HMO salutes Peter Green, who has died aged 73. There are many superb tunes I could pick as a tribute to the gifted guitarist, vocalist and founder of Fleetwood Mac. I toyed with Sandy Mary, Oh Well, Jumping At Shadows, Man Of The World and I Loved Another Woman: all personal faves. But given this is a metal site I’m going to go with The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown). Even if you’re not familiar with Fleetwood Mac, I’m sure you all know this song from Judas Priest’s cover versions on Hell Bent For Leather and Unleashed In The East. They turned it into a great souped-up rocker and their interpretation is very enjoyable. But I don’t think this song was really intended to be enjoyable. It was written during a period of LSD-induced mental health struggles and was inspired by a particularly vivid nightmare which Green interpreted as being about the evil of money and success. The Mac version is as dark, ominous and anguished as its subject matter. Doubly so on this extended live take recorded in Boston in 1970. It’s a musical dark night of the soul. Enjoy!
Dio in his spectacular 80s live prime: explosions, lasers, crystal balls, knights, heraldry and a big fucking dragon! None of that on the CD version though… but have no fear! The music is just as spectacular. The band, including new guitarist Craig Goldy, breathe fire into the new material from the under-rated Sacred Heart album: King Of Rock N’ Roll is an explosive opener; Sacred Heart and Like The Beat Of A Heart are stately magnificence; and Hungry For Heaven and Rock N’ Roll Children are fun melodic anthems. The powerful band does a great job on the older Dio tracks like We Rock, Stand Up And Shout and Rainbow In The Dark too. In particular, the version of Don’t Talk To Strangers here is goosebump city: the best version of the track I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, some of the other Dio, Rainbow and Sabbath classics get shoehorned into medleys, which are enjoyable enough but a bit frustrating. Especially when drum, keyboard and guitar solos are allowed to drag…on(!) for 18 minutes of valuable running time. So there’s both heaven and hell here for Dio fans. If you can find the sacred skip button, you’ll discover golden renditions of your favourites and fresh excitement from some lesser-heard treasures. Buy the live DVD too… it’s got a big fucking dragon in it!
With original member Graham Oliver ousted from the band, Saxon had to quickly recruit a new guitarist in time for their tour to support the excellent Dogs Of War album. In stepped Doug Scarratt, ex-David Hasselhoff guitarist(!) and a friend of Saxon drummer Nigel Glockler. Coincidentally, Glockler had made his Saxon album debut on the 1982 live release The Eagle Has Landed and now his pal Doug made his on the sequel The Eagle Has Landed – Part 2. The use of the title evoked the band’s NWOBHM glory days, presumably in an attempt to signify to lapsed fans that the band had returned to metal. But it also bravely invited comparison between the 1996 lineup and the classic Saxon of yore.
But The Eagle Has Landed – Part 2 ducks the comparison by weighing heavily towards the band’s more recent material. In fact, with the exception of five songs, all of the material here is drawn from the band’s early-90s output. It sounds great and the band performs well. Doug Scarratt fits in seamlessly (showing off his chops on a tastefully shredded solo spot) and Biff Byford puts in a powerful, committed vocal performance despite sounding like he’s got a frog in his throat. In fact, he makes it work for him. The sound of him straining and pushing to hit the notes adds a real edge of excitement to tracks like Forever Free.
Although the new lineup acquits itself well, the focus on new tracks drags the album down, especially in the middle section. Ain’t Gonna Take It, Crash Dive and Can’t Stop Rockin’ are decent enough on their respective studio albums but they don’t cut it in a Saxon live set. But the second disc recovers well with Solid Ball Of Rock and Great White Buffalo proving effective live before some oldies-but-goodies see the album out on a high. The only blip in the older tracks is a version of Denim & Leather that’s marred by an overbearing guest spot from Yngwie J. Malmsteen who solos over everything that can possibly be soloed over.
