Gig Review: Judas Priest / Saxon / Uriah Heep – Hydro, Glasgow (11th March 2024)

What a night, and what an honour to be the opening show for Judas Priest’s mammoth Invincible Shield world tour. And what a support package, with two fellow long-timers in tow to get the crowd rocking prior to the leather-clad headliners taking to the stage.

As Bernie Shaw stated early in the Uriah Heep set, there is approximately 150 years of band history between the three acts on stage tonight. Let that sink in. These classic bands have, on average, each been producing music for as long as I have been alive. It genuinely blows my mind to realise that Priest’s Rocka Rolla came out when I was not even a year old. Both they and Uriah Heep were formed in 1969, with Saxon being the comparative youngsters as they didn’t get together until 1975.

Uriah Heep (c) Gary Cooper

Given the ages of the bands, it’s no surprise that not a large number of founder members are stage tonight. The openers, Uriah Heep, feature only guitarist Mick Box from that 1969 line-up and he looks, and plays, incredibly well. I don’t like to use the phrase “for his age”, but for crying out loud the man is 76 years of age. Regardless, stage left seems to be his territory and he rocks it with aplomb and a huge smile.

Now, I’ve heard of Uriah Heep and I know our photographer tonight has seen them umpteen times… but I haven’t. I also don’t think I’ve knowingly heard a single song of theirs before tonight, and for no real reason. I had it in my head they were kind of old 70s rock and not my kind of thing. And I was very, very wrong. Wrong enough that I was upset at missing out on two tracks due to their late start – technical issues with the keyboard, apparently – resulting in a truncated set. Taken as a collection of songs, their new material (they opened with the live debut of “Save Me Tonight” which, along with “Hurricane” that was also played for the first time, is on their latest release) fits right in alongside the classics.

All five members were smooth, unruffled and didn’t let the late start get to them. Hell, they seemed to be loving it and drummer Russell Gilbrook looked to enjoy playing “Gypsy” at least as much a the crowd enjoyed hearing it. The three- and four-way vocal harmonies were superb, and Shaw himself is like a barely restrained Bruce Dickinson in terms of vocal range and style.

Their all-to-short performance culminated in a blasted rendition of “Land of Hope and Glory” as the band took a bow like the headliners they very well could have been. I know some people who commented on our Facebook on the night said they were there, or were going to upcoming dates, mainly to see Uriah Heep. On the strength of the slot tonight I can absolutely see why, and I can definitely believe that they could slam together ninety minutes of great entertainment in their own right.

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The next big-hitter was Saxon, this time featuring two founding members… though guitarist Paul Quinn no longer tours with the band, his slot taken by Diamond Head founding member Brian Tatler. Hey, if you’re going to get someone to cover for you, this is impressive – and he is of a similar vintage with Diamond Head themselves forming in the mid-late 70s. This left frontman Biff Byford as the only on-stage original member, and he really looked like he ruled the roost.

Saxon (c) Gary Cooper

Biff is 73 and carries himself well, happy to stroll around the stage and, as with Shaw, his vocals were spot on. Sure, I bet he used to run around the place and climb the rigging, but he’s still got the stage presence, he still has the attitude, and the band still have the songs. Another band I’ve not seen live before, I had at least heard a couple of their songs prior to the show, but they exceeded expectations.

The Saxon uniform seems to be “black”, with Byford in his trademark jacket-of-many-buttons, often looking like he was lecturing rather than singing, especially during the opening track. It was like he was ensuring that the audience was up to scratch. I think we passed muster once he demanded we all get on our feet (the venue was 100% seated), and everyone did as they were told – “Scotland! You’re the home of the brave, so you should be the home of the standing!”

Like Uriah Heep, they mixed brand new material with classic cuts. Four songs received their live debuts, kicking off with their latest album’s title track. It’s a brave decision to be playing a shorter support slot and still fill it with a substantial amount of songs that many won’t know (but as Byford said, if you don’t have the album by now “just fucking steal a copy”). However, as someone generally unfamiliar with their stuff, I couldn’t on the whole tell the new songs from the classics. Which is a good thing, it all blended well together. Hell, “Fire and Steel” was one of the best tracks they played, a definite metal song through and through.

