Album Review: Saxon - 'The Vinyl Hoard'.
It’s been a delightful year for Saxon vinyl aficionados. Coming hot on the heels of March’s lavish nine disc ‘Eagles And Dragons’ box set which collected together the band’s studio output between 1991 – 2009, comes this cannily-titled, eight LP collection. A live companion to that studio set, ‘The Vinyl Hoard’ houses various concert recordings from the band’s rebirthing second act of the same period.
Consisting of four shows, the earliest recordings are taken from the 1995 ‘Dogs Of War’ tour, while the others are culled from performances from 2004, 2005, and 2006. And what a treasure trove it is for fans of the band’s heavy metal thunder. For while this later period of the crusaders’ lengthy history may not be as celebrated as their feted NWOBHM beginnings, there’s much to enjoy about the set.
Rather than present full shows, ‘The Vinyl Hoard’ cherry-picks the material from each, meaning that although incomplete, the collection offers little repetition, although there is, inevitably some. So while no Saxon show would be complete without the likes of ‘Wheels Of Steel’ (which appears twice) and ‘Denim And Leather’ (once), there is plenty of room for lesser heard tracks like ‘Requiem (We Will Remember)’, and ‘Lights In the Sky’ (both from 1991’s storming ‘Solid Ball Of Rock’). A rough and ready affair, with zero studio trickery, the package reveals moments caught in time, offering a glimpse across a decade of Saxon history.
Having steadied the ship with a newly focused direction following their late eighties’ deviations, and solid line-up that persists to this day, the ‘Dogs Of War’ tour saw the band rejuvenated. Recorded in Germany, the highlights from this show are many, however the heartfelt ‘Iron Wheels’ – dedicated to the memory of bandleader Biff Byford’s father, is the surprising highlight . A more pensive number than history would suggest the band are capable of, it’s a timely reminder that Saxon were, and still are a vital act.
Going forward almost a decade, and the ‘Lionheart’ tour found the band in fiercely defiant form. Battle hardened thanks to a court battle with former members Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver over the use of the Saxon name, the edgier performances reveal a band sonically a little rougher around the edges. The presence of a rare cover version in King Crimson’s ‘The Court Of The Crimson King’ however, offers a welcome side street, and proof that the band were still willing to take chances.
Elsewhere, for those interested in a finer vintage, there are, appropriately, an abundance of classics – ‘Crusader’, ‘And The Bands Played On’, ‘Suzie Hold Oh’ etc. – taken from the 2005 ‘25th Anniversary Of The NWOBHM’ show, and their Rock Sound festival appearance from 2006. Faithfully reproduced, the recordings offer proof of just why this particular incarnation of the band has lasted so long.
Packaged elaborately, in shiny gold vinyl, with brand new artwork from long-time collaborator Paul Gregory, 'The Vinyl Hoard' is happily, more than simply easy on the eye, offering a fitting celebration of a far too often overlooked period in Saxon history.
By Eamon O'Neill on 30th October 2016.
'The Vinyl Hoard' is out now.