There was a storm brewing around West London tonight in more ways than one. The air was rattling with some serious thunder, as were the rafters of the Shepherds Bush Empire as the mighty Saxon were getting ready to bring on the Metal!
Due to the exceedingly inclement weather and having to play 'dodge the lightning' all the way into town, I missed most of the set from the first band on, Fury UK, but what little I did catch was pretty damn fine so I'll definitely be checking them out at a later date.
Next up, the recently reunited and rather wonderful Wolfsbane, a personal favourite of mine (yes, I too have joined the ranks of the Howling Mad Shitheads!) and one of the best live bands around. Determined to whip up some serious mayhem on this Best of British night, they kicked up their heels and riffed and pounded their way through a great set including the Metal monsters 'Limo', 'Black Lagoon', the great new single 'Did It For The Money' and 'I Like It Hot'.
Playing to a seriously hardcore Saxon crowd probably wasn't the easiest thing they've ever done but irrepressible singer/showman Blaze Bayley was not to be thwarted and with a fine mixture of storming Metal songs and a wicked sense of humour he managed to get everyone going, finishing on a high to the fist pumping and unforgettable classic 'Manhunt'.
And so, to a tumultuous roar from a heaving and very expectant crowd, on come headliners, rock behemoths and New Wave of British Heavy Metal favourites, Saxon.
Blimey, I haven't seen a crowd this excited and partisan for blooming ages! I can pretty much guarantee that everyone in the audience was a Saxon fan and it really showed tonight; everyone was out for a major rock 'n' roll party.
With the flag of Saint George liberally draped around the drumkit, Saxon launched into the thundering, riff riddled intro of 'Hammer Of The Gods' and the volume and pace never dropped from that second. On through the anthemic 'Heavy Metal Thunder' and 'Never Surrender' they took the crowd by the scruff of the neck and shook them again and again 'til it hurt, relentless and totally determined in the pursuit of all things Metal.
The ageless Biff Byford was in superbly fine voice too, screaming and belting the songs out with a passion. Where the hell this man gets his energy from I'll never know but damn, I want some of it!
Playing a seriously long set that included not only some of their classics but tracks off the new 'Call To Arms' album ('Back in 79', 'Call To Arms', 'When Doomsday Comes') was going down a treat for old and new fans alike, and with too many to mention in this article there's a set list below showing just how much this band offered to all their fans.
Most bands would have been shattered playing half these songs, but not Saxon, definitely the Energizer bunnies of the Metal world.
Now generally I've found that most crowds on the floor level and not up in the circles have the best fun at a gig, but not this time. Being sat (and I use the word 'sat' very loosely as no one I saw was sitting down!) up in the gods on the second tier of the Empire, it was hotter than a drummer's armpit but no one gave a monkeys. There was more dancing, headbanging, shouting and singing than I've ever seen, grown men and women going completely mental, having an absolutely wicked time and showing those down by the stage how to have some proper old school fun! Party on tier 2?, oh yes, I think so!
Rocking on through many more tracks including 'Battalions of Steel', 'Man and Machine', 'Denim and Leather', the band finally take their first breather, finishing to huge applause with 'Princess of the Night'.
Brought back by some vociferous stamping and chanting, their first encore hits with 'Crusader' and the fabulous classic '747, Strangers In the Night' sending the whole place into a headbanging mosh pit of very large proportions. Briefly off stage for a quick pause then on again for their final bow, they rip into the grooving stomper 'Strong Arm of the Law' and the whole place erupts to the final track, the humungous 'Wheels Of Steel'.
A fitting end to an absolutely fantastic gig rammed full to the rafters with more Metal than can be possibly imagined and one I'll not forget in a long time.
The Best of British in a big way. Bloody marvellous!
Hammer Of The Gods, Heavy Metal Thunder, Never Surrender, Motorcycle Man, Back in 79, I've Got To Rock, Dallas, Call To Arms, Atilla The Hun, Demon Sweeney Todd, Battalions Of Steel, And The Band Played On, Man And Machine, The Eagle Has Landed, Play It Loud, When Doomsday Comes, To Hell And Back Again, Denim And Leather, Princess Of The Night
Encore 1: Crusader, 747 Strangers In The Night
Encore 2: Strong Arm Of The Law, Wheels Of Steel