Saxon Biography

Formed in the north of England in 1976, Saxon were originally known as Son Of A Bitch and spent their early days paying dues in clubs and small venues up and down the UK, with Peter ‘Biff’ Byford (5 January 1951, Barnsley, England; vocals), Graham Oliver (b. 6 July 1952, Mexborough, England; guitar), Paul Quinn (guitar), Steve Dawson (b. Steven Dawson, 1951, England; bass) and Pete Gill (b. Peter Gill, 9 June 1951, England; drums) building a strong live reputation. After the name switch they signed a contract with French label Carrere, better known for its disco productions than its work with heavy metal bands. During the late 70s, many young metal bands were emerging in a UK scene that became known as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. These bands challenged the supremacy of the old guard of heavy metal bands, and Saxon was at the head of this movement along with Iron Maiden and Diamond Head. The first album was a solid, if basic, heavy rock outing, but the release of Wheels Of Steel the following year turned the tide. Saxon’s popularity soared, earning themselves two UK Top 20 hits with ‘Wheels Of Steel’ and ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’. They capitalized on this success with the release in the same year of Strong Arm Of The Law, another very heavy, surprisingly articulate, metal album. A further Top 20 hit arrived with ‘And The Bands Played On’, drawn from the following year’s Denim And Leather, which also produced ‘Never Surrender’.

Saxon toured the USA to great acclaim and appeared at the Donington Festival. By the time of 1982’s The Eagle Has Landed: Live, which gave Saxon their most successful album, reaching the UK Top 5, the band was at its peak. That same year, Pete Gill was replaced by drummer Nigel Glockler, who had previously worked with Toyah (Gill joined Motörhead in 1984). At this point Saxon counted among rivals only the immensely popular Iron Maiden. The release of Power & The Glory (1983) and Crusader (1984) enforced their credentials as a major rock band. Innocence Is No Excuse, was a more polished and radio-friendly production but it stalled just inside the Top 40. It heralded an uncertain time for the band and a resulting slide in their popularity. The departure of Steve Dawson contributed to their malaise. Rock The Nations (1986), with new bass player Paul Johnson, was as punishing as old, but the chance to recapture former glories had now expired. Nibbs Carter (b. Timothy Carter, 1966, England) replaced Johnson in 1988.

In 1990, Saxon returned to the public eye with a UK tour that featured a set-list built on their popular older material. Solid Ball Of Rock was their most accomplished album for some time, but in early 1995 Oliver, Dawson and Gill played live together while contesting the rights to the name Saxon with Byford. The issue was soon resolved, however, and Byford was back in place for Dogs Of War, with Oliver having taken his leave. A workmanlike record harking back to the band’s mid-80s propensity for epic choruses, it was neither awful nor progressive.

Oliver, Dawson and Gill subsequently formed Son Of A Bitch before winning the right to adopt the Oliver/Dawson Saxon moniker. Byford and Quinn remained at the helm of the official Saxon, with Carter and a revolving cast list of musicians completing the line-up. Nigel Glockler returned to the band in 2005. A televised career relaunch in the mid-00s was masterminded by Harvey Goldsmith, although it is in Germany and eastern Europe where the band remains most popular.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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