Interview with Biff Byford (Saxon)

Metal Express Radio recently caught up with Saxon’s legendary singer Biff Byford to chat about Saxon’s triumphant appearance at Donnington and their forthcoming shows with Motörhead.

First of all, congratulations on your recent appearance at Download Festival at Donington this year. By all accounts you were the band of the festival. How did you enjoy yourself?

Yeah, they do say that. It was pretty good actually; it seemed to be one of those “legendary” gigs that if you were there you were one of the special few. It was amazing as the tent where we played held 5,000 but they had to take the sides off. It was great actually and it was great coming back to Donnington and getting a reception like that.

That was your third appearance at Donnington having played there the last time in 1982 and of course the very first Donnington in 1980. That must feel like a life time away now?

We had to play it again as we’ve spent all the money we made from the first one!! It’s good really, we’ve got a lot of people helping us now; we’ve a new agent and management and they’re all getting behind us so it’s all pretty good.

I seem to recall Rainbow’s show being broadcast on TV, was your performance taped? Will it be released someday?

I’ve no idea. I think EMI has one of the recordings but I don’t know what’s happened to it or if they’ll ever put it out.

It was Donnington that inspired your song “And The Bands Played On” wasn’t it?

That’s right. We were keeping people guessing whether we were going to play it or not. We’ve also just played it at our recent show in Bilbao.

With Kiss, Judas Priest and Motörhead also playing Donnington, that was a pretty good line up?

Yeah, you’re right. I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to see many of the bands as we flew in and did the show basically as we’d been in the studio and we came to Donnington the night before we were due to play. It was a great show; I think we need to do next year now. It’s a great festival, a little bit different to when we first played it but it’s great to play there.

The general perception at the moment is that Classic Rock is making something of a comeback in popularity can you sense this?

There’s a new generation of fans getting into the music now as well as those from the ’80’s and 90’s still being around. It’s a massive fan base for Heavy Rock and Heavy Metal.

Certainly from Saxon’s point of view you seem to be going through something of a renaissance. Your last album The Inner Sanctum was universally hailed as your best in years. What is it that reinvigorated you as a band?

Well, we’re working on it. It’s good as there’s a lot of people behind us, a lot of magazines and media so it helps. We’re working really hard and we have been doing since our Lionheart album was released. I think our latest, Inner Sanctum is a great album and we’ll be hard pushed to beat that one. That album got fantastic reviews; I don’t think there’s a bad song or a filler on that album. I think it came out just at the right time.

Inner Sanctum sounds like an album that YOU wanted to do rather than an album a record label wanted you to make?

We’re doing what we like to do. We love our music and we’re not really experimenting any more. We know what we are good at writing and I know what I’m good at singing and I know what lyrics I like to write and people seem to like that. We’re not really changing; we’re just trying to get better.

Recently Metallica paid tribute to you by covering “Princess of the Night” and “Motorcycle Man” at the Rock AM Ring. That’s a pretty impressive endorsement?

Yes it is. They didn’t have to do that, it was very nice of them. We were backstage when they did that and it was nice to hear. I might give them a job you know!! We hadn’t spoken to them in nearly 28 years as we hadn’t been on the same festivals as them. They always say that we were a massive influence on them when they first started. It was nice getting to see them after so long and we talked about old times.

Of course you toured in the early 80’s with Metallica as your opening act. What are your memories of those shows?

We played a couple of shows with them in the States when they first started out; in fact I think it was their second gig when they played with us. You never really expect it at the start and we were also fairly young in our career then and they were amongst the first shows we’d played in America. They were a great band even then; I was surprised at how good they were. It took them a few years to make it but they’re now one of the biggest bands around.

Do you think a band would get the same opportunity to develop these days as Metallica had when you first started out?

> As a band, Saxon seem to be at their best live on stage. Do you still enjoy touring as much as you did in the early days?

Yeah, we still like touring because we still like playing live shows. When people see us live they never say we’re boring. We’re into our music and into each others playing and I think that comes across at our shows.

Talking of touring, you’ve got a huge UK tour coming up with Motörhead and Danko Jones. Can you tell us about this?

We’ve got 9 or 10 festivals to do first. We actually saw Danko Jones recently and they were great. I think this tour will be a hot ticket now that Whitesnake and Def Leppard’s tour is out of the way. It’s a great package for the fans and will give them great value for the money.

Your tour starts on 3rd November in Wolverhampton and continues right through until 22nd November at the Hammersmith Apollo in London and will play 15 dates. Are you looking forward to visiting places you haven’t been to in years including Newcastle?

