Saxon are an English Heavy metal band formed in 1977 in Barnsley South Yorkshire, England. As leaders of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM), they had eight UK Top 40 albums in the 1980s including four UK Top 10 albums and two Top 5 albums.
They had numerous singles in the UK Singles Chart and chart success all over Europe and Japan, as well as success in the United States.
During the 1980s, Saxon established themselves among Europe's most successful metal acts. The band tours regularly and have sold more than 15 million albums worldwide.
They have also been cited as a major influence or inspiration by notable bands, including Mötley Crüe, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Pantera, Testament, Dokken, Skid Row, Dream Theater, Exodus, Overkill, King Diamond and Celtic Frost.
Formation and early years (1976-1979)
Saxon was formed by former Coast members Peter "Biff" Byford on vocals, Paul Quinn, and former SOB member Graham Oliver on guitars, Steve "Dobby" Dawson on bass; and Pete Gill on drums and were originally named "Son of a Bitch". The band changed their name to Saxon shortly afterwards. They began by supporting established bands such as Motörhead. In 1979, the band signed to French record label Carrere, run by Freddy Cannon in the UK, and released their eponymous debut album.
Success in the UK (1980-1982)
Wheels of Steel, released in 1980, charted at No. 5 in the UK Albums Chart. It resulted in two hit songs: the title track and the crowd favourite "747 (Strangers in the Night)". As a result, Saxon began a series of long UK tours. On 16 August, they earned a positive reception at the first Monsters of Rock festival, commemorated by the following year's "And the Bands Played On". Their set was recorded, but not officially released until 2000. In April, Saxon made the first of many appearances on Top of the Pops, performing the hit "Wheels of Steel".
Strong Arm of the Law was released later in the year, charting at No. 11 in the UK. Two singles were issued: the title track and "Dallas 1PM", the latter about the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Sold-out tours of Europe and the UK followed as the album charted in several European countries. The band was also popular in Japan,
where the single "Motorcycle Man" stayed in the charts for almost six months.
"On the Strong Arm of the Law tour, in 1981, we met Harry Shearer," Dawson recalled. "We thought he was just an American journalist. He spent three days on the road with us. When we all went to see This Is Spinal Tap, I didn't recognise Harry. I was too busy laughing my head off. But some of the other guys didn't see the funny side."
In 1981, the band released their fourth album Denim and Leather, dedicated to their fan base. Still popular today, its title track "Denim and Leather" is regarded as a metal anthem. The album also featured fan favourites such as "Princess of the Night", "Never Surrender", and "And the Bands Played On" – all UK Top 20 hits. Denim and Leather followed its predecessor's success and went Gold in several European countries, including the UK. By this time, the band was seen as the leaders of the NWOBHM movement, with future greats Iron Maiden and Def Leppard following close behind.
Just as the band was to embark on a long tour to follow the success of Denim and Leather, drummer Pete Gill left, after injuring his hand. The band quickly replaced him with Nigel Glockler, formerly of Toyah, who had to learn the entire set within a day and a half. Nigel Glockler is still with the band today.
Headlining tours around the UK and a sold-out tour in Europe with support act Ozzy Osbourne resulted in The Eagle Has Landed (1982, UK No. 5). It was planned as a double album, but the record company decided to release it as a single live album, despite protests from the band. Saxon also played the Monsters of Rock festival again in 1982, becoming the first band to appear there twice.
Power & the Glory and EMI years (1983-1987)
As the NWOBHM movement began to fade, 1983's Power & the Glory, their best selling album to date, saw Saxon confirmed as one of the leading metal acts in Europe, along with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. The "Power and Glory Tour" was an arena tour that began in Europe, and was a huge success. The US leg of the tour, as special guest to Iron Maiden, along with Fastway, proved to be successful and Saxon found themselves becoming a major act in the US as the album, in its first week of release, sold more than 15,000 copies in Los Angeles alone. The cover art of the album was produced by Hollywood film director Ridley Scott.
