Heart of Steel: Interviews

Saxon
Nosturi, Helsinki, Finland
November 29, 2001

Interview and pics by the Metal-Rules.com Finland Team!!

The British NWOBHM legend, SAXON, entered into the new millennium with a brand-new 11-track offering titled “Killing Ground” which, more or less, became an instant classic amongst the vast armies of SAXON fans with its ear-friendly songs that indeed harked back to the glorious evergreen albums of SAXON´s magnificent past works, i.e. “Wheels of Steel”, “Denim and Leather” and the likes. It was – or actually still is, one of those easy-play albums that find its way to CD –players more often than what one could expect.

To finish the bands “Killing Ground” European tour here in Helsinki, Finland, there was absolutely something special in the air as the guys seemed to be in a state of high-spirits and overall in a very good mood – and naturally we took advantage of the whole situation when we (Luxi, Marko and our friend Micke Löffgren from Sweden) arrived to Nosturi on the 29th of November, 2001– our intention to get the band’s true showman, Biff Byford being interviewed for METAL-RULES.COM.

Here’s almost everything we got captured on the tape while our chat with Biff was progressing on. Too bad our tape wasn’t running any longer when we met Paul Quinn, one of the two original members left in the band, almost right after we had finished the interview with Biff because he also wanted to share many other interesting facts with us of SAXON´s past and present, his family life, some sexy models (gee!) and many other exciting topics as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, Biff Byford from the mighty S A X O N…

How tour has been so far?

Very good. We just came from Sweden yesterday and it was very good for us.

 

 

Let’s talk about that new album “Killing Ground” a little which is the current thing right now. What are your own favorite songs of this new album?

Favourite tracks? I don’t really have any... It’s a very valid album. It’s a quite like our albums in eighties really. It’s like half heavy metal half rock’n roll, which is like we used to be in the early days…

Lot’s Of Melodic stuff...

Yeah you know on Wheels of Steel album we have a song Wheels of Steel... Which is quite a rock ’n roll song and then there is Motorcycle Man which is pure Heavy Metal. So we are always mixed then and I think the new album is more back to that style again. It’s quite strange now when everybody says “Wow what a great album you have now” okay .. heh .. Anyway it’s pretty cool and I’m very happy of this album.

 

 

How has your audience reacted when you’ve been playing them live?

Great. I think that the two favourites would be a Court Of The Crimson King which is going very well. There are lot’s of new teenage fans who really like that song. It’s quite a dark song … it’s nearly a Black metal song.. And also there is a song called Coming Home. People seemed to like that song a lot. And it is a good road song you know.. ?

 

 

Saxon does have some so-called “must-play”, classic songs on your set list that your fans always beg you to play on your gigs – like “Motorcycle Man”, ”747”, “Wheels Of Steel”, “Crusader” and “Princess Of The Night”. Do you think it’s some sort of obligation for you to play these songs for your audience – no matter if you get fed up playing some of these certain classics for them over and over again?

I think it is a responsibility for us to play those songs for the audience because we have lot’s of fans who have been with us since the eighties who want to hear those songs we have a lot of new fans who just recently got into the band and they want to hear those songs as well so .. we are not ignoring our history because we have a very strong history .. so we just play longer sets now.. so actually the only way to live is to play longer. Most of the bands do not do that but we do. We do play all those classic songs anyway.

 

 

You have recorded some cover songs during your career: Ride Like the Wind, Set Me Free and Court Of The Crimson King. How did you picked up just those songs? I mean are those songs your own personal favorites or..??

I think … Ride Like the Wind. I liked the song. C.Cross is a quite good songwriter and the original song is great. We just transformed that song into rock music. I think that our version is quite cool actually. You know like in Spain and Latin countries people always ask that song. So we played that one for them there. We don’t usually play that song in northern European countries. Set Me Free is a just old song we liked in the early days of Sweet. I was into all B-sides of Sweet when I was a youngster. Crimson King I don’t know really. Most of these songs come just by accident, they are not really planned. I think I just said for the guy’s to try the song. We were in a studio in England were we tried and it sounded brilliant. I mean me and Paul Quinn were quite into progressive rock in the seventies. The band we used to play together with were quite sort of a progressive music back then. We were quite interested in Yes, Genesis and Jethro Tull. We were quite into it.

 

 

Do you mean the band called COAST you had with Paul then?

Coast, that’s right. A lot of songs from the first album are written by Paul and I and they do have a sort of progressive rock feel.