It’s going to be good fun getting out to some of those places. We’re really looking forward to it. We’re actually going to be playing a couple of shows in Santiago in Chile before the UK tour so there’s plenty happening before then.

You and Motörhead go back a long, long way even sharing drummers (Pete Gill played on Motörhead’s Orgasmatron). You obviously have a lot of respect for Motörhead?

Motörhead was the first big tour we did of England on our Wheels of Steel tour when we supported them. It’s funny how things come around in a circle. We always enjoy playing with Motörhead.

Lemmy guested on your recent single, “I’ve Got To Rock To Stay Alive” along with Angry Anderson of Rose Tattoo and Andi Deris of Helloween. That sounds like it was a blast to make. Were you all together in the studio when you made that?

Some of us were but Lemmy was in L.A. and Andi was in Tenerife but Angry was with us as we’d been doing some shows together at the time. We recorded that in Germany during our tour of the last album.

Do you think Lemmy may jump up on stage and sing that at a couple of your upcoming shows?

I’m sure he would do it if he had the chance.

It would be quite something if Motörhead brought along the Bomber stage set and you the Eagle lighting rig so there’d be 2 legendary stage sets on one night. Would you think about that if it was feasible?

Yeah, “The Bombers and Eagles Tour” they’d call it!! We actually did that in Germany a while back but I don’t think we’ll be doing that this time but we might do some festivals next year with the “Bombers and Eagles”. I’ll let you know.

Your last show in the UK was at The Astoria on 23 April which is St. George’s Day. You invited fans to pick the set list featuring songs with an English theme. What was the response like?

That was great, we really liked that but it was a bit politically incorrect. We invited the fans to pick the set list and the winner of a draw won a Dean guitar. We had some really good entries. They had to say why they chose the song they wanted and the response was great. The set list is up on our website if anyone would like to check it out.

Do you think this will become a Saxon tradition in the future?

We’d like to do that but obviously the day changes every year so some years it’ll be on silly days like a Tuesday or a Wednesday. If it dropped on a Friday or a Saturday that’d be brilliant. Not everyone can get to them mid-week but we would like to do them every year. I think it’s a Thursday next year but I suppose if we don’t do it, someone else will.

Before the UK shows you’ll be doing the European festival circuit including the Graspop, Wacken and Bang Your Head festivals. Do you enjoy these big festivals?

They’re really good fun. We have a lot of fans across Europe. We’ve been playing there for a long, long time so we have a massive following. These festival shows can be really special.

Are there any bands on those bills that you are looking forward to checking out?

Not really!! I’ve already checked most of them out over the years and know most of them but I’m looking forward to seeing Whitesnake and Judas Priest again.

You appeared on UK TV last year on “Get Your Act Together with Harvey Goldsmith”. Do you regret appearing on that show?

No, I don’t. I think that’s one of the reasons we’re happening in England at the moment is because of that. The end product was great and the show we did in Sheffield was brilliant. He put that together in 15 days. You should’ve been there it was fantastic so we got some good coverage out of that.

You’re originally from Barnsley in the heartland of Yorkshire. How did you feel when your home town got to the FA Cup semi-final this year? Were you excited at the prospect of a trip to Wembley?

That was pretty good for the town. My little boy was rooting for them too. It’s a shame that we didn’t make it all the way to the Final. It did end up being an “underdog” final though and I love it when it’s like that. I just wish it had been Barnsley there instead.

You’re also known as something of a legendary tea drinker ( Editor’s Note: a past-time our Mick Burgess can relate to). Is this still your favourite tipple?

No, not really!! I’ve moved on to red wine now, Ha!! It’s too many years out of England now; you can’t get a decent cup of tea anywhere else so I just went onto something else. Mind you, I still like a nice cup of tea every now and then.

Just to round things off, you’ve got a busy schedule touring for the rest of the year but have some dates clear in October. Are you adding more dates all the time or will you be taking some time off?

We haven’t really got any time off. We’re doing the album at the moment so we’ll be working in the studio. We have to have it finished by the end of October so that’s what we’ll be doing. We’re about 70% through at the moment.

What about song titles?

We don’t have any just yet apart from the forthcoming single “Live To Rock”. Well we have, but I’m not going to tell you, you’ll find out soon enough!! It’s due for release on January 9th and the new single will be out on October 17th

Will you be playing any new songs on the tour?

We might. We’ll probably be playing “Live To Rock” at least. I don’t know about any more. We’ll just have to wait and see and I look forward to seeing you there.

For more on Saxon visit Saxon’s official website


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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