Nigel Glockler of Saxon: Back on Track!

By Jeb Wright

A brain aneurism rushed Saxon’s drummer into surgery at the end of 2014—twice!  The man is lucky to be alive, and he is getting ready to take his rightful spot back on the drum throne in 2015. 

In addition to touring their amazing 2013 release, Sacrifice, Saxon’s record company has announced plans to release two amazing blasts from the past in Heavy Metal Thunder – The Bloodstock Edition and The Saxon Chronicles… each with bonus discs containing rare live concerts from the band.

Saxon, and their fan base, deserves to look backward a bit, even if Glockler doesn’t feel totally comfortable with it.  The drummer prefers to ‘live in the now’ and concentrate on the future.  Indeed, every day for Nigel is a miracle and his attitude toward ‘living for today’ is both justified and a lesson to us all that right now is all we’ve truly got.  In the case of Saxon, however, we also have a few decades of some of the best music to come out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

In the interview that follows, Nigel talks about these new/old releases, as well as some of the highlights, and low-lights of his career. 

Careful not to spill the beans, or open any old wounds, Glockler still manages to speak openly about some of his favorite gigs, smacking Nikki Sixx in the arm, falling onstage and, when not in some sort of chaos, creating some killer music. 

Read on to discover which member of Spinal Tap stole one of Saxon’s guitarist stage moves, if we will ever get to hear GTR II, playing with Elton John and which Saxon album is Nigel’s favorite. 

Jeb:  Before even going into this interview, how is your health?  Are you still having some obstacles?

Nigel: I’m doing good thank you. I still have meetings with my doctor and neurosurgeon for checkups, but the recuperation is doing very well; they’re amazed at my progress. At my last check up, the surgeon stated that one in three die before they get to hospital, and that most people would still be in hospital at that time I’d been out for a month, so I think I’m very, very lucky.

It was my wife, Gina, who sussed out what was happening and got an ambulance called. Basically, she saved my life! Last Saturday, I got up at Shepherd’s Bush Empire to play a song with the guys -my tech had been filling in for me at the rescheduled shows- and it felt great.  I should be back full-time very soon! Now where’s that practice pad? Seriously though, I’m feeling very well and working on my stamina and muscles.

Jeb:  That is great news!  In addition, there is more great news.  Saxon is releasing two compilations with extra goodies for the fans in 2015.  First off, let’s talk about Heavy Metal Thunder, now with the bonus disc Live at Bloodstock

Nigel: We thought that adding the Bloodstock CD would make a good package. A lot of the times, this kind of stuff is handled by management and the record company.

Jeb: Back in the day, wasn’t Heavy Metal Thunder eight re-recorded tracks plus the tracks for Killing Floor?  It is kind of an odd project.  How did it come to be?

Nigel: I can’t really answer that for certain as I wasn’t in the band at that time, although I did co-write some tracks on Killing Ground. From what I understand, I think it was an experiment to re-record some early songs with the latest studio equipment, as technology moves so fast and, sonically, a lot of later albums generally sound better.

Jeb:  A real treat is the live album, recorded last year… do you remember the Bloodstock gig

Nigel: Bloodstock was a great gig, mainly for the reason that it had poured with rain all day, but, when we went on, the sun came out! When we’d finished and come offstage, the heavens opened again… it was very strange. I can distinctly remember how miserable it was backstage, with all the mud and the pouring rain and, then, when it was time for us, I had to put some shades on as the stage was facing the sun and I couldn’t see a thing half the time.

Jeb: I am really excited to see The Saxon Chronicles back out with the bonus disc.  As the guy on the album, what is it like to look back through footage from different eras?

Nigel: If I can be honest with you, I very rarely watch myself on DVD. I might watch it once, or twice, to see how they’ve edited it, and to note the general quality, but after that it goes onto the DVD shelf.  It is fun, however to look back on past tours, so it will be brought out again from time-to-time, particularly if I remember something that I want to watch.

Jeb:  Talk about the bonus disc that comes with this: Live in 1989.

Nigel: That was recorded during a short tour after I’d rejoined the band. The management of that time rang me up and asked if I’d do it, and the rest is history.

Jeb:   For us Americans who have never been to Wacken Open Air, what is the vibe like?  

Nigel: It’s my favorite gig ever!  Last year, we had 70,000+ people there, not just for us, of course… but for me, the vibe is tremendously exciting. The adrenaline flows on the walk up to the stage.  It’s fantastic!  For the audience, there are a lot of things going on around the site, apart from all the bands, so I guess for them it’s a lot of fun and a great event. I dread to think of the amount of beer and alcohol consumed!

Jeb:  Will all of you tour in support of these releases? 

Nigel: Wait and see!

Jeb:  Recently, you all did a documentary about the band that was excellent.  Everyone was in on it, and despite not getting along, everyone opened up.  What do you think of it?

Nigel: Are you talking about Heavy Metal Thunder?  I think it was great that everyone was on it, speaking their mind… but a lot of this stuff is so in the past, that I think it’s time to let any differences go; There has to be a time to move on.

Jeb:  You were able to experience the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.  What was that experience like?  I was buying those albums, but I have always imagined it to be a ‘wonder time’ to have lived through. 

Nigel: Yeah, it was like a breath of fresh air in the middle of all the punk/new wave stuff. I remember seeing the first Saxon album in my local record store. I got Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm, and Denim. I had the first Angel Witch album plus a couple by the Tygers of Pang Tang.  It was all good stuff, but, like any new musical event, all the record companies were falling over themselves to get in on the act so, inevitably, there were a lot of bands signed who didn’t break through and got forgotten, gems to be discovered maybe?

Jeb:  Fans might imagine that there was a huge competition between bands like Angel Witch, Saxon, and Iron Maiden. Nigel: I was playing in other bands when the NWOBHM exploded onto the scene, originally.  Of course there’s always rivalry between bands, but generally it’s nothing nasty.  You just want to be better than anyone else!

We toured with Maiden in 1983.  We had Power and the Glory out, and they had Piece of Mind- incidentally, my favorite album of theirs. It was a great tour; both bands got on really well and Steve [Harris] and Nicko [McBrain] are good friends to this day.

Jeb:  You are ‘more’ than a Metal drummer.  You were in many different kinds of bands, and I have always wondered if you were secretly wishing you were a Prog Rock drummer in a Prog Rock band!

Nigel: Ha, an interesting question! I’ve never really been into heavy rock drummers.  Bill Ward was a big influence and obviously Bonzo, but I’ve always been into more fusion type players like Simon Phillips, Billy Cobham and Lenny White.  Mel Pritchard from Barclay  James Harvest and Barrie Wilson from Procol Harum were two players I loved.  There’s an Italian band called PFM, and I used to play along to their albums endlessly. Yeah, I’d love to be the second drummer in Genesis-that would be fun! To play alongside Phil Collins would be special. I’ve just bought a couple of old Siouxsie & the Banshees albums. 

Jeb:  I am friends with Phil Ehart of Kansas.  I have heard you like his playing.  

Nigel: I’ve been a huge Kansas fan since their first album. I think every member has been a brilliant musician, and as for Steve Walsh’s voice: WOW!

It’s hard to explain about Phil’s drumming, I mean I know what I love about it, but it’s hard to put into words. He really has a unique style. Suffice to say there were many hours put into playing along with Kansas tracks. Please give him my very best regards.

Jeb: I have heard you didn’t know the guys in Saxon when they offered you the drum seat.  How did they know of you?  .

Nigel: I knew one half of their management team; I’d been in a band with him during the late 70’s. He made the first move and rang me up. I think they had heard my playing on a hit single I had with the band I was with, so they were up for me coming along.

Jeb: Did you really get an entire day and a half to learn the set, or is that just a story?

Nigel: Nope, that’s not a story. I had a blast with them Sunday evening to see if it would work, as I’d offered to stand in for a couple of weeks, as I had recording commitments with Toyah, the band I was in. We got together in Brighton on Monday, and the first gig was on that Wednesday and I’d bought tickets to see them! It’s actually two days I had, but I did have a notebook for guidance for a couple of weeks after that.  I’d written stuff down like which guitarist starts what song, etcetera etcetera.

Jeb: You were with Saxon during Power & the Glory.  That album was a game changer. 

Nigel: It was the first album I ever recorded out of the UK and it was an important one for me, as it was my first Saxon studio album. I felt I had something to prove, after all, Pete Gill was well liked so I had to put my stamp on things.

We recorded in Atlanta. I loved working with Jeff Glixman, the studio was excellent, and we even found a fantastic Indian restaurant in the city, which, funnily enough, was run by two Brits! And to top it all, Steve Walsh dropped by to say ‘hi’ too! He’d left Kansas and had his Streets project going.

I was so happy when the album reviews came out, too.  We’d all worked so hard on the writing and recording. I loved Jeff’s drum sound too. Actually, the production as a whole really worked, as the album had some balls.

Jeb:  Okay, what do you think of the videos from Power & the Glory… it was, uh, not so brilliant I must say.   

Nigel: Actually, I think most of the videos from that period were a bit strange. It seemed to be a case of video directors trying to out-do each other creatively, and not even bearing in mind what the song was about. I don’t think ours were THAT bad compared to a lot of others I’ve seen!

Jeb: I love Crusader, but a lot of hardcore fans said you were selling out.  I do hear a bit of a try for more FM radio play, but not to the point of selling out. 

Nigel: There are some great songs on Crusader. The title track is one of our most popular songs live.

We were under pressure from the record company and management to crack the US, even to the point where we were pressured into using Kevin Beamish as the producer. Kevin’s a really nice guy, and he’s done some really big albums, it’s just that I don’t think he was right for us.  Now if Jeff had produced it, who knows?

I can see why some people might say we were selling out, but it’s one of our biggest selling albums in Europe and when we play the tracks live, they’re heavy and powerful. It just goes to show how important the production is!

Jeb: What were Motley Crue like as young whippersnappers on the road with Saxon?  Did you all pick on them? 

Nigel: They were great and we got on really well with them. Nikki [Sixx] challenged me to an arm punching contest during that tour, you know where you have to hit the same spot until one of you gives in. We were both walking round with huge bruises for days but, I beat him! I saw him in the hotel restaurant one lunch time and he said ‘no more’… Brilliant!

Jeb:  There has to be ONE more killer story about that tour.  We’re all old now.  Kids are grown… spill the beans! 

Nigel: No chance [laughter]!

Jeb:  Krokus did some dates.  Marc Storace is a friend.  Any good tales to embarrass him? 

Nigel: No, sorry, nothing I can remember. Marc’s a nice guy; please say ‘hi’ to him from me. I haven’t seen him since then, although I think we spoke a couple of times on the phone shortly after.

Jeb: Monsters of Rock, 1984 Donnington.  Up on that stage playing… what is it like? 

Nigel: It was in ’82 actually. Yep, that’s another great festival to play.  That was my first big outdoor show and I was extremely nervous, particularly as our management had decided to leave my tech in the US. I ended up setting my kit up wearing a disguise.  We flew to NYC the next day; more about that gig at the end of this interview! The audience was amazing, but I was too stressed to really enjoy it.

Jeb:  Saxon continued with a more radio friendly sound in 1985 with Innocence is No Excuse, and the fans argued like hell over it as to whether it was ‘legit.’  Was there tension in the band over the same thing?  Is that why Dawson got the boot?

Nigel: It was our first album for Parlophone/EMI, and everyone wanted it to be a big success. Personally, I think it sounds a bit too polished for a heavy rock band, but there are some great tracks on there. No, that’s not why Steve was kicked out. That came after the Innocence tour, and I’m not going to discuss that, it’s private band business.

Jeb: Okay. Rock the Nations I liked as well, but Elton John on a Saxon album?  How in the hell did that happen?  

Nigel: I prefer Rock the Nations to Innocence as it is a lot more raw, production-wise. There are a couple of weak tracks on there I think, probably more from an arrangement point of view, but the management only gave us ten days to write it! It was ridiculous, but we did it.

We recorded the main tracks at Wisseloord studios in Holland, and Elton was there in another studio in the same complex. Elton and his band always seemed to be hanging out in our studio instead of theirs. One day, he just got his tech to wheel in his electric grand piano so he could jam on a couple of tracks -he asked beforehand of course. That’s how it happened. I think it’s great, and he was a good laugh too!

Jeb: Have you ever talked to Elton again? 

Nigel: I don’t think our paths have crossed since.

Jeb: You left in the late ‘80s.  Why and how did you get back into the group later on?

Nigel: I left in ’87 because I was pissed off at the management, and then came GTR, but that fell apart at the end of the year due to politics involving the record company and management. Saxon got back in touch the following year, and you know the rest!

Jeb: I have heard you are still involved with Steve Howe.  Is that true?

Nigel: I’m still friends with him and we keep in contact, if that’s what you mean. I played on some of his solo stuff after GTR’s demise.

Jeb:  Will we ever get to hear GTR II?

Nigel: Probably not, which is a real shame as it was shaping up to be a great album.  A lot of time was spent on the writing and arranging. We were actually pretty close to completing the project, tracking-wise, which would have just left the mixing stage.  There are tracks out there, but they’re totally unfinished and unmixed, so they really don’t do the songs justice, but I guess if you want to get a very rough idea what we were up to, then they’re ok. I’d love to go back into the studio and start again, but that’s a pipe dream of mine; it’ll never happen.

Jeb: Was it exhausting going through the court battles for name ownership?  That stuff has to just piss you off.  When it is a blatant attempt to swipe the name and discredit you and take your livelihood away… that’s bullshit. 

Nigel: Yep, it just becomes a big thorn in your side, but it’s water under the bridge now. I was away from the band during most of this, but was still involved. Biff took the brunt of it, I think. We don’t discuss it anymore; it’s just not worth it. Just move on!

Jeb: I don’t know much about Harvey Goldsmith’s Get Your Act Together.  That was a TV show.  How did Saxon get involved?

Nigel: We were approached by a television production company to see if we were interested. It wasn’t just about us; Harvey was going to help get different businesses more successful, so we thought we’d give it a go.There was a lot of stuff on the show that really pissed us off, too much to mention here, but any publicity is good publicity and the next tour we had a lot of people come to see us who had stopped going to gigs and didn’t know we were still going, or they had just moved on from music and had families. So that was a very good thing, and they still come to shows now!

Jeb: The last few years you all have been very creative.  Talk about Call to Arms, the 2011 album.  To me, that showed everyone you are still kicking ass and taking names.

Nigel: I think we were starting to sound a bit Euro-Metal, and we decided to get back to basics a bit more. We changed producers too, and stayed in England to record. I think all these factors helped to make Call To Arms the album it is, but better was to come!

Jeb:  I agree that even better was 2013’s Sacrifice.  Did you all realize how good an album this was while you were making it?  Did anyone go, “HOLY CRAP THIS IS DENIM & LEATHER GOOD”? 

Nigel: The only time you might realize you have something good is when it’s totally finished, mixed, and mastered. Sure, one can jump around in the control room to a track but, until it’s finally completed, you never really know how it’s going to turn out. I have to say it’s my fav Saxon album.  It was hard work, but a lot of fun composing and recording it. The band mood/vibe was great from start to finish.

Jeb:  I think the song “Sacrifice” is… dare I say it... the BEST Saxon song EVER.  I mean that. 

Nigel: Thank you. We quite like it too! I think my favorite track off Sacrifice is “Guardians of the Tomb.”

Jeb: I have heard you actually have refused to miss a gig and that you even played while you had pneumonia. 

Nigel: To cut a long story short, I went to the hospital in the US; we were touring with Cheap Trick.  I’d been trying to get rid of a fever for a few days, thinking it was the beginning of a cold.

Jeb: UDR seems to be really behind Saxon.  Are you going to release a new album on the label soon?  Nigel: We’ve been getting ideas together, writing, etcetera, so the studio is beckoning.

Jeb:  When you look back at the band with these two re-releases with all that cool bonus stuff, do you feel happy with your legacy with Saxon in the world of Metal? 

Nigel: Generally yes, but, in hindsight, there are a few things we might have done differently, not so much musically, but mainly business-wise. It’s not something I’m going to go into here. 

I don’t like looking back as you can’t change what has passed. You have to look to the future. I think we’ve been extremely fortunate to survive all these years as a lot of bands have fallen by the wayside. Our fans are amazing, so ‘thank you’ to each and every one of you for giving us a fantastic career.

Jeb:  Last one:  Is it true Saxon is the real life Spinal Tap?  If so, what is one good story that didn’t make the movie that you lived through with this band? 

Nigel: Spinal Tap was a composite of a lot of bands. We did have Harry Shearer with us for a couple of weeks on tour. He watched Steve Dawson and copied his stage movements a lot. Where he sticks his arm up, but keeps playing with the other hand was definitely copied from Steve. As far as I can ascertain, some of the incidents in the film have their origins in other bands mishaps, Yes and Black Sabbath are two that spring to mind.

As regards to us, a couple of stories spring to mind. We played in New York at the Palladium in ’82 and had a bit of fun with a couple of leaking dry ice machines. The stage there was sloping towards the audience, raked is the proper term.

I think this happened during “Dallas 1 PM.” I counted the song in and Steve and I started playing. By that time, the stage was about a foot deep in dry ice.  Steve rushed to the front and slipped over onto his back and completely vanished in the mist! Graham came running out to start the first guitar part and promptly did the same! They were both completely hidden. The stage was soaked by all the water from the dry ice machines and had become like a skating rink!

Another story was at a gig somewhere, I can’t remember where exactly, but it was at the beginning of “Denim and Leather,” which I always start with the drum beat. It was the first encore and I went to climb onto the drum riser, in complete darkness, and my foot hit a large coil of leads and I fell backwards off the back of the riser.

I was actually very lucky I didn’t break my neck as I fell onto the floor, as the riser was about three feet high. The funny thing was that the entire band was waiting behind the cabs to go on and all they heard, instead of the drum beat, was this loud yell from me and a thump in the darkness.  I think I took a couple of drum mics with me, but we soldiered on and the song got played!