Interviewed by Mark Dean (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Saxon will return to The Mandela Hall this May as they tour their
forthcoming new album Sacrifice. Having headlined the venue back in
December 2011, the legendary rockers will play Belfast on Friday the
3rd of May.
The band’s new album, Sacrifice, will be released in the U.K on the
25th of February through UDR. Taking a sharper, re-invigorated
approach to the production, on this, their 20th LP, Saxon have
produced 10 of their strongest, heaviest and most inspired songs for
many-a-year, and a more than worthy successor to their last album “A
Call To Arms”.
“Less tricks, more power!” roars frontman and founding father Biff
Byford, “my brief to the band was to be raw, be real and not be afraid
to look back at the old classic material for inspiration.” The album
was recorded at LS Studios in Yorkshire and was produced by Byford
with Andy Sneap mixing and engineering by Jacky Lehmann.
It fairly bristles with muscular metallic intent, Paul Quinn’s and
Doug Scarratt’s guitar work the best it’s ever been, while Biff’s
vocals sound fresher and livelier. The songwriting too harks back to a
classic era in Saxon’s history, with the likes of ‘Warriors Of The
Road’, ‘Wheels Of Terror’ and ‘Stand Up And Fight’ evoking the halcyon
days of yore with a contemporary twist, the classic Saxon sound
absorbing the snarl, ferocity and attitude of contemporary bands (and
fans) such as Megadeth, as evidenced by the crunching title cut
‘Sacrifice’.“It’s certainly been done from a more early ‘80s thrashier
perspective,” explains Biff, “and it’s not just guitars bashing away
willy-nilly, they’ve got a fresh drive, purpose and perspective.”
Besides the new material, Saxon will also be adding some unique
recordings of revisited classics to certain formats of the release,
also produced by Byford and mastered by Andy Sneap, including an
orchestrated version of ‘Crusader’ and an acoustic version of ‘Frozen
Saxon will play The Mandela Hall on Friday the 3rd of May 2013.
Tickets will be on sale at Ticketmaster outlets and QUBSU reception
from Friday 11th January.
I managed to catch up with legendary front man Biff,last week between
Hi Biff , it’s Mark .You are currently in tour rehearsals , how has that been going?
Biff”Yes its going good actually”
Do you not find it more difficult to put a set list together these days ?
Biff”Yes it is difficult. Not so much as we are on the new album tour
so we will be playing quite a few new songs in the set. It is difficult
thinking of what old songs to play definitely”
There seems to be a different element to the Saxon sound on the new
album.Is there any particular reason for that?
Biff”There is a little bit, I produced it myself so its going to be a
bit different from the last one. I wanted it to be a bit more “in your
face”There are no ballads on there, we went back to the eighties
style a little bit on a couple of tracks(which was what I wanted to
do). I cant quite put my finger on it really, its just a bit more
Sacrifice features a track called “Made In Belfast”. History seems to
play a regular part in lyrical inspiration for you over your musical
legacy? How did you come to write that particular song?
Biff”Yes, I write a lot about working class subjects. The last time I
was in Belfast, we stayed in a huge penthouse place above Harland and
Wolf dockyard. I thought that it may be a good idea to write about the
workforce that lived and worked on the ships there, rather than just
about the Titanic.”
Belfast has also been referenced in another Saxon song “Broken Heroes”
Biff”Yes a bit more of a war song, that one but not really in the same
context as this one”
Does the city have any personal significance in your personal life,any
particular stories?Or is it merely a source of lyrical inspiration for
Biff”Its just an inspiration of that period, obviously I like Belfast I
have been there many times. Our agent is from Belfast , I like Ireland
generally, it is a great place.”
One of the first gigs I attended was the show Saxon played in Belfast
way back on the “Power and the glory”tour(1983).
Biff”Yes we were one of the first bands in the eighties to go to
Ireland really, I have some great memories of playing there, it is good”
The bonus disc of Sacrifice features some different interpretations of
some songs from the Saxon back catalogue.What was the thinking behind
that? Do you have any plans to incorporate any of those into the live
set on the UK tour?
Biff “We were thinking about it maybe. We are not rehearsing yet for
the British tour,as we are not doing that until April. We are just
rehearsing for the South American dates right now.We might put in some
of that, we don’t know yet, I will have to see how the guys feel
regarding that about playing with acoustic guitars”
Personally speaking I think that “Crusader”seems to work particularly
well in that format.
Biff”Yes that’s why, as its a really epic track. We have done that also
with a couple more songs as well, but I am not telling you which
ones. That’s a secret.”
Looking back on your musical legacy , have you any particular standout
Biff”Obviously I like the big 3 in the eighties, they were great. The
new one, I like “Call to arms”, there have been some great albums. I
dont have any particular favourite albums, we have had albums that were
more popular. That doesn’t mean that I necessarily like them more.”
The music industry has dramatically changed since you first started
out, particularly in recent years. Is it harder to maintain a healthy
standard of living these days for a working band?
Biff “Everything is more on playing “live”these days, which is a pain
as you have to go away more. Live has really taken over from albums a
lot. We still sell quite a few albums though..Our genre is pretty
cool, people like to have the package. Although a lot of the high street
shops have gone, people are still buying them from on-line shops.-like
Amazon or Play.com.”
How do you manage to retain that youthful energy to perform live, when
many of your peers have disappeared?
