British Steel Festival V
Pagan Altar / Elixir / Jaguar / Saracen / Agincourt
2 April 2011
Camden Underworld, London
Following a year off in 2010, the British Steel Festival returned for its fifth edition, once again championing music from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal era.
Whilst openers Agincourt are influenced by, rather than having been part of, the NWOBHM, their history mirrors many of the band’s of that era, just 10 years later.Formed in 1991, a promising start was crushed by the influx of grunge with the band splitting in 1997. However, the band reformed three years ago and have just put out their debut album Angels of Mons, twenty years after initially forming.
The band’s 40 minute set consisted of eight of the ten tracks from that debut album and whilst the playing was competent, the material was not particularly inspiring. The straight ahead metal of the likes of Going Insane wasn’t a bad way to start the day, but there were few killer hooks in a workman like set.
Bassist Russ Weaver moved around the stage, whilst frontman Richard Toy curiously kept throwing guitar picks out to seemingly nobody. Meanwhile Paul Anderson’s nimble fingers impressed during his solos and whilst the band left to a warm reception it didn’t match what was to come.
Agincourt / Captured King / Breakdown / Edge Of Paradise / Going Insane / Fool No More / Come With Me / Queen Of The Night
Formed in 1976 in Matlock Derbyshire originally under the name Lammergier, Saracen took their current moniker in 1981. The same year they put out their most revered album, Heroes, Saints & Fools, but like many bands of the era found things tough and after a more melodic sophomore release Change Of Heart the band called it a day in 1985. The band reconvened with three original members for 2003’s Red Sky which included re-recordings of early material alongside new compositions.This was followed by a new album Vox In Excelso in 2006.
Today only vocalist Steve Bettney remains with a much changed line-up, but that certainly does not mean a weakened Saracen. Whilst many singers prefer to ease their way into a set, Bettney has no qualms, immediately hitting us with the two high pitch screams signalling Crusader. In fact the frontman’s voice was flawless throughout and his engaging stage demeanour pulled the crowd into this performance and had them clapping along by second song Rock Of Ages.
Saracen’s sound has more of an epic progressive feel, with a combination of Uriah Heep, early Judas Priest and, at times, Pink Floyd. Originally key to constructing that sound, the now departed guitarist Rob Bendelow’s role was ably filled by Simon Roberts who combined well with the keyboards of Paul Bradder. The set mixed up the likes of the more grandiose Horsemen Of The Apocalypse with the more straightforward, highlighted by Meet Me At Midnight. Drawing mainly from their 30 year old Heroes, Saints & Fools album, it was apparent by the crowd singing that there were a lot of Saracen fans here today and they were not disappointed.
Crusader / Rock Of Ages / Horsemen Of The Apocalypse / Follow The Piper / Meet Me At Midnight / Heroes, Saints & Fools / Ready To Fly
Bristolians Jaguar formed in 1979, releasing a couple of singles followed by their 1983 debut Power Games which featured a sound reminiscent of early Iron Maiden. However, it’s follow up, 1985’s This Time saw the band leaning more towards AOR territory and with interest waning the band split in 1985. Guitarist Garry Peppard reformed the band in 1998 with a modified line-up after the success of Jaguar’s re-released debut the previous year. Aside from a couple of changes in the bass playing department it’s that line-up that remains today for Jaguar’s second British Steel Festival appearance, having last featured in 2007.
Having been on my way back from the bar when opener Run Ragged kicked in, it was confusing to return to see no singer on stage. It was then I spotted Jamie Manton darting along the raised “balcony” behind the stage and you could barely keep your eyes of the quirky frontman over the next forty minutes. Battlecry followed with Manton climbing onto his microphone stand, which turned out also to be a pogo stick and bouncing around the stage. At its conclusion a shout from the crowd of, “You, facking nutter!”, was met by Manton with “Certified baby, certified”.
Given its age, Jaguar’s material came across remarkably fresh. Mainly drawing from the Power Games album, the adrenaline fuelled The Fox and Axe Crazy whipped up the crowd, with Manton crowd surfing for a good portion of the latter. In a strange mash-up that curiously worked, Manton sang the opening of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive as Garry Peppard played the opening riffs of Raw Deal. Even the end was chaotic fun, with the band seemingly planning for an encore but the soundman unaware. On came the lights and between band music as Jaguar were trying to return to the stage. Eventually a concerted shout for Dutch Connection meant that song final closed a hugely enjoyable set.
