“The thing is,” says a man wobbling in the gents, his plastic pint of lager precariously placed on the window ledge, “I’m from the East End and we were always supposed to like Iron Maiden. But I preferred Saxon.”
And then, as if to emphasise the point, as To Hell And Back Again reverberates around the venue, he throws back his head and emits what can only be described as a howl, grabs his beer and is gone.
He’s not alone in his ardour, tonight’s sold out audience – a little older and wider, admittedly – looks like a crowd of music fans who have been with Saxon since they released their self-titled debut album in 1979. The rise of NWOBHM might be a faint memory to most, but every Saxon-clad individual here (the merch stand has either done a roaring trade, or everyone still has their favourite old T-shirt, having kept it in pristine condition) punches the air and roars as one as soon as Saxon tear into Motorcycle Man.
Though, strangely, the Saxon show tonight isn’t the one advertised. The original pre-Christmas shows promised a night culled from their first three albums (until drummer Nigel Glockler was rushed to hospital and the tour was postponed), but tonight’s set – all 20 songs of it – is a career-spanning affair, which might explain the surfeit of cameras capturing every heavy metal nuance. Happily, Glockler makes a fleeting appearance alongside his current stand-in, his drum tech (and son of Udo, whose band he’s just joined on a full-time basis) Sven Dirkschneider, on 747 (Strangers In The Night), to say his appearance is greeted uproariously would be to understate it somewhat. Though there’s little by way of silver spandex in evidence tonight, Biff Byford’s performance is peerless. A ridiculously sprightly 64-year-old with a mane that wouldn’t look out of place across London at a performance of The Lion King, his voice too is still a bold bellow, lusty and magnificent not least when he lays into songs such as Princess Of The Night and And The Bands Played On.