Saxon Is Crashing Down In America
Saxon, one of the leaders of the new wave of British heavy metal, have released their latest album Thunderbolt in February 2018 and are about to set out on tour with Judas Priest. Biff Byford was kind enough to chat with Ignite about this thunderous new album and what we can all expect.
When Saxon formed in 1979, I was alive but too young to appreciate British heavy metal. Can you tell me what the scene was like back then?
BB: We were very punky in the late 70s. We were trying to write a new style of rock music, and punk was already big, so we took a bit of that aggression and a bit of that style and put it in with our rocky backgrounds. We have a video out called “They Played Rock And Roll” which pretty much sums up the atmosphere in the U.K. in ‘79-’80, definitely.
Saxon went on to tour most of the world over the next few decades, playing the biggest festivals. How does crowd response differ? Do you find some parts of the world have a completely different appreciation for heavy metal than others?
BB: I don’t think so. I think people have different song favorites, different albums are bigger in different countries. For instance, in America Power & The Glory was a pretty big album in 1983-84. The album after that, Crusader, was pretty big. A lot of the albums before that were ginormous in England and Europe and people got turned onto them a bit later in America and we had a big hardcore following in America. I think that the American bands that were growing up in the 80s, and were around in the 70’s, were very much influenced by this British explosion in 1980, of this new style of music.
Right. I think Denim and Leather also seems to be another American favorite.
BB: That was a big album for us. When we were touring America, we’d go into a truckstop somewhere and gal would say, “Are you guys in a band? I’m into British metal like ‘Denim and Leather’” and we’d say, “ That’s our song!” So, a lot of people know the song, but they don’t know it was us that wrote it. You get that with big songs. The songs are bigger than the band sometimes.
In the early 90s, the heavy metal scene kind of slowed down, but what gave you the desire to continue on and what do you think contributed to your longevity as a band?
BB: We came out of the punk explosion in the 80s, and the 90s had the grunge thing with Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, which was a great explosion of a new style of rock music, again. We sort of hunkered down and played to our fans and made albums and we had a great fan base and great record label that were willing to stick with us through the bad times. We came out the other end a better band, I think.
With 22 albums under your belt, do you find it a challenge to keep the classic 80’s heavy metal sound without sounding dated?
BB: With every album, we treat every song as a separate project. We try to write the best song we can and try to make the riffs and music as exciting as possible, so in that respect, I think we’re still connected to the 80s now more than we were, but I think it’s a good thing. We have a very looky style of connecting the vintage 80’s sound with a more modern twist and I think people really like that.
Right, and I think that old school metal is making a huge comeback anyway, so it’s great to see the new young fans get excited about that.
BB: We’re making a huge comeback, especially in America, so we’re very happy about that. It looks like people are getting pretty excited about the new album and the tour with Judas Priest in March, so we’re looking forward to it.
Absolutely. Tell me about your campaign in 2010 to have heavy metal declared a religion in the UK.
BB: That was together with a magazine. A magazine asked me to be the “Archbishop of Metal” or whatever and I said I’d do it. Heavy metal got recognized as a religion in England, which is pretty cool. I think the Jedi Knights were above us though.
That’s awesome. Why is the name Thunderbolt fitting for your latest album released Feb 2?
BB: I’m into words and I thought the word “thunderbolt” conjures up all sorts of things. I wanted to do something about the Greek gods, Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, and that sort of thing. It’s good stuff for rock music. Zeus’ symbol is a thunderbolt, so a thunderbolt crashing through the sky is a good metal metaphor.
You mentioned the 2nd single and there’s also the video for “They Played Rock And Roll” about your very first tour with Mötorhead in ‘79. Can you tell me a enlighten me a little on that experience?
BB: It was our first tour ever. It was a very, very special moment for us because Mötorhead were very big in the U.K. back then. They taught us how to party and to travel and deal with the pressures of touring.
You couldn’t have had better teachers!
BB: We had very good teachers. Those three guys were absolutely crazy, but friendly as well, so they looked after us too and made sure we didn’t get into too much trouble. They wanted all the girls anyway.
Lemmy comes up a lot in my interviews! From what I understand, that song was written before Lemmy passed. Did he ever get to hear it?
BB: He didn’t get to hear it. I told him I was writing a song about them and he said, “It better be a good one.” Eddie Clarke heard the song, but Lemmy never did.
It definitely was a good one. What else can fans expect from the new album?
BB: We think it’s a great album. It’s getting great reviews. There are some killer songs on there. We think it’s a really strong album. There are no ballads on there, so it’s all full on. I think people are going to get an idea of where Saxon is coming from these days.
The songs aren’t too long and like you said, they are fast, so it’s a great rocking album. Each song seems to tell a story and I like that.
BB: Yeah, I’m a storyteller. I’m always looking for a different story to tell so I’m not repeating myself all the time. Everything is in poetry, so it all rhymes, which sounds five times as difficult as it should be. I like a challenge.
Will there be a 23rd album from Saxon?
BB: There will be, but not for awhile.
Of course, we have to enjoy this one first!
BB: Enjoy this one and come see us on tour, then we’ll get into the next one.
Why do you think everyone should attend the upcoming North American tour with Judas Priest?
BB: It’s a fantastic package. Saxon and Priest are iconic bands from that period. Black Star Riders, who are a newish band, are all members of Thin Lizzy. It’s definitely the tour of the year for metal and people are getting really excited about it already. There are two new albums out too, with of course Thunderbolt, and Firepower by Judas Priest, so it’s a little bit like going back to the 80s with this tour.
I’m really excited for it and happy it will be coming to Mohegan Sun in CT, which is probably the closest to me. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
BB: We’re coming to America. We toured quite a lot there last year as well. We feel that this is our time now, the year of the thunderbolt so keep the faith and we’ll see you all in March, April, and May.
Sounds good. Again, thank you for your time Biff and safe travels on tour.
Interview by Nina McCarthy
For more information, check out the band’s website: