Monday, March 4, 2002 @ 1:54 AM
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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 -- that 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 not, in my opinion, 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.