Biff”I think that you have to keep your mind fresh, and try to stay on
top of it all. There is a lot of time-wasting that goes on in some
music(laughs). I think that you have to stay keen and “on it” Don’t be
self-indulgent, I think is one of the secrets, and try to stay fresh.”
Is it not difficult physically also?
Biff”Well yes, it does get harder and you have to stay fit both
physically and mentally”
What important life lessons have you learned since you first started
out? Any regrets or things that you would have done differently?
Biff”Never surrender”that’s the big one.(we both laugh), that I keep
writing about.”Stand up and fight”,”Never Surrender”,”Backs to the
wall” Its all about coming through against the odds really.”
How can you define Saxon’s enduring popularity after all this time?
Biff”We have some great music, I think a lot of people know that. A lot
of the younger fans are getting into that, and there is a lot there. A
lot of music in the package like Maiden or Motorhead I suppose. We all
have great songs in our repertoire, and people just get off on it
really. Our older fans are still into it, its really great music to be
into at the moment.”
I see the Quireboys are supporting Saxon on many of the UK tour dates
but not in Ireland?
Biff “I know, there are a few bands that are not coming to Ireland. I
don’t know whats up with them. Another band Red Line are not coming to
Ireland either. Theres an opportunity you see to get two Irish bands on
I m not sure you generally tend to bring quality supports with
you. Hammerfall last time, and Doro before that??
Biff”Yeah, its not down to us though, if they cant really get there ,or
are busy…I don’t know. We would love to have them there, its no big
deal for us. Its strange,but its nothing to do with us”
Couple of final questions-what song would sum up Saxon’s musical legacy?
One from the past,and one from the new album?
Biff”One from the past, would have to be “Denim and Leather”, that was 1
of the first songs that we or anyone else wrote about that audience. On
this one it would have to be”Stand up and fight”, because that still
resonates into the eighties as well”
Outside music do you have any hobbies or interests?
Biff”No,not really, its all to do with music.I spend a lot of time with
my family when I’m not touring”
Is it not difficult trying to balance your personal life with on the
road earning a living?
Biff”Yes it is, very hard. Last year wasn’t too bad as I wasn’t away a
lot. This year has been quite difficult, yeah I think the family don’t
like it. It is something that they have to live with because that is
Moving on now with a couple of general questions .What is the most
difficult decision that you have ever had to make?
Biff”I think sacking people is difficult-Graham Oliver for example. I
think its hard when people are not your friend anymore, and theres big
problems within the band, and you have to sack them. That’s always
What for you is the best feeling in the world?
Biff”I think walking onstage in front of 70,000 fans at night”
Still gives you a buzz then?
Biff”Yeah,its a fantastic buzz”
Whats the biggest misconception about you in the current Internet age?
Biff”I dont drink tea(laughs) that was just a pr thing really,to make
us a bit different from everybody else”
What words would you have inscribed on your tombstone?
Biff”Never Surrender , I suppose that would be good”
Whats the one piece of advice that you would give to a young Biff Byford today?
Biff”I would say, when you are choosing people to manage you or record
companies to be very, very careful.”
Are you a religious man? Do you believe in God?
Biff”Yes, definitely, I wouldn’t say that I spent a lot of time in
church but yeah religion yes.”
What were you like at school? Were you academically minded-was music
always a passion even then?
Biff”I was a bit of a rogue at school. I seemed to do quite well later
on. At school I was a bit of a late starter. Regarding my musical
interest, my mother was a musician.S he played piano and church organ
actually. I was at chapel quite a lot, in my early youth. I don’t know if
that’s where my interest in music developed from. There was a lot of
hymns,the Victorian rousing hymns like “Oh come all ye faithful”
What were the first gigs that you saw?
Biff”I lived in quite a rural village, so nothing came to us. I think
the first sort of bands that I saw when I was 17-18 …I went to see
Led Zeppelin at the Bath festival, and Lincoln festival I think. Early
sort of bands were bands like Sabbath, I used to like a lot of bands
like Alex Harvey. Obviously Taste I saw them in the early days. I was a
big Gallagher fan. That sort of thing really.”
You will be returning to Belfast in May?
Biff”Yes we added it quite late.We are in Belfast and also in Dublin as well.”
Just discussing gigs, would there be one that stands out as
particularly memorable? would it be the first Donington that you wrote
“And the bands played on”about? Or is there another more recent show?
Biff”Well i think the first Donington was great, obviously we have
played a lot of big festivals now. Wacken is fantastic,that is always a
great festival. Things change,some shows are great one year but the
next year they are not so great. The thing with festivals is so much
depends on the weather.”
One of my friends has asked me to submit this question to you. Have you
any plans to include”Ride like the wind”in the UK tour set?
Biff” We do play that, quite a lot actually. We tend to do it mostly
down in Latin America, they tend to like it down there. Yeah we have
done it on British tours. We might wap it in there because people tend
to like it. The thing is we didn’t play it for quite some time because
people were like”ohhhhh,hmmmmm Christopher Cross”Its a great song
really. Yeah we might play it on the next tour, probably only on the UK
and Ireland dates. Obviously we have already played it in Europe quite
Final question before I let you go.”Get your act together”(Uk TV
programme) Was that a good or a bad career move for Saxon?
Biff”I dont think that it harmed us. It didnt make us overnight stars
on the TV(laughs). I figured out early on that the production team were
out to make fools of us..I stood my ground really”
Ill let you get back to your rehearsals, thanks very much for taking
time to talk to me today. Look forward to seeing the band when you
return in May
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