Where Eagles Dare.... Biff Byford speaks Out!!
Legends are what Saxon are, these Yorkshire boys from the UK stand for what is Heavy metal music, tall and proud!! Like Judas Priest, Motorhead, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden who have made metal for what it is today classic metal at it's best.
Saxon once formed under the original name of 'Son of a Bitch' back in 77 when Biff Byford and Paul Quinn met Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson and Pete Gill ( who later on joined Motorhead). The band set out in South Yorkshire to made some noise and that's what they did, and soon were picked up by French label Carrere, a small label who were part of EMI. The band soon released their debut album in 79 simply under the title 'Saxon', which soon saw the band hitting the charts and touring in Europe.
Many albums would follow with the classics 'Denim & Leather', 'Power & The Glory', 'Wheels of Steel', 'Strong arm of the Law' and later on 'Crusader'. The band were soon topping the charts and appearing on UK chart show 'Top of the Pops' and many more shows within the UK and Europe.
The band in total have released 21 studio albums to date and with 'Thunderbolt' been the bands 22nd album to be released in early 2018 there is no stopping this band and why should there be? This year sees the Anniversary of the Eagle and with the new compilation album 'A decade of the Eagle' just been released and what better time to catch up with front man Biff to talk about this album and the forthcoming album and tour. So sit back read on and crank it up loads because the boys are back in town soon!!
Welcome Biff hope you are well? Thank you for doing this interview. I would like t start by asking you what favourite albums from the past do you have any why?
"Hi Jason good speak to you. To answer your question, I really don't have a favourite album to be honest. I do however like 'Wheels of Steel' because that was a big album for us. There is nothing practical special if you know what I mean. The 1st 4 albums had good memories."
Do you remember what was your favourite tour for those album? Do you have any favourite songs at all?
"Well in those days we did so many tours, I think that 'Denim and Leather' was the best tour to be fair. It was Nigel's 1st tour with the band and we got to play the best songs from all 3 albums and it wasn't the biggest tour but certainly my favourite of the early tours. The biggest tour was 'Innocent is no Excuse'.
No I don't have any favourite songs to be honest, with us it's what the audience chose for us to play live. We have some really big songs that everybody knows and like 'Princes of the Night', 'Denim & Leather', 'Wheels of Steel'. If I had to pick a favourite song I would pick 'Princess of the Night' because it has a great guitar riff and very powerful vocals."
I remember those songs watching 'Top of the Pops' as a kid.
(Laughing) "A lot of the kids in the UK remember that and the songs like 'The bands played On' was a big success on there as well as 'Never Surrender' which are both of the 'Denim and Leather' album."
Having former Toyah Willcox drummer Nigel in the band must of been a little stranger for the band and the fans at the start?
"No not really, he's a drummer and he is a great one at that, I think the fans accepted him and he proved how great a drummer he is working with Saxon. He was a Rock drummer in a Punk band."
How do you maintain your voice to be in such a strong and powerful state over the years? How do you keep your voice in trim?
"Well I don't do anything to keep it in trim. I never do any warm up before a show like some artists do, and yes it is amazing how I keep it in such good shape. I don't know why it's stayed like it has, I just get on with it."
I have never asked you these before Biff, but who are your favourite singers that you grew up with in Rock?
"Well when I 1st started out I wasn't a singer I was a bass guitar player. I would do backing vocals and the early singers pasted me by. I was always liked great song writers which is a bit different and I was a big fan of Zeppelin , Sabbath in their early days and people like Ian Gillan and I like all singers though not only Rock singers and if there a good singer so be it. To be honest I don't have an idol that I would copy and I just started to sing and I know it's not a very good answer but it is true. (Laughing)"
For me there will never be a singer that can replace the classic singers liker Rob Halford, Dio, yourself and others there all timeless.
"I know what you mean, it is like Rob Halford asking him who is favourite singer are we were born in the 50's and there wasn't really many people that you could look up to aged 12. The Rock bands started to appear in the late 60's and before that was Pop music and Blues. I would listen too The Kinks and The Beatles and bands like that so I didn't have a favourite singer, I was more into playing the guitar."
So let's talk about the the new album that is about to be released 'Decade of the Eagle', why did you decide to do this compilation now?
"Well we didn't (laughing) it was the record companies idea. Well BMG had just got the back catalogue for us from EMI and they wanted to re-package it and make it available for people again and they thought it would be a good idea, a bit like an old fashioned compilations with a few songs from each album and I think it's a good idea really. It is a nice package which is black with steel and I like it."
Was it difficult picking the songs for this album, what with you having so many classics and very strong songs? Were there any disagreements for the songs to be featured on this album?
"Well I picked some of the songs, and some of them were an easy choice and around about the 'Innocence is no Excuse' and 'Destiny' albums period I chose those songs just for the rocky songs. There were no disagreements for the songs been chosen for this album they asked me what songs I liked and I chose them. I think it is a good cross section of Saxon songs."
Was the album artwork done by Paul Gregory again?
"No not this time around. No the record company did this album cover."
You did the liner notes for this album, how long did it take you to write them and to also find the pictures you wanted to use for the booklet?
"Well it didn't take that long to do the liner notes for the booklet. As for the picture, I went through them our manager and I think some of the pictures are well cool. I was sent a sheet with various photographers like Ross Halfin and people like that and we chose the ones that suited best for this album really.
Was the songs on this album re-mastered by any chance?
"Well I think some of the songs maybe re mastered but most are original versions of the songs. Some people could say if they were re mastered they could be re cut and this is something that we tried not to do, and it is on vinyl 1st anyway and I don't think anything has been changed there. All the songs were originally recorded on analog anyway."
What do you think about recording in analog these days?
"Well we still use it sometimes to be honest. I think the new album is also available on cassette too as the younger fans want cassettes these days."
