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Picture yourself in the world famous Barnsley Opera house, amongst hundreds of fellow Gumby enthusiasts. “Sax ‘un” “Sax ‘un”, bays the man next to you; excitement has reached fever pitch. It’s Saxon at the height of their powers, the peak just before the slow descent into barely passable hair metal. And finally, over the PA we hear…
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Derek and Trevor tour”
Guitars scream, bassists point and Biff informs you that ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ is off the ‘Strong Arm…’ album, a shocking revelation if there ever was one. It certainly isn’t the coolest gig in town, nor by 1982 is it the heaviest and it certainly isn’t the best looking, but by God is it fun.
So indeed, this is Saxon at the very pinnacle of the commercial and creative powers. With a set-list culled from such SYGM classics as ‘Wheels of Steel’, ‘Strong Arm…’ and of course, ‘Denim and Leather’. But some found the original, a mere single vinyl, was incomplete. But thankfully, Biff and the boys have rectified this problem adding a whole assortment of bonus tracks. Sure ‘Midnight Rider’ and ‘Dallas 1pm’ aren’t my favourite Saxon tracks, but they sound a hell of a lot better in the live environment. The most important addition here is the sing-along brilliance of ‘The Bands Played On’, no Saxon gig would be complete without this. Yet still, no ‘Denim and Leather’, madness!
Interestingly enough, in the albums pacing, we kick off with three different transport modes. Motorcycles, yeah they’re rock ’n’ roll alright. A 747? Ok, if it’s going for an emergency landing and not a commercial flight to Benidorm. A train delivering post? Oh please, Mr Byford, try to hide the fact that backstage instead of hookers and blow you have a model train! What d’ya mean no? Fuck, even Rush are cooler than you guys, at least they have roast chickens for a back-line. Still, terminally uncool moments aside, this a very forceful and dramatic way to open a live album. Saxon’s uncouth nature certainly never hindered them in the live environment, they always remind me of a dog who just can’t wait to bound and leap away after his master’s stick and then chase his own tail until he becomes dizzy and falls over. Throughout their career, the band’s enthusiasm in the live arena is both astounding and commendable. I’ve watched footage of the band playing a backwater festival somewhere in Europe or even to a pub full of indie kids who expected a surprise gig from The Cure and they still command the stage as if they were playing Wembley Stadium. Just shows how good a live band you can be if you don’t mind that your band looks like they were given fifteen quid to spend in a charity shop for stage wear.
‘The Eagle has Landed’ aptly displays the seamless shifting Saxon utilise. For every proto-thrash metal barrage such as the frantic ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ we get a more boogied piece of rock ’n’ roll in say ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ or metal’s greatest paean to disabled women, ‘Wheels of Steel’. This pacing ensures, that unlike Biff’s claims the audience will not actually die from exhaustion and in all makes for a very enjoyable listen.
Special praise must be given to Nigel Glockler, who not only gives an exemplary performance on drums, but was only in Saxon for about fifteen minutes prior to these recordings, after Pete Gill was given his marching orders. As well as being the most accomplished musician in Saxon at this point, Nigel gives a lesson in speed metal precision. See the rip-roaring finale of ‘Machine Gun’, this is double bass utilised to perfection. If you want double bass to really give a song weight, use it tastefully rather than relentlessly (unless you are say, Philthy Animal Taylor). Complete overuse will limit it’s dramatic and sonic effect, so putting a rather break-neck bit of double bass at a song’s climax is a far more refreshing approach than the unrelenting modern approach to this technique.
However, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ did have the same curse of the live album that has stricken so many of rock’s hopefuls. Motörhead had the exact same problem with ‘No Sleep…’, how do you follow a immensely successful live album with what are considered to be your “greatest hits”? A very difficult question indeed. Often bands struggle and flail, ‘Iron Fist’, ‘Power and the Glory’ and even UFO’s ‘No Place to Run’ show this, all are far from bad, just somewhat uninspired compared to the live majesty that preceded them.
So a seminal NWOBHM document and one of metal’s best live albums. An absolutely mandatory purchase for those with an interest as to why Saxon kick unexplainable amounts of arse. But why no ‘Derek and Trevor’? Shame really, oh well, all together now;
“Derek and Trevor, brought us all together!”