INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Saxon, the legendary English heavy metal band, was founded in 1976. They are one of the pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and during the ’80s, Saxon established themselves as one of Europe’s biggest metal acts. The band is still going strong, and they tour regularly. They have released 21 studio albums, including their newest, BATTERING RAM, which came out in October 2015. The band arrived in Finland on the 6th of December along with Motörhead and Girlschool. I then sat down with the band’s long-term guitarist Doug Scarratt in Helsinki, and we discussed many different topics, such as touring with Motörhead and the new Saxon album.
Edit: It should be noted that when this interview took place, we had no idea what was going to happen for Lemmy in just a few weeks… 😥
ON TOUR WITH MOTORHEAD
First of all, welcome back to Finland!
Doug Scarratt: Thank you. It’s always great to come back here.
This time you are on tour with the legendary Motorhead, who have been your friends for a long time. How has everything gone with them?
Doug Scarratt: It’s an honor and a pleasure to tour with Motorhead, and we’re from the same, or pretty similar, background. They’re a bit older than us, but we do like touring with Motorhead; we’re quite good friends with them. It’s a nice thing to do. So if they offer it, we will do it.
This tour has been going very well. Most of the shows have been sold out, and it is partly because… I think that it’s not wrong to say that Motorhead is a kind of trendy band now?
Doug Scarratt: Yes, they are. They’re very loved out there. It’s an iconic band that people want to like, and it means something. They’re still making good music, though; there are some great tracks on the new album. They’re not like giving in and lying down. Are they? They’re still delivering, I think.
Two years ago, you had to cancel the whole tour with Motorhead because of Lemmy’s health issues, and recently you had to cancel a couple of shows again because of Phil’s health issues. Isn’t it a bit risky, at least financially, to tour with them?
Doug Scarratt: Yeah. None of us are getting younger, are we? So we’re still doing our best to get out there and deliver as good as we can. So that’s the best you can try and do. Isn’t it? Sometimes it’s going to go wrong.
On this, you also have Girlschool on the bill, and they are your longtime friends as well?
Doug Scarratt: Yes.
Overall, I think that this is a great package and fans get good value for their money.
Doug Scarratt: It’s nice, we like this package. I believe it’s good, a good thing. I think people like the package as well. It is sold out virtually everywhere, so I think it’s a nice lineup. It is.
How is it different from being a part of a package tour instead of having a headline tour?
Doug Scarratt: It doesn’t really make any difference to us in some ways. So obviously, we’re touring for a new album. So we’re playing three or four songs from the new record, but that seems to be going really well. It’s been very well received. It’s been great, great reviews, and many people seem to know the new songs already. So that’s cool. The only thing it means for us really is there are great venues, but we don’t get to play for as long as we normally would play. So it’s nice. An hour is good; you can do the show in an hour. When it gets shorter than that, it’s…frustrating, yeah. Now it’s okay, and we can get it out there.
NEW SAXON ALBUM
You have a new album out called BATTERING RAM. When I heard this album for the first time, I was amazed at how heavy it sounded. Is it something you did on purpose with this album, or was it just a coincidence?
Doug Scarratt: It’s just generally down to the songwriting. We don’t decide to make; let’s make a Rock N Roll album this time, let’s make a more metal album this time. We don’t consciously decide to do that. We just write songs between us, and we use the ones we like, and it just so happens on this time, on this album. Nibbs wrote quite a few of the riffs, a lot of the riffs on this album. He writes a lot of stuff anyway, and so does me and Paul and Nigel. We all write. The ones that we picked were the heavier ones; they just sounded good. You’ve got a whole load of ideas. We don’t pick this one because it’s heavy. After all, it’s Rock N Roll. We pick the ones we like and the ones we can imagine creating a song with.
When the bands get older, it is normal that they begin to make lighter music and slow down a bit. But it seems that Saxon is doing just the opposite!? “Laughs”
Doug Scarratt: We could do that because we’re one of those bands that we have a massive amount of influences on. Because we still like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC and basic Rock N Roll. But we also like Rammstein, and I’m speaking in person, and we all have different music tastes. So when we get together to write songs, you don’t know what could happen. Very many different styles of music influence Paul and me.
