British festival favourites celebrate Denim and Leather this weekend

If anyone thinks for a moment that NWOBHM has had its day, they’re in for a shock. It may be common knowledge that both Led Zeppelin and Judas Priest have celebrated their fortieth anniversaries this year, but British festival stalwarts Saxon have reached that phenomenal landmark too, and come out the other side better than ever. With new album ‘Into The Labyrinth’ to promote and headline gigs both here and at Bloodstock, there’s no sign of them slowing down just yet. Thank the gods.

A great clanging bell hails Saxon’s arrival, as they launch straight into the epic (and appropriate) ‘Battalions of Steel’. They know what the people want, and deliver a heavy dose of true traditional metal beyond even their fans’ expectations. Biff is in fine, bone-rattling voice, moving smoothly from demonic growl to clean, powerful vocals as they drive through the classic ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’, and new track ‘Demon Sweeney Todd’.

“Lets see you jump!” Biff roars, “if I can fucking jump, you can fucking jump!” He has a point. And the people who have filled the room beyond capacity duly oblige as we tear into the classic ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ and ‘Witchfinder General’. “Not getting tired yet, are you?” Byford teases the slightly flagging crowd, suggesting that we may have all had a very long day of drinking and rocking out. He even takes a sly poke at Sepultura’s “mere” twenty-five years in the business.

The immense ‘Never Surrender’ is dedicated to anyone who had or is thinking of starting a band. Clearly the band are in nostalgic mood tonight. Future favourite ‘Valley of the Kings’ makes an appearance, as they all strike foot-on-the-monitors poses (you can see where Voodoo Six learnt it all from) for ‘The Band Played On’.

Jokes that the band’s appearance at Bloodstock might be their swansong are quickly shouted down, and Byford assures the fans “I’m only taking the piss, don’t worry about it.” ‘Hellcat’ already has everyone singing along. Even those standing just in view backstage are punching the air with glee as Biff whistles into the mic and climbs on the drum riser for ‘Motorcycle Man’.

An encore is a given, beginning with ‘Live To Rock’ that gets the audience jumping en masse. Ever the showman, Biff tears up the setlist and invites suggestions. Which inevitably leads to the song of the night, the immortal ‘Denim and Leather’. As Byford sums it up, it “means the same today as it did back then”. If any song could sum up the whole weekend, it was that one.

‘Let Me Feel Your Power’ is followed by the first few rows getting a soaking from Biff’s water bottle, and to everyone’s surprise someone throws water right back at him. Everyone’s equal here. ‘747-Strangers In The Night’ gets an immense response, and it’s a blinding version of a classic. We may have come to expect awesome performances from Saxon over the years, but the fact that they turn up time and again and perform better (and twenty minutes longer) than we have any right to expect is beyond words. This is their night. End of story.