Formation and early years (1976-1979)
Saxon began with a lineup formed by former Coast members Peter "Biff" Byford on vocals, Paul Quinn and former Sob member Graham Oliver on guitars, Steve "Dobby" Dawson on bass; and Pete Gill on drums and were originally named "Son of a Bitch". The band changed their name to Saxon shortly afterwards. They started out by gaining support slots on tour with more established bands such as Motörhead. In 1979, the band signed to the French record label Carrere run by Freddy Cannon in the UK and released their eponymous debut album.
Success in the UK (1980-1982)
In 1980, the band's follow-up album Wheels of Steel, was released and charted at #5 in the UK. It spawned two hit singles: the title track, and the crowd favourite "747 (Strangers in the Night)". The album quickly provided the band with success and they began a series of long-lasting tours across the UK. On 16 August, Saxon appeared at the first Monsters of Rock Festival where they received a very positive reception from the crowd. The band's set was recorded but was not officially released until 2000. In April, Saxon made the first of many appearances on Top of the Pops, where they performed the hit single "Wheels of Steel".
Strong Arm of the Law was released later in the year, charting at #11 in the UK. It is considered by many fans to be their best album, and it helped to keep the band's popularity increasing. Two singles were released from this album: the title track and Dallas 1PM, the latter written about the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Sold out tours of Europe and the UK followed as the album charted in several European countries. The band had also gained great success in Japan where the single Motorcycle Man had stayed in the charts for almost 6 months.
In 1981, the band released their fourth album Denim And Leather which they dedicated to their fan base. The album is still popular today and the title track "Denim And Leather" is regarded as a metal anthem. The album also featured many other fan favourites such as "Princess of the Night", "Never Surrender" and "And the Bands Played On" which were all UK Top 20 hits. Denim And Leather followed its predecessor's success and went Gold in several European countries including the UK. By this time the band was seen as the leaders of the NWOBHM movement with future greats Iron Maiden and Def Leppard following close behind.
Just as the band was about to embark on a long tour to follow the success of Denim And Leather, drummer Pete Gill left the band after injuring his hand. The band had to quickly replace him with Nigel Glockler formerly of Toyah, who had to learn the entire set within a day and a half just before the tour was about to begin. Glockler is still with the band today.
A series of headlining tours around the UK and a sold out tour in Europe with support act Ozzy Osbourne, resulted in The Eagle Has Landed (1982 UK no 5). Originally planned as a double live album, the record company decided to release it as a single live album despite protests from the band. The Eagle Has Landed is still highly regarded . Saxon also played the 1982 Monsters Of Rock Festival again and became the first band to appear there twice.
Power & the Glory and EMI years (1983-1987)
As the NWOBHM movement began to fade, 1983's Power & the Glory, their highest selling album to date, saw Saxon cement themselves as the leading metal act in Europe along with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. The "Power and Glory Tour" was an arena tour that began in Europe, and was a huge success. The US leg of the tour with support act Accept proved to be successful and Saxon found themselves becoming a major act in the US as the album, in its first week of release, sold more than 15,000 copies in Los Angeles alone. The emerging glam metal scene in America would however prevent the band's conquest of the American market, as the genre was increasing in mainstream popularity.
The cover art of the album was produced by Hollywood film director Ridley Scott. In late 1983 Saxon left Carrere.
Saxon signed with EMI Records in 1984, with their first release on the label being Crusader. Though still heavy, critics felt the album had a more commercial sound, and fans began to wonder what direction the band was taking. Despite its commercial sound, the title track became a fan favourite. The album sold over 2 million copies and the 1984 world tour "The World Crusade" was a success both in Europe and America. In the US they had Mötley Crüe and Krokus as support for many shows of the tour as the band spent one year on the road. By this time the band was considered as headliners for 1984's Monsters of Rock at Donington, but scheduling issues and record label disputes kept the band from participating.
With the release of Innocence Is No Excuse in 1985, the band continued to take a more commercial direction and this created a division amongst fans as the band's once raw, heavy sound had been watered down to gain more attraction to the large US market. The album has, however, gained more appreciation both from fans and critics as time has passed since its initial release. A huge sold out world tour in support of the album followed, but tensions began to appear within the band and by early 1986, bassist Steve Dawson was fired from the band, and Saxon was forced to record their eighth studio album Rock the Nations without a replacement bassist. With Elton John making guest appearances as pianist on 2 tracks, and Byford recording the bass parts, the album charted higher than its predecessor and was considered a success. They hired bassist Paul Johnson to play for the band's European arena tour that followed.
In the summer of 1986, Saxon headlined the Reading Festival and toured the United States.
