On February 2nd, Saxon will be releasing their 22nd album; Thunderbolt and three weeks later embarking on the first leg of the Thunderbolt 2018 European Tour with Diamond Head and Rock Goddess! In Mid-March to the excitement of US fans, Saxon will continue their trek to North America supporting Judas Priest.
Saxon was one of the bands leading the charge during the 80s for the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” movement. Comprised of members Biff Byford (vocals), Doug Scarratt (guitar), Paul Quinn (guitar), Nibbs Carter (bass), Nigel Glockler (drums), Saxon is responsible for penning some of the 1980’s most enduring metal anthems, including “Wheels of Steel,” “Strong Arm of the Law,” “Motorcycle Man,” “Princess of the Night,” and “Never Surrender.” They have been going strong for 40 years and don’t show any signs of slowing down with this latest CD and tour!
I had the pleasure of speaking with Biff Byford about their powerful new CD Thunderbolt and their North American Tour with Judas Priest and Black Star Riders.
Robert Cavuoto: A US tour of Saxon and Judas Priest seems long overdue, how did the tour come about and why did it take so long?
Biff Byford: I would suppose scheduling; we have been talking to Priest’s management as well as the boys in the band for quite some time about touring together. We did do a few shows with them in America in 2015 I believe. I think it is a great package for the fans having two British metal bands from the 80s; well really late 70’s!
Robert Cavuoto: Have you ever toured the states with Judas Priest?
Biff Byford: Our first tour was with Motorhead in 1979, and then we went straight on a European tour was with Priest in 1980. We were touring for Wheels of Steel, and they were touring for British Steel. We never came to the US together. I think Iron Maiden and Priest toured together in the early 80s. This tour is a great bill, and we are looking forward to it. I know the fans are as well. We each have a new album coming out a month apart from each other so people will be listening to Saxon and Priest. Which is the best album? [Laughing]. It would be like 1980 again.
Robert Cavuoto: How long will your set be and will you performing classic songs as well as newer ones?
Biff Byford: We will only have 50 or 60 minutes so we will cram as much in as possible. It should be a mixture of old and new stuff.
Robert Cavuoto: Everyone talks about the New Wave of British Heavy Metal; I always felt that Saxon, Priest, and Maiden were on the forefront. If you could do a Big 3 or 4 tour of the pivotal metal bands from that era who would you pick?
Biff Byford: Obviously Priest, Saxon, and Maiden. That would be a great tour. There are not that many bands left from the time. Girlschool could be on the there. Diamond Head would be great too! But the Big 3 would be Maiden, Priest, and Saxon. That would be an ultimate big arena tour. I would have said Motorhead but that is not possible. We did a tour in Spain a couple of years ago with Priest, Motorhead, and Saxon and that was absolutely incredible!
Robert Cavuoto: I’m really enjoying your new CD, Thunderbolt; the band did a phenomenal job of tapping into their legacy yet creating an updated and modern sound.
Biff Byford: Nibbs Carter and I wrote most of the songs on the CD. He is really a prolific writer of riffs. He is an extraordinary bassist and plays guitar as well. I picked out some of his riffs for the boys to learn to turn into their style. There are there were two or three songs written by the band. That’s the way we like to work.
Robert Cavuoto: How far does the writing of songs go before making the decision if they will be right for the band and the album?
Biff Byford: If the riff interests me, then I’ll take it further. We are getting ideas all the time while we are in that writing/recording process. We go into the studio and jam it out with the band to see what works and it’s in the band’s style. We have been working on Thunderbolt for about a year in-between touring. I have a rehearsal room at my home so I can write, so it’s no problem.
Robert Cavuoto: Something I noticed which I really liked was the way the vocals were handled on Thunderbolt; they are reminiscent of the early classic albums. Did you and Andy Sneap approach the vocals differently?
Biff Byford: Nothing different, it was the same microphone I have used on the last 15 LPs, as I own my own microphone. It’s just the way the songs are structured and their melodies. It’s maybe more reminiscent of the earlier melodies I used to write. I don’t know really. You are listening to the album fresh, and your first thoughts are important and might be different than what I think. I don’t really hear a difference on vocals between Battering Ram and Thunderbolt. If you hear something, then there may be a difference, so I’m not disagreeing with you. Once the new album is done, I really don’t go back to it. Maybe I should go back and cross-reference the vocals with Battering Ram. There might be some new gizmos Andy used on the vocals. [Laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: You pay tribute to Lemmy and Motorhead with the song “They Played Rock n’ Roll” and now Fast Eddie has just passed. How poignant is the song now that three of the members of the band are gone?
Biff Byford: Very poignant, there are still three guys left, Phil Campbell, Mikkey Dee and Brian Robertson. I started having ideas for that song before Lemmy passed away. The song was scheduled to be our next single for a while, and then Fast Eddie passed. I added a post on our Facebook page to see if the fans were okay with us releasing it. One thousand of them thought it was cool, so the video will be coming out January 22nd.
Robert Cavuoto: For the US tour which songs will you be preforming off the new CD?
Biff Byford: I don’t know yet! [Laughing] We don’t pre-plan things like that. We will rehearse seven or eight of the new songs. We will wait and see what people like when the album is out. We will certainly play “Thunderbolt.” What’s, are your favorite tracks?
Robert Cavuoto: My top four were “Sniper,” “Roadies Song,” “Thunderbolt,” and “Speed Merchant.”
Biff Byford: When you have an album full of great songs, everyone has a different idea of which of those songs are great. If we listen to the record company, we should have just two great songs and everything mediocre, that’s kind of a wacky way of looking at things [laughing]. The point I’m making is that it’s difficult to pick as some people like “Nosferatu (The Vampires Waltz)” some like “Sniper,” some like “Roadies Song,” or “The Secret of Flight.” Every journalist I speak to has a different favorite! [Laughing]. I think we are just going to have to play them all!
Robert Cavuoto: Who came up with the riff for “Sniper” and tell me about the song’s history.
Biff Byford: That’s a Doug Scarratt riff, we wrote it together in the studio. There have been snipers around since there have been wars. People were snipers with bows and arrows. Snipers must have had a pretty rough life; they have to do as their told, get secretive, and be quiet. So this song is about them.
Robert Cavuoto: Have you heard Judas Priest’s new CD Firepower?
Biff Byford: I heard some of it and its great. They are doing what we have been doing for the last five of six years; focusing on getting the sound right and having the songs really powerful. I really liked their last two or three of their albums and think this one is going to be more in the Priest style. Not as good as ours obviously! [Laughing] It’s going to be great that we bring these two great albums out together for the tour and the fans.