Sunday, 3 February 2013


It all started when I was thinking, by way of advice to students, that I'd personally rather write a dissertation on Saxon than Schubert.
Even thinking about Saxon, the British heavy metal combo from Barnsley, is peculiar. For one, they seem to have a unique affiliation to place. This is not true of most heavy metal outfits, who, at the first sniff of success, you imagine to be hanging out on Sunset rather than in the Sunset Arms, or dwellers in middle earth, which of course is your average metalist's fantasy home. No, Saxon sound grounded. They are Barnsley personified, a real piece of genius loci, or at least a real piece of Barnsley as I imagine it, or Barnsley over Drokken. And they are headed up by the undoubtedly charismatic and deeply northern 'Biff' Byford. Biff from Barnsley, and they recorded songs called, memorably enough, 'Wheels of Steel' and '747' which are, respectively, triumphant anthems to industry and not being at home, the dangers of not being grounded, but both featuring glorious riffs, riff's like machine tools, Biff's riffs we might call them, and not a great deal else which might embody say, the finer points. That is unless you could say, and you could and I will, that in it's employment of the most basic of tools, Wheels of Steel knocks the shit out of virtually anything else, it says there are no finer points, not where we come from.
Saxon also, by choice of name, come particularly British, it's all lionhearts and so on, and yet they employ, presumably out of humour, the Luftwaffe logo and call themselves eagles who, of course, have landed, just like Saxons I suppose, to rape and pillage any town near you, but at the same time, seem fabulous, caring, nice, fellas! They called their 1981 album, follow up to 'Wheels of Steel', 'Denim and Leather', in doing so personifying exactly and pointedly who their fans were just as successfully as Roxy Music or Duran Duran ever did. Saxon fans no doubt wear denim and leather and they no doubt wear it all the time, possibly in triplicate or quadruplicate. Saxon took the glam out of rock! They absolutely did not go to art school where you learn to be a wanker. That is unless they did (I don't know) and were super intelligent about it. This, is interesting.
And in all this Saxon represent a great tradition, that of Heavy Metal related to heavy metal industry, or in this case, actually mining coal, a truly British triumph (forgive the pun) and the inheritance from Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, rightly displaced further north, and they are still going (rather - in metalspeak- they never surrendered) as one of Barnsley's greatest exports.

1 comment:

  1. That's ironic - in 2009 I had to turn down an invite from Biff to their show at KoKo - because I was snowed under with my dissertation. He texted the next day confirming they had partied all night. Next time!