Pandemonium Circus (SJPCD102)

This is classic metal with rip-roaring tracks like 'She' mixed with occasional lighter more Def Leppard like material like 'Too Late'. One of the outstanding tracks is the inspired, if on the face of it strange, choice of cover song in the form of the Lennon and McCartney penned Cilla Black hit 'Step Inside Love'. Add to this the fact that the last five tracks are live recordings from one of only two shows played in that period…and you have a great insight into what Steve Dawson is all about. Let pandemonium reign.

Adrian Lyth, Highway To Hell (Feb 2002)

Steve Dawson was the original bass player of NWOBHM stalwarts Saxon and can be heard on some of their greatest albums, like Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law, and Denim And Leather. Many an old Saxon hymn, like "Wheels Of Steel", "747 Strangers In The Night", and "Princess Of The Night" show Steve's handwriting. Yet without any explanation he was unceremoniously discarded from the band in 1986 and started working on his own material straightaway, which, for legal reasons, never saw the light of day until now. The sixteen tracks on Pandemonium Circus were recorded in numerous sessions with various combinations of musicians between 1987 and 1989, so this CD is an account of what Steve got up to immediately after he got the sack from Saxon. The album is more of a compilation of tracks than a coherent studio album and to avoid any misunderstandings, Pandemonium Circus is not a big release but is out on a small but dedicated English underground label. To be fair, you can't expect a production like those on the big labels, but there's a lot of dedication to the music on this release, and that's what really matters when all is said and done. Some of the tracks on Pandemonium Circus are high-quality demo tracks, others were recorded during rehearsals in a studio to be sent to a record label but were passed eventually and finally there is a set of live versions, recorded at Ranmoore College, UK in 1987. So you get quite a lot of variety on this CD.

The same goes for the songs themselves. The affinity to Saxon is certainly there. In the live recording of "We're Giving Up" Steve and his band dip into "Dallas 1 PM" and "Wheels Of Steel" as if it was the most normal thing to do and finally you get a live version of "Motorcycle Man". Pretty cool stuff. Of course, there is music in the style of the old Saxon as well, especially "Where Can I Hide" recalls Saxon at their best, but on the whole there is a lot to discover on Pandemonium Circus. The spectrum goes from real heavy metal (check out "Wings At Dawn") to Bon Jovi-style rockers ("More Fooling") and finally there are some AOR-style songs, like the mid-tempo groover "Answer To My Prayer" or the ballad "Too Late", so it is hard to pin Steve down to a particular style or sound. Pandemonium Circus is rounded off by a Queen-style cover version of Cilla Black's mid-sixties hit "Step Inside Love", which was originally written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

The musicians on the recordings do a brilliant job, so you get really good playing as well and especially Steve Johnson's vocal performance, who was by the way the last person to work with Phil Lynott, needs a special mention here. There's really good music on Pandemonium Circus, the album rocks and is extremely good fun.

Yet as far as the accompanying ten-page booklet goes, somebody is obviously begging for a bollocking here. This thing is full of spelling mistakes and typos, which don't make it look too professional and lines like "we're not mopping up or doing 'chicken in a basket' rock" with a nod to Steve's former bandmates do in my opinion not belong in a CD booklet.

Anyway, Pandemonium Circus is not only of interest for Saxon fans from day one, but also when you're looking for a solid and honest and fun-filled rock album, Pandemonium Circus is heartily recommended. Get the beer out of the fridge and play it loud.***

Daniel Höhr, KNAC.COM PURE ROCK European Correspondent

Fine studio material coupled with a selection of live tracks

Preview (April 2002)

An array of musicians on show includes former Saxon drummer Nigel Durham and there are screeching guitar solos aplenty. The live material including Saxon's 'Motorcycle Man') has a nice touch. While the main audience will be Saxon completists, if you like classic 80s metal, it's worth checking out.

Joe Geesin Record Collector (May 2002)

Pandemonium Circus is a cranking slab of raw rock 'n' roll

Jo-Ann Greene, Goldmine (May 2002)

…showcases his talent for writing catchy heavy rock.

Hartlepool Mail, May 2002

The album kicks off with the incredible 'She' and 'All That I Want'. they are followed nicely by The Beatles-cover 'Step Inside Love' that really has been Saxon-ified…This is an album that is frightfully close to a 10/10 mark and anyone who claims Steve Dawson is not sadly missed in today's Saxon deserves a good beating!

Miggo, (June 2002)

Right from the outset this has quality/excitement and anticipation stamped all over it with some seriously crunching guitar work and uncompromising rock…There are 16 brilliant tracks…over an hour of superlative rock.

Modern Dance #39 (August 2002)

...a collection of very impressive material...typical 80s AOR/Melodic Rock with catchy hooks, memorable choruses and some very good lead vocals...The material reminds me of bands like Bronz, FM, Shy, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard...Most of the material on this record is really quite awesome...great collection of AOR/Melodic Rock songs from the former SAXON bassist.

Strutter magazine (August 2003) will be quite surprised by the quality of the actual songs, which range in style from hard rock to melodic rock. Fourteen tracks contain vocalist Steve Johnson (who had previously done some work with Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott just before Lynott's death), and two tracks feature his successor Adrian Davidson. Both singers have strong presentations, although Davidson has a more 80s commercial rock style. The album also contains drummer Nigel Durham, who played with Saxon during the Destiny period. While he's never really been given the credit he deserves, Dawson's songwriting was an important key to Saxon's success.

His songwriting prowess is displayed on Pandemonium Circus as well, although some of the songs have a more commercial edge than those of Saxon. However, "2 Late" could have certainly fit on Saxon's Destiny. Fans of early and mid-period Saxon, 80s hard rock and melodic rock should pick this one up.

Score 4 out of 5 Battle-Axes

Chris Dugan - METAL DREAMS