In 1987, the band took time off from constant touring and recording that had begun in the mid 1970s, and only a minor tour of the U.S. and Canada was scheduled. In early 1987, Nigel Glockler left the band and was replaced by Nigel Durham.
Decline of fanbase and continued European success (1988-1993)
The band found it hard to attain chart success in America; the release of Destiny (1988) did not change this, and Saxon were later dropped by EMI. In 1988 Paul Johnson was replaced by Nibbs Carter. At the time, Carter was only 22 and would later be credited for revitalising the band. Nigel Glockler also decided to return to the band. 1989 saw the release of Rock n Roll Gypsies a live album recorded on an arena tour of eastern Europe in 1988, but by 1989, the gigs at the big stadiums and arenas of Europe and the US were few and far between and with no record deal, Saxon's future was uncertain.
The band eventually decided to embark on a European tour titled '10 Years Of Denim And Leather' which proved to be a successful move as the band was re-established as a popular act.
In 1990, they signed to Virgin Records and started work on their new album Solid Ball of Rock, which was released in 1991 and proved to be a successful album for Saxon. New bass Player Nibbs Carter co-wrote three songs. In 1992, Saxon carried on this success with the release of Forever Free. The album was produced by Biff Byford and Herwig Ursin. A UK version of the album featured an alternate cover with a "Space Marine" from the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop wargame. "Iron Wheels" was released as a single. The song was written about and dedicated to Byford's father who worked in the coal mines of Yorkshire.
Departure of Graham Oliver and return to heavier sound (1994-2002)
Doug Scarratt joined the band in 1996.
During 1994, Saxon recorded the album Dogs of War. Just after recording was completed, Graham Oliver was fired by the band.The band replaced Oliver with Doug Scarratt, a long time friend of drummer Nigel Glockler. Saxon recorded a new music video for Dogs of War. 1996 saw the release of another live album, The Eagle Has Landed Pt II. They also recorded a cover of the Judas Priest song "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", for a tribute album entitled A Tribute to Judas Priest: Legends of Metal.
Saxon released Unleash the Beast, which was produced by Kalle Trapp and Saxon, in 1997. Saxon began their Unleash The Beast tour in May, where they played in Europe. Unleash the Beast reached the top 100 in the charts in Sweden, Germany and Switzerland. In November they played two gigs in Brazil (São Paulo and Santos) and ended the year with a Christmas show in Belgium. In 1998, the band toured the US, as well as also playing the Brazilian Monsters Of Rock. After relentless touring drummer Nigel Glockler took time off to recover from a neck and shoulder injury. He was temporally replaced by Fritz Randow.
September 1999 saw the release of Metalhead. The album received praise in Germany where Saxon had begun to play the Wacken Open Air Festival, where they later became a regular fixture. Saxon also headlined the first Bloodstock Festival in the UK. In 2001, they again headlined the Wacken Open Air Festival and recorded the live DVD "Saxon Chronicles". Saxon also released the album Killing Ground during the same year. In 2002, Saxon released Heavy Metal Thunder, a compilation album featuring re-recorded versions of songs from the band's biggest selling albums.
Battle for band name and Lionheart (2003-2006)
In 1999, former members Graham Oliver and Steven Dawson registered 'Saxon' as a trade mark. They then maintained that they had exclusive rights to the name and tried to prevent Biff Byford and Saxon's promoters and merchandisers from using the name. Byford applied to the Trade Mark Registry to have the trade mark declared invalid. He applied on the basis that the registration had been obtained in bad faith and that he was entitled to prevent use of the trade mark by bringing an action for 'passing off', that is an action to stop others misrepresenting themselves as Saxon. In 2003, the High Court declared that it was Byford and the current members of the band who owned the name, and were therefore in a position to prevent Oliver and Dawson passing themselves off as Saxon. After this Oliver and Dawson renamed their band Oliver/Dawson Saxon.
Fritz Randow left the band in 2004. His replacement was former Stratovarius member Jörg Michael. 2004 also saw the release of Lionheart their 16th studio album. The album title was inspired from Richard Lionheart, King of England. "Beyond the Grave" was released as a single and a music video. The album received positive reviews and the title track remains a fan favorite. Nigel Glockler rejoined the band in 2005. In 2006, the band released the live album, The Eagle Has Landed – part 3. The band were due to play that year's Dubai Desert Rock Festival and perform alongside Megadeth. Just before the band were due to play Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing had withdrawn the band's permission to play the festival. It was rumored that the historical lyrics in Crusader were the reason for this.
