Only a year had passed since Saxon’s 1985 Hammersmith show was broadcast on BBC Radio but Saxon invaded the UK’s airwaves yet again as their headlining slot at 1986’s Reading Festival was recorded for broadcast on the BBC Friday Rock Show. The band were touring to promote the imminent release of the Rock the Nations album and, while that patchy album found them losing their Midas touch in the studio, on BBC in Concert (23rd August 1986) it sounds like they were losing none of their knack as a live act.
Sadly, the BBC didn’t air the whole set and cherry-picked just 9 songs for broadcast. Much of the broadcast has since been available on Saxon’s BBC Sessions album but this album download (available on Amazon/iTunes etc…) now presents the complete 9 song, 51 min broadcast as it was originally aired. It’s fairly heavy on the classic material and if you didn’t know what year it was from you could be forgiven for thinking this was the band in their NWOBHM pomp. Only two new songs give the game away: an excellent version of Rock the Nations that fits right in with the older material and a performance of Waiting for the Night which… doesn’t. It’s actually a pretty good version of the track but its pop rock breaks the spell cast by glorious versions of metal powerhouses like 747 (Strangers in the Night) and Wheels of Steel. On the bonus side it’s the song here that gets played least often so it’s good to hear and own a live version of it.
That one hiccup aside, the rest of the performance is impressive. The band is on winning form and the crowd sound like they’re lapping it all right up. While new bassist Paul Johnson didn’t command the stage like Steve Dawson he acquits himself well musically. Never Surrender and 20,000ft give the classic The Eagle Has Landed live album versions a run for their money and an excellent Strong Arm of the Law climaxes with a wailing Graham Oliver solo (with some Sabs and Hendrix thrown in for good measure). The real highlight, though, is a captivating The Eagle Has Landed which puts its studio counterpart firmly in the shade.
The vintage quality of this performance must have been heartening stuff for fans troubled by the recent studio albums but any hopes for a return to form would soon be dashed. The Rock the Nations album proved disappointing and, frustrated by the way the band was being managed, Nigel Glockler would leave the band at the end of the tour to join GTR. And Saxon’s next, and last, studio album for EMI would be a desparate gamble that would test the patience and loyalty of their fans more than any other yet.
[Saxon – Waiting for the Night Live at Reading]