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Saxon (1978-1991, 1993-present): a NWOBHM band from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK.


n the late 1970s in Yorkshire, England the band Son of a Bitch with the members Peter "Biff" Byford (vocals), Graham Oliver (guitar), Paul Quinn (guitar), Steve Dawson (bass) and Pete Gill (drums) changed their name to Saxon. Shortly after the change they got a deal with the French company 'Carrere', a company better known for its work with disco. Their first album, the self-titled 1979 Saxon, was a good effort but it would be the next, Wheels of Steel (1980), that saw them gain a large following and two UK top 20 hit singles with Wheels of Steel and 747 (Strangers In The Night).

The very competent Strong Arm of the Law (1980) quickly followed a headlining tour. The following year saw And The Bands Played On single taken from the Denim and Leather album (1981) give them another top 20. That album yielded the much underrated title track, which became a heavy metal anthem, as well as the anthemic Never Surrender. The album perpetuated their pseudo-biker image and made them a solid contender in the NWOBHM style. The title track reached a UK 9 charting, with a second titled Princess Of The Night making it to 57. They toured heavily at this point culminating in a spot at Castle Donnington.

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1982 saw their live set with The Eagle Has Landed. Pete Gill left and would later join Motorhead; he was replaced by Nigel Glockner for The Power and the Glory (1983), their next release, a release that showed no signs of them giving up at the height of their career; it gave them their third highest charting position, a lofty 15 (only Denim and Leather and Wheels of Steel fared better at UK 9 and 5 respectively). Although it featured nothing significantly new from its predecessors, the album nonetheless collected the fan base from those same predecessors to push it up the charts.

Their next conquest was supposed to be the Crusader LP (1984), but other than its medieval title track, it offered nothing new to their library of high significance. Crusader was a blatant attempt at opening the US market, and that of FM radio, but failed horribly and served no other purpose then to alienate their spandex and leather clad fans! The title track was interesting but it apparently still failed to impress.

To under estimate Saxon at this point in their career is to do them an injustice. Up to this point they were second only to Iron Maiden in world domination, and strong representatives of the NWOBHM style to boot. Iron Maiden, however, was not their target. Their goal (or more directly - the goal of their record label) was to compete against Def Leppard, and this may have been the biggest blunder of their career, for it was Iron Maiden and the new generation of rising stars, such as Metallica, that were offering them the fight of their lives.

After they left 'Carreer' their music softened, and as a result they lost much of their fan base. It has been said that they became as marketable as Milli-Vanilli. The next release, Innocence is No Excuse (1985), was a classic example of this; it stalled just inside of #40 UK position (36). As if this wasn't enough, Steve Dawson chose to leave to be replaced by Paul Johnson. The follow-up, Rock the Nations (1986), was a good effort, returning to a harder edge and even including a cover of Christopher Cross's Ride Like The Wind, but their defiance to change their style made it old before its time.

Now they got a US deal on 'Enigma Records', but it was too little too late for the Destiny (1988) release managed a 49 on the charts, but only in the UK It also saw Nigel Durham take over the drums. 1989's Rock 'n' Roll Gypsies fared even worse. The 1991 Solid Ball of Rock release would follow close on the heals of an attempted comeback of sorts, following a heavy UK club tour that was warmly received. The live "best of..." Greatest Hits Live! followed later that same year. Unfortunately for them it would be the last album that got them any recognition.Their glory days were now past and the opportunity to regain them was slipping away quickly.

They had broken up briefly, and so in the 1990s the group attempted a come back, with new tours and a new album with a harder edge to follow. First they took care of some old business by returning in 1993 with a new studio effort, Forever Free, and another "best of..." titled The Best Of Saxon (1994). Now they had some catching up to do with Dogs of War (1995) (which saw Oliver replaced by Doug Scarratt on guitar), and yet another live compilation with The Eagle Has Landed II (1996). Saxon was making big news again with some new music on the more highly acclaimed Unleash the Beast (1997). Some success was archived here for it was a renaissance of sorts for old-school metal bands on comebacks during this time.

In 1997, EMI re-releases Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law as a double CD. It contains 11 bonus tracks mainly live recordings from 1981.

Although media attention was received over Saxon's return, it has thus far failed to regain any of their past glory until they were later featured on an episode of legendary promoter Harvey Goldsmith's Get Your Act Together TV series) just less than a decade later that saw them with their highest popularity in 15 years! Although Metalhead (1999; which featured Fritz Randow taking over drums, due to the former drummer's injuries - although he still writes songs for the act), and the follow-up studio effort Killing Ground (2001) and Lionhart (2004) were also competent, they paled in comparison to their past. On their 2007 release of The Inner Sanmctum on 'SPV'; and 2009's Into The Labryinth, this judgement had been reversed, the band was now releasing a set of discs boasting a very competent effort with the band sporting a more modern look and crunchier sound reminiscent of their glorious past and the popularity to match. As a sort of follow up the compilation The Best of Saxon (2009) would arrive, never mind that back in 1991 they had previously released a compilation album under the same name!

Saxon released their nineteenth studio album, Call to Arms, on 3 June 2011. It debuted at number 6 on the UK rock Albums chart. The band embarked on a world tour which saw them visit the US; Saxon also revisited the UK for a second leg of the tour.

That December, Byford joined Metallica on stage to perform Motorcycle Man for the band's 30th anniversary show. Saxon were billed as special guests supporting Judas Priest at Hammersmith Apollo on 26 May 2012.

2012 would also see the arrival of two boxed sets in the form of Saxon - The Carrere Years (1979-1984) and Saxon - The EMI Years (1985-1988).

Sacrifice would be the next studio album to arrive on 25 February 2013.

On 11 December 2012 Heavy Metal Thunder - The Movie saw an international release and was the first Blu-ray release for the band. 2013 also saw the release of a new compilation album Unplugged and Strung Up. 2014 saw the release of a new live album named St. George's Day Sacrifice - Live in Manchester. The band also embarked on a tour in October of that year named Warriors of the Road.

Battering Ram would arrive in October of 2015, followed by Thunderbolt (2018) and the 40th anniversary live set The Eagle Has Landed 40: Live (2019). The next decade would present Inspirations (2021), Carpe Diem (2022) and More Inspirations (2023). For Hell, Fire And Damnation (2024), Quinn was absent from the credits.

Footnote: Back around Y2K and the more recent comeback of this British blue-collar band, a legal battle had commenced between original members Byford and Quinn, and former members (and band founders) Oliver and Dawson over the rights to the Saxon name. Originally, the new band formed under the original Saxon name of Son of a Bitch but decided they preferred the Saxon name better after releasing their 1996 debut Victim You. Their attempt at the name failed, with Oliver and Dawson having to take the name Oliver/Dawson Saxon.

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English heavy metal band Saxon performing at the Sweden Rock Festival in 2008.
Photo by: Äppelmos
(CC BY 3.0)

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