Armed And Ready – Kerrang! 1982 KAREN HARVEY
HAILING FROM Chesterfield, Saracen are one band that, by all accounts, are taking the North by storm. They acquired an enormous following in surrounding areas, even packing out major venues. The local press also succumbed to the band’s popularity. Describing Saracen as ‘one of the area’s most potent rock forces’.
Watching the band in action enforces any written statements as they play their own style of raunchy rock with some nice numbers included in the package; ‘Crusader’ and ‘Equinox’ to name but two. But a little more originality in their stage presentation wouldn’t go amiss. But musically Saracen keep right on the melodic track – to success?
The band. Steve Betteney (vox), John Thorne (drums) Richard Lowe (keyboards), Jason Gardener (bass) and Rob Bendelow (guitar) do take their music seriously and, to a certain extent, their wide success can be attributed to the backing of Saracen’s manager /promoter who, in a short period has encouraged them to broaden their scope. First came the release of their debut album. ‘Heroes, Saints And Fools’ and more recently, their coveted appearance on BBC’s Friday Night Rock Show.
Things are looking up for this well loved Northern combo and now it’s time Southern provinces took heed and reserved them a space in their credibility books. Observation worthwhile.
TWO GUYS with BA and BSc degrees, respectively, are now touring the country as members of a decidedly symphonic rock band that is influenced by the likes of Genesis, Black Sabbath and ELP, promoting an album pretentiously titled ‘Heroes, Saints And Fools’ which contains songs that tend to last well over six minutes! Hardly what today’s bright young things go crazy over, especially if you’ve picked up the filthy habit of tuning into TOTP on a Thursday evening, where the word plastic takes on a new dimension. Yet according to Richard Lowe, keyboardist with Saracen, the old school of rock fan is still alive and well.
“Our album was originally released last November on the same day as AC/DC and it outsold ‘For Those About To Rock’ in our home area of the North Midlands by a considerable amount. Our manager (the over-dominant Graham Robinson) was distributing the album himself, running all over the place, and no sooner had he got back home than the ‘phone would ring with people demanding more!”
It’s the kind of story that seems to be synonymous with every band that’s ever released an album on an Independent label, but in the case of Saracen there would appear to be more than a grain of truth in their worthy wordings. Decca Records have picked the Derbyshire quintet’s album up for distribution and seems to be interested in a deal of a more permanent nature.
‘We need a good deal very badly, so that we can give up our day jobs and immerse ourselves totally in the music business. Without an advance, we have to pay all our expenses out of our own pockets so we need our jobs to support ourselves. Yet the Catch 22 situation arrives when you have a gig followed by work the next day. We played Scarborough recently and by the time we’d unloaded gear back home, I got to bed at 6.30 am — only to be up at 8.30 am for work, with a gig that same evening. It gets to be ridiculous when you’re supposed to be in a position of responsibility!”
That’s what a love for rock’n’roll is all about and Saracen have at least managed to get further than many bands by actually getting their efforts down on plastic. ‘Heroes, Saints And Fools’ is overblown to the point of obesity and while it does contain some rather gross passages, at least shows Saracen hive something more to offer than a few straight chords.
The vinyl did little for me but possibly the band’s progression could yield an interesting style, combining more tasteful complexities with the commercial pomp style of the single, ‘No More Lonely Nights’. Drummer John Theme expounds:
“‘No More Lonely Night.’ was written as a single, with fairly banal lyrics for Saracen, with plenty of hooks to suit that market, and it’s a useful direction to go in while still retaining our integrity. We are considering a slight reappraisal of our songs to attempt to improve on what we’ve already done:
RICHARD: “The album can be improved on by a great degree, although at the time of its recording we were over the moon about it. We laid the tricks down in four days and had to mix them in five hours, because we were running out of cash. We learnt a hell of a lot from that record but we can do so much better. We can now make an album that will be as good as anything that’s available, because our songs are so good! With the extra attention to production and slot more time it’ll be the best album ever made!” Rob Bendelow is the songwriter whom the rest of the group admire so much, and John is not slow to sing the guitarist’s praises.