In late 1983, Saxon left Carrere and signed with EMI Records in 1984, with their first release on the label being Crusader. Though still heavy, critics felt the album had a more commercial sound, and fans began to wonder what direction the band was taking. Despite its commercial sound, the title track became a fan favourite. The album sold over two million copies and the 1984 world tour "The World Crusade" was a success both in Europe and America. In the US, the band toured with Accept as their special guests,
as well as supporting Mötley Crüe for some shows of a year long tour.
With the release of Innocence Is No Excuse in 1985, the band continued to take a more commercial direction, and this divided fans as the band's once raw, heavy sound had been watered down for the large US market. A huge sold out world tour in support of the album followed, but tensions began to appear within the band and, by early 1986, bassist Steve Dawson was fired, and Saxon was forced to record their eighth studio album
Rock the Nations without a replacement. With Elton John making guest appearances as pianist on two tracks, and Biff Byford recording the bass parts, the album charted higher than its predecessor and was considered a success. They hired bassist Paul Johnson to play for the band's European arena tour that followed. In the summer of 1986, Saxon headlined the Reading Festival and toured the United States.
In 1987, the band took time off from the constant touring and recording that had begun in the mid 1970s, and only a minor tour of the U.S. and Canada was scheduled. In early 1987, Nigel Glockler left the band and was replaced by Nigel Durham.
Decline of fan base and continued European success (1988-1993)
The band found it hard to attain chart success in America; the release of Destiny (1988) did not change this, and Saxon were later dropped by EMI. In 1988, Paul Johnson was replaced by Nibbs Carter. Nigel Glockler also decided to return to the band. 1989 saw the release of Rock n Roll Gypsies, a live album recorded on an arena tour of eastern Europe in 1988, but by 1989, the gigs at the big stadiums and arenas of Europe and the US were few and far between and, with no record deal, Saxon's future was uncertain.
The band eventually decided to embark on a European tour titled '10 Years of Denim and Leather' which proved to be a successful move as the band was re-established as a popular act. In 1990, they signed to Virgin Records and started work on their new album Solid Ball of Rock, which was released in 1991 and proved to be successful. In 1992, Saxon sustained this success with the release of Forever Free. The album was produced by Biff Byford and
Herwig Ursin. A UK version of the album featured an alternate cover with a "Space Marine" from the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop wargame. "Iron Wheels" was released as a single. The song was written about and dedicated to Biff Byford's father who worked in the coal mines of Yorkshire.
Departure of Graham Oliver and return to heavier sound (1994-2002)
During 1994, Saxon recorded the album Dogs of War. Shortly afterwards, Graham Oliver was fired by the band in 1995. The band replaced Graham Oliver with Doug Scarratt, a long time friend of drummer Nigel Glockler. Saxon recorded a new music video for Dogs of War. 1996 saw the release of another live album, The Eagle Has Landed Pt II. They also recorded a cover of the Judas Priest song "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", for a tribute album entitled A Tribute to Judas Priest: Legends of Metal.
Saxon released Unleash the Beast, produced by Kalle Trapp and Saxon, in 1997. Saxon began their Unleash The Beast tour in May, where they played in Europe. Unleash the Beast reached the top 100 in the charts in Sweden, Germany and Switzerland. In November, they played two gigs in Brazil (São Paulo and Santos) and ended the year with a Christmas show in Belgium. In 1998, the band toured the US, as well as playing the Brazilian
September 1999 saw the release of Metalhead. The album was praised in Germany where Saxon had begun to play the Wacken Open Air Festival, where they later became a regular fixture. Saxon also headlined the first Bloodstock Open Air Festival in the UK. In 2001, they again headlined the Wacken Open Air Festival and recorded the live DVD The Saxon Chronicles. Saxon also released the album Killing Ground during the same year. In 2002, Saxon released Heavy Metal Thunder, a compilation album featuring re-recorded versions of songs from the band's biggest selling albums.
