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"Metallica were Our Support Band in America"

Updated: Sep 12, 2023


Aside from Dickie Bird and perhaps the Greenhoff's Brian and Jimmy you are looking at Barnsley's most successful export Saxon, 11 top 50 albums and over 15 million sales multiple hit singles and huge tours made them one of the most successful heavy metal bands of the era from the late 70's through the 1980's.


One of those who helped create the distinctive Saxon sound was Graham Oliver who was a founder member of the band and was with them for 11 albums up until 1995 and he is our guest on the show this month we met up a few weeks back to look back at the evolution of the band and how it came into being it all began with the coming together of two local bands "Blue Condition" who morphed into "SOB" and "Coast" who included Peter Byford

and Paul Quinn.


tim caple:

There was the coming together of the bands, and what was born was "Son of a Bitch" which was a brave title.


Graham Oliver:

Well, what happened is Coast lost their drummer and so we had a meeting, we bumped into him at the motorway services at Woolly Edge near Barnsley and we had a chat and Biff gave Steve a demo, a song called Lady and Biff wasn't singing, they were playing bass at that point, but he'd done the vocals on this demo and because they were going to join John Verity band, of course, until John Verity joined Argent and that fizzled out. So there were two loose end parts we only wanted Biff to start with because Steve thought he'd be a great singer. So it's down to Steve Dawson that Biff's a vocalist at all because he saw the potential in him. And Biff said he'll join if he brings along Paul Quinn. And I'd seen Paul Quinn in Mighty Mouth many times in the pub bands around Doncaster playing brilliant Wishbone Ash covers. He was a gifted guitarist back then. And so we joined up and we did gigs as sob. And we did a gig in London, not the Music Machine, another pub It was like on the Fulham road It was on a very busy junction. The name eludes me at the moment, but listeners will probably be able to remember it. Because Alan Bowne was in there, of the Alan Bowne site. And he said, you don't want to be called "SOB"you want something nasty, you want to be called "Son of a Bitch".


That name of course would't last long for the simple reason if they did create any hit songs

no one would play them on radio so it was down to the record company to tell them to change.


Tim caple:

It was it was Freddie Cannon, wasn't it? Carrera basically just said, listen, guys, unless you change this name, you aren't going to get any airplay whatsoever.


Graham Oliver:

Absolutely. Freddy Cannon, we were selling gigs out by this point around Newcastle. Because in Newcastle, in South Wales, there were tons of working men's clubs that were struggling financially. And so they started to have rock nights. And what they'd do is on rock nights, they'd dispense with the committee. So anything went really. And... So we were playing up Newcastle and we'd sold out the Sunderland Boilermakers. In fact, we got that big in these working men's clubs that if you weren't in for half six, it was just complete sellout, doors would be shut. And we did the gig and we went back to the hotel at the railway station. I forget the name, but it's right at Newcastle railway station. And Freddie Cannon had come up from London, he booked a room. Us lot were driving home at three o'clock in the morning. back to South Yorkshire, he got a lovely comfy room to go to. But we hammered it out because we've got a distribution deal in the USA and obviously they wouldn't have Son of a Bitch because it's a really bad thing over there. And so we didn't leave, we had coffee and sandwiches until 3am morning, until we came up with Saxon. Originally it was going to be Anglo-Saxon but we shortened it to Saxon. We went through tons of names before, too numerous to mention. In fact it was painful. Everything at first sounds silly. Imagine Deep Purple ha ha .


From that moment on the band literally took off in 2 years from 79's debut until 1981 Saxon released 4 albums "Wheels of Steel" and "Strong Arm of the Law" went Gold and "Denim and Leather" Silver tours sold out everywhere and the appeared twice , the first band to do so, at "Monsters of Rock at Donington Park.




The full interview with Graham is available on the latest podcast which is out now and during the interview Graham revealed that he has just been diagnosed with Parkinsons disease the good news is as you will hear, the medication is working well and Graham is playing as well as ever and looking forward to a number of live appearences between now and the end of the year, he had actually just come back from Japan when we spoke and the Tokyo shows were recorded so look out for those in the future and staying on the subject of new releases

"Oliver Dawson" Saxon have a new 6 cd box set titled "Screaming Eagles" out now

In this boxset you will find the "Motorbiker" album from 2012 and also 1995's "Son of a Bitch" "Victim You" studio album .

Lastly on this I did ask Graham what was the quintessential Saxon track ?

Not a surprise that the reply was "747 Strangers in the Night" which still sounds

as good today as the first time you ever heard it, I still have a 12 inch single version in that

pink/purple sleeve the colours of Carrera records.




One last thing from the interview if you listen you will find out the real story behind what happened when Harry Shearer joined the band to observe as they travelled around in the tour bus little did they know of course that a short while later many of the anecdotes and stories would emerge on celluloid when a film called "This is Spinal Tap" was released.


And on the headline of the blog"Metallica Were Our Support Band" yes they really were

on the very first live gigs they did


Graham Oliver:

Metallica were our support band in America, they did two shows at the Whiskey supporting us, second ever gigs they ever did. And they always remember us. And they used to talk about Donington were like their Woodstock. And on Death Magnetic tour, they still remembered that. And I says, can we have a gig when next time you play Sheffield, me and Steve. And Lars said, oh, you'd have to see a promoter. And it was me and Steve that picked them to play bloody Whiskey a go go, their second ever gig. So even with all their power and how big they are, they still can't call shots like we could call back in them. And so, yeah, we picked we want Metallica for our support from this bunch of tapes, what's been submitted. It's a radio promotion, you know.


That's it for now but stay tuned as we have some great shows lined up for the coming months


Tim Caple





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