“He is a brilliant writer, getting ideas solely from inspiration – in the bath or walking the dog. Things are so easy, because he simply presents a song to us completed, it could be frustrating if we all wanted our own songs to be used, but it’s recognised that Rob’s compositions are streets ahead of anybody else’s and as we’re only Interested in the best for Saracen, we want to use his songs alone for the time being. We are getting a kick out of taking the songs and simply improvising our own ideas on them.”
Pretentious and overblown are words that have cropped up in connection with Saracen here, revealing a dichotomy of sorts in so much as the band are performing in halls which could be described as less than mega and which are possibly totally opposed to the spirit of Saracen. Richard knows what I meant.
“The amount we play and the money we put into our show makes it quite a spectacle, it also makes us poor! People have often told us that we really shouldn’t be playing the pub and club circuit with the equipment that we possess. It’s farcical that people expect us to walk into a gig with a guitar and a practice amp under our arms. Some venues have only one plug and we need 30 amps for the lights alone! We’re not quite in the Iron Maiden lighting stakes yet, but we’re getting there.”
Does this kind of music still haves niche for a new band? The likes of Genesis have retained their old faithfuls but can Saracen attract a new audience, which has been brought up on a diet of direct Metal?
“We do have empathy with the rock music of today as well as the old school. We like to get our heads down occasionally and if you look like Uriah Heap, there can be an effective combination of the two styles. We actually believe we can go one better than them. The world’s waiting for another major rock band and we’re going to be that band!”
SARACEN are certainty convinced of their own musical validity, and all that remains is to organise a proper contract.
“We’ve had people from the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Italy and the States wanting to release the album, which puts us in a strong bargaining position,” claims Richard. “We’ve played a few gigs in London and although we only get a quarter of the attendance we can expect up North, It’s useful for exposure. Of course it would help It we could open the show on a major tour, but that’s when the heartache would start lf we didn’t have a major contract It would be door die. If we had the chance to do something such as the AC/DC or the Saxon tour, then we’d go for it. But if It was only a half-known band, then we’d have to turn the chance down, because of the lack of financial security. We’ve got irons in the fire and we’ll see how it goes.”
You can’t say fairer than that, now can you?
SARACEN: ‘No More Lonely Nights (Nucleus).
While my enthusiasm for Saracen’s LP is still at something less than a high ebb, ‘No More Lonely Nights’ is one good single. Commercial pomp rock which had me swearing that filching from Styx’s Tommy Shaw
was the name of the game. The song isn’t anywhere near as instrumentally cluttered as the majority of Saracen songs which gives it room to breathe, while being short enough lengthwise to allow accessibility.
It seems an ironic twist of late that these guys were born in Chesterfield when they so obviously yearn to inhabit Miami!
SARACEN, DAWN TRADER, DIAMOND HEAD – Rock City, Nottingham
FOLLOWING the success of last year’s Radio Trent. Castle Rock Roadshow they’ve now decided to jump on the Caroline bandwagon (and why not?) and have them on a more regular basis.
The line-up for this first of the new batch of roadshows featured three names to watch out for from the Midlands. Saracen, Dawn Trader and Diamond Head.
Chesterfield band Saracen opened up the night’s festivities and needless to say their set consisted mainly of numbers from their excellent debut album ‘Heroes, Saints and Fools, but somehow the band just didn’t cut it on stage. Whether this was because it was the biggest crowd they d played to date (around 2,000) or an on-stage problem not apparent at the time, I don’t know, but I’d like to catch their whole set on another date as I’m told it’s a different kettle of Trout.
‘We Have Arrived’ (Neat) April 1984
Pomp rock of no particular circumstance, a mite akin to Pallas’ ‘Arrive Alive’, though nowhere near as good. Pressed on the thinnest vinyl I’ve ever seen – I mean, the dean thing’s almost a flexi-disc. – I wouldn’t leave the quilted depths of the Kerrang! Parker Knoll to turn it over, off or up. Onward. . .