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In Words: Saxon

- Biff Byford - August 1999 - Claudia Ehrhardt -

Saxon: Biff Byford - live 1997
Claudia Ehrhardt

Biff Byford - August, 20th 1999 - Cologne (D)

Saxon is a band which is around for a long time and been part of the NWoBHM in the early 80's. The band of singer Biff Byford released several albums which became classic. Every metal collection should contain albums like Strong Arm Of The Law or Wheels Of Steel. Their latest release is called Metalheads and has the quality to become a masterpiece! In August I had the chance to meet Biff in Cologne to talk about the new output.

First I have to say that for me the new album is the best Saxon album for years! It's a little bit harder, more aggressive. The show in Wacken was fantastic. It seems that the band is more powerful this time. It's more fresh.

Yeah, it's like we are on the 2nd push. I don't know. I think we feel as we've always been under a cloud quite a long time in the 80's / early 90's. I think with the release of our last 2 or 3 albums the atmosphere is much better around Saxon and around the management and record company side. So it all effects everything. I think the guys in the band are now really set and we write good together. We not try to write songs for a particular market. We just writing songs which we are like to write.

I think that's the way it should be, 'cause perhaps you have to play the songs 20 years from now.

Yes, it's quite difficult to keep it simple. Be­cause you have the certain power thing to make it complicated all the time. We like the album.

It's a great album, definitely! The show at the Wacken open-air was fantastic and I know that a lot of people wished that Saxon could replace Twisted Sister as a headliner. Nobody accepted D.A.D. as a headliner.....

Yeah, we should have played Saturday night, but actually I think it was very good. People told me that Friday night was the best night. If people remember Wacken, they probably remember the Saxon night! It's cool, I thought the spirit was very good. It was a good night.

And perhaps it was better, coz it rained Saturday night.....

Yeah, it was a nice day, it was a lovely atmosphere and people got ready to rock! I thought the best bands before us were probably U.D.O., I watched U.D.O. and I thought they were great..... Yeah, I enjoyed myself. It was a good spirit! Good metal spirit!

I think the people could feel it that it was a good atmosphere and that the band enjoy.

I think if the audience it up for it, especially on festivals, if the audience is ready for the band then it's better!

So why you choose the title Metalheads?

I just think it's a great word! Great two words or one word. I just think it sums up where we are at the moment.... Metalheads!

During the last years the album titles always been several words. This time it's just one word! Straight to the point!

Yeah, we're moving back to the earlier days.

I think it's more aggressive and more powerful.

I think it's important for us to write great guitar riffs.... Again! More than perhaps in the middle period of our career. In that days we were more melody orientated and now we've gone back to both again! Guitar riffs and the melody.

And the scene is changing. I mean the band always developed in their own way, style. Do you think that due the changing of the scene this is better for this type of Saxon?

Yeah, it's just right! It's the right time now for Saxon.

Every band had it's ups and downs and.....

We were already been down. We've been up and down at least five times already! We went up to Solid Ball Of Rock and than down a little bit. So, we.... It's better when it's a steady climb. We feel that we're on good run at the moment. We intent to keep that. And I think the new album won't be quite as long.... You know it's been 3 years since our last album. But we have been busy. We have been through a lot of work. We feel that the work we've done, is paying off now. Not particularly in Germany, coz we always worked out in Germany, but..... Scandinavia is very good for us now, South America and Benelux. In all those areas it seems to be a big resurrection of people get into the music. I don't think it's quite big enough yet, but I think this year or next year will be a big time for metal. Not all metal music, but specifically for British metal.

You said it's getting better in Benelux and other countries, so I guess you'll tour a little more.

Definitely. We start in Scandinavia, in Helsinki on 24th or 25th of October and we'll finish in Germany sometime in December. We haven't time to tour everywhere this year, but we'll tour until next years summer again! And than we probably starting writing the next album.

Isn't it more and more difficult to choose songs for the setlist. You have to present the new material, for sure, but there are so many old songs which are classical....

Yeah, this is the problem. When we go on and play for an hour, you can only do like 10 songs or 12 songs. It's a little bit sad, really. We would like to play all our songs, but what can I say..... Our setlist it's getting bigger and bigger!

But in the end, you can't play for 5 hours more.....

No, we can't. We are supposed..... We could do 2-day shows..... Do one set on Friday and the other on Saturday. What we actually could do, have no support band. Play longer and have a break in the middle. We could do that. Maybe we do that next year, I don't know. Have a special show where we play all the old songs and the new. What we intend trying to do, we usually end up only playing songs which we consider to be special. That is sometimes why we miss some albums out.

Even more young fans get into the music and get through the new album more into Saxon...

But one of the problems is with the setlist, the young do know the old stuff! And when you get people chanting Crusader and things like this, everybody in the front as well..... We have to play the old songs for the new fans, because they know it.....

But they haven't see it live before, perhaps...

Well, they haven't seen it live before perhaps, but got it on the live album. The Eagle Has Landed Pt. 2 is a quite good live album.

