Paul Quinn (Saxon)

Paul Quinn Live Wacken 2009

“Fill your heads with heavy metal thunder!”  A battlecry that will be familiar to thousands of Saxon fans right across the globe.

Strong Arm of the Law tour, 26 November 1980, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff. That’s when I first truly filled my head with heavy metal thunder. Not just my first Saxon gig, but my first ever gig.

I write about it in Words and Music. Suffice to say here it had a huge effect, not just on my life as a music fan but on my life! It was an absolute thrill, therefore, when Saxon guitarist Paul Quinn agreed to do a Q&A with me. So brew up, pop a whisky in the top, and have a read of what he had to say …

Paul Quinn Studio 2004Hi Paul! I’ve got to tell you upfront that Saxon were the first band I got into after Deep Purple, and you really shaped my conception of what rock music is all about. Can you tell us what rock music means to you?
Thanks, Michael. Heavy rock/metal is the natural conclusion and melding of black and white styles, hopefully with the exclusion of ©rap. Nothing against NuMetal, but the riffs replace the vocal melodies in intricacy. I can enjoy most styles, so I should say that many pop artists have wished they were metal – the Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’, for example. Also metallers are extremely loyal.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
As a child of the fifties, I was more interested in playing about outside than music, but certain things filtered into me that would later influence my early favourites, the Beatles and Stevland ‘Wonder’ Morris. As a lead guitarist I was listening to John Mayall, Hendrix Experience, Zeppelin and Purple.

Can you tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
The John Mayall Bluesbreakers’ “Beano” album taught me the intricacies of the blues style I cannot leave behind. The anger in Wonder’s ‘Living For The City’ and the emotion in McCartney’s voice during ‘The Long & Winding Road’ really get to me.

An artist who has stayed with you over time?
See above, but I can add Yes, Steely Dan, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, 10cc, AC/DC, Abba, Rainbow, Dio, Heaven and Hell, The Prince formally(!) known as an Artist, Pink Floyd, The Who, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Aerosmith … (somebody stop me!)

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
Getting Rainbow anecdotes from Ronnie James Dio was cool. Meeting any hero is great if you have the courage. Lemmy has always been approachable.

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
The musicians are often the strangest of the two. A numerologist fan told me Saxon is not the best name to add up.

Saxon circa Wheels of SteelI loved the vibe around Saxon in the NWOBHM days and the feeling of togetherness you got at a Saxon gig. What makes a rock gig special for you?
We tried to make it an all-inclusive party, and I would try (and sometimes succeed) to keep an even temper during equipment failures. The audience are more than punters, they are buying into the rock ‘n’ roll dream, as are we.

Your most notable or memorable gig as an artist?
The first Monsters of Rock at Castle Donington. We were total underdogs and the expectant industry-and-crowd-buzz was loud enough to quell our nerves and helped us cruise into acceptance.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
Taste at Sheffield City Hall. One of Ireland’s best, I unfortunately only met Rory Gallagher near the end of his life. (I was to meet him for a ‘drink’, the last thing he really needed.)

What do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
Have you got five minutes? I’ve got some amazing photos of you!

Saxon Live to RockSex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Sometimes one needs more than two of the above. Some bands used to smuggle drugs to and from America in speaker cabinets, but they never said if it was to sell on to others, or for their own use. I may have experimented, but I only did the rocking frequently. (I find even alcohol adversely affects performance, so prefer to party afterwards.) I think if you added cigarettes, those four would mean life.

A question about a different kind of excess. Did Saxon really drink as much tea as the anecdotes (Lemmy, Dave Poxon) and the old Kerrang! crossword clue (“Tea drinkers from Barnsley”) would have us believe?
It was both true and a gimmick. Most of us would have a beer. I liked a tea with whisky in. Most of us didn’t enjoy the coffee volatility.

How do you feel about the devilish and occult themes and imagery that some of the other NWOBHM and extreme metal bands adopted?
As long as they don’t ruin old churches I tend to take it as interesting subject matter rather than truth. I don’t have any beliefs except the perhaps naive hope that humans can do good for others.

Much has been said and written about the period in Saxon’s history – I guess from Crusader to Destiny or maybe a bit later – when it’s said you were focused on cracking the American market. How do you look back on that period now?
We had very bad advice from UK and US management, who were so old-hat that we were following their tastes, and forgetting that we were the generators of revenue, therefore the bosses of our own direction. Some of us had broad musical tastes that would permit experimentation and fusion with chart material, as Thin Lizzy did so very well. It was, and still is true that a band finds staying afloat difficult without the United States fans.

For me the problem wasn’t the slower tracks and ballads – there was always variety, melody and versatility in your music. It was more that the straight ahead rockers lost some of the rawness and passion of early Saxon. Do you think that’s a fair appraisal of your more ‘commercial’ period?
Over produced, over dubbed and over there; correct. It was like a correctional institution to wipe the Deep Purple influence from our brains.

Saxon album coverIn recent years Saxon have hit top form again and have enjoyed something of a resurgence. How do you view what you do as an artist now?
With an average of an album every 18 months for our 20 albums worth of career, I am glad we’re still careering around like lunatics. We will continue until someone buys them!

Is there a particular piece of music, or album or performance for which you would most like to be remembered?
The new album is called Sacrifice; it is where we are now – sod fashion!

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
You’re sad and tasteless. Rave music should be on a bonfire.

I’ve got to ask, as it’s puzzled me for more than 30 years. The nickname attributed to you on the first album – ‘Blute’ – what’s that all about?
I have coincidentally gone back to my Son of a Bitch image with the beard that spawned the shortening of Bluto. Both Graham and I were Popeye cartoon addicts.

And finally, what can Saxon fans look forward to in 2013?
The beginning of a new Mayan calendar, and Saxon’s ascension to the Pantheon of Rock, with your help.

Saxon Wacken 2009


For news and up-to-date Saxon information, visit the official Saxon website

Photos from the official Saxon website

Paul Quinn at Wacken and Wacken crowd shot by Kai Swillus

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