Interview conducted May 23 2014
Interview published June 03 2014
With Saxon playing in Sweden at
the rather small festival Metallsvenskan, located in the outskirts of
Örebro, Metal Covenant took the opportunity to have a little chat
with one of heavy metal's most respected frontmen. Biff Byford
was a little stressed out due to the band's late arrival and so was I
after being set on hold for 90 minutes, until I eventually was shown the
way to a locker room to meet up with the man.
Tobbe: Let's talk about your new live album,
St. George's Day Sacrifice.
Biff: Of our Manchester gig.
Tobbe: You've celebrated St. George a couple
Biff: We do this thing for him every year. This
year we just released the album.
Tobbe: So why did you choose to release
the album now?
Biff: Well, it got released on April the 23rd
in England, which is St. George's Day. So that's really why, and no
If we have a look at it, if we look at the songs on it. It contains mainly
songs off your latest record, Sacrifice, and also a bunch
Biff: Well, it was the Sacrifice tour. It just
dropped on that day, you know.
and also a lot of 80's classics,
so it that how a Saxon setlist will look like from now on? A bunch of
classics and songs from your latest album?
Biff: It's always looked like that though. I
mean, we put new songs in. I mean, that was an over 2 hour set, so you
have to put in the classics on it.
Tobbe: Have you ever thought about removing
a bunch of the classics in favor of newer songs, like play a couple of
classics and base the set on new stuff?
Biff: Well, we sometimes do. On the Manchester
gig, there must have been 7 or 8 songs, so that's at least half the
set with new songs. I mean, tonight will be mixed. Festivals are different,
'cause I think people wanna hear the classics. The next tour we're doing
celebrates the 80's anyway, but we'll be doing newer songs in the set,
Tobbe: You have played a couple of albums
in their entireties, like Denim And Leather, Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm
Of The Law. Have you ever considered playing a newer album in its entirety
Biff: I'm not a big fan of playing albums in
their entirety. I mean, we were asked to do it. We did it in Japan and
we did it at Sweden Rock one year, but I'm not a big fan of it, because
the albums are only 28 minutes long, so it's a very short set, you know.
I mean, you tend to find, to be truthful, you tend to find that everybody
goes crazy for the world known hits and nobody really knows the other
songs really. That's really what happens in reality, which is not a
problem, you know.
Tobbe: But still, the people who actually
still buy your records, I think they wouldn't mind.
Biff: I'm not saying that we wouldn't do it,
but I think generally people, especially festivals, they wanna hear
the big hits. But yeah, we try and put as much in it as we can. We have
resurrected quite a few of old songs that we haven't played for a long
time as well. I mean, Suzie Hold On might go into our next set. We resuscitated
To Hell And Back Again, 4 or 5 years ago and we'd never played that.
I mean, Sixth Form Girls we've played quite regularly now. You know,
it's not just the new songs, some of the old albums have classics on
there that we don't play. It's very difficult, you know, when you're
not playing for 5 hours.
Tobbe: Talking about albums. Not every band
in this day and age releases albums anymore. What's making Saxon productive
Biff: Well, I'm quite driven on the Saxon thing
really. We write some songs now. Me and Nibbs have written about 7 songs
together. The rest of the guys have also started to write ideas and
things. We go into the studio in June to finish writing and next album
could come out early next year. We're going to record the songs in September
and October and then we go on tour, which starts in Greece in October.
You know, we had the Motörhead tour canceled twice, so we figured
we'd better go on tour.
Do you feel any kind of pressure to improve with each album you release?
Biff: No, not really, no. We check each album
separately, we don't try to copy. Each album has its own sort of start
to it. I mean, the last album sold really well. It's probably our most
popular of our last 3, I think. But then again, Lionheart was a very
popular album as well. You know, we can't dwell on things gone by. We're
using the same team, so it'll probably sound the same as Sacrifice,
you know, but where we record it makes a big difference, what mood we're
in, because we write the albums very quick. We don't spend 3 years writing
the albums. We go into the room, we go in twice and the album's more
or less there and then we just finetune it later. So it depends what
we are, whether we're dark, and happy, miserable, you know, it just
depends. So lyric wise, just depends how I feel, what books I'm reading,
what sort of thing is turning me on at the moment.
Tobbe: Do you personally take most major
decisions about album recordings and stuff?
Biff: Yeah, I make most of the decisions on
Tobbe: You know, with downloading and such
things. How do you look upon being able for a fresh band to start a career
and making money out of it?
Biff: I mean, it's just a luck driven thing,
you know, rock 'n' roll. We were really lucky to be in the right place
at the right time and I was sort of a young guy full of ideas. For somebody
to get a band together and write some songs and get an album out, or
something out, to be successful is very rare. But I think you have to
believe you can do it, that's the secret. I think you have to believe
you can do it and I think if you're in a band with people, then there
has to be total faith in each other, that's really important as well.
