Given that it’s bloody freezing outside and there’s a diabolical delay getting the queue in, Beyond The Black  get the Saxon faithful suitably toasty. Sounding like latter-day Within Temptation but with more bollocks – Running To The Edge features some gloriously macho Mortal Kombat keyboard – these young Germans are onto something here. While vocalist Jennifer Haben’s piano-driven rendition of Motörhead ballad Love Me Forever leaves several heads in need of scratching, it’s nonetheless a brave move in a supposedly stagnant sub-genre.
And then we have Hell . Silliness is tantamount to perfection as heavy metal tropes are utilised and picked apart with inimitable style; Kev Bower and Andy Sneap strike innumerable poses and churn out the obligatory back-to-back guitar solos, with frontman David Bower being the blackened icing atop this evil (most probably poisoned) cake. Ghostly white, adorned with a crown of thorns and prancing about like King Diamond at a Skegness panto, Bower’s piercing falsetto remains steel-coated as he flogs himself during Blasphemy And The Master and waves a giant ‘666’ flag through set-closer On Earth As It Is In Hell. Is this parody or is he actually a slave to the Devil? Either way, he has a cracking goatee.
Fashionably late by two months (drummer Nigel Glockler was hospitalised mid-tour), Saxon  roll into London with the subtlety of a solid ball of rock. This is a magnificent celebration of 35 years, so kicking things off with Motorcycle Man sets the proverbial bar pretty high – it’s a bar Saxon have no problem smashing into tiny little pieces, though. Sacrifice receives a ridiculous reaction from the crowd too; this show is no nostalgia parade. This is affirmation that Saxon are, without question, still one of our nation’s paramount metal acts.
This being said, tonight is about celebrating the early years. Anyone at Download’s main stage in 2012 will remember Saxon coming on after As I Lay Dying and laying down the fucking law, and that’s exactly what happens tonight – Biff Byford cuts a sharp figure under the spotlight, gesticulating with the authority of a general as he leads his comrades through To Hell And Back Again, And The Bands Played On and other certified tunes.
Rarities trickle out midway through this two hour spectacle; Forever Free and Suzie Hold On are welcomed gleefully and just about make up for Frozen Rainbow’s expulsion. Andy Sneap returns to aid 20,000 Ft’s thrashy sensibilities, but it’s when stand-in drummer Sven Dirkschneider steps down that everyone just goes mental – Glockler returns behind the kit! Alas, it only lasts for set-staple 747 (Strangers In The Night), but the applause and cheers thrown his way surpass the euphoria of any feel-good sporting film on the planet.
By the time Denim And Leather brings this almighty ceremony to an end, bassist Nibbs Carter will probably need a neck brace (seriously – this guy puts every headbanger in the house to shame) and rock goddess Doro Pesch stands toe-to-toe with Byford, trading lines and igniting a venue-wide sing-along. Balding rockers, eager whipper-snappers and everyone in between unite under the clarion call of Saxon. So goes the song: “Denim and leather brought us all together. It was you that set the spirit free.”
Motorcycle Man Sacrifice Power And The Glory And the Bands Played On To Hell And Back Again I’ve Got To Rock (To Stay Alive) Forever Free Dallas 1 PM Solid Ball Of Rock 20,000 Ft Suzie Hold On The Eagle Has Landed Never Surrender Heavy Metal Thunder 747 (Strangers in the Night) Crusader Princess Of The Night Wheels Of Steel Strong Arm Of The Law Denim And Leather