The headlining act of Brofest day 1 needs no introduction to the hard rock fan. This was a really anticipated gig for me being a huge Saxon fan but I am also proud to call myself a huge fan of the Son of a Bitch record released in 1996. Son of a Bitch is, of course, the original name of the band before changing it to Saxon on the record label’s advice. By the time the album came out the band had more original Saxon members than Saxon. I remember being at university and picking up the album called Victim You. The album was a punch in the face with fantastic songs and had the vocal expertise of Ted Bullet (ex-Thunderhead). With Pete Gill behind the drums, Steve “Dobby” Dawson on bass and the great Graham Oliver punching out riff after riff, there was no going wrong with this one. In addition to this strong lineup, there was the ex-Saracen master of the six strings Haydn Conway completing the lineup. With fantastic songs like “Bitch of a Place To Be”, “Driving Sideways”, “No One´s Getting Over”, “I Still Care” and the title track it’s a virtual treasure trove to dive into. Having played this album over and over back in the day it was a big disappointment that none of the originals of that album was being played on this night in Newcastle. In my mind for example “Bitch of a Place To Be” would have been a great gig opener for Oliver/Dawson Saxon.
Well, Saxon needs no introduction to anybody really and Steve Dawson (bass) and Graham Oliver were in that band from the start in 1972 as SOB until the mid-1980’s (Steve) and mid-1990’s (Graham). They were part of the band that spurred classic albums like Wheels of Steel, Denim and Leather, Crusader, Innocence is No Excuse and so on. What few know or have discovered is that Oliver and Dawson put out a collection of rare Saxon cuts called Diamonds and Nuggets in 2002. This collection is worth getting your hands on purely for the three unreleased Power and the Glory outtakes called “Turn Out the Lights”, “Coming to the Rescue” and “Make ém Rock”. My heart wanted to hear one of these songs live on this night but my head told me it wouldn’t happen.
Today’s Oliver/Dawson Saxon band is fronted by Seventh Son shouter Bri Shaughnessy and he does an excellent job presenting these old gems in a live setting. Sporting a Seventh Son T-shirt on this evening he took the opportunity to promote his other band and there were a lot of Seventh Son merch at the merch table as well. Behind the drums was Paul Oliver and completing the line-up was guitarist Gav Coulson. With a set of songs to choose from that would make any band on any festival green out of envy they hit the stage with “Rock n’ Roll Gypsy”. I am pleased with that opener as I am a big fan of the Innocence is No Excuse album and it is a tune I haven’t heard performed live before so the fist is in the air straight away. They go on with “Strong Arm of the Law” and the band sounds really tight and everybody at Northumbria Students Union seem to be singing along to this anthem. Up next is a more predictable song when the title track from Denim and Leather is announced and with its sing-along chorus, it is perfect for a live setting. From where I stand on the left-hand side of the stage I have a hard time hearing Gav Coulson‘s guitar and especially the solos. The live sound is otherwise perfect and crystal clear.
Bri talks a little about how good it feels playing with the guys who wrote some of these timeless classics before he introduces “Hungry Years”. That is the highlight of the gig for me together with the opener. “Hungry Years” is a more obscure Saxon song and for me, it is the first time I hear it being played live. Bri pulls the vocals off perfectly and the rest of the band seem to be a virtual live machine that rolls on. The heavy, grooving “The Eagle Has Landed” is up next with those classic heavy riffs. My fist is in the air throughout the whole song. The hit parade goes on with “Crusader” where I don’t think Gav got the guitar solo part completely right but except for that, the band rocks out without me noticing any imperfections. One classic song is followed by another as they plow through “747 (Strangers in the Night)” and “Dallas 1 PM”. I was hoping to be able to leave a Saxon show without hearing the inferior “Motorcycle Man” but unfortunately, it is up after the great “Dallas 1 PM”. Not a personal favorite of mine but I guess it is a fan favorite. The band continues on well past curfew set to 23.00 hours. Bri announces that they have a birthday boy on stage this night but does not tell us who, he is just pointing backward. It is not hard to make out that it is “Dobby” who is the birthday boy. After closing the gig with “Wheels of Steel” we all celebrate “Dobby” by singing Happy Birthday.
All in all this gig is a professionally executed gig with Bri Shaughnessy doing a real job on these old songs that of course is intimately associated with Peter “Biff” Byford‘s voice. A highlight of the gig was hearing “Hungry Years” and “Rock n’ Roll Gypsy”. I wasn’t impressed by the setlist considering the band has two full albums of originals that could have been played tonight. I understand completely they have to do a lot of these old classics that all the fans wanna hear but for me, it would have been enough with two songs from the Victim You and/or Motorbiker albums. If Oliver/Dawson Saxon won’t play them then who will? As it was now, the whole gig leaned a bit too heavy for my taste to the nostalgic side of things.
There is no denying the sheer quality of all the musicians involved and it was a dream come true to see “Dobby” and Graham perform live. Bri‘s vocals were a positive surprise for me as well as some of the more obscure Saxon songs. “Rockin’ Again” from Innocence is No Excuse is a song I would also like to hear live someday. The band sounded really tight and I still leave the first day of Brofest with a smile on my face, just like I did after attending the pre-party.