It was nice giving the crowd the choice of “Crusader” or “Dallas 1pm”. The crowd clearly voted with their voices for the latter, before Byford took a bit of time to talk about their history as a band, touring and Glasgow specifically. The Glasgow Apollo was mentioned (“a fantastic… shithole”), before the final run of tracks – each one a crowd favourite.

They played for a little over an hour and the time flew by. I’m glad I’ve ticked them off the list, but not as glad as I am that they’re still touring. Biff is a respected legend, and from this performance I can clearly see why. The rest of the band may not have been there from day one, but they play as if they have known each other that long.

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And on to Judas Priest, arguably the only band with no founding members still remaining, but that’s if you include the pre-Rocka Rolla era before they settled down into a semi-stable line-up. If you take that period as the starting point, then Rob Halford and Ian Hill are the two still treading the boards, though Glenn Tipton has been an ever-present in the studio. Halford, though, is very much the man in the public’s eye and, fairly or unfairly, seems to be the centrepiece of the band.

Judas Priest (c) Gary Cooper

It’s a shame, therefore, that his opening salvo of lyrics to “Panic Attack” (a live premiere) were… lacklustre. After the intro to “War Pigs” and tour anthem kicking in, the band had erupted on stage in a very shiny ball of silver and spikes, launching into the new song. I was ten rows from the front, and slap in the middle (people always say the sound was different where they were, so I’m just giving you an idea), and wearing ear plugs so the sound quality wasn’t bad. But Rob’s voice was. Perhaps surprisingly, the legendary high notes were fine. It was more the mid- and low-ranges where he wasn’t hitting the target.

Thankfully things improved as the song, and the show, proceeded. It was the first date, and I doubt any amount of rehearsals really prepares you for walking out in front of an audience for the first time in however long. Once we went through “Rapid Fire” and onto “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”, things had settled and my fears were allayed.

“Metal Gods” featured the now-familiar animation and Halford’s robotic walk, and by “Lightning Strike” the Hydro’s usual sound issues started to appear. While overall the sound was OK, the balance was all over the place, and the guitar solos were quieter than the rhythm and vocals when they should have been wailing front and centre. This was a theme for the evening, and probably more noticeable with my earplugs in.

Judas Priest (c) Gary Cooper

The music, though… With 19 albums over 50 years to pull from, the classics overflowed though we did get a handful from the recently-released Invincible Shield. A few songs got their first dusting-off in some time as well. “Love Bites” hasn’t been played live in almost a decade, though I admit it’s not exactly a favourite of mine being quite a repetitive number. “Saints In Hell” was a slightly more welcome archive retrieval, finally seeing the light of day for the first time since 2019.

The audience were definitely lapping up the better-known songs, though. “Turbo Lover”, “Breaking The Law” and “Screaming For Vengeance” had them rocking. By the time we approached the tail end of the main set, Halford took a breather to have a brief chat with the crowd. He actually brought up the Glasgow Apollo that Biff Byford mentioned earlier, only Halford’s story included chatting to Billy Connolly in a bar next door as well! He rounded off saying that he’s “not one to talk” which is a hell of a shame as I’m sure he’s got some great stories to tell.

The set ended with four bangers that you could probably guess, so I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who prefers to have a little bit of mystery before they go to the show themselves. The climax of the main set (pre-encore) was introduced by drummer Scott Travis, which made a nice change from the more mobile members of the band getting the spotlight. In addition, footage of Glenn Tipton was shown on the huge screens during a couple of the songs, which raised deserved cheers from the audience. We know he’d be there in person if he could.

Another quality night from Priest, if not the most accomplished show I’ve seen from them. The package, though, is incredible and showcases the longevity… hell, the permanence, of quality music and those who make it. I doubt anyone going to see this tour will walk out disappointed.

Photos by Gary Cooper Photography

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