Sure! I mean I can remember it from the 80's, Saxon has always been a good live band. There had been changes, ups and downs like you said. You're for such a long time in the business and it's still the same, album - tour - album..... But it seems that you don't get tires of it, coz it sounds so fresh. Did anything changed in your surrounding that it keeps it fresh?

Well, the thing is we like playing the music. That's the secret, really. Some people don't like it, just do it. We actually quite like making albums and writing songs. It's quite good fun. It's good mind work. We like to work it so we write things different. If we won't writing things which we consider to be different, we would get bored. There's no point writing the same songs over and over. We like it and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. So simple is that!

It works for you, but that doesn't mean that it's accepted by the fans....

That's right. This is how it is and I also think that it has something to do with the popularity of the band at that point of time. We are quite popular at the moment, so the album should do..... You know. The album is the best advert. If it's a bad album so it's a bad advert. If it's a good album it's a good advert!

I think the word of mouth is the better than every advert or CD critic....

That's right! The best advertising is the word of mouth! If the guys say, have you heard this album.... That's what happen with Solid Balls Of Rock really. I mean I know everybody liked it, so everybody have to have the album! It was the album of 1991. So it is, it takes a lot of his own. Even in France everybody had to have the album.... That's one of those things, you know. People on the net from Spain writes that Conquistador should be the new national anthem! We'll see.....

I don't think that everyone in Spain knows this...

Well, you got all the loonies on the internet, you know.

Did you're touring in foreign countries influence your writing? Like playing in South America probably influenced you to get in their history and write Conquistador.

No, with Conquistador.... I had the idea for years actually. Con­quistador, the history of the Incas and the Spanish. It's a good thing and particular this riff and the chorus fitted it.

How you get up with ideas like that? A lot of reading? Or what?

A lot of reading, a lot of film documentary watching. It's just a general interest in history. History is the most interesting thing.

When I saw the cover artwork first, it reminds me of a modern version of the Sphinx!

Yeah, it's a mixture of the Egyptian and an alien and sort of metal thing. It's just a great image. It's based on the Egyptian, I love the Egyptian thing. What I said to the artist was "Look, we'll call the album Metalheads or Travellers In Time", at that point we couldn't decide. I said "I want something which is very alienish", because the song is about alien abduction and this. And.... But I like the Egyptian thing, so I wanted an Egyptian overtone.

It was amazing what they did such a long time ago!

It absolutely was. I liked the Iron Maiden thing when they did the Egyptian thing.

People almost just see the music and not the musician behind the music and his interests....

You can take your music a thousand different ways. You can go more and more a glam orientated way, if that's what you're into. I mean we did try that at one point. We went a bit more down the sort of, well, the Savatage root..... I said. It didn't really worked for us. We lost our identity with the metal music. It's very difficult to play metal music commercially. It's difficult, 'cause you're fighting all the time with your roots and the way people want you to be.

You have to be honest to yourself, the fans would recognize if you try to fool them. First you have to love the music you're playing and if the fans like it, fine!

That's right. I'm the first one who said in the late 80's that we.... We fucked up. That's the simple answer, but you're allowed to mess up a couple of times.

Sure, everyone changes and none stays the same for 20 years or so. The music is influenced by this and perhaps a few fans don't understand and can't follow the way the band is going.

But I think today as we get to the end of the 90's, I think this album is straight forward. It's just a great rock album. That's basically what's needed I think. I don't think potentials music is needed anymore at this particular point of time. Well, to keep the music powerful and alive is a gift. It's not something we intend to do. I think it's in the writing. Also the production is excellent! A great job, but a lot of it is in the writing.

Sure, if the writing is not good, even the best producer can't make a good album out of it.

That's right. You can't polish mud!

Often people haven't the possibility to listen to more than 2 or 3 songs to decide to buy an album or not. Would you please tell me which songs present the album best in your opinion. I know that ain't easy!

I would say Conquistador. I would probably say Metalhead,... But there are a few good songs in between....


Prisoner and Watching You, are good songs, paranoid songs, but.....

It don't depends... First you listen to the music, than to the words. The music has to be catchy.

The words really important to me. At the first instance, because.... If I listen to a song, I'm not listening to the lyrics. Just pick on certain phrases that catch. If you want to get into, you read the lyrics and understand what the song is about. Generally when you are listen to a song first 2 times, you're only picking up on the chorus. You're not really concentrating on the words. The chorus tells you what the song is about.

Not everybody's English is good enough to catch the meaning. So music is the more important thing for them.

Rock'n'roll music basically breaks the language barrier! It is universal music!

Saxon are around for a long time and with this album they can bring back the British metal to the fans all around the world. They aren't copycats, they been part of the NWoBHM and beside Iron Maiden and Judas Priest they hold up high the spirit of metal. This album is in their own tradition and will soon become a classical Saxon album. I'm looking forward to see these guys on tour, they rock more than many younger bands do these days!!!

Claudia Ehrhardt


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