Battle for band name and Lionheart (2003-2006)
In 1999, former members Graham Oliver and Steven Dawson registered 'Saxon' as a trade mark. They then maintained that they had exclusive rights to the name and tried to prevent Biff Byford and Saxon's promoters and merchandisers from using the name. Biff Byford applied to the Trade Mark Registry to have the trade mark declared invalid.
He applied on the basis that the registration had been obtained in bad faith and that he was entitled to prevent use of the trade mark by bringing an action for 'passing off', that is an action to stop others misrepresenting themselves as Saxon.
In 2003, the High Court declared that it was Biff Byford and the current members of the band who owned the name, and were therefore in a position to prevent Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson passing themselves off as Saxon. After this Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson renamed their band Oliver/Dawson Saxon.
Fritz Randow left the band in 2004. His replacement was former Stratovarius member Jörg Michael. 2004 also saw the release of Lionheart their 16th studio album. The album title was inspired from Richard Lionheart, King of England. "Beyond the Grave" was released as a single and a music video.
The album received positive reviews and the title track remains a fan favorite. Nigel Glockler rejoined the band in 2005. In 2006, the band released the live album, The Eagle Has Landed – part 3. The band were due to play that year's Dubai Desert Rock Festival and perform alongside Megadeth.
Just before the band were due to play Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing had withdrawn the band's permission to play the festival. It was rumored that the historical lyrics in Crusader were the reason for this.
Re-establishment in the UK (2007-2010)
In 2007, Saxon were the subject of an episode of Harvey Goldsmith's Get Your Act Together. As part of his programme, Harvey Goldsmith wanted to try and restore their popularity and reputation. He drafted in two new producers to oversee the production of a new single "If I Was You" (a song about gun culture), which went to number one in the Rock Charts in over 10 countries (becoming their most successful single for over 12 years).
At the end of the programme, Saxon played at the half sold out Sheffield City Hall. Saxon also performed at the 2008 Download Festival.
Saxon's The Inner Sanctum album, released in Europe on March 5, 2007, and North America on April 3, was seen by critics as their best work in years. The band then started a world tour in support of the album.
Saxon released a new studio album, Into the Labyrinth, on 12 January 2009. The album received positive reviews and continued the success that The Inner Sanctum had created. The band also headlined the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany. In February, it was announced that the band were cancelling the Spanish leg of their European tour with Iced Earth, due to scheduling issues.
At the start of 2009, they toured the UK with Doro, and again at the end of the year they did a UK tour, co-headlining with Motorhead. In August of that year, they played at the Sonisphere Festival. In September Saxon announced the release of Heavy Metal Thunder - The Movie, a documentary on the band's history from the beginning.
Continuing their success in the UK, Saxon performed at the 2010 Download Festival, which took place at Donington Park between June 11 & 13. The band played the Wheels of Steel album in its entirety to mark the 30th anniversary of its release.
Call to Arms and Sacrifice (2011-2014)
Saxon released their nineteenth studio album, Call to Arms, on June 3, 2011. It debuted at number 6 on the UK Rock Albums chart. The band embarked on a world tour which saw them visit the US; Saxon also revisited the UK for a second leg of the tour. The band announced on their Call To Arms tour that a number of fans at each venue, each paying £10, would be able to watch them soundcheck. This was donated to the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy and Childline charities.
Saxon were billed as special guests supporting Judas Priest at Hammersmith Apollo on May 26, 2012. Saxon also played Download Festival 2012, and were recorded playing Wheels of Steel for the festival's Highlights show shown on Sky Arts. On 13 February 2012, the band announced that they were releasing a new live DVD and CD package entitled "Heavy Metal Thunder - Live: Eagles Over Wacken", which compiled their 2004, 2007 and 2009 performances at the Wacken Open Air across various formats. In March, Saxon won the Metal Hammer 2012 Golden God award for 'Best UK band'.
