The long wait was finally over and the day was upon me. I’ve been looking forward to this event since June. One of my top five all-time favorite bands was coming to Toronto. It is this band that I have to thank for re-awakening the monster, my passion in heavy metal music and the live performance. Two years ago I got wind that the “Barnsley Boys” of Saxon would be thundering through Toronto on the Call To Arms World Tour. I hadn’t been to see a concert for several years, never finding anyone to go with. I wasn’t going to let that stop me and I headed out solo for Saxon‘s first time in Canada in some 27 years and it was like being re-born for me. Probably I have gone a bit overboard since then, taking in sometimes 2-3 shows a week, but hey, I have a ton of catching up to do as these bands are getting back out on the road and making Toronto a stop along the way. Not one to be held back, I also began to travel to see shows like heading down to Memphis, Tenessee or two voyages of the Monsters of Rock Cruise and my first European rock festival with Sweden Rock. It was during these trips that allowed me to see Saxon three more times (twice on the cruise) and the first on a large stage with the full “Heavy Metal Thunder” production at Sweden Rock. They have never failed to disappoint and this tour supporting the latest release, Sacrifice, was no exception.
I was floating on air all day and had to restrain myself from letting out sporadic “whoops” of joy in the anticipation leading up to the show. For the event, I had also opted for the Meet & Greet which was available at an additional cost of $50 US. I probably didn’t need the Meet & Greet after I had the awesome opportunity to share a night of drinking with vocalist Biff Byford, guitarist Doug Scarratt and drummer Nigel Glockler during the cruise last year, but it’s a great way to support the band at a very reasonable fee. I’ve seen bands charging up to $1000 for Meet & Greets and are just ripping off their fans. Arriving early at the venue with instructions to meet the representative, Penny with the BRIGHT BLUE hair, I ran into a friend who was also waiting for the Meet & Greet.
Penny led us inside via the rear entrance and gathered us by the merch tables in the smaller room off to the side of the concert hall. She then gave us the devastating news. The tour merchandisers had severely underestimated the demand for Saxon swag in Canada and had not sent enough stock with the band when they rolled into Montreal the night before. She had been able to hold back some shirts so that at least we would be able to get something and anything else she would take our name and address and have it shipped out as soon as possible at no extra charge. While we all milled about in the room as Penny rushed in and out and back and forth keeping as organized as possible, she breezed back in announcing that we were welcome to watch the sound check as the band was just getting ready and then we would meet them after. The band were all on stage and just waiting for Nibbs when we walked in and he joined them shortly afterward. They ripped into a segment of “Sacrifice” and OMG was it thunderously loud! This was gonna be friggin’ awesome! All of the band were obviously enjoying themselves and having fun as broad smiles adorned all faces and inside jokes were shared amongst themselves. With directions from the sound man they tweaked a few things and treated us to the chorus of “Made In Belfast”, with Biff‘s voice sounding clear and strong as it ever has at his 60 plus years. That was the end of the sound check, a very quick one compared to some that I’ve seen, but Saxon is, of course, an international and professional act, probably traveling with their own technicians.
We adjourned back to the little room where a caterer was setting up chaffing dishes of hot food……perhaps we are also getting lunch, at least my rumbling stomach sure hoped so. Each person (there were probably about 15 of us) had the chance to mingle, take photos, have autographs signed and chat with each and all band members. As Nigel made his way down a line of several of us, shaking hands, he smiled as he approached me in clear recognition. “Ahhhh Graham Bonnett I presume?” I greeted him with a running joke from the cruise. A guy had come up to him aboard ship insisting that he was Graham Bonnett, even though Nigel attempted to set the gentleman straight, denying the claim. The guy persisted and the kicker was, Nigel told me, was that the guy had been wearing a Saxon shirt……what a goof, I laughed remembering how animated Nigel had been telling me the story over a few beers that night aboard ship. Nigel was able to chat for several minutes as he asked me how I was keeping and I replied that I had been working at the restaurant a lot. He seemed surprised that writing was not a full-time gig for me, although I do wish that it was and his whole face lit up when I told him it was a Southern BBQ restaurant specializing in smoked ribs, wings and pulled pork. Too bad you’re off to Pennsylvania tomorrow morning or I’d say come by for dinner on me. Nigel moved on to a couple of guys eagerly awaiting him to sign their stuff and I spoke to Nibbs for several minutes. He talked about the evils of long overseas tours where he was away from family and making phone calls to the kids and things with the time differences. I was able to get an individual photo with each of the “Barnsley Boys” and also a group picture with the whole band.
These Meet & Greets are awesome and affordable, on one hand I just wish they were more widely promoted, but then again they are more private this way….I guess I just have to keep my eyes open better for them.
