Saxon / Fury UK / Crimes Of Passion

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Saxon / Fury UK / Crimes Of Passion

Saxon / Fury UK / Crimes Of Passion - The Assembly, Leamington Spa (UK) - 9th of April 2011.

Tonight is the first night of the British leg of Saxon's latest tour. Wolfsbane, the re-formed rockers from my home town of Tamworth are the main support for the rest of the dates, but were unable to do this show, so their place is taken by Sheffield's Crimes Of Passion, and in all honesty they are the main reason I'm here.

Their debut album was an adrenaline pumping feast of old school metal shot through with a dose of raw punk attitude, and is still a firm favourite of mine. However, original guitarist Andy Lindsay left the band last year, so COP took the decision to replace him with two guitarists, resulting in a much more powerful sound. And along with that bigger sound has come a slight shift in direction. While the integrity of the original style remains, it is embellished with heavier riffs and more complex time changes, but still maintaining the sense of melody, giving the songs a more mature, contemporary feel. With a new album 'To Die For' already recorded and soon to see the light of day, COP elect to forget about the debut entirely, and use their short stage time to display their new style to great effect. I've always believed that drummer Kev Tonge is one of the most powerful drummers around, and the arrangements of the new material have given him even more opportunities to demonstrate his skills, none more so than the rousing opener 'Dare You To Try,' with an abundance of neat fills and pounding double kick drums. Vocalist Dale Radcliffe is an absolute whirlwind of energy, covering every inch of the stage and throwing plenty of shapes, kind of like an English David Lee Roth, but without the ego, as Dale lets his Northern sense of humour shine through at every opportunity. "We'll see you at the bar for a beer after the show", he teases, "who's buying? Not me, I'm from Yorkshire!" Bassist Simon Fearns didn't play on the debut but is a more aggressive player than his predecessor, and has integrated himself into the band perfectly, and also delivers some powerful backing vocals. And as for the two new guys, Harry Griffiths is a crunching rhythm player and also weighs in with some fluid solos, while lead guitarist Charlie Staton is a star-in-waiting, with some amazing soloing and inspirational riffs, and for such a talent he is also very unassuming and reserved. He is also responsible for a sizeable chunk of the song-writing, and the likes of 'Accidents Only Happen Here…' and 'Blackened Heart' demonstrate the new-found diversity of the material on offer, while the closing 'Blown Away' is an awesome power-ballad full of melody that leans towards Avenged Sevenfold in style, and is due to be the first single to be released. Crimes Of Passion have had their fair share of ups and downs in their short life, and deserve a break, and judging by the strength of their new material, that break surely cannot be far away.

After the huge, powerful sound of Crimes Of Passion's set, when power trio Fury UK hit the stage the sound quality was a little thin in comparison to what had gone before, but it's not long before the band settle into their stride. Fury UK's sound is old-school metal with occasional forays into thrash territory, with songs built around powerful riffs and rampaging rhythms. I want to get the negative out of the way first, and it is only a slight one, this was the first time I had heard the band, and I know there was a strict time limit and the band wanted to use their allotted time to the maximum, but the first three (or was it four?) songs blended into each other without a second's let-up, and due to the similar pacing of the material it was quite hard to distinguish them. However, I was very impressed with frontman Chris Appleton, not only does he possess a full-blooded roar of a voice, but he's also a damn fine guitarist. Every song was punctuated with a lightning-fast solo, at times his hands were a blur as he explored every millimetre of his fretboard. His bass-playing brother Luke covers as much of the stage as possible while windmilling his hair to the beat, and drummer Martin McNee pummels the songs along with his driving rhythms. The most memorable track was the closing 'Death By Lightning', an epic anthem full of melody, and slightly reining in the pace and the fury. They certainly have the chops, but I personally would have liked to see more variation in the songs, however Fury UK have enormous potential for sure, and the eager crowd in The Assembly certainly lapped them up.

It's easy to see why Saxon have been doing this for over thirty years now, delivering their simplistic but hugely entertaining and traditionally British brand of Heavy Metal without any fuss or pretension. Factor in main-man Biff Byford's easy-going rapport with the audience, the amazing guitar work of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, an impressive lighting rig, and an armful of classic songs and you can't really go wrong. Sure, there have been a few naff lyrics in the past, and they may have been one of the inspirations for Spinal Tap, but Saxon are close to becoming part of Britain's heritage. It's actually the first time I have ever seen the band in concert, but I'm sure it won't be the last, as I was immensely impressed by the sheer professionalism.

It's the first time that Saxon have ever played in Leamington Spa, and Biff is full of admiration for the excellent venue, and also the town itself. "It's very nice here, very nice indeed," he muses, "not as nice as Yorkshire, but very nice nonetheless!" And as tonight is also the first British date of the tour, it means it's the first chance that the U.K. crowd has had to hear some of the new songs, as new album 'Call To Arms' is still awaiting it's release "You lot will have some of these on YouTube tomorrow, but we don't care because we know how good they are," teases Biff. It's testament to the quality of the songs that Saxon can open their show with two brand new tracks, and yet they are still greeted like old friends. The rip-roaring but melodic 'Hammer Of The Gods' is the first single from the album, and it's followed by the mid-tempo stomper 'Back In '79' that leans heavily towards 'Denim And Leather' in style. As it's the thirty year anniversary of said album, the band have promised to perform a sizeable chunk of it on this tour, and 'Never Surrender' is the first in the set, which really gets the crowd going with the first chance of a sing-along. Then it's back to more recent material for the excellent 'I've Got to Rock (To Stay Alive)', before another new song, the title-track, an epic power ballad. It's followed by 'Solid Ball Of Rock', then it's back to the classic early eighties period of the band for virtually the remainder of the set, with 'Hungry Years', 'Play It Loud', 'Broken Heroes' and 'To Hell And Back Again.'

The last of the new tracks aired tonight is the powerful 'When Doomsday Comes', which is very well received by the large crowd. '20,000 Feet' is up next, then it's back to the 'Denim...' album for the remainder of the set. Biff regales us with a tale of how good it was to play at Castle Donington again at last year's Download festival, which brought back his memories of their appearance at the inaugural Monsters Of Rock back in 1980. "The crowd at Download was amazing," he said. "You should have seen the size of it when Cinderella were on – it's because they were on after us!" Such talk meant it was obvious which song was up next, 'And The Bands Played On.' It's followed by Saxon's tribute to the relationship with their fans, 'Denim And Leather', before the set culminates with Biff's ode to train-spotting, the monstrous 'Princess Of The Night.'

The first encore is the epic 'Crusader', accompanied by some neat lighting effects, then it's the fantastic '747 (Strangers in The Night.)' The band leave the stage for barely a minute, then return for more classics, 'Strong Arm Of The Law' and 'Wheels Of Steel' which is intended to bring the show to a thunderous close. But as it was an early start, and there were still about ten minutes left until the curfew, Biff decides that as it's the first time in Leamington it's only right to do an extra couple of songs, and as Nigel Glockler is already getting up from behind his drumkit he's told to sit back down. It's a nice touch, and shows just what a good relationship Saxon have with their fans, but the only problem is, after the sheer power of 'Strong Arm…' and 'Wheels…', the slow pace of 'The Eagle Has Landed' kills the momentum a little. But then the searing 'Motorcycle Man' closes the show with a bang and sends the crowd home happy after a great night of three very different but all excellent British Heavy Metal bands.

Ant Heeks

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