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Saracen - 2003 Interview with Rob Bendenlow

INTERVIEW: Saracen (May 2003)
The return of Saracen, and some words with Rob Bendenlow.

WRITTEN BY: Gdazegod

'Can we still do the business? Course we f####n' can! Go for it!' So say the original members of Saracen, throwing all caution to the wind and proving that the glory days of melodic rock lives on with the release of their brand new album 'Red Sky'. It seems every month there is a case of a past act/artist returning to the melodic rock scene from distant days past. These occurrences send little shockwaves of excitement through the community, fuelling hope for yet more longevity to a scene that is being marginalized. One of those occurrences is the UK band Saracen.

Hark back to 1981 and a certain album by said band was doing the rounds - 'Heroes Saints and Fools'. A hint of Black Sabbath, a smidgen of Uriah Heep and a touch of Judas Priest. The band's earlier life as Lammergier was very successful on the local circuit up in the Northern English Midlands. Through into the eighties, the band morphed into Saracen, and released 'Heroes Saints and Fools' to critical acclaim (even revered to this day in some quarters!). However, chinks appeared in their armor around 1982/83, with some of the members leaving, and the band taking on a new label a new direction, and a second album 'Change Of Heart'. By 1985, it was all over, but the original energy and spirit of Saracen stayed true, particularly for guitarist Rob Bendelow.

Entering into the 21st Century, Rob was busy with his current musical vehicle Templar. They had just released an album called 'Come into the Light', the UK mag Fireworks had noticed it and reviewed it. The erstwhile chaps from Now And Then spotted it and contacted Rob. In a very short space of time, the thoroughly modernized version of Saracen was reborn, and a new deal was inked with NandT. I put it to Rob after nineteen years in hiatus, how does one go about resurrecting a band like Saracen? 'Surprisingly easily!' he says. 'Richard, Steve and myself are best of friends anyway, and we've kinda stayed in training with a few charity gigs etc. It all came back together quite smoothly.'

Recalling those 'heady' days of the NWOBHM, Saracen amassed an incredible following of local fans. 'Sometimes we'd play all three weekend nights, and gangs of followers would travel to all three concerts' says Rob. Though the music scene is vastly different now, including mainstream British music, heavy metal has never really gone away - a time honored tradition and a point not lost on the Saracen axeman. 'Yeah the media have never been quite sure, but critics don't buy records, fans do. As you say, proper rock music never went away, not even in those darkest abominal days of punk.'

Back then, one could perceive the imagery of olde Britain, manifesting itself with bands (and names) like Saxon, Sabbath, Witchfynde, and many others, though to be fair, Saracen's music was far more intelligent than most of that rabble rousing rock. 'True,' agrees Rob, 'but that doesn't make us any better (or worse). No one enjoys getting off on ZZ Top or Free at a party more than me, so I don't think intellectual aspects are in any way essential. If on the other hand you love a band like Yes (as I do), then some extra brain cells are required. I tend to be inspired by meaty topics, but not exclusively. I mean, 'Horsemen of the Apocalypse' is a massive biblical theme, but 'Flame of Youth' is simply about girls! How cerebrally original is that?'

As for musical comparison, Saracen had been compared to that other icon of British symphonic rock Magnum, though Rob can't quite make the connection. 'Some reviewers likened us to Magnum, but at the time I had never heard them. Bob Catley came to see us play in his hometown of Birmingham, so I checked them out after that. I could never see the comparison myself, but maybe I'm far too close to see the wood for the trees?'

'I guess we were something like a cross between Sabbath and Uriah Heep. A recent review of 'Red Sky' described Saracen as 'Styx-meets-Sabbath'! Black Sabbath are my favourite band by a mile, they have always been a massive inspiration to me, of course. Then so have Uriah Heep, Yes, Pink Floyd, and Judas Priest. Into the 80's, and The Scorpions, Heart and Bon Jovi grabbed me 'big time' while in the 90's it was (surpringly) Enigma. Great music all round.'

Rob's Templar project was also hard rock oriented, and on it he assembled an interesting cast of players, including some very young individuals. 'Sure - it was an opportunity to include some colleagues who would otherwise probably never get a chance to appear on an album. Plus they all made great contributions. It's still available of course, at the templarmusic website. Check it out.'

Back to the current day version of Saracen. The composition of 'Red Sky' is a mix of old and new, plus some tracks featured on 'Templars 'Come Into The Light' album. Rob explains the decision behind some of the selections. 'Mark and Bruce (Ashton and Mee from NandT) persuaded me to include the two tracks 'Heroes Saints and Fools' and 'Horsemen of the Apocalypse.' No problem there. They also loved the two AOR songs from the Templar album ('Faith' and 'Angel Eyes'), so we re-recorded those too. The rest were down to us - some old, some brand new. But for me, they all sit very well together. The decades between them have just faded away, as the lyrics say, 'like castles in the sand'.'

I have to say, tracks like 'Faith', 'Red Sky' and 'We have Arrived' certainly confirm Saracen's re-emergence as symphonic rock contenders. It is amazing what 21st century technology can do to your songs - up to a cerain level though, as Rob points out. 'Technology simply makes the task of recording and producing so much easier. But it doesn't write the music for you, or help you to hit those singing notes, or play those riffs.'

According to Rob, it seems the current standard of media interviews leaves a lot to be desired, something I'd have to agree with, as many sites and 'so-called' journalists resort to issuing out a series of questions and publishing them at face value - many with no idea how to construct an interesting story. 'I read a lot of interviews with AOR acts now (before joining NandT I didn't actually know what 'AOR' stood for!), and there's never any muso talk these days (guitars, amps, effects etc etc). That's a shame. Back in the good old-daze, write-ups always detailed the guitars used, keyboards etc, but now no-one seems to bother. So much of the talk is about business deals, and who has played with who in different projects. That's progress I suppose. If anyone's interested, I play Gibson SGs and Flying Vs, so there!!!'

Just a passing comment on that 'Heroes Saint and Fools' album. I think it still holds a fair bit of nostalgic value for many. Considering we're 22 years on from then, how do those tracks stack up after all that time? 'As 'true' today as they were then I think' says Rob. 'There's no fashion element to Saracen music, it's never been 'in' and never 'out'. It's there for people who love generally serious rock.'

And with that in mind, and with the latest album 'Red Sky' taking on the appearance of new and not so new, Saracen have a couple more album releases of serious rock up their sleeves with NandT. As always, quality and class will prevail with their brand of heavy symphonic rock. Fresh, with a new lease of life. It's also interesting to note that a proper CD release of 'Heroes Saints and Fools' will eventuate at some point too. As for the immediate plans of Saracen, Rob reports that they are already back in the studio, working on the next opus (provisionally titled 'Vox In Excelso'). As for gigs, keep an eye on both the N and T site and

Related Articles:
Saracen - 2003 Red Sky
Saracen - 2003 Interview with Rob Bendelow
Saracen - 2006 Vox In Excelso
Saracen - 2011 Marilyn
Saracen - 2014 Redemption

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