Diehard fans/collectors will find the rare performances and historical value of The Eagle Has Landed – Part 2 make for a worthwhile release. But collectability aside, most listeners will find it a bit uninspiring and, while it certainly has its moments, it’s the least exciting of the Saxon live albums to this point: a solid but unspectacular start to the band’s post-Oliver career. The new lineup would have to impress mightily when they unleashed their next album.
I know most metal fans prefer the Dio-fronted Rainbow but round these parts Joe Lynn Turner rules. So here’s a superb version of the classic Rainbow track I Surrender. It’s taken from the Live in Japan 1984 double live album that was made available recently as bonus discs with the Ritchie Blackmore Story box set. It’s a bonus extra that outstrips the main feature easily. Listening to Ritchie Blackmore reminiscing about his career is one thing: listening to him play is another entirely. And if you’ve never listened to The Man in Black’s live playing, you’ve never really heard him at all. No criticism of his studio output – it’s adorned with legendary guitar work – but this is a man that likens studio recording to “being at the dentists”. Unshackled from the studio, his playing reaches a transcendent level of inspiration and excitement. The whole band is on great form here, especially Joe Lynn Turner who sings with passion and commitment. But Blackmore grabs this great AOR track by the balls, lifting it to another level with one of his ingeniously messy, improvisational and thrilling solos. There’s a tag I use on this site: The World’s Greatest Guitarist. It’s reserved for The Man in Black and performances like this are why.
Here’s a rousing track from Primordial’s new live album Gods to the Godless (Live at Bang Your Head Festival Germany 2015). I always feel like live shows are defined by the inclusion of new tracks. My memories of live performances usually revolve around the new songs that were played. For better or worse, bands seem to put extra welly into the new stuff: meaning that brilliant new songs make for an unforgettable show but weak ones will likely mar my recollections, no matter how classics-laden the show might have been. The former is definitely the case with Primordial. Four of the eleven songs here are taken from their last album Where Greater Men Have Fallen and here’s an amazing version of the title track: a burly and martial take that surpasses the studio version. Alan Nemtheanga proves himself, once again, the consummate metal frontman, and the band’s chemistry and the skill of their arrangements are even more evident in the live setting: every instrument occupying a unique space to create a massive wall of sound. Primordial, over twenty years into their career, sound like they’re determined to remain impassioned and vital until the bitter end.
[To hear the Song of the Week, click track three on the YouTube screen below. And then listen to the whole thing, you won’t regret it]
It’s been a dark and frosty week here in Glasgow. Perfect conditions for enjoying some black metal but I decided I needed some sunshine in my listening. Time for some synth-era 80s Maiden then! I opted for the excellent live album Maiden England ’88 and this song always stands out for me. The real magic happens 3mins in though, as the “take my hand…” bridge ratchets up the tension and the song’s tone shifts from jaunty to totally epic. Then the song cruises into the famous, roadie-enhanced “woah-oh-oh”s. This singalong section always seemed like it was devised for live performance so it’s no surprise that it works so much better here than on the Somewhere in Time studio version. The building urgency, shimmery guitar fills and Bruce’s added exhortations to the audience make it breathlessly exciting. It’s brilliant stuff that turns one of the potentially weaker songs of the set into an outright showstopper.
I love a good live album and I love “classic” rock but rarely come across magnificent examples of either these days. And a good live classic rock album is even rarer! So I was hoping that Danko Jones’ latest release Live at Wacken would deliver on both accounts. I’ve only ever heard a few songs of his and never been blown away. It’s all a bit too much like a jeans advert. But I hear a lot of people say he (they?) are great live. On the basis of this set I can imagine that’s probably the case but the excitement only partially translates to CD/DVD. It’s got a great sound and jovial atmosphere. The band is loose and frontman Danko is in charming form, clearly enjoying being the loverman rocker at Europe’s Metal Mecca. But for all their self-professed “mean power chords” there’s not much in the way of decent riffs or songs. But the energy, witty raps and cheery vibe are winning and some Misfits-style pop punk numbers like the excellent The Twisting Knife add melodic substance in amongst all the two-chord dating-manual songs. It’s likely to be the only Danko Jones I will ever want or need but it’s enough of a good time to be worth holding on to. Like their festival slot, it’s fun for the afternoon but they’ll need to do better to score any hot night-time action.
