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Interview: Biff Byford, singer with heavy metal legends Saxon

SUCH is the uncertainty surrounding the modern music business that a hard-working band will feel fortunate to release five albums during a career.

British heavy metal band Saxon
British heavy metal band Saxon

SUCH is the uncertainty surrounding the modern music business that a hard-working band will feel fortunate to release five albums during a career.

Barnsley band Saxon have just rolled out record number 20.

It’s an incredible achievement by the forerunners of the late 70s’ New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and Biff Byford and company comfortably out-performed fellow Brits Iron Maiden and Def Leppard during the past 35 years.

Saxon may never have reached the same commercial heights but the prolific quintet have always matched quantity with quality.

Last year’s Download festival set offered fans 35 minutes of classic British metal, and latest album Sacrifice serves up more of the same.

“We don’t really have a tried and tested formula, even after all of these years,” admits Byford, last spotted in Newcastle watching The Darkness at the City Hall.

“Look at the difference between Sacrifice and Made In Belfast on the new record. It’s massive. There’s no formula there.

“Sometimes Saxon songs are full-on metal and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the songs are a little more sophisticated. I just wanted Sacrifice, the album, to sound like I imagined it sounding when I was going through the songwriting – and it does.

“There are no ballads on there – it’s pretty intense. I think we’ve broken new ground and, at the same time, gone back to our early 80s roots. A couple of tracks are more flashy metal songs but there’s a good mix.”

Saxon, of course, have every right to revisit those 80s roots. With more and more new metal bands adopting that NWOBHM sound, there’s no reason for the pioneers of the genre to discard their retro sound altogether.

“Are they a nod to what we did in the 80s? I’m not sure,” adds Byford. “There are a lot of new metal bands out there who have a pretty retro sound and there’s nothing wrong with that. I see where they’re coming from.

“As a vocalist, I just like to go to places other singers can’t reach and there are certain words and certain songs that help me do that. That’s why you’ll hear some familiar lyrics on Sacrifice – wrapped up in some fantastic new modern metal.”

Last year, Saxon starred in their own DVD, Heavy Metal Thunder: The Movie. Celebrating the band’s history with archive footage and interviews, it demonstrates why the band remain a huge live draw.

“It was fun to do,” adds Byford. “And hopefully it will get a few more fans along to the latest run of shows now that they’ve remembered what we’re all about.

“We can’t wait to play Newcastle – we’ve been coming up to Tyneside since the 70s and it’s always a cracking crowd. Of course, we’ve got some local lads opening up for us as well this time.”

These are Newcastle’s very own Quireboys, squeezing in gigs with Saxon alongside recording sessions on the south coast with legendary producer Chris Tsangirides.

Spike and company will release their new album later this year and Blyth-born guitarist Paul Guerin revealed: “It’s sounding great.

“We’re loving working with Chris. We arrived back from the Monsters Of Rock cruise in Florida last month and immediately set to work on the new record.

“It’s been in the songwriting stage for so long now that it’s become a real labour of love. We’ve had a few problems with management and labels but we’re finally in a position where we can release the album.

“If we can squeeze in a couple of new songs then we will. But however long we get to play it’s always a treat to come back to the Toon and we can’t thank Saxon enough.”

:: Saxon and the Quireboys play Newcastle O2 Academy on Saturday


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