INTERVJU: Biff Byford i Saxon

Saxon är högaktuella med nya albumet “Thunderbolt”. Vi slog oss ner mitt emot legenden Biff Byford för att diskutera den nya given, flygningar, England på 80-talet och givetvis hyllningslåten till Motörhead, “They played rock and roll”:

Lemmy would´ve loved this song. Nibbs wrote the guitar parts. I said to him ”I want a song that sounds like Motörhead and Saxon.” and he sent me two pieces and I put them together. The verse is a bit like ”Dallas 1 pm” and the chorus is more like ”Ace of spades”. He did a good job. 


Thunderbolt” is your 22nd album. Throughout the years I think the longest gap you´ve had between albums is around three years. That´s quite a pace. It´s not like TOOL who´s been working on their new one for more than ten years.

Yeah, well you know, we´ve never had enough money to be able to do that. (laughs) It was always a matter of ”Let´s get the album stuck out and get on tour.”

Do you ever feel pressure getting a new one out?

No, not since the 80´s. The 80´s was a bit pressured to get them out because nobody expected to last longer than one album. There was quite a lot of pressure to write and record. I think they released them a little bit quicker in the 80´s, but that´s how it was.

In the 70´s you had bands like KISS releasing two albums a year.

Yes, but I also as well think that sometimes the quality slipps, but in our case it didn´t slip. It got better. I think you burn out quicker when you write so quick and also in your early part of your career. It tends to suffer later. But yeah, we did it and it was good.

Johan from Amon Amarth is on the song ”Predator” How long have you known him?

Since they first started gigging actually. We played a festival with them in a lake somewhere in Italy quite a while ago and that´s when I first met the band. They are big Saxon fans and fans of all the 80´s stuff really and particularly us and Judas Priest and Motörhead and probably Iron Maiden as well. I´ve seen them quite a lot over the years and I´ve been drinking with them.

Was he the first guy you thought of for the song?

Yes. I sang on the demo myself, the low octave… but yeah, he was the first guy. He was the only guy really that I thought of. You can hear what he´s singing which makes a difference, so it´s good. We sent him the song and he did it and he did a great job.

I kind of thought the song ”Sons of Odin” would have suited him?

Oh, I´m sure he would´ve preferred to sing that one and when he hears the song, because I don´t think he´s heard it yet, he´s gonna go ”Fuck! That´s the song I should´ve been singing!” Unfortunately I didn´t sing him that song. (laughs) Both me and Andy (Sneap, producer) were going ”He´s gonna like Sons of Odin, isn´t he?” (laughs)

Another cool track is ”The secret of flight”, which I read is about the Wright brothers.

Well, it´s about flying. It took us a long time as human beings to figure out the physics of flying and it´s quite simple when you think about it. The bent wing and the different pressure gives a lift. It was quite a difficult song to write lyrically. To get everybody in, from Icarus to Einstein. I like it. I had good fun writing that song.

Since you travel a lot, have there been times when you´ve not felt comfortable being up in the air?

Many times. We´ve had all sorts of things happen over the years. If you´re flying you´re gonna experience all the different aspects of flying. The first time we ever flew… I think the drummer had flown before, but the first time was in 1979 when we went to Paris to sign our first record. It was really strange. Then at our first Donnington, we flew in a private plane around it which was really crazy. I was in the front with the pilot and he said ”Don´t touch anything!” or we would do like a stupid dive bomber thing. Flying is a big part of rock and roll if you´re a world artist. You can´t do it like David Bowie (1947-2016) and go on a ship everywhere. I mean, you can, but it would take a long time.

Are you into fighter planes and such?

Oh yeah! I´m from that generation. I love all that, the nostalgic stuff with the Spitfires and the Messerschmitts and all that. I think all guys are. It´s a bit like model railways and scalextrics. You can be the most macho guy in the world, but if somebody sets a scalextric up… You can be the biggest murderer or gangster, but if somebody sets up a scalextric in his cell, he´ll be playing with it within 10 minutes. These things are all technology and the physical thing about racing, trying to keep the thing on the track. Or setting up a whole model world… it´s very connected with rock music actually.

And what about the song ”Roadies”?

Ah, you like that one? We weren´t gonna put that one on the album. I liked it, but the band and Andy thought it wasn´t the right style for the album.

Do you have the last saying when it comes to a thing like that?

Yeah, I did. I was like ”Ok, we´ll put it out as a bonus.”, but then my son and my wife and friends heard it and said ”People are gonna like that song. You should put it on the album. People are gonna be pissed off if only like 10 % of the people can hear it.”. So I was like ”Ok, we´ll put it on there.” I rearranged the running order so it came after ”Speed merchant”, which is a little bit more classic rocky anyway, so it fits there. I don´t think it would´ve fitted after ”Nosferatu”. It fits on the end and I´m pleased we put it on because people like it. They like the chorus. ”16 beds inside this bus, step inside be one of us”. It´s a great chorus and a typical Saxon chorus.

Don´t you have to be a certain type of person to be out on the road in a cramped space with the same people for a long time?

