BIFF BYFORD (SAXON): “It’s Just About Making The Best Of The Day As We’ve All Been Through A Pretty Miserable Time”

SAXON (Live at O2 Academy, Newcastle, U.K., February 3, 2015)
Photo: Mick Burgess

While the world was put on hold during the lockdown, Saxon were hard at work on a new studio album, Carpe Diem. Not only that they found time to record a covers album Inspirations and lead singer Biff Byford recorded a solo album and an album with his son. Talk about burning the candle at both ends. Mick Burgess called Biff Byford to talk about Saxon’s upcoming UK tour and all of their recent recording activity.

The last couple of years have been tough for the industry. For a band that thrives on the road, how did you cope with being at home for so long?

We spent some writing the new album Carpe Diem that has just come out. We’d started writing just before Covid and had managed to get some demos down so we got off to a head start and continued working on it during the breaks in the lockdown. We also managed to get two albums done during that time, a covers album called Inspirations. I also did an album with my son in a band called Heavy Water so we were very busy so that was the secret really. I have a little studio at home so I was able to work in there.

Thankfully things have improved since then and you’ve just finished a big European tour. How did those shows go?

The tour was great. The audiences haven’t been out for a few years so they were really crazy.

This tour is the Seize The Day Tour. Is this your response to everything that’s happened over the last couple of years from health issues, the pandemic and Ukraine?

There were a few titles we could have used including “Pilgrimage” which is a song off the album but I just thought as Covid was coming to an end, Seize The Day just sounded better and that’s also the meaning of the album title Carpe Diem. It’s just about making the best of the day as we’ve all been through a pretty miserable time. I thought it was a better title and was a positive message.

Talking of health. You had heart surgery in 2019. How are you keeping now? Are you well?

Yes, I am thanks. I’m still headbanging and going strong, touch wood. Everything seems OK and I’m monitored regularly.

You’re back on the road for your UK tour starting in Ipswich on 11th November. You must be looking forward to that?

We’re raring to go. A lot of the venues we’re playing, we haven’t been to since the ’80s so we wanted go to some places that we used to do back in the day, like the Newcastle City Hall. They are all our old stomping grounds. I thought it’d be nice to bring our new album to these old venues.

On 18th November you’re at the City Hall in Newcastle. It was almost like your second home when you toured in the late ’70s/early ’80s. Can you remember the first time you stepped out onto its stage?

We always used to play two nights there. It’s a wonderful venue and we always got had a fantastic audience. We also played at the Mayfair in the early days too but I think that’s gone now. We have some great memories of playing in Newcastle.

What sort of setlist do you have lined up for these shows?

The setlist will obviously be some songs from the new album, some of the big hits and some deep cuts we haven’t played in a while so it’ll be an interesting one.

You have an incredible 24 studio albums to choose from. That must make picking a 20-song set a bit of a challenge?

It’s impossible really. We once did a contest on Facebook for the most interesting setlist. I don’t think we’ll play it but I just wanted to see what people came up with and we’ll be announcing the winner soon but I made a note of the some of the songs that people requested and made sure we included some of those amongst the rest of the songs we’ll be doing.

You’re joined on the tour by Diamond Head. You must have crossed paths with them a fair few times over the years?

I didn’t really know them in the early days but I knew of them and knew their music. It wasn’t until later on that I became friends with them. They are a great band and our fans will enjoy seeing them.

While most bands who have been around for a while are content to live off their past, Saxon have pretty much released an album every 2-3 years. It must be important for you to remain creative and continue to push forward?

My ethos is to always try and better what we’ve done before. I think it’s important that we stay relevant. We have a very mixed audience from teenagers to those who’ve been with us since the late ’70s so it’s important for us to release new music and to make the songs as good as possible. I don’t think we should live off “Wheels Of Steel” and “747”. I’m not that type of creature, I like to write new music and come up with ideas with the band. If you’re going to stay relevant and still sell records, you have to be on point. I don’t like to be predictable. I could just write the “Wheels Of Steel” riff over and over again but that’s not where I am. We write an album every couple of years and hope that people like it.

Where do you find your creativity comes from? Can it literally come from anywhere, when you least expect it?

It can come from anywhere really. Anything goes. There’s no set rules on songwriting.

As a band you’ve always tackled historical events such as the Kennedy assassination, the Crusades and World War I. On this record you have a song about the Dambusters. Are you a bit of a history buff?

I love history and I felt that it was time that someone wrote a song about the Dambusters. I was interested in history at school. You can write songs about fast cars, motorcycles and things which we still do but with historical things there’s an endless number of things you can write about. I think you need to choose something that’s quite well known. “Carpe Diem” is about Hadrian’s Wall, which isn’t that far from Newcastle. I went up there after my surgery for a few days with my wife walking around and it dawned on me that it’d be a great subject for a song. Northumberland is a beautiful part of the world but when I was there it was Force 10 gales and was throwing it down. It was still nice though despite that.