In general, you have like three different types of songs on Saxon albums. There are a lot of basic rock ‘n roll songs, some catchy pop songs, and straight heavy metal songs, which BATTERING RAM mainly represents.
Doug Scarratt: Yeah. And I think it’s nice. People are surprised that we can still deliver a heavy album.
You were not in the band at that time, but what do you think of the band’s “pop” era when they released albums like INNOCENCE IS NO EXCUSE or DESTINY?
Doug Scarratt: I know that Saxon got a lot of bad press at that time for doing that, but really it’s difficult not to be influenced by the music that’s happening around you, for one thing. We do like bands like Journey and everyone in the band, and we like Journey and Toto. So I do understand the Saxon fan base wanted the band to stay hard and heavy. But it’s a fairly natural thing, I think, to diversify a bit sometimes. It doesn’t always work, but there is a lot of albums. There are so many Saxon albums, and there are only a few that go onto the soft.
THE INFLUENCES AND THE EARLY DAYS
Which bands did you follow when you grew up, and how much were you were into Saxon in their early days?
Doug Scarratt: I grew up more with bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. When the new wave of heavy metal was happening, I was not listening to rock and metal so much. I still liked it, but I was listening to a lot of different types of music. So I really liked Saxon and Motorhead and Judas Priest. But they weren’t the kind of band so much I was listening to them. I was a guitar teacher, so I did use to teach quite a lot of students how to play Saxon riffs. It seems really bizarre that I ended up in the band because, obviously, I had no idea that that would happen at the time.
Are there any particular albums that were your personal favorites?
Doug Scarratt: From the ’70s? I really liked HOUSES OF THE HOLY album Led Zeppelin. But I was a massive fan of Pink Floyd, and so I liked CLOSE TO THE EDGE. Most people’s favorite of Floyd is THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, but mine is CLOSE TO THE EDGE because I like quite trippy music. Sabbath, I liked the MASTERS OF REALITY album as well, and the first album was great. It isn’t easy to pick one. But for guitar-wise, I loved Paul Kossoff and Robin Trower. I was a massive fan of Robin Trower when I was 13-14.
How about Saxon? Which album was your favorite Saxon album back in the day?
Doug Scarratt: My favorite Saxon album? Probably POWER & THE GLORY, actually. WHEELS OF STEEL, I liked. I probably liked that much stronger for whatever reason. But of the older albums, it’s hard to choose there, and it’s hard to choose between them. But back then, I think POWER & THE GLORY was… I know it was later, but I really liked it. What is your favorite Saxon album?
I would say my favorite is CRUSADER. Because it was my first Saxon album, and I still remember when it came out.
Doug Scarratt: Yeah, which will influence what’s your favorite. I think probably “Crusader “is the strongest song on the CRUSADER album.
I agree, and now afterward, there are much stronger Saxon albums released before and after CRUSADER, but it’s still my favorite because it was the first one, “Laughs.”
Motorhead has had their difficulties, but Saxon also had some issues when Nigel Glockler fell seriously ill last year. That must have been a difficult time for the band?
Doug Scarratt: Yeah. There was this time last year that was pretty shocking, and it came from nowhere. In the morning, we were in New Castle, and in the morning, he was completely fine. There were about four, five more shows left at the end of what was a long tour. We were all very, very tired by then. Then it was day-off, and then he just had a headache in the evening and was vomiting. We thought maybe it was a bit of exhaustion, migraine. But then it just got worse. The rest you know about, he was rushed into hospital with an aneurysm.
But he’s doing 100% ok now?
Doug Scarratt: He’s fine. Many people don’t recover at all, and even if they recover, they have some paralysis. He was fortunate. He was back out on tour within like four, five months. He was back to the full strength, amazing, really.
As you said, many people don’t recover from these things at all, and many who do recover still have to live with different symptoms for the rest of their life.
Doug Scarratt: Depending on which part of the brain it affects, he’s back to his same self. Apparently, he’s been told that it’s unlikely that it would happen again and that he can do anything he wants to now.