Greatest Hits Live! captures Saxon on the upswing following the doldrums of their disappointing Destiny album and tour. Frontman Biff Byford had taken over their management, securing a well-received support slot with Manowar that galvanised the group. Saxon then launched a European headlining tour in 1990 to celebrate 10 Years of Denim & Leather* and the UK leg was such a success that the band added another run of UK gigs later in the year. They played more than 40 shows in the UK alone, winning much-needed acclaim and credibility in their homeland. The Nottingham show was recorded and released as Saxon’s third live album.
Unlike its two predecessors, The Eagle Has Landed and Rock N’ Roll Gypsies, Greatest Hits Live! offers a full** Saxon live set, living up to its title. It’s bulging with classics (Wheels of Steel, (747) Strangers in the Night, Princess of the Night, And the Bands Played On), hard-hitting metal bangers from the early days (Motorcycle Man, 20,000ft and Heavy Metal Thunder) and well-chosen newer material (a bouncy Rock N’ Roll Gypsy and a tougher take on Ride Like the Wind). There are some mid-set surprises too with a captivating Frozen Rainbow and an absolutely phenomenal version of See the Light Shining. And just to put the icing on the cake: the classic tracks Denim and Leather and Crusader finally make their live album debuts.
Greatest Hits Live! is an honest and energetic live album that drives home the quality of Saxon’s material and the celebratory vibe of the tour. On the evidence here, it’s no surprise that they won over audiences up and down the country. However, through all their ups-and-downs, Saxon’s live prowess was never in doubt. If they were going to have a future they’d have to produce new material that lived up to the glorious past celebrated here. Buoyed by the enthusiastic reception from their UK fans, Saxon rushed back into the studio. The comeback was on.
*Biff announces “we’ve been together for 10 years” but their debut album was released in 1979 so in 1990 they were a year out. Instead, the liner notes proclaim that the 10 years refer to the anniversary of their 1980 breakthrough with Wheels of Steel. But then they called it “10 Years of Denim & Leather” after an album that was nine years old.
**One song is missing. The show was also released on VHS and the set included Strong Arm of the Law. I’ll let them off though.
Saxon had lost their way with the dicey Destiny album. Dropped from EMI in 1988, they took a creative break. For the next couple of years their activity was restricted to touring and the release of a couple of live albums through one-off record deals. The first of these, recorded on a tour of Eastern Europe, was 1989’s Rock N’ Roll Gypsies.
The main historical interest is the new lineup: Nigel Glockler makes a welcome return to the drum stool and bassist Timothy ‘Nibbs’ Carter makes his Saxon debut. There’s no song duplication with their previous live album, 1982’s The Eagle Has Landed, and none of that album’s sweaty, beery atmosphere. But it kicks off very promisingly indeed. The band sound driving and ballsy and thunder through Power and the Glory, And the Bands Played On, Rock the Nations and a superb Dallas 1PM, only slipping up on a sleepy version of Broken Heroes. The next side kicks off with a rousing Battle Cry before things start to go pear-shaped. The patchiness of the band’s EMI years rears its ugly head as Rock N’ Roll Gypsy, Northern Lady and I Can’t Wait Anymore progressively suck more and more life out of the album: the excitement level dropping so low that the kinetic closer This Town Rocks barely registers.
CD editions add quality and value with bonus tracks The Eagle Has Landed and Just Let Me Rock but, all in all, Rock N’ Roll Gypsies is a solid but unremarkable live stop-gap. The lack of song duplication with The Eagle… is a double-edged sword. It’s more collectable and interesting to hear different songs but the feel of a live Saxon show is hampered when there’s no Wheels of Steel or Strong Arm of the Law. And given the lack of concert classics, the omission of Crusader (one of the band’s most triumphant post-1982 songs) is unforgivable. Great performances, dodgy tracklisting. The faltering steps of a great band finding its feet again.
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 Nationsalbum 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 TheEagle 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.