“Did you listen to the radio every Friday night?” asked Saxon in their classic track Denim and Leather. If you did back in the 80s you might have heard this excellent live recording of Saxon’s show at the Hammersmith Odeon. Broadcast on Radio 1’s Friday Rock Show, BBC In Concert (18th September 1985) captures a difficult and interesting time in Saxon’s career as they toured to promote their controversial new album Innocence Is No Excuse.
Only a selection of the concert’s songs were broadcast so only four Innocence tracks appear here. Of those, Broken Heroes and Devil Rides Out fare best in the live setting, sitting comfortably alongside the band’s established repertoire. However, the moody Rockin’ Again is badly placed and struggles as the first encore tune. And while the catchy and upbeat Back on the Streets kicks off the broadcast well, its worth is put into question by the absolutely spine-tingling performance of Dallas 1PM that follows it.
On one hand the Innocence era tracks weaken the set but their lesser-heard nature adds to the interest for long-time Saxon fans. The rest of the broadcast is taken up by their radio-friendly classics which, with the possible exception of a tired-sounding Strong Arm of the Law, sound fresh and lively. Some of the performances here are exciting enough to make you feel like you’re hearing these songs for the first time. The versions of Dallas 1PM and Power and the Glory might be the best I’ve heard yet and older material like Wheels of Steel and Princess of the Night serve as strong reminders that this is the same band that recorded The Eagle Has Landed three years previously.
But they wouldn’t be for much longer. This would be the band’s last tour with bassist Steve Dawson. Disagreements with the band and management saw him fired before sessions began for their next studio album. It was a risky decision: Steve’s playing, performance and writing had played a crucial role in the band’s career and success.
But the problems behind the scenes are not evident in this live recording. It’s not an essential purchase but Saxon devotees are sure to get a good kick out of this. It’s an exciting and atmospheric time capsule of classic 80s Saxon out to prove their worth at a challenging time in their career. They certainly seem to have won over Hammersmith on 18th September 1985 but, with a key member gone and a couple of spotty studio albums behind them, the challenging times would continue.
This recording is available as part of the EMI Years [1985-1988] box set and also available separately as a download through iTunes, Amazon etc…
[Saxon – Back on the Streets live at Hammermith]