Live Review: Saxon / Diamond Head / Girlschool / Uriah Heep – Apollo, Manchester 28.01.2022

Phil Pountney

So, the first gig of 2022 for me and it’s an absolute beast of a line up when it comes to a who’s who in the world of British heavy metal, each having put in a shift of over 40 years to date, mind blowing I know ! 

As the evening descended upon us and I approached the Apollo for the early door time of 17.00, the queue which hugged the outer walls of the venue was enormous and pretty much a sea of battle jackets, denims and faded black, much loved tour shirts, each of which charted the numerous tours and landmark moments in the history of NWOBHM.

As the lights disappeared, it was time for Diamond Head to carve open the evening and they well and truly ripped it open with gusto and overflowing visible enthusiasm. Rasmus Bom Anderson struck a commanding figure, front and centre, whilst the flanks of Abberley and Ashton were in good hands, each bringing their own brand of stage presence to the set. The absolute legend that is Brian Tatler was in attendance and the ease with which he worked the strings was mesmerising from the opening chords of ‘Bones’ to the dual attack of set closers ‘Helpless’ and ‘Am I Evil’. If the crowd weren’t already engaged, then the two ‘classics’ which the band signed off with got the whole of the Apollo chanting, screaming and singing each and every lyric back at the stage, the popularity of the anthems no doubt made even more so by a little bay area foursome covering them back in the eighties. With the closing chords still ringing in our ears, diamond head signed off on a successful shift, considering the limited time they had in front of Manchester tonight.

Up next were the original epitome of girl power, and Girlschool proved tonight that they love to rock, and make sure you underline that and put it in bold capitals because these ladies were here to inject a brand of metal which seems to have evolved gracefully with passion and dedication aplenty. As it did with Diamond Head, the time we spent with Girlchool flashed by too quickly, and before we knew it we are being treated to a very competent rendition of ‘Bomber’ (which surely needs no introduction) and then set closer ‘Emergency’, which seemed to ignite an extra spark in each of the band with legs kicking, fists punching and heads banging all over the place. 

So, onto the penultimate band of the night, and with their credentials they could be headlining this gig for sure, but instead, they are drafted in as main support. What a show they put on tonight, and to think that these guys have been going for over 50 years is absolutely next level. The set list tonight was probably too short for the hardened Heep’ster, but it was punctuated with classics and feel-good anthems standing shoulder to shoulder. ‘Gypsy’ made an appearance fairly early on and sounded as relevant today as the day it was written. Bernie Shaw stalked the stage, throwing rock star poses with ease, and commanding the audience with barely any effort at all, while the master mind behind it all, mick box, took his place, unassuming, resident on one of the wings for the entirety of the set, safe in the knowledge that his hard work and many years of cultivating this British heavy metal institute has well and truly paid off. The set flowed by flawlessly with each note and riff being soaked up by the adoring devotees standing before the NWOBHM altar tonight in Manchester. The band bowed out with ‘Easy Livin’, a true anthem in all its glory and one which has the sold out, packed in, crowd singing with all their might, almost as if their lives depended on it, and one thing is for certain, this venue is now suitably warmed up for the main event.

As the stage was shrouded with a silver curtain, the anticipation was growing and was almost palpable amongst the denim and beer fuelled Apollo crowd. The lights went down, and the curtain dropped to reveal a stage reminiscent of Josephs coat, a veritable feast of multicolours. Each member the band was stood front and centre, bar Glockler for obvious reasons, a huge metal eagle hovered above the stage and was adorned in lights which the arctic circle would be envious of. After a few moments of the band becoming acquainted with tonight’s amassed hordes, they dispersed and set up camp in their respective locations amidst a video backdrop and a vast array of spotlights dancing round the stage. The set was crammed full of classics and each one being delivered with precision and passion. ‘Wheels Of Steel’, ‘Denim And Leather’, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ and ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ to name but a few of tonight’s attendees and each one delivered on point. The party closed out the night with ‘Crusader’, ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’ and ‘Princess Of The Night’ with each and every soul who had rocked with the Saxon lads tonight leaving beyond elated, and if they haven’t secured them already, I guarantee that 99.9% ‘of the crowd tonight will be rushing to get their hands on tickets for the Saxon and Uriah heep gigs later in the year. A truly resounding success for one and all.

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