GRAHAM OLIVER and STEVE DAWSON
In 1979 when the classic NWOBHM band SAXON was formed its ranks consisted of five members, singer Biff Byford, guitarist Paul Quinn, guitarist Graham Oliver, bassist Steve Dawson and drummer Pete Gill. Now, thirty years later only Byford and Quinn remain under the SAXON banner. However, Oliver and Dawson have since joined together to carry on their part of the SAXON legacy. First, in 1996, under the name SON OF A BITCH, with Pete Gill on drums, and later, mainly to appease the promoters, as OLIVER/DAWSON SAXON. Read on to learn, straight from two founding members of SAXON, about the various stages in the history of one of the most celebrated metal bands to have emerged from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and the falling apart, piece by piece, of its classic lineup through the years.
INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ AND JARNO HUOVILA
EARLY DAYS OF SAXON
When the first SAXON album was released the classic band logo became an instantly recognizable part of the bands image. Can you tell about its origins?
GRAHAM OLIVER: Steve commissioned that SAXON logo.
STEVE DAWSON: When we first got signed up with Carrere Records, we had to change our name from SON OF A BITCH to SAXON. So when we agreed on to be called SAXON, we wanted to have a logo like QUEEN, a really distinctive logo. This guy we worked with in the steelworks, Mick Scofield, was like an amateur artist. He lived like a mile from my house and I went up to him and asked if he could do us a logo. I said we wanted it to be like medieval, you know, English like, a QUEEN type thing. Anyway, about three or four days later he rung me up and told he’d done something. He had done the logo with the two axe-heads and he had done an album cover as well for the first SAXON album, the warrior. It was on a big canvas and he never got paid for it. He just did it because he was a friend.
GRAHAM OLIVER: Steve showed it to the band and the management and they like it, so they used it.
Can you tell about how the original lineup of SAXON got together in the first place?
GRAHAM OLIVER: Without Steve Dawson there wouldn’t have been a SAXON for anybody to like in the first place, because it was Steve that came to me and said we ought to get Biff to sing. Biff had his band COAST and they had lost their drummer, and we had a band with a drummer who lost our singer, so we sort of came together. Steve had a tape of Biff singing a song and he said we should do this. We had a play with Biff and we were fantastic. Then Biff said he’d join if he could bring Paul Quinn and we said fine because the guy that left us was a guitar player as well. It was such a contrast of styles, Paul Quinn’s and mine and everything else, the chemistry. All these elements came together and made for a great band.
Original Saxon: Pete Gill, Graham, Biff Byford, Steva and Paul Quinn
END OF THE CLASSIC ERA
After many successful albums and tours, what many consider to be the bands classic era came to an end. Whatever happened after the INNOCENCE IS NO EXCUSE album that made you, Steve, leave the band?
STEVE DAWSON: There weren’t really any disagreements, but we had done a long tour of Europe and America. We finished in Greece and there was talk of making a new album. I felt that the band needed a break and we had peaked at that point.
GRAHAM OLIVER: Due to our previous success we inevitably received some negative press, because there were a couple of journalists that really hated SAXON. They were especially having a go at Biff over his new image because Biff had always had a brilliant image and they felt that he had change. It was stupid, but this put pressure on the band and added tension. This situation fused tension between Steve and certain members of the band and I believed that this would blow over but inevitably it did not and Steve and the band parted company. When we started recording the ‘Rock the Nations’ album in Holland Biff played Bass as he had previous been a Singer/ Bass player and he was more than competent to perform this duty. As for myself, I parted from the band in 1995, this was mainly due to external influences which appeared to be ruling every decision.I firmly believe that if SAXON had had the same manangement as the likes of Iron Maiden and Def Leppard the band would have remained in tact and had the popularity that that both of the former still share to this day.
What I can say is that the original line up had a massive influence on the likes of Metallica, Skid Row, in fact I remember meeting Dimebag Darrell from Pantera who handed me a tape of some early recordings which he asked me to listen too, these were truly fantastic times for both myself and the band.
Steve, tell us what did you do after parted ways with SAXON?
