» Biff Byford - Saxon
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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 of times.

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 other reasons.

Tobbe: 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.

Tobbe: …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, definitely.

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 as well?

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 still?

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.

Tobbe: 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 album recordings.

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 what.

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.

Tobbe: 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, you know.

Tobbe: Do you feel privileged to have this life?

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 aspect?

Biff: We're a working class band. You know, we might be stars in people's eyes, but actually we're a working class band.

Tobbe: 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, fly home.

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 very much.

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