 

 

 

 

 

So actually, some songs released on your first album were actually written by band called COAST.

That’s right, yeah. “Frozen Rainbow” and “Judgement Day” are written by me and Paul and the band COAST. I think the rest of the band sort of … I mean songs we wrote together were things like “Stallions on the Highway” that were written together. Which has a little bit of the flavour of what was to come on Wheels of Steel? A little bit.

 

 

What kind of memories do you have after releasing your debut album?

Well it’s really a “do it yourself” album. The back cover picture is taken from the worker mans club in the North-East of England around New Castle. I made this logo. Me and my guitar technician made this half cut out of wood… the Saxon thing. Actually it was made just before we wrote Wheels of Steel. We had a very small backline at that time ….just one marshall... heh!

 

 

How many people were in the crowd?

Well actually there were a quite lot of people. About 850, we’re very popular in that area.

Back in 1981, Pete Gill left the band. In 1986, it was time for Steve Dawson to leave the band and 1994 Graham Olivier left the band. What was behind those departures?

Pete … Well … he did join Motörhead for a while. I really don’t know what the problem with Pete was. He really had a problem with his hand and Nigel joined the band. It wasn’t actually my decision. It was just a general decision to keep Nigel because it went really well with him.

Steve and Graham … Well actually it just happened really. It is a bit like divorce .. you get certain things which happened during those years and it was out of control. It just get really silly. Some people get slacked. That’s what happens all the time. Steve really had a lot of problems with our management at that time. You know during that time we had a really big management and basically they sacked him out. So, it’s really that simple... There was a very long time gone now ..1986 you know it is old water in the bridge really and I mean we have talked about that many many times and they do keep playing shows as Saxon. Olivier –Dawson it just caused quite few problems for our fans really. We feel in a measure that we are. It’s not too much now. They don’t do it too much just anymore... We know they played some shows crossing in Sweden last year.

It is revenge. I really don’t understand where they are coming from. And they rip off the fans you know. People travel a long way to see Saxon and they go there and see these wackers playing on the stage. Singer can’t even sing the songs .. and so on. We feel really sad for the fans because it’s not fair for them. You know there is very little we can do about it. The only thing we can do is to tell our lawyers and they write a letter to the people who book the ferry. And they say fuck you.

So what can we do? People have to go to the website. It’s www.saxon747.com. All the real Saxon tour dates can be found there. And they can always phone the record company and check because you know... they really know .And then you see Saxon playing anywhere strange like you know the Irish Pub for like you know that is not Saxon.

 

 

But they are using name Olivier-Dawson Saxon?

Well they should be using that name but they are “Saxon” sometimes. But it’s not. You know we are getting very popular again, very strong again. So the stronger we get the smaller they are really. I think our popularity will beat them out. It’s just a revenge thing. I don’t know what it is really. They just seemed to think that there is an army of Olivier-Dawson fans out there for some reason? I just don’t understand where they can get their fan bases because the fans have changed a lot during the years. I mean there might be some people who are interested but they don’t have any songs, they don’t have anything new. It is like a tribute band or something??

 

 

People still do know that you are the real Saxon?

We are the real Saxon and that’s why people are coming to see us. You know we are playing songs from all our albums.

 

 

Your voice is also a real trademark for Saxon.

I think when you have singer who has a stylish voice then it’s very difficult for anybody to copy.

 

 

And also you really have a really good lineup for the band now!!

Yeah the chemistry in the band is really good. And you know on the new album, even Nigel Clocker wrote a few songs with us for that album as well .. five songs. So the chemistry is very cool.

 

 

By the way.. How Nigel’s back is doing now?

Well it seems to be all right now. I mean he is into his own projects now and his girlfriend is really happy because he isn’t on tour anymore.

 

 

How tour has been so far?

Very good. We just came from Sweden yesterday and it was very good for us.

 

 

You have now played across Europe. Do you have also plans to continue touring on other continents? This was the end of the first leg of that tour?

Yes …. We have Christmas off. Then we have some more shows in England, France, Italy and so on. We are going to start the next leg of this tour in February. But before that we will have a one special show as a special guest for Judas Priest in England.

 

 

How are your feelings for that show? I must be something special for you …?

Well … The very first European tour we did was with Judas Priest. So it is special but this time we just go and kick some ass but of course it is special and it is always nice to see old friends.

 

 

Are you going to tour in USA also?