STEVE DAWSON: I first started a band called USI with this guitarist called Steve Johnson and it was just me and him. We went into the studios and just did some demos with a drum machine, then we took them to EMI and they really liked them. Then we thought we’d do some live shows and I had seen Nigel Durham, who’s now in our band, playing in a band called MONROE in Sheffield and he was great with all this stick twirling. We got Nigel in and then rehearsed for a year in this little rehearsal room and we got brilliant. We only did… I think it was three shows and then the guitarist, being the singer and the guitarist, a bad mixture, he just said he didn’t want to do it anymore. At that point what little money I had got out of being in SAXON, because I wasn’t earning anything, was gone. I was basically skint, I had no money, so when that packed in I was sort of disillusioned with music and thinking I had been doing it since I had left school and wanted to do something else. A friend of mine had an antique shop selling old furniture and he was a budding songwriter and always came around to my house with these songs, but they were like Bibles, they were like fifty pages in lyrics. He said I could have his shop for nothing and just pay him later, so I started doing that and sort of forgot about music. As it happened it became really successful and I made a load of money, much more than I had ever made being in SAXON. So I got sort of involved in that and music got put on the backburner, although I never stopped writing songs because I’ve got a little studio in my house. Luckily for me that little twist in my career meant that I could keep a nice house and live alright. So basically I have always been in music, but I had a period where I did something else more than music.
Biff Byford, Graham, Nigel Glockler, Steve and Paul Quinn live at early 80’s.
THE TWILIGHT YEARS
Can you tell a little about the albums you did with SAXON after Steve had gone, Graham?
GRAHAM OLIVER: First of all we did ROCK THE NATIONS, then we did DESTINY with Nigel Durham, who’s playing with us now, on drums, and I didn’t really have much to do with those albums.
Around that album, DESTINY, the bands visual image got a bit over the top, wouldn’t you say?
GRAHAM OLIVER – Our image had been changing since the Innocence album this was a reflection of the times. The next album was Solid Ball of Rock which was Nibbs Carters first album, this was actually a very enjoyable time for myself and the band due to moving back to writing and recording as a unit. The most memorable time for me was the solo that I recorded on ‘Alter of the Gods’ which Paul Quinn stated as being the best solo that I had ever composed.
Some sources claim that you didn’t really play much at all on the DOGS OF WAR album. What is the true story behind that rumor?
GRAHAM OLIVER: I did play on DOGS OF WAR. We were recording in Revolution Studios on DAT machines and you have three machines, first of all the one with 12 tracks for the drums and the bass, then you put another machine in and you have 24 tracks and you do guitars and rhythm guitars and leads and then you start doing vocals and now you’ve got another machine bringing it to 36 tracks. You might not use all the 36, but they are for backing vocals and all this. Biff produced the album and what happened is that the management at the time [at the record company] didn’t like it, they wouldn’t have it. So they hired only two machines [to remix it], meaning they could only play 24 tracks, so anything on the third tape was lost. So backing vocals had to be done again, and two guitar solos of mine and two of Paul Quinn’s [were lost] and I have the recording from before that happened. The original album that Biff produced was actually better, I still have a copy of this for reference to prove that I did play a significant part on this record.
After the album was done, you didn’t do the following tour, what happened?
GRAHAM OLIVER: I didn’t leave I was told I would not be part of any future plans with SAXON. I was deeply upset and saddened by this and the fact that no one had the guts to call me, a lot of friendships brushed aside after many years.
So what did you do after you were out of SAXON, Graham?
GRAHAM OLIVER: When I was out of the band Pete Gill rang me up and asked what the fuck was going on. I said I had no idea and he told me to ring Steve and I did. So, to cut a long story short, he came to see me and we went to see Steve, we got together and said we can’t be SAXON because that would have to include Biff and Paul, it can only be the original five guys who did it first. So we settled on SON OF A BITCH and did the album, which was really a project to start with, we did a couple of gigs and that was it. It was never going to be something because our singer Ted Bullet had commitments and he was a fucking wild man. You could never go on the road with him; he used to smash thing up. So Ted went and then promoters were saying they’d book us, but they’d have to use the name SAXON. So we said we’re OLIVER/DAWSON SAXON.
Oliver/Dawson Saxon live 2009
Tell us something more about OLIVER/DAWSON SAXON. How are you guys doing now?
STEVE DAWSON: Well, since there are two versions [of SAXON], the promoters tend to book Biff’s…
GRAHAM OLIVER: We have offers from Germany now. Every time we used to have a German gig, we even set off to the airport once, we were nearly at Stansted to go do a festival with MOTÖRHEAD and someone told the promoter to cancel us before we even set off. To me it’s unfair because the songs that we play are ones that we mainly wrote. We just believe that we should be able to play our music.
