Bringers of heavy metal thunder, Saxon have been rocking the nations since first exploding onto the new wave of British heavy metal scene in the late 1970s. Releasing their latest album ‘Battering Ram’ in 2015, the band suffered a blow when long-time friend Lemmy Kilmister of touring companions Motörhead passed away in the middle of the promotional trek for the album. Picking off where that jaunt left off, the Barnsley band are looking forward resuming the U.K. leg in October, with Girlschool and Fastway. We caught up with bassist Nibbs Carter and guitarist Doug Scarratt ahead of the band’s appearance at Download to discuss the tour, and playing at the hallowed grounds of Donington Park.
How are you both today?
Nibbs Carter: I’m kind of a bit bored of sitting in this dressing room.
Doug Scarratt: We’ve been here all day, actually.
NC: We’ve been here since the 80s!
What does a day like this usually involve for Saxon, before you go on stage?
DS: Usually it’s just going out and watching the bands, but I haven’t been far today because of the mud. I’ve been drinking tea.
NC: I’ve watched The Dirty Youth; they were good. ‘Requiem Of The Drunk’ is a fantastic song.
You’re here playing Download today. Are you looking forward to the show?
DS: Yeah, we’re looking forward to it. I think it is the fourth time for us, isn’t it? No, it might be the fifth. There were the two early ones.
NC: Yeah, because they played in 1881, didn’t they? 1881; it was a fantastic year for rock.
DS: Yeah, it was twice in the eighties, before we were in the band, and then we played here in 2007 or 2008, in the big tent.
NC: We were on about 5pm, just before Testament, and it was excellent. We were just stood looking at each other on stage going; “WOW!”, because the crowd were just going mental.
Is it difficult choosing set lists at festivals, given that fans expect to hear the hits?
NC: If you’ve only got one hour, which we’ve got today, it gets even more difficult. We start with a new track – the title track of the last album - so we get that kind of over with, and I think Biff [Byford, Saxon front man and bandleader] gauges it really good. You know, he knows how to work an audience. But usually, we try to put a couple of new ones in - not from the last album, but from the last ten years.
Do you find that once you make a new album, the previous one tends to get left behind?
DS: They do a bit, but there’s so many records you can’t possibly do them all; even if you played one track from every album we’d still be playing for about four hours.
The ‘Battering Ram’ tour is resuming in the winter in the U.K., and you’ve got a great package with Fastway and Girlschool.
DS: It’s a nice bill. we think so, yeah. We’ve played with Girlschool a lot, and I think we’ve done a couple of festivals with Fastway before.
NC: I recorded a couple of albums with them [including 1988’s ‘On Target’], and actually, we played in 2007 in Tokyo, and they were on after us. We went for an Indian with the drummer in Tokyo.
Going back to the set list, and do you ever get sick of performing some of those songs?
NC: It’s perspectives; I think. As you’re writing the set list out, you’re looking at it, and you’re thinking; “do we have to play that one again?”, but when it comes to playing the riff…
DS: It comes to life. The thing is, you can’t deny the crowd reaction, and then it comes alive again.
You’re headlining the Maverick Stage tonight, in the tent. Do the crowds differ to playing on the main stage?
NC: I think it’s the same; it’s just a different environment. I mean, just watching Shinedown and Disturbed, they were electrifying, and the audience just seemed to be really into it – probably because it wasn’t pissing it down! The tent’s got that covered anyway, and because the sides are open, there’s people on the outside trying to find out what’s going on in there. That’s what it was like when we played here in 2008, and you could see that people were just going berserk. It was excellent. Then the next couple of times we played the main stage quite early in the day, and it was cool, but there wasn’t this vibe of insanity. I reckon it’s going to be the same in there tonight.
One thing I have to ask is about the passing of Lemmy. That must have been a tough time for you all.
DS: Yeah, it was, it was. It was strange.
NC: Yeah, he was larger than life, Lemmy. What do you do after that? I mean, we’re not even in Motörhead, so imagine what it’s like for Mikkey [Dee], Phil [Campbell] and the crew.
DS: The last show we did with them, I think it was in Berlin, on 11th December.
Did you know that he was ailing at that time?
DS: He looked frail, but he’s looked frail for a long time. So you still think he’s going to keep on rolling.
NC: We did August and September  in America with Motörhead, and there was some sticky moments then, but they diagnosed it as, like a lung infection, so at least it was like, we know what it is, and they had a couple of days off, and then carried on. Then they did the Motörboat or something like that, had a break, did two or three weeks, and we started again in Europe, and it was great. It was thrilling.
So it was a good note to end on?
DS: Yeah, it was. They were all kind of stadium gigs, and they were all rammed.
Finally, are there any plans to follow up ‘Battering Ram’?
DS: Yeah, we are working on starting to put ideas together. Will we be working with Andy Sneap again? Yeah, I think so – it seems to work well.
NC: We’re out touring right through autumn / winter, and then we’ll get writing and recording.
Check out eonmusic's exclusive interview with Biff Byford here.
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Saxon's U.K. Tour kicks off on 28th October. For a full list of dates click here.