Re-establishment in the UK (2007-2010)
In 2007, Saxon were the subject of an episode of Harvey Goldsmith's Get Your Act Together. As part of his programme, Goldsmith wanted to try and restore their popularity and cement their reputation once again. He drafted in two new producers to oversee the production of a new single "If I Was You" (a song about gun culture), which went to number one in the Rock Charts in over 10 countries (becoming their most successful single for over 12 years). At the end of the programme, Saxon played at the half sold out Sheffield City Hall. Saxon also performed at the 2008 Download Festival.
Saxon's The Inner Sanctum album, released in Europe on 5 March 2007, and North America on 3 April, was seen by critics as their best work in years. The band then started a world tour in support of the album.
Saxon released a new studio album, Into the Labyrinth, on 12 January 2009. The album received positive reviews and continued the success that The Inner Sanctum had created. The band also headlined the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany. In February, it was announced that the band were cancelling the Spanish leg of their European tour with Iced Earth, due to scheduling issues. At the start of 2009 they toured the UK with Doro, and again at the end of the year they did a UK tour. In August of that year, they played at Sonisphere. In September Saxon announced the release of Heavy Metal Thunder - The Movie, a documentary on the band's history from the beginning.
Continuing their success in the UK, Saxon performed at the 2010 Download Festival, which took place at Donington Park between 11 and 13 June. The band played the Wheels of Steel album in its entirety to mark the 30th anniversary of its release.
Call to Arms and Sacrifice (2011-2014)
Nibbs Carter performing at Download Festival 2012
Saxon released their nineteenth studio album, Call to Arms, on 3 June 2011. It debuted at number 6 on the UK Rock Albums chart. The band embarked on a world tour which saw them visit the US; Saxon also revisited the UK for a second leg of the tour. The band announced on their Call To Arms tour that a number of fans at each venue each paying £10 would be able to watch them soundcheck. This was donated to the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy and Childline charities.
In December, Byford joined Metallica on stage to perform "Motorcycle Man" for the band's 30th anniversary show. Saxon were billed as special guests supporting Judas Priest at Hammersmith Apollo on 26 May 2012. Saxon also played Download Festival 2012, and were recorded playing "Wheels Of Steel" for the festival's Highlights show shown on Sky Arts. On 13 February 2012, the band announced that they were releasing a new live DVD and CD package entitled
Heavy Metal Thunder - Live: Eagles Over Wacken, which compiled their 2004, 2007 and 2009 performances at the Wacken Open Air across various formats. In March, Saxon won the Metal Hammer 2012 Golden God award for 'Best UK band'.
In October, the band announced that their next studio album would be titled Sacrifice and it was released on 25 February 2013. On 11 December 2012 Heavy Metal Thunder - The Movie saw an international release and was the first Blu-ray release for the band. 2013 also saw the release of a new compilation album
Unplugged and Strung Up. 2014 saw the release of a new live album named
St. George’s Day Sacrifice - Live in Manchester. The band also embarked on a tour in October of that year named Warriors of the Road.
Battering Ram, Thunderbolt and next album (2015-present)
Saxon at The Warfield Theater in San Francico 19 Apr 2018 Photo: Aaron Rubin
During an interview in November 2014, Biff Byford revealed plans for the band's next studio album, saying: "We're making the new album in January, February and March". In a March 2015 interview, Byford described the album as a mixture of Rock and roll and Heavy metal. When asked about a possible release date, Byford said: "We're looking at maybe at a summer release. It just depends on whether it's ready or not. We're looking at finishing the album by the end of April. We're keeping our fingers crossed."
On 1 August 2015, the band announced 16 October as the release date of Battering Ram and also premiered the official video of the title track.
On 14 September 2016, Biff Byford announced on Facebook that Saxon were working on a new album with producer Andy Sneap, for an early 2017 release. In October 2016, the band announced a tour in the U.S. for the early spring of 2017 with UFO. In a 16 March 2017 interview with former Anthrax vocalist Neil Turbin on Canada's The Metal Voice in Los Angeles, California, Biff Byford gave an update on the new album saying that several songs were already recorded with a few more to complete, with an estimated release date for early 2018.
On 15 June 2017, Byford revealed that the title of their new studio album was Thunderbolt. Saxon and UFO teamed up again for another round of shows in North America for the fall. On 7 November 2017, the band announced that the album would be officially released on 2 February 2018. To support the album, they briefly toured Europe and the UK with Diamond Head, Rock Goddess and Magnum from late February to early March 2018, and was the support act along with Black Star Riders for Judas Priest's Firepower World Tour from mid March to early May 2018.
In an October 2018 interview with Sonic Perspectives, Byford confirmed that Saxon will "definitely" record a new album sometime in 2019. He was quoted as saying, "We don't have to have too much commitment to timings. We're an established band — we can pretty much do what we want. If we feel like writing, then we write. If we don't feel like writing, then we don't write. Simple as that."