We are also going to do the U.S. in April. Even though it’s quite difficult to go there now… but we have to keep that American thing now and not change our plans... heh. South America is also offered for us now. Many of our albums are very strong over there. Everybody wants us again so we have to fit it someplace.

 

Any big festivals coming next summer?

Yes we are definitely doing some of them. Quite big ones.

 

You have now played across Europe. Do you have also plans to continue touring on other continents? This was the end of the first leg of that tour?

Yes …. We have Christmas off. Then we have some more shows in England, France, Italy and so on. We are going to start the next leg of this tour in February. But before that we will have a one special show as a special guest for Judas Priest in England.

 

How are your feelings for that show? I must be something special for you …?

Well … The very first European tour we did was with Judas Priest. So it is special but this time we just go and kick some ass but of course it is special and it is always nice to see old friends.

 

Is the Swedenrock Festival included this time?

We would like to play there. We would like to have Eagle with us like we had at Wacken this year but we’ll see. It’s up to promoters not me... I think the Friday night with Eagle would be very cool!

 

Have you planned to re-release some of your older albums?

I think it’s quite easy to find them now.

Actually some of them are really hard to find like “Rock The Nations” ?

Well a French company called Axe Killer is going to release that one soon. They already released “Destiny” and “Innocence Is No Excuse”. SPV is going to release “Solid Ball of Rock” re-mastered and also “Forever Free”. And I think “Dog’s Of War” as well. So all the albums are going to be released very soon.

 

How about “Strong Arm Of The Law” which is also very difficult to find.

Well ..“Strong Arm Of The Law” is re-released by Axe Killer. It’s a double package with “Wheels Of Steel”.

 

But there isn’t a CD version with just “Strong Arm Of The Law” with the original cover?

You can buy the double one. It’s cheap anyway. And you can also order the Japanese import that is a single one with original cover.

 

 

What was behind your dramatic style change back in 1984? I mean no leather and denim any more .. just softer haircut and clothing. Musical styles also changed a little bit more commercial….

Well I think that everybody went a little bit more sophisticated that time. Think of Def Leppard and their success with Pyromania … Mötley Crue, Bon Jovi, Cinderella and Aerosmith they all had the style in the late eighties. Record companies wanted bands to be more sophisticated and have bigger production on albums but now afterwards it didn’t really suit Saxon. I mean I think we were much better when we are more natural you know what I mean. So .. anyway it was a pretty good time for us. It was a good time everywhere. I mean we got laid a lot heh heh… So it was very cool time.

 

The “Innocence Is No Excuse” album does have a quite different cover compared to all other covers. What is the story behind that one ?

Well we just wanted the cover to be more woman oriented as I told you we did get laid a lot so it affected that … heh heh…

 

What kind of elements does a good Saxon show need?

We really like people to enjoy themselves on our shows. We really are not into angry feelings you know... We are not that type of band. The essence of Saxon show is for people to be entertainment. It is also very important to have a contact between the band and audience... the feeling. That really is the secret of good gig. Whatever it would be, 600 people or 6000 people or 36 000 like in Wacken, it’s the same. If the band connects with the audience in a sort of good feeling way it would not say it’s spiritual but when you can feel the audience is pleased to be there then it’s good. And of course it’s a same for band also. It’s great to be on stage when you are pleased to be there. So briefly, a good feeling is what we except. And you can get a good feeling with a hundred people.

 

When you are playing both your old and new songs for your audience, have you ever been amazed by how well your fans know the words for your songs when they sing along with you?

Definitely yes. In Spain for instance, people even sing with the beginning tape, you know, the Killing Ground intro. I think when people catch... when you have a new album out specifically, if they catch the melodies right away then you know you have a good album out but things like Crusader, Princess Of The Night when the audience sings louder than a band it’s always very cool of course. Actually, different countries have different songs they like really. Like in Latin countries Crusader is the most popular song on the set and probably Power And Glory is most popular here.

 

Have you ever forgotten your words for some certain songs in a live situation ?

You don’t forget the songs... but sometimes you are in a block you know. And we don’t really forget the songs... But... Sometimes I forget a verse, then it is quite funny..

 

There is always somebody in the audience who know the lyrics..

Definitely. But it is very, very rare I forgot some old song. Because they really are printed in somewhere, sometimes there might be a problem with new songs. It is just a block you know , you walk onto stage with your microphone and then you forget the first line of 747.