You know, if at some point, you realize it's not gonna happen, then
you should move on and get another fucking band together. Try to get
some chemistry somewhere else, because I don't think it's any good flogging
it for 10 years, you know what I mean. Maybe really if you're a young
band, the first 3 years of your life, you should be writing songs. The
thing is, you can be influenced by people, you know like a Saxon, or
an AC/DC, or an Iron Maiden, or a Machine Head, or a bloody Killswitch
Engage, but you have to put your own thing on it somehow, you know,
and that's the secret. How you do it? Got no idea. Do your own thing,
but do it really well, that's the secret. Nobody likes sort of 60 percent,
people like a 100 percent, you know what I mean. If you listen to a
band and a 100 percent is coming at you, it makes no difference whether
it's heavy metal, rock 'n' roll or hardcore. If it's coming at you,
it's coming at you and that's what you have to try and get.
Tobbe: Yes, people like good music, no matter
Biff: And then it's a long road and you have
to be prepared to go on the road. But I think the internet, YouTube
and facebook, I think that's a massive thing, you know people can use
that now. You know, shoot a fucking video. You know, you shoot a video
at a fucking railway line with a fucking train coming down the track.
Who gives a shit? You shoot something that people are gonna hit, you
know, and do its own thing, different.
Different, yes. That's an important word.
Biff: Do a fucking naked video, I don't know.
Do something. They've all been done, that's the problem.
Tobbe: Saxon has had a solid lineup since
'95, even though Nigel was away for a couple of years, so how do you function
as a group together, like 5 grown men?
Biff: Well, we function as a group, because
we stay in touch on a daily basis with each other by e-mail or by telephone
and then we come together to play or we come together to write. That's
what we do. Usually if one of us has a birthday, we come together then
or something, or a wedding or something. But generally we have a line
between band and family, so that's how it works. I think you'll find
that's how it works with all successful bands.
Tobbe: Back in '75, did you in your wildest
dreams, think that you'd be doing this for such a long time?
Biff: Well, I think you dream of it, don't you.
You do dream of it, definitely. But I never thought we'd do it, you
know. I think every band, when they first start, dreams of being big
and writing one song. We were lucky enough to write quite a few great
songs in the early days. I mean, you can have a dream of being a big
band, but sometimes you become like a band that's not so big, but it's
still great, you know. You don't have to be big to be a great band,
Tobbe: Do you feel privileged to have this
Biff: Yeah, very privileged. I mean, we worked
hard. Nothing's come easy for Saxon. We had to work for everything and
still do. We're not favorites of the establishment, you know. A lot
of our success comes from our fans, from people.
Tobbe: I remember back in '95, '96 and you
were playing like small clubs in Sweden, so how did you see your future
career at that point?
Biff: Well, it was a dark period for ourselves
and I think for Maiden as well, it was quite a dark period, that one.
Bruce left. Blaze did a great job, but they lost a lot of popularity,
as we did, as Motörhead did, as a lot of bands did. Ourselves and
Motörhead didn't have America to fall back on. You know, we didn't
have a million dollars coming in from America, so it was quite difficult
for a lot of bands, but we sort of honked it down and stuck to our guns
and broke free.
Tobbe: You did a wise choice. Unlike many
bands of your size, you seem to like always support meet & greets
with the fans and I've seen you at the Monsters Of Rock cruise and at
the 70000 Tons Of Metal cruise, where you mingle with the fans extensively
comparing to other bands, so what differs you from other bands in that
Biff: We're a working class band. You know,
we might be stars in people's eyes, but actually we're a working class
So how far into the future do you plan activities for Saxon?
Biff: Well, we're writing a new album. I've
just finished a prog-rock project with some friends of mine, which comes
out in August. I can't say anything about it, 'cause it's linked to
a film. Yeah, I'm writing a few songs for my solo album as well, meanwhile.
So yeah, we're looking good, you know. We're touring right up to Christmas
anyway and maybe sometime in March the new album will be out.
Tobbe: You still tour extensively. Do you
never grow tired of it, never feel like sitting at home?
Biff: No, we like it. We sit at home as well,
we're not on the road all the time. You know, this festival we fly in,
Tobbe: Not trying to be condescending, but
do you see an end of your career?
Biff: Not that there won't be an end to the career,
but I can't see it yet. And a lot of it is down to health really, how
fit you are. My voice hasn't really deteriorated yet, so whenever that's
good, you know when the voice is playing well, then, yeah.
Tobbe: Well, on the last album, you even
improved, in my ears.
Biff: Yeah, it's doing good, my voice, you know.
It's talking that makes it worse actually.
Tobbe: You know, regular people do retire.
Biff: Well, my job is not work, or is it? Well,
it is work, it's very hard work, but we don't look at it as work, do
we? We look at it as a vacation.
Tobbe: All right, that's great. Thank you