Just how many compilation albums has Saxon released so far that you are aware of?
"I have no idea to be honest Jason, there are times when you think what the hell is this? We are pretty much in control now these days to what we were some years ago. I think we have about 4-5 released compilations."
I have been a massive fan of the band since I was 11, as you may know. I think the turning point for me that really got me more into the band was when we released 'Metal Head' album because the band kept that classic Saxon sound but also added more of a heavier & a darker approach, do you agree?
"That is a good album, it was a darker album I agree with you. We deiced to get a bit heavier on that album and it was Doug's 2nd album and I think it was a ground breaking album for the band and I don't think people realized at that time, but since then it has done really well with sales since it's release. (Ed: for me it's like Judas Priest 'Painkiller', Saxon's version of that in a way), yes I think it was we made a heavy album like Judas Priest did and I think you have to do that sometimes, a shock for the fans and to make them stand up and listen too it."
Was there any European bands that inspired you to go heavier for this album? Bands like Primal Fear?
"No not at all, I think it was something that we felt we needed to do, like I said we wanted to go heavier anyway and to shock the fans. Not all the songs from that album are heavy, but the lyrics are dark."
I remember Doug 1st show in the UK with the band it was in Barnsley for the 'Dogs of War' tour.
"Yes you are right, he did however play his 1st show in the States, but yes the 1st show in UK was in Barnsley with China Beach supporting us. It wasn't long after he joined the band in 94/95."
Moving on you have now worked with AndySneap for the last 2 albums and the forthcoming new album, how is it working with him? How did you 1st hook up? He is a great producer.
"Well his 1st album was 'Sacrifice' and he has done rather a lot since then through with live mixing and stuff like that. He is a great producer and it is going really well so far. We 1st met him when Sabbat opened up for Saxon and I later on met him at a festival and he told me that he would like to work with Saxon on an album and a couple of years later we hooked up.
He has just done the new Judas Priest album and ours at the saw time and we are touring with Judas Priest in the States in 2018. It is going to be a great package."
How did you feel about the production on 'Sacrifice' after Andy had done it? Is he the 6th member of Saxon now?
"I felt great about the whole album, it sounds really good. He is an 80's fan and has a modern mixer and we do analog stuff and digital stuff too and mix it up a bit. No I would not go that far with him been the 6th member."
So moving on Biff, let's talk about the next studio album 'Thunderbolt', why the title?
"Well it is the 1st song on the album so we thought it might be a good idea to have it as the title of the album. We could of called a few things but I think the title is good, the song titles are online now for the new album."
Has Paul Gregory done the new album cover? He's been working with you for many years now.
"Have you not seen the cover yet? (Ed: No) Yes Paul has done the cover once again and he has been working with us since 'Crusader' album."
Are the songs wrote as a team effort and do you write the lyrics mainly by yourself?
"Well it can vary really, I do all the arrangements and the lyrics and sometimes the band write together and sometimes it's Nibbs and myself that writes together."
Was the album recorded over a lengthy time as you went on tour with UFO in the States?
"We started to write this album some time ago, as we started about 6 month a ago and we had been writing it on and off in the breaks from touring and I have a studio at home so I work in there a lot. So when we have days off I am in the studio at home working on the new album. (Ed: do you write songs on a tour bus? I know some bands that have or do) No that is very rarely but back in the day a tour bus would have a little studio on them but not anymore. We don't do a lot of writing on the road."
Do you have any favourite songs from the 'Thunderbolt' album and why?
"I really don't have a favourite songs, I think they are all pretty good to be honest. I think they are all pretty cool and I will wait and see what the audience think really. They all have something going for them really. I know I am a little figure at the moment as I don't want to give too much away at the moment sorry Jason (Ed: I understand)."
How do you see this album differ from the bands previous albums or last album?
"I think it's in the same vain as the last 2 albums to be honest. We haven't changed a lot gone poppy or and we pretty much are still were we where on the last 2 albums. There is no point in changing we like were we are! There is no point is us writing songs for radio play as they wouldn't play us anyway. (Ed: What was the last hit singe you had? Was it 'Ride like the Wind'?) Yes I would say that and it got a lot of airplay too."
So when will the next album be released? Are you also planning on doing a promo video?
"It will be released on 2nd February 2018. With regards to doing a promo video, well we haven't done one yet."
When will the band be touring the UK?
"Well we start on tour next February 2018 in Europe right up until Xmas so it will be a long tour. We plan on doing a few shows around the UK in February and in Europe and will come back in Autumn to do more shows. We are playing in Hull, Cardiff and Cambridge in the UK. (Ed: When was the last time you played in my home city of Hull? I am sure it was 'Rock the Nation' tour in 86). You could be right, I don't think we have played Hull City Hall for many years it will be a special gig."
How many times have you played or toured with Judas Priest? I saw you at least twice in London
"Well we have played with them quite a lot and we have toured with them 2-3 times now over the last 30 yrs and we have played with them in 81.
How difficult is it for you to rehearse with Nigel living in Texas, Nibbs in Germany and the rest of you in the UK?
"Well we sometimes rehearse in Brighton but to be honest we don't rehearse that much these days we only rehearse for tours but that is about it really."
Last question, what do you think of the UK tribute band 'Saxonized'? Have you heard them?
"Yes I have heard them there a good band. There are a few tribute bands on the planet that play Saxon's music. Nigel knows the British tribute band pretty well and they are good lads."
Well Biff thank you for doing this interview, best of luck with the album sales and tours, I'll see you in Hull and lets have a curry haha! Do you have anything to ay before we finish the interview to fans reading this?
"Yes thank to the bands for their support, keep the faith and see you all on tour, cheers Jason."
Thank's to Biff for the interview and Sharon @ T.P.P.