British Steel Festival - Camden Underworld, London, 31st March 2012British Steel Festival - Camden Underworld, London, 31st March 2012

Now in its sixth year, for the first time the annual NWOBHM pilgrimage to the Camden Underworld wasn’t headlined by a well-known name from the early Eighties. GUNSLINGER came into being back in those exciting days, but it was all over pretty quickly and founder member and bassist/vocalist Alan Davey joined Hawkwind and stayed for twenty-odd years. Tinkering in the studio in 2007 led him to reform Gunslinger and the line-up is now settled with his Louis Davey – Alan’s nephew – on guitar and Cat on drums. Musically they inhabit the same orbit as Motörhead – “we have a sound no-one else can make,” says Davey, “with the exception of Motörhead who we are very heavily influenced by: only Lemmy and I can play bass that way” – although there’s a tad more melody in the mix (“a cross between Motörhead and Led Zeppelin is a common comment, and, believe me, I’m good with that!” laughs the bassist/vocalist). Loud and brash, and with a drummer who thrashed the kit to within an inch of its life, Gunslinger proved to be a real tour-d-force on the night. Unfortunately, the strict curfew meant that their planned encore of ‘Hound Dog’ (reprised from the new single ‘Lessons In Logic’) had to be omitted, but no-one seemed to mind and there were smiles all around as people filed from the venue at the end of the evening.

Set: Don't Need You / Savage Love / Going In For The Kill / Lessons In Logic / All The Way / If The Bombs Don't Get Ya, The Bullets Will / Blitzkrieg Baby / Someone's Got You In The Gunsights / Night Song 2 / Night Song

Aside from Gunslinger the rest of the bands had NWOBHM running through them like the name in a stick of rock. SOLDIER kicked things off and although only guitarist Ian Dick and bassist Steve Taylor remain from the band’s glory days vocalist Richard Frost, drummer Alex Smith and hyperactive second guitarist (and NWOBHM fan) Miles Goodman breathed new life into the older songs while newies like ‘Lock ‘N’ Load’ stood shoulder to shoulder with the classics (which included the more melodic ‘Fire In My Heart’ and the arrogant and pushy ‘Storm Of Steel’). Despite the strength of the new material though the highlight of the set – for me at least – was ‘Sheralee’, the band’s only single from the Eighties and one of the greatest songs the NWOBHM produced: it was so cool to finally see and hear it live, with Dick and Goodman trading solos as the song played out. There’s a new album entitled ‘Bedlam’ in the can: “no ballads, just straight British heavy metal with loads of twin guitar work” notes Dick, and if that doesn’t make you sit up and salivate, you’d better check you’ve still got a pulse.

Set: Infantricide / Storm Of Steel / Lock N’ Load / Silver Screen Teaser / The Demon In The Room / Fire In My Heart / I Can’t Breathe / Sheralee

WEAPON of course should have been HUGE in the Eighties. As virtual unknowns they were picked up to support Motörhead on their 1980 tour and were instantly catapulted from the club scene to the Odeons, playing to thousands of receptive fans every night. Unfortunately though, things didn’t pan out as they should have and like Soldier before them Weapon bowed out with just one single – ‘It’s A Mad Mad World’ c/w ‘Set The Stage Alight’ – as their legacy. But with bassist PJ Phillips and drummer Ian Sweeting alongside founder members Danny Hynes (vocals) and Jeff Summers (guitar) the band are up-and-running once more. Their set projected a more balanced view of new and older material as they presented the likes of ‘Fountain Of Paradise’ and ‘Blood-Soaked Rock’ as well as the three minutes of splendour that is last year’s (download) single ‘Ready 4 U’. But no matter how good the new material is – and it is good, believe me! – it was still the inevitable set closer ‘Set The Stage Alight’ that brought the roof down. Another band working on a new album, Weapon are keen to make up for lost time and it’s going to be interesting to see how their first real album – the posthumous 2003 CD aside – shapes up when it’s released later in the year.

Set: Intro / Ride The Mariah -New song / Liar / Killer Instinct / Ready 4 U - The single / Fountain Of Paradise - New song / It's A Mad Mad World / Midnight Satisfaction / Blood-Soaked Rock - New song / Set The Stage Alight

Coming at things from a more bluesy angle, GASKIN occupied the middle slot of the evening. Originally a three-piece when the band came together and recorded its debut single ‘I’m No Fool’ the band has spent much more time as a quartet and founder members Paul Gaskin and Dave Norman are now joined by Andy Solomon on guitar and Mick Cross on bass. “Mick has been on the local scene for years, known to Andy and to me; at the beginning of 2010 we auditioned three or four guys, and he just stood out,” Norman had said prior to the gig. “And Andy played at Wacken, and guested with us in 2006 at the Anniversary gig. He rejoined late in 2009 I guess. He is an absolutely amazing, top notch lead guitar player, and I think jaws will drop when he plays at Camden!” And he’s not wrong either. Cross is a solid player, keeping things rock steady and locking in beautifully with Norman’s drumming, and Solomon, a player with flair and panache, is the perfect counterpoint to Gaskin’s less showy but more fluid style. Book-ending their set with the two sides of their debut single, guitarist/vocalist Paul Gaskin led the band through a time machine of a set, forty minutes which encapsulated the very best of the band’s output. There was also time for ‘The Contract’, the title track of their latest EP and a taster for their forthcoming album ‘Edge Of Madness’. Closer ‘I’m No Fool’ had everyone leaping around like a loon, of course, but my over-riding memory of the set was just how easy Paul Gaskin made those solos look.

Set: Sweet Dream Maker / Tomorrow Today / Still Got The Hunger / The Contract / No Way Out / Come Back To Me / End Of The World / I'm No Fool

Of course, it wouldn’t be British Steel without Elixir, and despite guitarist Phil Denton feeling under the weather they still turned in an exciting, no-nonsense set, a hit-and-run cross-section of songs that show why they are so revered by fans of the genre despite coming to the fore as the NWOBHM was waning. Original plans to showcase more of ‘Sovereign Remedy’ were shelved to play a more cross-the-board set, and it was interesting to see how songs off the newest album ‘All Hallows Eve’ have bedded in nicely with the band’s older material. In front of an enthusiastic crowd Denton and his partner Norman Gordon traded solos like guitarists possessed, the rhythm section of Dobbs brothers Kevin and Nigel kept things tight at the back and up front Paul Taylor seemed to be having the time of his life, even teasing the crowd with a snippet of ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’ during ‘Deal With The Devil’. The personal highlight was ‘The Pagan Queen’ from the latest album, although ‘Knocking On The Gates Of Hell’ has to be noted as possibly one of the best metal songs of all time. Things of course wrapped up with Elixir’s trademark outing and ultimate crowd-pleaser ‘Treachery’, the song they once wondered about dropping from their set. What were they thinking!

Set: Intro / All Hallows Eve / The Pagan Queen / You're Not Fooling Me / The Idol / Born Loser / Deal With The Devil / Knocking On The Gates Of Hell / Treachery

© John Tucker April 2012