Run Ragged / Battlecry / Out Of Luck / The Fox / Master Game / Raw Deal / Axe Crazy / Back Street Woman / Dutch Connection
Elixir formed in 1983 and by the following year had convened their most recognised line-up which put out the classic The Son Of Odin debut. Between, 1987 and 2001 various line-up changes occurred including, most famously, Clive Burr formerly of Iron Maiden occupying the drum stool. Norman “Stormin’” Gordon’s 40th Birthday party brought the classic line-up back together in 2001 and amazingly it’s still that line-up tonight. Guitarist Phil Denton was the brains behind the British Steel Festival and it’s therefore no surprise that Elixir have appeared at all five.
Whilst the day has a strong whiff of nostalgia, Elixir are obviously keen to not totally rely on it by opening with three songs from last year’s All Hallows Eve album. Actually, with the rest of the main set drawn from The Son Of Odin album, which celebrates it 25th Anniversary this year, it was surprising how well the old and new meshed together. Much like Saxon give their older material a new lease of life in the live arena, Elixir are faithful but energetic with their delivery, with Trial By Fire verging on proto-thrash.
With Enforcer & Bullet due in this building in less than two weeks time, it’s a timely reminder of how this music was the first time round and whilst the players may look older their passion has obviously not diminished. Paul Taylor’s vocals, which aren’t a million miles from the tone of Biff Byford, remain as resolute as his impressive hairline. Meanwhile guitarists Phil Denton and Norman Gordon combine to give crowd favourite Treachery its familiar twin guitar driven sound. Whilst Maiden is often mentioned in relation to Elixir, and yes Treachery does bear an influence, there’s more to the Elixir style, with Son Of Odin built on an Iommian style riff. Another battle with the house lights and between band music afforded Elixir a return to the stage to finish with Knocking On The Gates Of Hell.
All Hallows Eve / The Pagan Queen / You’re Not Fooling Me / The Star Of Beshaan / Children Of Tomorrow / Trial By Fire / Treachery (Ride Like The Wind) / Son Of Odin / Knocking On The Gates Of Hell
Pagan Altar formed in 1978, but after inexplicably being overlooked by record labels they called it a day in 1982. However, a bootleg of a self released cassette kept the name alive and was eventually officially released in 1998. Six years later the band reformed, re-recorded and released their unfinished second album and followed this with a third album two years later. Tonight marked their second appearance at British Steel having played at the fourth edition in 2009.
Pagan Altar undoubtedly stood out in this line up, coming from a definite doom side of metal. Fittingly frontman Terry Jones takes to the stage in resolute black wearing an undertaker’s top hat as the sermon commenced in a cloud of dry ice. His brother Alan on guitar is on the only other original member of the band and the pair have surrounded themselves with young and able musicians. The band combine with organic ease to create the dark metal tapestry on which Terry Jones paints his unique vocals. I read one other review that likened his voice to singing through a children’s trumpet and it’s a vaguely accurate description. That’s not a critisicsm as it does work.
With a look of a longer haired Father Ted and an almost bewildered demeanour the frontman’s between song mumbles are hard to decipher but his joy at the response is clear. Behind him on the raised balcony, one uber fan actually manages to draw attention away from the band, singing along to every word and practically climbing over on to the stage. A crowd surfer during The Lords Of Hypocrisy drew laughter from the frontman and it can’t be a common occurrence at the band’s shows.
Like all the band’s tonight, Pagan Altar are afforded just 40 minutes and with lengthy mid paced doom anthems, that time passes quick and disappointingly soon enough The Witches Pathway signals the end of the set and a hugely enjoyable British Steel Festival.
Pagan Altar setlist:
Pagan Altar / In The Wake Of Armedeus / The Cry Of The Banshee / Sentienels Of Hate / Samhein / The Lords Of Hypocrisy / The Aftermath / Judgement Of The Dead / The Witches Pathway