980’s for “Motorcycle Man“ and “Strong Arm of the Law”, and it is so good to see the easy rapport between the band members, and of course with the crowd. Biff is both the ringmaster on stage, and everyone’s mate with the chat between songs, and it all appears effortless.
The whole show has a classic 1980’s heavy rock vibe, with brilliant lights, smoke cannons, and combines a selection of new album tracks such as “Sniper” and “Predator”, and the classics of “Dallas 1pm” with the extended intro and a blistering solo from Scarratt, before steaming into “Never Surrender”.
Saxon pays tribute to Motorhead during “They Played Rock and Roll” which unashamedly echoes “Ace of Spades” and “Bomber”. Then nostalgia kicks in with “The Bands Played On” and “747 Strangers in the Night”, before “Crusader” and “Princess Of The Night” closed the set proper. There was no way the night was going to end there, so back they come for “Heavy Metal Thunder”, and “Wheels of Steel”, before a tumultuous version of “Denim and Leather” pounded the crowd into submission and sent us on our way.
Saxon can certainly show many of the current crop of bands how to deliver an immense concert, crammed with a variety of new and classic tracks, with a clear sense of relish and excitement in their performance. Roll on the 40th Anniversary Tour in 2019.
Words & Photos: Peter Coates
Event Date: 23-Feb-2018