We travel on the bus with the crew most times. 16 beds was probably the biggest bus we ever had. The crew more or less go straight to bed. The only time we party with the crew is on days off. Most of the time, when it gets to 2 in the morning when they´re finished, they go to bed. But if it´s a day off the next day they´ll stay up and we´ll all have a party. Those are the dangerous days. (laughs) The crew has to be as nice to live with as the band. I mean, we can sack a crew member, but it´s a bit more difficult to sack a guitarist if you don´t get on with him. You know what I mean? The crew is pretty cool actually and they´re part of the family.

Have that group of people, the roadies, changed throughout the years? Back in the 70´s and 80´s you get the feeling they were just as wild as some of the bands they were working for.

A lot of the crew are in bands or have been in bands. Most of the crew that we use have been in bands and have just decided that it´s not for them. I mean, if you´re a drum tech, you really need to be able to play drums. All of our drum techs have been students for drums or have been in bands. Definitely in the sound crew they are all mostly musicians.

The song ”They played rock and roll”, which is about your tour with Motörhead in 1979, that´s when Thatcher became prime minister, right?

Yes and I started to put the song together while Lemmy was alive and I was gonna do a song about the 70´s, the ´79-´80 period. That was our first tour that we ever did and they helped us a lot and I just thought it would be nice to do a song. Lemmy always went on and said ”We´re Motörhead and we play rock and roll!”, so I used that as a title. It´s turned out to a bit of a tribute now and Eddie´s (Clarke, 1950-2018) also gone. Eddie definitely liked the song and he was gonna play a solo on it, but it didn´t work out, and so was Phil Campbell. That was my original idea, to have the old Motörhead and the new Motörhead oon the same song, but that didn´t work out. Lemmy would´ve loved this song. Nibbs wrote the guitar parts. I said to him ”I want a song that sounds like Motörhead and Saxon.” and he sent me two pieces and I put them together. The verse is a bit like ”Dallas 1 pm” and the chorus is more like ”Ace of spades”. He did a good job. It´s an easy song. I wanted the bridges to be adrenaline and sweating leather. It sums up Saxon and Motörhead together. I like the song.

What was England like back then?

Like that. (laughs) It was chaotic and a lot of troubles for working class people and especially in the north where I was from. It was power cuts and strikes and IRA bombs. Punk was still quite big but running out of steam a little bit. The Clash had moved on to something else. We loved the Sex Pistols and The Clash. We loved the way they produced albums, really dry and raw. There were police in the streets and Thatcher on TV all the time saying ”I´m gonna smash the unions!” and when you´re a working class guy in a mining community or textiles… I don´t know whether she was right or wrong, but it was brutal and we came from that. A lot of those early songs, like ”Backs to the wall” and ”Stand up and be counted” were all songs about that era.

Was it in a way more honest back then compared to today with ”fake news” and all?

Some of the things have changed for the better and some of the things have changed for the worse. I think, as a movement in 1980, the bands that came out of that, Iron Maiden, us and Def Leppard… I think for us and Maiden, we captured that aggression and if you listen to those early albums, we´re not entertaining musicians. We are all about the people and all about the fans and connecting with the fans, whereas before that, people would just sit down and listen to bands playing fantastic music and the bands never engaged their fans. They just said groovy things. (laughs) Nothing wrong with that, but we weren´t like that. We wanted a reaction.

You and Lemmy, did you ever write anything together?

No, we didn´t. We talked about it because he was into the history thing. Lemmy´s and my lyrics were quite similar in some respect. He just loved the whole rock and roll myth and that´s what he used to write about, whereas for me it was different. I wasn´t the same as Lemmy. He was from a different background and he came to where he was in a different way. He sang on one of our songs (I´ve got to rock to stay alive). He loved that song.

Do you feel that the latest album is always the best album?

Well, we don´t think in those terms, to tell you the truth. It´s up to the people that listen to it and buy it or download it, what they think. I might think it´s the most incredible thing since fucking sliced bread, but what do I know? Everybody says this album is special and everybody says they love the album. Let´s wait and see what the average Saxon fan thinks of it. Some people always go ”Nah, it´s not as good as the 80´s.”. It´s the next album for us and we worked hard on it. We´re on a bit of a roll at the moment. We´ve worked really hard the last few years.

It seems like your touring all the time.

It seems like that, but we´re actually not. We´re in a lot of magazines and we´re very into social media. It all pays off, doesn´t it? Every little bit. Have you seen the Saxon beer? There´s three. There´s the Saxon Brew, then there´s the Crusader one and then there´s the new one, Thunderbolt.

What about the future? Do you think 1o years ahead?

No, no, no! We´re trying to set something up for next years since it´s our 40th anniversary, so we´re gonna try and do something special for that. I´m definitely gonna get my solo album off the ground, so that´s gonna happen, I think. We might do Sweden Rock Festival and headline with the castle and the eagle. Bring back the ”Crusader” set. We have used it occasionally, but it would be nice to use it everywhere. I just have to get rid of these younger guys who wanna headline… Maybe ”The eagle has landed” part 4 is coming out. It´s all recorded, but we might wanna add some of these songs onto it and we´ll see.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Therés Stephansdotter Björk