Q’s With Biff Byford Of Saxon: From The Clash To Motörhead To The World

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Saxon’s Biff Byford creates an energy vortex during the band’s show at Las Rageous Festival at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center April 21.

A discussion about the pioneers of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, including bands such as Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Judas Priest, and Motörhead, isn’t complete without including Saxon, whose members got together in the late 1970s and have been recording and touring ever since.

Originally from South Yorkshire, England, Saxon has gone on to sell about 23 million albums and counting with hits such as “Denim And Leather,” “Princess Of The Night,” “Wheels Of Steel” and “Power And Glory.”

The band, comprised of lead singer Biff Byford, bassist Nibbs Carter, guitarists Doug Scarratt and Paul Quinn and drummer Nigel Glockler is touring behind its 22nd album, Thunderbolt, on Silver Lining Records. Saxon is represented by X-ray Touring’s Steve Strange, APA’s Keith Naisbitt and Siren Artist Management’s Adam Parsons.

Before Saxon heads out to Mexico, Germany and the UK, it is playing support on some dates with Judas Priest, which is touring behind its latest album, Firepower.

“We did our first tour in Europe in 1980 with Judas Priest, so that was great for us. It was on our Wheels Of Steel album, which was a pretty big album,” Byford told Pollstar. “We have a good history with Judas Priest. We used to meet them on T.V. shows in England and Germany all the time. They were pretty big in the 1980s as well.”

Byford talked to Pollstar prior to hitting the road about Saxon’s longevity, touring with Motörhead and evolving with technology. 

Pollstar: What was the metal scene like when Saxon started out?

Biff Byford: It was very punk – The Clash, Sex Pistols, people like that. We did some shows with The Clash back in the day.  It was very punk-oriented on radio and T.V.” Byford said. “We were more the other side of the coin, really. We were more the rebel, sort of biker-type image. There [were a] few bands around at the time that we used to meet on the road like [Iron] Maiden. 

What kind of shows were you playing?

We were playing mostly everywhere, really. We were playing small clubs before we got our recording contract. Just up and down the country. The Northeast and the Midlands and obviously Yorkshire, where we’re from. We got a recording contract in 1979, got a new drummer and we changed our name [from Son Of A Bitch] to Saxon.” 

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Saxon’s Biff Byford leads the way during the band’s show at Razzmatazz in Barcelona, Spain, in this December 2016 photo.

Who did Saxon first tour with? 

The very first tour we did was with Motörhead in December 1979. It was a big learning curve for us and it was a bit crazy because Motörhead was bigger than sliced bread in 1979. They took us under their wing and showed us the rock ’n’ roll way, so to speak. We’d never been on a tour, we’d never stayed in hotels together, we’d never been to a T.V. station. It was a big break for us. 

How has Saxon evolved since you began?

Everything’s looking good in Europe and everything’s going really well in America. We got Soundscan figures in and we sold more physical product in the first week than we sold for [1984’s] Crusader. We’re not a big streaming band, we’re a physical-product band.

 How have the changes in the industry affected Saxon’s touring? 

We use old technology and new technology. We have a big Facebook following (480,651 followers) and we’re on Twitter (17.900 followers) and Instagram (18.800 followers). We’re all over the place and that’s where you have to be these days. It’s definitely better now for keeping in touch with home and keeping in touch with the fans every day.

Back in the day, we used to have fan clubs and we used to mail out newsletters to our fans. These days we can concentrate more on song writing because we have a bit more time. 

Why does Saxon play fan requests during its shows?

It’s all about playing live for Saxon. We don’t use hard drives and click tracks and things. Saxon is totally live, so each show is different. If I want to change the setlist, I can. We have a lot of big hits that people want to hear, so that’s a problem but it’s a nice problem.

It’s really about the fans for Saxon. That’s the secret.