OLIVER DAWSON SAXON - "You Never Lose Sight Of What You Start With"

By Martin Popoff

Classic-era Saxon guitarist Graham Oliver and bassist Steve Dawson (co-founders as well, back to the Son Of A Bitch days) have had their legal scraps with Biff and the boys over the years. But the unit known as Oliver Dawson Saxon have now stepped past straight celebration of the Saxon catalogue into a whole new realm - a full record of originals, with the catchy title of Motorbiker, out in February on Angel Air.

"Well basically, it’s what me and Graham do best," begins Dawson (you can hear for yourself at www.metalthunder.co.uk, where all the record’s tracks can be sampled). "We only know one sort of way to write songs and perform them. And I would say it’s more in the era of Wheels Of Steel/Strong Arm Of The Law. But obviously we’ve gotten older and wiser, and modern technology allows you to do certain things with the sound. But basically it’s just a hard rock album, maybe metal, in the spirit of that era - in that classic Saxon tradition."

Hence, one can find the anthemic, songs that stick in the head, because, well, they’re songs. "Yes, well, I think basically, what really set us apart from the other bands of that time, was that we wrote more of what you could call a song, rather than just a riff with lyrics, you know what I mean? If you look at songs like ‘747’ and ‘Wheels Of Steel’, and maybe ‘Bands Played On’, it’s more of a tune than just a cliché heavy metal riff, I would think, with a singer who sings at the top of his voice."

"With Motorbiker, first song is called ‘Chemical Romance’, which is obvious," says Steve asked for a quick tour of the record. "It’s about drugs, and it’s how people end up getting themselves messed up with it. And then there’s ‘Motorbiker’, which is about motorcycles, and how great it is to be on a motorcycle, and then the next one, #3, ‘Whipping Boy’, that’s about how women bully men. And then we’ve got ‘No Way Out’, which is about the war between Germany and England, and it just goes on and on. We’ve got another one called ‘Sinternet’, which is about the perils of young people being on the Internet, and how people can take advantage of you. In general, I think when you hear this record, it will be" not a shock, or not how good it is, but how mature it is – and raw. You know, we’ve really stripped this back. There’s not like thousands and thousands of guitars. Everything is there, in-your-face."

And why Motorbiker? I mean, one supposes it’s obvious, given Saxon’s perennial links to the biker community" "Well, in the first instance, both myself and Biff had motorcycles," explains Dawson. "And obviously that came through in songs like ‘Stallions Of The Highway’ and ‘Motorcycle Man’ and stuff like that. But, really, the connection to the motorbiking world didn’t come from us. Because the bikers in the Hells Angels and people like that, they picked up on it and sort of made it their anthem. And they approached us to play lots and lots of their shows, and we still do now. I mean, as far as our version of Saxon is concerned, we play loads and loads of concerts for the motorcycle people."

"We’ve never, ever had a problem with any Hells Angels show, motorcycles" they’ve always been fantastic," continues Steve. "And they’ve always treated us with utmost respect. The only bit of trouble we ever had, with anything to do with motorcycles, was we did a motorcycle festival in the southern part of Italy, and they insisted on taking us to the stage on five Harley-Davidsons. But trying to ride on the back of a Harley-Davidson holding a bass, you can’t do it. It’s quite difficult, because you can’t hold on. And a lot of those motorcycles aren’t made for two people. And because I couldn’t put my" there was nowhere to put me leg. Me right leg was on the exhaust pipe (laughs), so by the time we got to the stage, which was about a quarter mile ride, I had burned through my trousers and scorched me leg."

With both Graham and Paul Quinn still knocking out earthy NWOBHM riffs to this day (Paul in the actual Saxon, with Biff), I asked Steve to sort of map out the difference between the two Saxon stringsmiths "Well, Graham" he’s always played a Gibson," replies Steve. "And as soon as he could afford, he bought one, and he still has the original one he bought now. It’s the one with the Jimi Hendrix picture on it, the SG. And in fact, we are endorsed by Vintage Guitars. They just made, and it will be on sale soon, a signature model of that guitar - they’ve reproduced it. And Paul was always" basically, in the early days, he always played a Fender Stratocaster. And I mean, he had other guitars, like Gibson Firebirds and Les Paul Juniors and stuff like that, but his main thing was the Stratocaster, but, it favoured him to do that spinning (laughs), because you could screw the strap locks into the back of the strap, and put the two together. That’s what allowed him to spin it around. And obviously a Stratocaster is a more workman-like guitar; it can take more trouble. But he did try with his Firebird, doing that, and caught the headstock on his knee and snapped it straight off. He was spinning it around (laughs). In fact, that’s on film somewhere, because he did it when we were filming a video."

In any event, start exploring Motorbiker, and you’ll find cogent demonstration of the guys’ undeniable adherence to that smart way of writing referred to earlier - essentially putting sturdiness of song first – all over the 12 tracks that make up this steely, gritty, sparks-spitting album of rock chestnuts" "Well, yes in the sense that, like I mentioned before, that we sound like we sound, because that’s how we play. We’re not brilliant musicians, by any shadow of a doubt, but, in the absence of not being able to be a virtuoso, you invent your own way of writing tunes, and that’s what the Saxon sound was, and is on our new CD, Motorbiker. I mean, I’m a bass player. I’ve learned myself to play guitar, in order to write songs. I only ever wrote one song on the bass and that was ‘Freeway Mad’, and you can tell really, because it’s just a basic riff. But in learning to play the guitar, because I wasn’t very good at it, you develop your own way of doing things. And a lot of the times when I wrote a riff, I would play it to Graham and Paul, and they would transpose it to proper chords, if you know what I mean. And it didn’t work. The sound wasn’t the same, so they had to play my invention of chords to get it to sound the same. I mean, on one song in particular, ‘Back On The Streets’, on Innocence Is No Excuse, they couldn’t get the idea of how to play the opening riff, but in answer to your question, you never lose sight of what you start with. It’s always with you."

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Fighting My Way Back: Thin Lizzy 69-76

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