STEVE DAWSON: When we get to the venue, there aren’t any problems with the audience, they all go crazy. And like Graham just said we have more shows coming up than we’ve ever had, all over the place. We’ve played venues where the audience have seen the other version and then want to know what we’re doing and it’s brilliant. I think there’s more aggression, more power in our version…
GRAHAM OLIVER: …because we’ve got nothing to lose. Me and Steve are doing it now with exactly the same frame of mind and reason that we did it in 1979, not just to take the money.
STEVE DAWSON: There’s no money in our version! [laughs]
GRAHAM OLIVER: We’re doing it purely for the music. We feel so passionate about the music, that’s why we’re doing it. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it, because me and Steve have to finance this fucking band ourselves for it to work. It’s like back to beginning. People say we sound fucking brilliant, like the original SAXON. Well, if Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi played together in any band, they’d still sound like themselves, no matter what and so do we. Steve and I can’t be different. I believe that SAXON has a sound and we’re an integral part of that.
I think some ODS stuff was released on THE SECOND WAVE – 25 YEARS OF NWOBHM compilation, but do you have any plans to record more new material with this lineup?
STEVE DAWSON: Actually, there was a brand new studio built in South Wales and this guy got us in this studio and we recorded a CD of 15 tracks. Then the fucking studio went bust, it had only been open for about three months, but the guy never paid for anything and the actual stuff that was on hard drives that got repossessed, so we only had the listening tapes to see whether the tracks were coming on. We’re just in the process at the moment of getting the hard drives back.
When did these recording sessions take place?
GRAHAM OLIVER: About three years ago.
STEVE DAWSON: We’re going to play one of those songs tonight called "Whipping Boy", which is going down ace.
GRAHAM OLIVER: Because we’re always being accused of not doing our own music, but we’ve always done our own music. We’re our own thing and that’s why we’re calling it ODS.
Speaking of the original five members, as you said Pete Gill played on SON OF A BITCH’s 1996 album VICTIM YOU with you guys. Do you know what he’s up to these days, does he play anymore?
GRAHAM OLIVER: No, he’s not playing. He had to have a new knee.
STEVE DAWSON: He had a few years in the wilderness, but now he’s like back on straight and narrow. There are two heavy metal DJs in England called the Bayley Brothers and oneof them had a birthday party at this local pub and there were all these different musicians there. Me and Graham went and Pete Gill went and to cut a long story short us three got up on stage and did "Wheels of Steel" and "747". That was the first time that we played with Pete in a long time.
GRAHAM OLIVER: That was the last time Pete ever played drums. But I believe he could play again, he just hasn’t got a lot of confidence.
STEVE DAWSON: He was still powerhouse Gill, though.
Oliver/Dawson Saxon: Nigel Durham, Haydn Conway, John Wardy, Graham and Steve
Graham and Steve live on stage 2009!
How did you, Graham, feel about Steve’s replacement in SAXON, Nibbs Carter. You played several years with him anyway?
GRAHAM OLIVER: When me and Steve were building this band, the original SAXON, with blood, sweat and tears doing every gig with IRON MAIDEN in clubs, he was just a young lad, you know?
Do you have an opinion on your replacement in SAXON, Doug Scarratt?
GRAHAM OLIVER: The criticism I’ve been told is that it’s like two Paul Quinn’s, you need that chemistry. But still, Nibbs is a great bass player; Nigel Glockler’s a great drummer
Have either of you read Biff’s book NEVER SURRENDER and what did you think of it? ‘
GRAHAM OLIVER: We haven’t read it, I’ve only been told that there are some ‘unfounded’ accusations in there and that was why I got fired
Do you guys know if there is any cool unreleased vintage material from the old SAXON days, like filmed footage for example, in existence?
GRAHAM OLIVER: Steve has got some fantastic footage of SAXON on stage in 1979; we’ve got stuff in our archives that would blow you away. If there was going to be a definitive SAXON video, it should be in there to make it the best SAXON video for the fans.
Next year is the 30th Anniversary of the WHEELS OF STEEL album. If you were asked to appear as special guests to SAXON for example at a cool festival, like the one in Wacken, would you do it?
GRAHAM OLIVER: Yes, because the music is the most important thing. It would be like PINK FLOYD coming together again; it would be a good statement to show that the music that SAXON made has stood the test of time and still has a place today.
Here’s hoping. Cheers guys!
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