In October, the band announced that their next studio album would be titled Sacrifice and it was released in March 2013. On 11 December 2012 "Heavy Metal Thunder - The Movie" saw an international release and was the first Blu-ray release for the band. 2013 also saw the release of a new compilation album "Unplugged and Strung Up". 2014 saw the release of a new live album named "St. George's Day Sacrifice - Live in Manchester". The band also embarked on a tour in October of that year named Warriors of the Road.
Battering Ram, Thunderbolt and Carpe Diem (2015-present)
During an interview in November 2014, Biff Byford revealed that: "We're making the new album in January, February and March". In a March 2015 interview, Biff Byford described the album as a mixture of Rock and roll and Heavy metal. When asked about a possible release date, Biff Byford said:
"We're looking at maybe at a summer release. It just depends on whether it's ready or not. We're looking at finishing the album by the end of April. We're keeping our fingers crossed."
On 1 August 2015, the band announced 16 October as the release date of Battering Ram and also premiered the official video of the title track.
On September 14, 2016, Biff Byford announced on Facebook that Saxon were working on a new album with producer Andy Sneap, for an early 2017 release. In October 2016, the band announced a tour in the U.S. for the early spring of 2017 with UFO.
In a 16 March 2017 interview with former Anthrax vocalist Neil Turbin on Canada's The Metal Voice in Los Angeles, California, Biff Byford gave an update on the new album saying that several songs were already recorded with a few more to complete, with an estimated release date for early 2018.
On June 15, 2017, Biff Byford revealed that the title of their new studio album was Thunderbolt. Saxon and UFO teamed up again for another round of shows in North America for the fall. On November 7, 2017, the band announced that the album would be officially released on February 2, 2018. To support the album, they briefly toured Europe and the UK with Diamond Head, Rock Goddess and Magnum from late February to early March 2018, and was the support act along with Black Star Riders for Judas Priest's Firepower World Tour from mid March to early May 2018.
In an October 2018 interview with Sonic Perspectives, Biff Byford confirmed that Saxon would "definitely" record a new album sometime in 2019. He was quoted as saying, "We don't have to have too much commitment to timings. We're an established band — we can pretty much do what we want. If we feel like writing, then we write. If we don't feel like writing, then we don't write. Simple as that."
Biff Byford had stated that their new album was expected to be released in early 2021; but later sighted a tentative February 2022 release.
Saxon released their first album of song covers, Inspirations, on 19 March 2021. Their 24th studio album, "Carpe Diem", was released on 4 February 2022 with the band embarking on the Seize the Day tour alongside Diamond Head which ended in November 2022.
Wheels of Steel (1980)
Strong Arm of the Law (1980)
Denim and Leather (1981)
Power & the Glory (1983)
Innocence Is No Excuse (1985)
Rock the Nations (1986)
Solid Ball of Rock (1991)
Forever Free (1992)
Dogs of War (1995)
Unleash the Beast (1997)
Killing Ground (2001)
Biff Byford – vocals (1977–present); bass (1986)
Paul Quinn – guitars (1977–present)
Nigel Glockler – drums (1981–1987, 1988–1999, 2005–present)
Nibbs Carter – bass (1988–present)
Doug Scarratt – guitars (1995–present)
Graham Oliver – guitars (1977–1995)
Steve Dawson – bass (1977–1986)
Pete Gill – drums (1977–1981)
Paul Johnson – bass (1986–1988)
Nigel Durham – drums (1987–1988)
Fritz Randow – drums (1999–2004)
Jörg Michael – drums (2004–2005)
Trevor Thornton – drums (1998) – replaced the injured Nigel Glockler on the second leg of the Unleash The Beast tour
Yenz Leonhardt – bass (2010) – replaced Nibbs Carter on the 2010 European tour
Sven Dirkschneider (Son of Udo Dirkschneider) – drums (2015) – sat in for Nigel Glockler on the Warriors of the Road tour (four shows only)