Famous Firsts: Saxon

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The legendary frontman of Saxon reveals his love of “the British AC/DC” Status Quo and why the band decided to kit out a single decker bus.

**What was the first album that you ever bought? **

“I think it was either the first Zeppelin album (Led Zeppelin), or Status Quo – Dog Of Two Head. One of those two. I went off Status Quo for a while, through the In The Army Now days, but obviously now they’ve got it all going for them. The first Zeppelin album probably influenced me more as a musician, but I liked Quo because they had the same quality as AC/DC – simple riffs with great choruses. And you could jump up and down and headbang to them. To me they were a little bit like the British AC/DC, I suppose. “

What was the first single that you ever bought?

“Bloody hell, I can’t really remember to be honest. It must’ve been The Beatles, or someone like that. Maybe it was The Rolling Stones actually. Paint It Black, perhaps. It was so long ago ha ha. That was certainly one of the first guitar riffs I ever learnt to play. I can tell you the first guitar I ever bought – it was a Vox Stroller, which my dad bought for me. It was like a red Fender Stratocaster copy. I wish I still had that actually, it’d be worth a fortune now.

There was a guy who used to live across the road from me when I was growing up, who played banjo, and he showed me how to play my first chords. But they were always on the first four strings, rather than the B or the E strings, because you haven’t got them on a banjo. And then my best friend’s brother played guitar in a Beach Boys-type band, and he taught me my first A, E and D chords. So I learnt the basics that way, and then I picked up the rest myself – self taught.”

What was the first gig you ever went to?

“The first couple of shows I went to were festivals. There was Bath Festival in 1970 with Led Zeppelin, and the Great Western Festival in Lincoln in 1972, with Joe Cocker headlining. The first real gig I went to in a proper hall was probably Deep Purple and Uriah Heep together, which was mind boggling. I think it was at Sheffield City Hall, but I can’t remember what year it was or how old I was. Those years all kind of blend into one for me. There were so many lightbulb moments when you saw bands play live in them days.”

What was the first gig you ever played?

“The first gig we played as Saxon, back when we were still called Son Of A Bitch, was an afternoon show at a little pub in Rotherham, to about five people. And we only played it because we were just getting together, so that was like a trial gig to see if it worked. Then we had some posters made, saying ‘Saxon (formerly Son Of A Bitch)’ and we started shopping around for gigs in places like The Boat Club in Nottingham – small rock venues across the country. And then I suppose the next thing we did was the Motörhead tour in 1979.”

How was the first Saxon tour?

“The first real Saxon tour was probably on the first album (Saxon, 1979). We did a British tour, and we had an American car for the band and a transit van for the gear. Somewhere through the tour we bought a single decker bus – don’t ask me why – and we kitted it out ourself, so we had a little tour bus. So we were always trying to emulate the real bands, even early on.

“The shows were great too, and we noticed there was a lot of school kids there. There was a young audience around that time that were getting into bands that were a bit more aggressive and in your face. It was pure leather and heavy rock, and a lot of people were turning on to it. The whole Motörhead thing was happening. Whitesnake had formed. Judas Priest were coming along. We were just around at the right time I think. And what a good time it was.”

Saxon: we use to get up to headline and half the audience had gone...