You worked with producer Andy Sneap on this album. What did he bring to the making of the album?

Sometimes he produces the whole album like he did with Thunderbolt and he’s in charge of all things. On this album he was co-producer with me and he basically mixed it. His mixing is incredible. He has a great feel for heavy music. Being in Judas Priest brings another feather in his cap. He has a great ear for what we are trying to do. He’s very versatile and he knows what each band he works with whether it’s Accept or Amon Amarth, should sound like so we trust him to get the best out of us.

A couple of years ago you did your very first solo album School Of Hard Knocks. Why did you decide to do a solo album at that point of your career?

I guess I had the time to do it because of the lockdown. Straight after doing that I went straight in and started writing songs for the Carpe Diem album. It was all mingled in at the same time so I was burning the candle at both ends.

Did it allow you to do things you can’t in Saxon?

Yes, I think so. I was able to some more laid-back stuff. It’s more Rock ‘n’ Roll like an ’80s album with the title track and “Welcome To The Show”. I actually wrote that for Saxon but thought it was a good opener for my solo album. A lot of the songs were from my point of view so it wouldn’t really have been right to do it on a Saxon album.

Has it whetted your appetite to do another one sometime?

I’ll do another one sometime but I just don’t have the time at the moment with all the touring and we’ve also started writing the next Saxon album too. We tend to write and rehearse at the same time so we are working on new songs while we rehearse for the tour. It’s quite easy to do for us, if you manage it properly.

Last year you did a covers record called Inspirations. Who came up with that idea?

The record company asked us to do a covers album during Covid and I said no at first. Then I thought it’d be fun to do an album of bands that inspired us. So we put together a list of songs and then we went for it. We didn’t go for the usual ones and instead went for songs which weren’t the main songs by those bands. Some of the artists influenced us more than others. Obviously, The Beatles influenced everybody on the planet and maybe the Rolling Stones were a big influence too. I loved that guitar riff on “Hold The Line” by Toto. They didn’t inspire us as such as a band but that riff is where “747” and “And The Bands Played On” came from so they influenced from the point of the view of the structure of the song. Some bands influenced us because they were just great like Motorhead. A song like “Heavy Metal Thunder” was very influenced by Motorhead. Every song on the album means something to someone in the band.

Did you all get to pick a few songs to go on the record?

We made a list of the songs then I picked the ones that I thought I could sing although Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and Deep Purple’s “Speed King” were quite off the wall for me but I think I did quite a good job on them. We’ve done quite a lot of shows with Deep Purple over the years.

Do you have plans to do a second Inspirations album?

We do, in fact we’ve recorded a few songs already. There’ll be a few surprises on there. We might cover something by The Animals or a KISS song, maybe “Detroit Rock City” or something. That’s my favourite KISS song and Nigel is a huge KISS fan.

You’ve worked with guitarist Paul Quinn for over 45 years now. What is it about you two that works so well together?

He’s an absolutely brilliant guitarist. He’s up there with the greats, I think he’s really underrated. His songwriting is great too from his riffs and his solos. Some of his riffs are off the wall which appeals to my unpredictable side. We write stuff so well together and he never puts a foot wrong on stage.

After your UK tour ends on 26th November in London, where do you head next?

We have a few dates in December one of which is in Ireland to play a show that we had to postpone because the venue flooded on the morning of the show. We have a few shows in Germany too. We finish around 12th December for the year.

What are your plans for next year?

We’ll work on the new album next year. Nigel lives in America and Nibbs between Germany and America so it’s quite difficult getting everyone together so I’m quite keen to get the ideas together for the new album before we break up for Christmas. We do have 12 or 14 song ideas ready already. We’re doing quite well actually so I need another three or four good ideas then we should be in a good place for the next album.

Interview By Mick Burgess

For more on Saxon visit:

Saxon’s UK Tour Dates:

11 November – Ipswich, Regent Theatre
12 November – Southampton O2 Guildhall
13 November – Bexhill, De La Warr Pavilion
14 November – Cardiff, St. David’s Hall
15 November – Bath, Forum
16 November – Cambridge, Corn Exchange
18 November – Newcastle, O2 City Hall
19 November – Blackburn, King George’s Hall
20 November – Aberdeen, Music Hall
21 November – Glasgow, Barrowland
22 November – Hull, City Hall
23 November – York, Barbican
25 November – Leicester, De Montfort Hall
26 November – London, Roundhouse


  • 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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