Now as the boys attacked the buffet table, Biff and Nigel leading the charge the minute that the last group photo was taken, it was clear that we would not be offered the wares contained in the steaming silver chaffing dish warmers. So, with time to kill I headed out to a pub up the street (actually in the basement of the hotel I had selected for the evening’s residence) with a newly made friend and Saxon fan from the Meet & Greet. The waves of the emotional high of just having hung out with some of my rock heroes was now topped off by the refreshing coolness of a frosty adult beverage…….I was going to be out of control later this evening, I could just sense it already. We chatted about bands, finding out that he was a KISS fan as well, as the stories flowed eagerly from both of us. What a better time than this to promote, so out came the Decibel Geek cards, to which he responded “I’ve heard of this. They did a KISS album war thing, didn’t they?” Shortly after we were joined by his brother and another friend, the brother I found out was a member of the band Razor from Guelph, Ontario, a thrash metal outfit from the 80’s releasing several albums. Just as it was time to head back to the venue, two friends of mine arrived and I was able to say a quick hello, promising to meet up at the show later. They both appraised my Saxon tour shirt and the minute I spoke of sell-outs they were thrusting cash at me to get them shirts while they ate dinner. Alas by the time I got back there the shirts were indeed sold out, but I supplied my mailing address for the boys and they would just have to make do.
The posted set-times showed a start for Halcyon Way at 8pm, but they were already underway during my 7:50pm entrance. I was quick to pick up on the fact that there were only four band members present on stage, accessing my memory banks way back to the U.D.O. show (REVIEW) in April where they opened and had at least five members on stage. I also noted that they were more enjoyable than that previous show and the song “Desecration Day” stuck out in my head as they closed out their set. A trip to the bar was in order and once again the lovely Priya Panda, lead singer of Toronto’s own Diemonds was slinging the suds. This discovery would certainly not assist in slowing up my beverage consumption. Laughs and jokes were shared with fellow “Geek” Kate and friends while awaiting Fozzy, several folks commenting on my newly acquired Saxon shirt with obvious bitterness at the sell out. Perhaps I should put my sweater back on before I get jumped for the shirt!
It was soon time for Fozzy and I had not much previous knowledge of their music, but did note that they had quite the fan base (also a Meet & Greet earlier in the day). I am already prejudiced towards them, knowing that they are led by a wrestler and that their name is Fozzy! Isn’t that a bear on Sesame Street or The Muppets or something? “Fozzy Wozzy was a bear, Fozzy Wozzy had no hair”. Chris Jericho bounded out onto the stage in true wrestling style decked out in a gold sequinned jacket. With several more trips to visit Priya and more beverages completed by this time, Fozzy ripped through their first two tracks and sounded better than I had expected. Their third choice of song was the absolute Krokus classic “Eat The Rich”, Marc Storace he ain’t, but they did a decent job at the track. They continued throughout the set with what I believe were all their own compositions and while it was a little too modern for me they were loud and heavy in my drunken ears, so not too bad and I will definitely check out their recordings.
It was finally time for the event that I’d been awaiting for months now. I love these guys and I was so pumped (and rather drunk) as they came out to the recorded intro entitled “Procession” which leads off the latest album, Sacrifice and rolled right into the title track. I was singing at the top of my lungs, probably to the extreme annoyance of everyone around me, but my caring level was minimal at this time, floating on air. “Wheels of Terror” followed up, also from Sacrifice before they started into the classics with “The Power & The Glory”. In this day and age the setlist now always shows up on the internet and sometimes it’s hard not to look at it even if you don’t want to as it get’s posted on friend’s walls from shows they’ve seen in other cities. But Saxon always keep the crowd guessing changing it up every night sometimes, unlike other bands….(take note KISS) and as Biff quipped in the Meet & Greet, “No presents before Christmas” when asked what the setlist for the evening would contain.
These first three tracks are the same for every show that they’ve played so far on this more than a month-long North American Tour (as far as I know), but then the changes flow rampant. For us in Toronto on Sunday, September 15th we were treated to “To Hell & Back Again” as the next selection, followed by “Made In Belfast” (again from Sacrifice) which we’d already had a preview of during the sound check. The opening riff to “Dogs of War” sent me jumping into the air once again, all the while singing in my drunken tone-deafness at the top of my lungs, elated to hear this 90’s Saxon gem, a favorite of mine. “Motorcycle Man” and “Rock & Roll Gypsy” followed, leading us into “Guardians of the Tomb”, another excellent cut from Sacrifice. The Saxon classic and fan favorite “Dallas 1PM” concerning the assassination of JFK enticed more than just me into singing by now as I reminded myself that there is a reason that Saxon is tattooed on my arm….they’re incredible! Next was a première on this tour with the first time they had played “The Eagle Has Landed”, I decided to adjourn to the rear of the crowd before I hurt myself, of course passing by Priya again on the way. My foray into the rear of the crowd did not last too long as “747 (Strangers In The Night)” was up next, driving me back into the throng in front of the stage. “Denim & Leather” shut down the regular set before the three-song explosive encore of “Wheels of Steel”, “Strong Arm of the Law” and “Princess of the Night”.
Saxon never cease to amaze me and this fifth time I’ve seen them in a live setting was no exception, unfortunately by this point (as I had foreseen earlier in the day) my beverage consumption had gotten the best of me and I do not remember leaving the club whatsoever. I awoke the next morning in my hotel room, afraid to move at first as I tried to remember where I was. With my tour shirt missing and my pockets empty the last thing that I can clearly remember is begging for change in a McDonald‘s as I was hungry and wanted a Big Mac! A great night with a great band…..I can’t wait to see them again, I sense travel in my future, but until then I’ll leave you with some fan-made videos of the Toronto show that I found on you-tube.