On Set with Saxon Part 1: The Making of ‘Hammer of the Gods’

Saxon - Courtesy of http://www.saxon747.com

Metal legends Saxon have hit the studio once again to record their latest offering, Call To Arms, which promises to be the most exciting album the band have released to date.

Amped was invited to get involved on the set of the band’s latest music video,Hammer of the Gods.

Day 1

7.30 a.m., Monday morning, not exactly the most Rock n Roll time of the day, as I stood on the platform of Merthyr Tydfil train station I wondered what was in store for the next few days…

Boarding the train I wound my way through the valleys towards the capital, and my mind was rife with images of Spinal Tap-esque scenes; Saxon were the main inspiration for the fictional metal band, being followed on tour by Harry Shearer aka Derek Smalls who was ‘researching’ for the film.

On the road to Yorkshire - Photograph by Zara Jones

Arriving at Cardiff, myself and the crew loaded the cars with an unholy amount of equipment and hit the road with our pedal to the metal; Producer Craig’s foot was on the throttle and there was no looking back. As we headed for the secret location in North Yorkshire, there was an electric feel in the air, both Production Manager Zara Jones and Producer Craig Hooper had worked with the band on the comprehensive and informative Heavy Metal Thunder documentary, and were telling tales of their experiences with the Saxon crew. Preconceived images of decadent metal divas were dispelled, as I was reliably informed that the band were big tea drinkers as opposed to the Jagermeister devouring quintet that I had imagined.

Picking up two more crew members en route we were on the home stretch, and before we knew it we had arrived at our hotel, a grand manor building silhouetted against the amber Yorkshire sunset. The building’s interior was reminiscent of Guest House Paradiso, the quintessential English country retreat complete with wooden panels and a grand sweeping staircase opposite the reception desk.

Yorkshire sunset - Photograph by Zara Jones

I made not one but two trips to reception due to a slight mix up with keys, as I gingerly walked around the corner towards the desk I stopped dead in my tracks, in front of me was a tall man in a leather jacket with a mane of silver hair flowing just beyond his shoulders; despite having his back to me I knew that this was Biff Byford, Saxon’s charismatic front man. I wondered for a moment whether or not I should introduce myself, but as is often the case my mouth had already engaged, and before I knew it I blurted out “Hi Biff” in my distinctly alien Welsh valleys accent. As he turned around I was greeted with a firm handshake, before being told that we were sitting down for supper.

Sitting at a restaurant with a rock star is a surreal experience to say the least; Biff took his rightful place at the head of the table and held court for the three courses of culinary heaven with tales of life on the road. Later the rest of Saxon had arrived and we took our seats at the bar for a night cap before crawling into bed in preparation for our first days shooting.

Day 2

A room with a view - Photograph by Jarrad Owens

As I rose from my bed and opened the curtains I was greeted with a quite frankly breathtaking view of the Northern Yorkshire coast, the waves lapped against the cliff and the morning sun hung suspended in the clear sapphire sky. Despite the lack of sleep ,I was keen to get stuck into the shoot and sauntered to the restaurant for breakfast.

Sitting down with my bowl of cornflakes I was joined by Paul Quinn, Doug Scarratt, Nibbs Carter and Nigel Glockler; who seemed notably excited about the shoot. Looking out of the restaurant window into the daylight I noticed the almost medieval feel to the surrounding area; was there was a hint of Stone’enge in the air?

Walking out into the car park, there was already a large pile of equipment accumulating for the morning’s principle photography. I was informed that we were working with Biff’s teenage son. Sebastian, a drummer who would be performing for us on a nearby beach. The gear fitted all to easily into the questionably sized car, either the car had Tardis like qualities or we spent too much time playing Tetris as children; all packed up we made the short journey to Stoupe Beck sands.

Viking shields, or are they cymbals? - Photograph by Jarrad Owens

As we pulled up at the cliff top it became rapidly apparent that it was a long way down to the beach. Luckily we had a reasonable amount of time to prepare, so took great care in heaving Sebastian’s kit down the treacherous dirt slope. Once at the bottom we began to assemble our first scene, a semi circle of Viking shields (played all too convincingly by a collection of cymbals donated by drummers from the Cardiff area). Each cymbal was embedded into the sand, leaving a golden semi circle exposed to the near mid-day sun.

Biff surveys the scene - Photograph by Jarrad Owens

The arrival of Biff and Sebastian signaled the beginning of the scene, which involved Sebastian dragging his kit along the beach, before assembling it and playing a drum solo. Fortunately the weather was on our side, the sun hitting our Viking shields and providing us with a stunning gold shimmer. I offered Biff a beach chair as we sat down to observe the shoot; the 6 foot something Yorkshireman had always carried an air of bravado which a journalist would be hard pushed to infiltrate, but after conversing with him well into the middle of the afternoon he seemed to be warming to me.

With the principle shots for Hammer of the Gods in the bag it was time to reload the car and head off to set up the evening shoot. After scouring sand from the staggeringly impressive amount of cymbals Director Natalie had acquired I lugged the drum kit piece by piece up the arduous cliff side path.

Fire scene - Photograph by Jarrad Owens

The night shoot took place at a Clifftop which our hotel overlooked, the peninsula was once home to a shale quarry. Looking over the cliff it was easy to imagine Viking hordes landing on the beaches below to pillage the village. After setting up Nigel’s kit, I had to deal with some drums of a different variety.

The scene required a controlled fire, so oil barrels were strategically placed before filling each barrel to the brim with freshly chopped furniture donated by the hotel. With the timber lit the flames roared and the cameras started rolling. All was going well until our hired in generator decided to push Biff’s PA system too hard and fried the desk (maybe the desk wasn’t built to withstand being cranked to 11?).

Hammer of the Gods - Photograph by Charlotte Cox

A short journey back to the hotel where a portable stereo was commandeered , and we were back in business! We quickly moved on to the second scene just as the sun disappeared behind the horizon. Three flame stoked barrels were set up in a triangle with the band performing inside, whilst our trusty hire cars provided us with some studio-like lighting.I discovered a smouldering log makes for a fantastic off the cuff smoke machine and my skills were duly noted as a ‘sterling’ effort by Mr Byford. As we packed up Biff instructed us to “be in bed before 10pm and don’t drink!”, tongue firmly planted in cheek. Without a thought I retorted with “Yes, Uncle Biff”, which was met with a warm grin as if to condone my cheeky retort.

A well earned supper - Photograph by Craig Hooper

With the shots in the bag we made the trip back to the hotel to freshen up and get some supper. The Saxon boys went off for a curry while we dined on another three courses at the hotel. There was a great feeling of jubilance around the table as we tucked into our well deserved meals. With the band returning we hit the bar once more for a civilised drink, several frames of pool in the company of Nibbs and a ping pong doubles marathon which went into the wee hours.

To be continued…

Jarrad ‘Nöir’ Owens

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