Interview with Biff Byford of Saxon
by Robert Cavuoto
Biff Byford on His Solo CD School of Hard Knocks– If Something Inspires Me To Write, I’ll Write To It!
Saxon was one of the purveyors of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” movement in the 80s. Not many bands can leave a lasting impression of flying the flag for heavy metal for the last 40+ years. Together they have created some of the most enduring metal anthems, like “Wheels of Steel,” “Strong Arm of the Law,” “Power and the Glory,” “Princess of the Night,” and “Denim and Leather.”
On February 21st, vocalist Biff Byford released his first solo CD, School of Hard Knocks, with its powerful riffs, melodic vocals, and aggressive solos, a diverse body of work that showcases his vocal talents and his musical influences. Unfortunately, the pandemic sidelined his 2020 European solo tour, but during these extraordinary times, Biff, along with his son Seb have emerged to entertain fans with their lockdown videos. Playing the metal songs, fans love while watching the Saxon frontman enjoying his family time. On June 20th, he and Seb will be performing an 8-9 song live show on Stage it Show. Tickets can be purchased here; space is limited:
I caught up with Biff to discuss School of Hard Knocks, his upcoming Stage It Show, the upcoming Saxon CD, and his thoughts on what the future holds for live concerts.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m listening to your solo CD, School of Hard Knocks, and I’m enjoying the diversity of your musical influences.
Biff Byford: I wanted it to be interesting and share the different styles of music that I enjoy.
Robert Cavuoto: When you were writing it, did you have to take off your Saxon hat and rethink how you would approach writing for a solo CD?
Biff Byford: I did. There were a lot more songs than the ones I put on it. Some songs were a bit off the wall, while others just weren’t good enough. I wanted some Rock & Roll songs, a couple of metal tracks, and some that were good vocal songs. It was more about how my voice sounded than anything to do with Saxon.
Robert Cavuoto: While you are writing, how did you determine which songs would use for a solo CD and which would be held for Saxon?
Biff Byford: With Saxon, I only use the songs that inspire me to write lyrics and melodies. If a song really doesn’t get me going, I don’t bother with it. I stopped doing that in the late 80, it’s like polishing turds [laughing]. If something inspires me to write, I’ll write to it. I won’t put the effort into writing words and melodies to just anything. The first thing we wrote for this CD was the music, and those songs inspired me to sing and continue along. There were a few songs that I wrote with other people.
Robert Cavuoto: Songs like “Welcome to the Show” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” could be on a Saxon CD.
Biff Byford: Those are Rock & Roll songs and just like “School of Hard Knocks,” which could have all been on a Saxon CD, but they weren’t [Laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: I’m sure you have seen your share of hard knocks managing the ups and downs of the music business. What do you think was the toughest career challenge Saxon ever faced?
Biff Byford: In the late 80s, like 88 or 89, before we came back with some strong stuff, that was a challenging period. I think people were turning away from British Rock, but we survived it. There was interest in other types of rock music at that time. We spoke to our peers like Judas Priest, Motorhead, and even Metallica, who were all in the same boat. AC/DC went through it as well. It was a strange period, and we had to rethink things quite a bit. There seems to be this cycle in rock music that every ten years, things rise and fall. If the bands are strong, they can get through it. Media interest has a lot to do with it, as they like to move on to the next “new things” and write about it. There’s always a “new thing” in the waiting. Obviously, now with the pandemic lockdown, it’s a pretty low point for everybody.
Robert Cavuoto: Speaking of being locked-down, you have a special concert that you will be putting on with your son.
Biff Byford: On June 20th, we will be streaming a new concert on Stage It Show. Fans can buy a ticket for around $5 or 4 pounds. We will be doing it from our house. The beauty of it is that it’s a one-off show, not like on Facebook, which is up forever. Once it’s done, it’s gone!
Robert Cavuoto: What can fans expect on June 20th?
Biff Byford: We will play about 8-9 songs, and it’s something to do for our fans. I can’t share all the songs we will be doing, but we will be playing “Denim and Leather.” When you purchase a ticket, there will be an opportunity to post questions, and we will try to answer. Fans can ask any question they want. There is an option for people to leave a “tip;” the top five “tippers” as they call it, will get a Skype call with me.
Robert Cavuoto: You have been playing bass and singing while Seb has been playing guitar. I didn’t know you played bass.
Biff Byford: I used to play bass in a band before Saxon. I have a 1974 Rickenbacker bass, and unfortunately, Nibbs Carter is using it at the moment to record his bass parts for the next Saxon, so I won’t be using it on June 20th. I’m waiting for him to send it back to me.
Robert Cavuoto: That’s exciting news about the new Saxon CD, what details can you share about it?
Biff Byford: It’s coming along nicely. There is no pressure at the moment; to be honest, as I work better under pressure. We are recording our bits and pieces and have 11 songs that are done and ready to go. I did most of the writing, and I’m just waiting for the lockdown to be over so we can go to the studio and finish it off.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you see Saxon doing a Stage It Show or lockdown videos in the future?
Biff Byford: I don’t think so. We can’t do the live shows because Nibbs is in Germany; if he leaves the country, he has to self-quarantine for 14 days, which I think is ridiculous. We can do one of those virtual video links where we are all in a square, but it’s really really difficult, and I think in most of the ones we have seen have some pre-recording stuff going on [laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: You seem to have taken to this new social media platform, what do you think will happen to live concerts in 2020 and when do you think we will get back to a new normal whatever that is?
Biff Byford: I don’t know! I think analysts will be checking to see if the rates of the virus go up with the protests, and more people are catching it. That will be a big indicator if the rates don’t go up, then people will come together. There hasn’t been anything said about the music industry as most people here are more concerned with pubs and restaurants opening. Saxon has shows scheduled for September, but we also held some dates later on just in case. To tell you the truth, I can’t predict, but I don’t see it happening this year. The death rate has gone down massively here in the UK, and shops will be opening on Monday, so we just have to wait and see. I suppose you might be able to get away with it in a seated venue where there is an empty seat between you and the next person, but when you get 5,000-7,000 people in a venue, I don’t know.
Robert Cavuoto: What about the VIP/Meet and Greet packages, how do you think that will be affected?
Biff Byford: A lot of it depends on a vaccine. If they come out with a vaccine, things can go back to normal, if not, it’s going to be difficult. Two massive universities here in the UK, Oxford and Cambridge, have started trials for a vaccine that seems to work on monkeys and primates. Everyone is hoping this will be the vaccine that will save us. We just have to keep our fingers crossed as it’s the only way things can get back to normal. I get vaccinated for the flu every year, and it could be as simple as that.
Robert Cavuoto: Saxon is firing up the engines in 2021 with some select festival shows with Judas Priest. Is this a precursor of a possible touring package like in 2018?
Biff Byford: We have some shows with them in 2021, and there will be more announced they are just waiting. I don’t think Priest wants one band for an entire tour as they like to mix it up a bit. Certainly, the Priest and Saxon package were well-liked by fans.
Robert Cavuoto: Saxon always has some nice offerings with box sets and re-released vinyl; can we expect anything like that in the future?
Biff Byford: Not that I know of. I think BMG was looking to put together a package where you can buy every Saxon album in a box set like Maiden did a few years back. That would be quite interesting. We’ve been approached about an arcade gambling game around Saxon’s music. That is something we are looking into in order to diversify a little.
Stage It concert ticket link. (June 20th, 2020)
Wheels of Steel-Lockdown Rendition
Biff Byford-School Of Hard Knocks-Official Video