When event organisers Prometheus Promotions told me a few months ago that they were planning an evening of NWOBHM not far from me in Northwich, to say I was over the moon is an understatement as this genre of heavy metal has been in my blood since its formation. When the final 4 band bill of Spartan Warrior, Witchfynde, Salem and Diamond Head was finalised I was over the moon.
Arriving at the venue early Saturday evening, one of the first people I bumped into was Brian Tatler, lead guitarist from headliners Diamond Head who recognised me from a festival I saw them at last June which was a nice surprise to say the least. After interviewing Salem it was a quick dash to the main hall for opening band Spartan Warrior who had travelled down from Sunderland, proven by lead vocalist David Wilkinson asking the crowd how his local team had got on in the afternoon. He formed the band in 1980 along with his guitar playing brother Neil.
Their 10 song set featured mainly from their first 2 albums Steel n’ Chains and Spartan Warrior. Set opener ‘Loud n’ Proud’ was an apt title for the full on delivery by the band with David throwing his mike stand around with aplomb. The stinging riffs and chugging midsection in ‘Steel n’ Chains’ from their 1983 debut preceded a furious guitar solo from Neil. Other highlights were ‘Breaking Sweat’ (also from said debut album), full of twin leads throughout with David’s lyrics portraying being in a band. ‘Assassin’ was an old school pounder with the drum work of James Charlton shaking the foundations of the venue. ‘Court Of Clowns’, which was full on NWOBHM with a modern edge and ‘C.I.L’, with its catchy but heavy Scorpions like riffing with air guitar heaven lead guitar breaks were 2 new songs from a new studio album due out in August, proving that their set was not just a nostalgia trip. Their set ended all too soon with ‘Cold Hearted’, another early classic with its solid riffing bringing to mind Ted Nugent in his prime but I’ll be catching up with the band again when they play Wildfire Festival next month.
Formed way back in 1973, Sheffield based Witchfynde were up next with lead guitarist Montalo and drummer Gra Scoresby still remaining from the original line up! Lead by the charismatic Luther Beltz on lead vocals, their 8 song set proved that any of the 4 bands on display could have been headliners. Their most famous song ‘Give Em Hell’ was surprisingly the set opener but it got the already ecstatic crowd even more fired up as Montalo peeled off one of many fleet fingered guitar solos. A “Good evening my metal friends” from Luther lead us into ‘Crystal Gazing’. His menacing vocal delivery over a crushing musical backdrop reminded me of the Rolling Stones on steroids. Based heavily on their first 2 groundbreaking albums Give Em Hell and Stagefright, they continued with ‘Moon Magic’ and ‘Leaving Nadir’, back to back gems. The former was a sturdy riffer with searing twin leads featuring Tracey Abbott on second guitar and the latter began with a slow burning, guitar heavy intro and heads were banging when the main riff kicked in. Song of their set for me was ‘Cloak And Dagger’, title track from their 1983 album. Dominated by the bass guitar of Pete Surgey, the riffs slashed away giving way for a feedback heavy solo from Montalo. Their heaviest song ‘Stab In The Back’ saw the band lock in tight as Montalo paved the way with more guitar histrionics. Their all to brief set closed with the storming ‘I’d Rather Go Wild’.
This was to be my third Salem gig in 2 years and this one was by far the most intense. The whole band were firing on all cylinders for their hour long set tonight. Maybe they were fired up by the positive reviews for their latest album Dark Days released the day before but whatever it was they were very animated, especially lead vocalist Simon Saxby who pushed his voice harder than usual and his dry wit had us in stitches. Set opener and title track from the new album went straight for the throat, sounding a lot heavier than in the studio through the punchy p.a system. It highlighted the rockier side of them with Simon front of stage waving the Union Jack on his mike stand, flying the flag for UK metal. All eras were played as they went straight into the guitar solo dominated ‘Fools Gold’ from 1981. The twin guitar attack of Paul Macnamara and Mark Allison showed their metal mettle in ‘High Stakes’ with a bombastic drum backing from Paul Mendham.
A double offering from 1983 saw ‘Rock Fever’ and ‘The Other Side Of Hell’. The former had riffs to demolish walls with as Simon said the songs topic was about how the band got together as more twin leads dominated whereas the latter song showed the more melodic side of Salem but still had enough balls to keep heads nodding. Twin leads and a mini drum solo finished the song on a high. ‘Tormented’, the second visit from Dark Days, introduced by Simon as “Available in the foyer” was another heavy number with a wall of sound hitting the front rows. A 3 song knockout blow came from the 2013 Forgotten Dreams album with ‘Hangman’s Noose’ from 1983 slotted inbetween. ‘The Answer’ featured a massive unforgettable chorus with a melodic, fluid main riff. ‘Break The Chains’ was my song of the set as they dipped their toes into AOR territory with a hook and chorus that sticks in your head immediately and set closer ‘Forgotten Dreams’ rocked hard with loads of “Whoa oh ohs” to get the crowd in fine voice.
Event closer Diamond Head could really do no wrong with the wealth of material to choose from, formed in 1976 by lead guitarist Brian Tatler. Along with the 80’s anthems they slotted in 3 new ones from their latest self titled album and they were just as well received. New vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen has given them a shot in the arm since joining the band in 2014 and the tour that followed inspired the writing of the new album. On the live stage he makes a commanding figure and his vocal range gives the old songs a new lease of life, point proven by set opener ‘Play It Loud’ which they certainly did with Brian trading solos with guitarist Abbz. ‘Shout At The Devil’, the first new track played was a speedy headbanger featuring a high range vocal from Rasmus and was followed by the hairs up on the back of the neck intro to ‘Borrowed Time’. Its heavy blues rock segued into ‘Bones’, another new track that had a riff laden full on finish and judging by some of the piercing guitar notes, its a good job the venue had plastic glasses! ‘To Heaven From Hell’, with some thumping bass guitar from Eddie Moohan was a much heavier take on the original.
‘In The Heat Of The Night’ was a contender for song of the night, especially when Brian ripped into the main solo. Before the last new song ‘The Reasons You Live’ was played, Rasmus made a point of saying that the band is the strongest it has ever been and the Memorial Court crowd agreed with a roar.The permanent smile from Brian through the set proved the point to. Its heavy rock grooves and laid back lead guitar solo gave way to a full on drum heavy finish from Karl Wilcox. Their set ended in an adenaline rush 80’s 4 song climax beginning with a frenetic run through of ‘Lightning To The Nations’ with more lung busting vocals followed by a short, sharp ‘Its Electric’. “Are you evil?” asked Rasmus which could only mean one thing. As the opening bars of ‘Am I Evil’ rang out it took me back to when I first heard it on the Friday Rock Show when I was about 17 all those years ago and it still has that same affect on me as I awaited every riff and every solo.
The band left the stage momentarily and returned with Karl teasing us with the drum intro to ‘Stargazer’. I thought we were going to get a cover of it but it was short lived as the band tore through a lightning speed ‘Helpless’ and then took their bows from the rapturous crowd.
Many thanks to Promotheus Promotions for putting on the gig and to Martyn Turner for the use of his photos.