 

What do you actually think of the Heavy Metal scene these days? Do you ever actually listen to these new bands that are also trying to become popular within a heavy metal scene world wide?

Good, I think it’s pretty good right now. It’s very healthy. There a lot of good new bands especially from Finland!! Some great bands. Nightwish and .. Stratovarius. From Germany comes also some amazing bands and of course Hammerfall from Sweden. They actually are very similar to Saxon in some ways . .. someway of the early Saxon. It’s a good thing really!

 

Besides those Finnish bands you just mentioned what kind of music do you listen by yourself ?

We don’t actually listen to music too much but we listen to all different genres of music. A day on the bus listening to music would be Slayer, King’s X, Britney Spears, AC/DC… It’s is a very mixed because because each person has very different taste ….

But Britney Spears oh my …

It’s the driver .. It’s really music overplayed all the time. We have been listening the newer stuff the new Ozzy album, new Judas Priest album and things like that also.

 

Actually Britney Spears has the same producer that Def Leppard is working with now. Max Martin from Stockholm….

Yes I know that. Def Leppard has really lost a lot of gram really …

They lost their thing ..

Yes cause it’s time to be heavy now right (heh)! Maybe it’s too late for them??

Maybe it’s because they actually lost their main songwriter when Steve Clark died some years ago?

Yes and they also lost their producer Robb “Mutt” Lange. He wrote most of the songs, I think.

 

What are near future plans for Saxon .. besides more touring ?

I would like to say that we only take it a day at time but .. the next thing will be…possibly the release of the DVD and also the Heavy Metal Thunder album which has thirteen re-recorded tracks on it. So, lot’s of different things. And of course we are going to continue the tour soon …

 

What songs you are going to re-release? Are there the same songs which were in double CD version of “Killing Ground” ?

Not quite the same as that but some of the songs are same and… we’ll see when it comes out.

 

How about a DVD? What kind of stuff you are going to release ?

Yes we have a DVD coming out next year. Of Wacken with the Eagle. If people go on the website they can download a promo video for Killing Ground which is from Wacken. And there is also a history of a band included from now to 1970. Lot’s of photographs and documents. We have taken lot’s of digital camera footage from our shows so it will be like a off the wall so it will be quite a interesting release.

 

When it will be released ?

Well we are hoping in the new year. But it may be January 2003. It is quite difficult to put this all this together and it takes time.

 

You have seen Heavy Metal music has had it’s ups and downs during last 25 years now. Was it difficult to carry on during early ’90 s when Metal music was not doing so well ….

Not really because we’ve always had good fans who have followed us, not all of them, but quite a lot fans did support us and we were able to tour and we still had a great time and some people still think that Innocence Is No Excuse is our best album ever so you know you just can not tell what people like, I mean it is a strange world musically. Actually it is always been pretty good for us. I think the press over exaggerated some things too much and under exhausted some other things. But at the moment, the band is very strong. We are selling lots of albums meanwhile, and we are getting great reviews all around the world so we are on the good run at the moment.

 

How do you feel about the fact that some of the best Heavy Metal bands from the NWOBHM – era (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon etc ..) are still going strong these days?

I think it is good obviously ! .. heh .. I think the bands you mentioned... they’re all working quite hard. Iron Maiden just did that re-union thing but all the bands are working really hard to bring our kind of music back and I think we’ve worked the hardest out of them all.

 

You have been a touring band, you’ve been touring a lot …

Yeah, we have played lot of festivals in Europe and also in America with bands like Biohazard and Pantera, etc. .. so we have been taking our music to a different audience. So it very cool you know. It’s a great thing to be in a band really. It’s really respected.

 

Do you thing that, also, younger people are getting more into music like yours now?

Definitely. I mean we had two or three support bands with us in Sweden and every one of them were eighties oriented really. You know they all got Gibson guitars and they all played fairly fair mid tempo songs rather than playing like a million miles an hour all the time. It’s cool to play fast when you need to play fast. When a song is about something where a fast song is needed. But fast songs all the time for me is boring. Also if everything is slow it’s boring also then.

 

But some bands still do that thing ..

I love AC/DC but hey do get going some times. They do play some fast songs also. So even AC/DC get going a little bit….

That’s true.. Ok this is the last question. What actually is your personal driving force that keeps you going on with Saxon year after another ?

We just love the music really. We have a responsibility to our fans to keep going. And when we stop you’ll be the first to know! 

 

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