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Saxon / Hammersmith feels like a tribute to the undying nature of NWOBHM

Tonight, the hallowed ground of the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo hosts a gig that is years in the making, literally. After countless reschedules, lineup shuffles and a world halting pandemic, Saxon finally brought their highly anticipated 40th anniversary Castles & Eagles tour to London.

Saxon, Uriah Heep, Girlschool, Diamond Head

Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, 29 January 2022.

Words: Kahmel Farahani

Photography: Aggie Anthimidou and Robert Sutton

The four band lineup at Hammersmith tonight is a truly formidable one, and much loved British metal heroes Diamond Head are first up at the unenviable early starting time of 18.00.

Diamond Head, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Diamond Head, Hammersmith. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

Being the legends that Brian Tatler and Co are, they take it in their stride and tear Hammersmith a new one throughout a blistering 30-minute set. A ferocious run-through of proto-thrash classic Helpless is made all the more memorable when frontman Rasmus Bom Andersen picks up and parades a fan’s prosthetic leg, which has been thrown on stage.

Ending their all too brief set with the classic Am I Evil?, Diamond Head prove yet again they are still riding the lightning with an ease that should put many younger bands to shame.

Girlschool. Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Girlschool, Hammersmith. Photo: Robert Sutton

Next up are feminist icons of NWOBM Girlschool. The band keep things simple and tight tonight with biker rock and fast riffing songs like Nothing To Lose. While Girlschool arguably have the least varied songs of the evening, what they lack in complexity they more than make up for with sheer enthusiasm.

“There’s no bloody water up here, so we’ll have to drink beer,” frontwoman Kim McAuliffe announces to a roar from the crowd. “Here’s one from the last decade.” Guilty As Sin is another straight-up rocker with a shout-along chorus.

Girlschool. Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Girlschool, Hammersmith. Photo: Robert Sutton

Girlschool go on to fondly remember the shows they played at Hammersmith with Motörhead and proceed to raise an entire bottle of Jack Daniels to Lemmy, Filthy Phil and Fast Eddie before playing Bomber in their honour. It goes over a storm and is the perfect way to end their short set.

Uriah Heep, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo.
Uriah Heep, Hammersmith. Photo: Aggie Anthimidou

Uriah Heep are the elder Statemen of tonight’s impressive bill, with the legendary Mr Mick Box having founded the band an almost unbelievable 52 years ago. Kicking things off with the newer track Grazed By Heaven, the band are on fire tonight. Like watching the most skilled acrobatic troupe on earth, they make it look all too easy, trading solos on bass, guitar and keys without missing a beat.

Uriah Heep, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo.
Uriah Heep, Hammersmith. Photo: Aggie Anthimidou

Frontman Bernie Shaw is on fine vocal form throughout, while the magic rhythm section of bassist Davey Rimmer and drummer Russell Gilbrook keep songs like July Morning and Look At Yourself flying forward with a powerful rumble.

With only a one hour set, the band are just getting warmed up, but time constraints mean that we are left with a roaring play through of Easy Livin’ before the band have to take their triumphant bow and make way for the headliners.

Saxon, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Saxon, Hammersmith. Photo: Aggie Anthimidou

With their brand new album Carpe Diem only days away from release, Saxon have that little extra to celebrate too. As the curtain falls and the band kicks into Motorcycle Man, it is clear Saxon are in the mood to take no prisoners tonight. A fast one-two punch of Batter Ram and Wheels Of Steel is enough to brighten the heart of every Metalhead in attendance tonight, and it feels like that two and a half year wait has been well worth it.

Saxon, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Saxon, Hammersmith. Photo: Aggie Anthimidou

Following recent health scares, it is a heartwarming sight to see frontman Biff Byford in such fine form and fine humour too. “I said if we sold out tonight, I’d get my first tattoo,” says Biff. “Well, we sold out Manchester last night and London tonight – I’ll get a Saxon eagle and some writing around it that says ‘keep your bloody mouth shut’.”

“The last time we played here was with Motörhead,” says Biff, before the band launch into They Played Rock And Roll. Biff picks up and puts on an impressively patched denim vest thrown onstage before a roaring Denim And Leather.

Saxon, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Saxon, Hammersmith. Photo: Aggie Anthimidou

From Strong Arm Of The Law to the welcome return of Dallas 1 PM, the setlist tonight is the perfect blend of older and newer to keep every fan happy. The fact that tonight was being recorded for a future live album makes it all the more special.

Biff also celebrated the return of live music. “They can’t do concerts in France, Germany, Sweden, so this is a very special show for us,” he announces to huge cheers. Thunderbolt comes in with another sledgehammer riff and a catchy chorus.

Saxon, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Saxon, Hammersmith. Photo: Aggie Anthimidou

And The Bands Played On is still the perfect sing-along track before Power And The Glory and Heavy Metal Thunder bring the main set to a crashing close.

Once again thanking the fans for their undying support over the last few years, Saxon start their encore with a powerful, arms in the air rendition of Crusader. 747 (Strangers In the Night) is still the model of a perfect Heavy Metal belter, and tonight’s epic set ends with the ever-powerful Princess Of The Night.

Saxon, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Saxon, Hammersmith. Photo: Aggie Anthimidou

Saxon’s gig tonight felt like a tribute to the undying nature of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, as well as a sound tribute to the undying loyalty of their fans.

A truly magnificent night to remember.

Diamond Head, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Diamond Head, Hammersmith. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Diamond Head, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Diamond Head, Hammersmith. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Girlschool. Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Girlschool, Hammersmith. Photo: Robert Sutton
Girlschool. Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Girlschool, Hammersmith. Photo: Robert Sutton
Uriah Heep, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo.
Uriah Heep, Hammersmith. Photo: Aggie Anthimidou
Uriah Heep, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo.
Uriah Heep, Hammersmith. Photo: Aggie Anthimidou
Saxon, Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Saxon, Hammersmith. Photo: Aggie Anthimidou

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