He doesn’t even have to reduce his red wine drinking habits? “Laughs”
Doug Scarratt: No, no. He did at first, but they haven’t said that he couldn’t. Obviously, no doctor is going to tell you, go ahead and get pissed and fucked up as much as you like. That’s not the way. No, he can still have a drink, and as much as the rest of us, he seems totally fine.
How did Sven Dirkschneider, the son of Udo, came into the picture and fill in for Nigel when he was still recovering?
Doug Scarratt: With Sven, obviously because we had to reschedule the canceled shows in December, and Nigel wasn’t well enough at that stage. So we had to go with the only dates that were available for the British shows. So Sven had been Nigel’s guitar tech for the entire tour and before that, actually. It was an obvious choice, really, because he played through the songs in the soundcheck with us. He knew quite a lot of the songs, and he was an up-and-coming drama. It’s just an easy, obvious choice. So he did that tour with us, and he’s doing the next two shows with us after today. Because Nigel has to… Because these two shows were canceled because of Phil being sick, the Berlin, Hamburg shows. So they’ve added to the end of the tour. We would have been finishing tonight actually and going home tomorrow, but Nigel was moving to America. So the containers are arriving in a couple of days, in two days’ time. The huge containers to ship everything to America are moving there in a week, and his wife has a bad back. So he couldn’t do it, and it wasn’t changeable.
If I remember right, Nigel has spent a lot of time in the US during the last few years. I thought that he actually lived there already, but it seems that I was wrong…
Doug Scarratt: He has spent a fair bit of time there because his wife is American. So he’s been planning to move there for nearly two years, but it’s taken a long time to sell his property in England and organize it. Now it’s actually happening.
I must ask, how might Nigel’s moving to the US affect his future in the band?
Doug Scarratt: We’ve discussed that it should be fine. If we have a group of festivals, he’ll fly in, and he knows enough people in England there. He’ll stay in England for that block of time, and obviously, when we’re on tour, he’ll fly at the beginning of the tour and fly back. So we’re all used to living a long way apart. Biff and Paul live in the North of England and for me to drive there is like five hours, something like four or five hours. Nibbs lives in Germany, Nigel and I have always lived in the same town. So we were in a band before Saxon. So I’ll be losing a friend that lives around the corner. I won’t be losing him, but I won’t be able to pop around for a cup of tea anymore.
What are the plans after this tour? What are you going to do next?
Doug Scarratt: I guess obviously we’ve got the next part of the Motorhead – tour after Christmas throughout and for the end of January and all of February. In the UK and more Europe again. Then unclear, I’m not sure. But then there are lots of festivals coming in now. So we may do another tour, but I’m not sure where or. But then we will go through the festivals, and then we’ll do another tour for the rest of the year.
Is that going to be your own headline tour in the fall?
Doug Scarratt: Maybe, unless we find another good package that works. It’s not really decided yet.
Are there some certain bands or bands you would like to tour with in the future?
Doug Scarratt: I think we would probably….Saxon and Accept would be quite a good package? I think that it would be quite a good package. We’ve had a great time with Judas Priest in America as well, which worked really nicely. Again, older bands of this era work great as a package. People like it, I think.
Actually, when you mentioned Accept, when I first heard BATTERING RAM. I was like, did I put the wrong CD in? Because it sounded so much like the new Accept. “Laughs” In sound-wise, it’s pretty close to that. And it’s probably Andy Snap’s fault, I guess?! “Laughs”
Doug Scarratt: That is what he does “Laughs.”
He likes to do things in certain ways, and I like it. The Accept albums he has done are excellent. In my taste, they’re as good as the old ones. But when you’re in the studio with Andy, how much does he bring his ideas to the band? How to create, how to do this and that, or does he let you do what you want?
Doug Scarratt: Creatively writing-wise, he pretty much lets us do what we want. As the kind of producer who does have a say if there is something, he doesn’t like. He doesn’t have much to do with the songwriting. He might suggest certain sounds, but as far as the writing goes, not very much.
I think this is about it. Thanks for your time Doug and see you on the show!
Doug Scarratt: Thanks, and see you soon!
LIVE PICTURES FROM SAXON’S SHOW IN HELSINKI