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Biff Byford, School of Hard Knocks available from Amazon

Barnsley’s rock legend Biff Byford launches his solo album at the end of the week and hits the road in April for a short UK tour. School Of Hard Knocks marks the Saxon front man’s long-awaited debut as a solo artist and promises to show a different side of Biff.

“The album’s been on the cards for some time,” he told me. “I’ve been messing about with it for a few years but it all came together really quickly last year. I had time to write a few songs and bring it all together and this seemed a good time to release the album, in a break between Saxon albums.”

Saxon are well known for their hard rocking style but Biff has an eclectic taste in music and wanted the album to reflect this whilst making an autobiographical nod to his working class Yorkshire roots.

“I wanted to write in the different styles that I like,” he explains. “I have very broad musical tastes, Most people, I think, do actually like lots of styles – as long as it’s good music. The press tend to pigeon-hole bands into different genres and styles but, generally, people have a wider outlook in music.

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“So from prog rock to a ballad and some aspects of rock music, it’s all in there. One of my favourites is The Pit and the Pendulum, which is quite prog metal and I love that.

Biff has an eclectic taste in music and wanted the album to reflect this whilst making an autobiographical nod to his working class Yorkshire roots.

“I’m a big prog rock fan and was a huge fan of Yes back in the day. Being a musician-bass player myself, the musicianship in bands like that really caught me. There’s a version of Throw Down the Sword by Wishbone Ash, because it was the first song I ever heard that was anything to do with history in the sense of battles and war, and was really the thing which started me on the road to writing historically-driven songs.”

Hardly historical, Welcome To the Show is a likely stage anthem and concert opener in glorious hard rock style, a great showcase for Biff’s gruff, weather-beaten vocals. It also includes a scintillating guitar solo by Opeth’s Frederik Akersson whose sterling work is displayed throughout the album. Christian Lundqvist (drums) and Gus Macricostas on bass complete the ‘house band’ for the album while Biff, himself, played a spot of four string thunder too.

Pedal To The Metal and Hearts of Steel are equally hard driving rock numbers, sure to satisfy the legions of Biff’s fans but, as Biff points out, there is much more variety here.

“I wanted a song about Yorkshire,” he says of the inclusion of the traditional folk ballad Scarborough Fair. “I used to sing that song at school. It’s not a Simon & Garfunkel song as many people think it is. The story goes that Paul Simon happened to hear somebody playing it in Whitby, which is just down the road from Scarborough. We tried a new arrangement which made it a little heavier, and it works really well. The only other one I could have thought of was Ilkley Moor Baht’at,” he laughs. “But it doesn’t rock up as well!”

“I didn’t make the album to impress anybody or to make money, it’s a labour of love, really. I’ve been talking about it for so long, I thought I’d better do it now and it’s getting great critical reviews and I’m quite surprised by the interest in it. It was good fun (to make), it’s not a boring album, that’s for sure!

“School Of Hard Knocks is autobiographical, from my days living in a small town with a factory and coal mining. The album cover, I chose because it was like where I lived, a steam train, the factory, kids playing football in the streets, that’s really where I came from. The whole album is packaged with a retrospective and nostalgic look. I’m singing about my past of course and about things I like, but mostly I wanted it to reflect me, my personality and my life,

“I have to say, I am delighted with it! It has a whole range of styles, from the ridiculously heavy to ballads, and it is certainly my album.”

The album, produced by Biff, features guest appearances by Phil Campbell (Motörhead/Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons), Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody of Fire and Turilli / Lione Rhapsody), Nick Barker (Voices), Dave Kemp (Wayward Sons) and Nibbs Carter (Saxon).

Following a few dates with Saxon, April sees Biff heading out on the road for 10 solo dates around the country including Gateshead, Leeds and Liverpool. The show will take an ‘evening with…’ format and the first half will feature Biff chatting to American comedian Don Jamieson on all aspects of his life and career.

“It’s my idea to do it,” Biff admits, “and if it fails it’ll be my fault. It’s not really a Q&A. People don’t have to ask questions, they can, if they want but it’s not that format, more of a friendly, intimate chat. I’m going to be talking with my friend Don, who’s a really funny and great guy, and we’re telling stories about the old days, little anecdotes, and a lot of people want to know about my friendship with Lemmy and Motorhead and the stories of touring with Mötley Crüe, lots of stories that I haven’t told before.

“I’ve met a lot of people over the years and there are some good stories. We were massively busy in the early days and the first Donington Monsters of Rock in 1980 was very special for us. It was all a bit crazy, a bit of a rush, riding a bullet. There’s still an element of craziness involved, I like that, I don’t like being too predictable. It’s good not to get too comfortable.

The second half will be a live show with Biff and his band. “It’s not acoustic, it’s a full-on rock show, obviously it won’t be as loud as Saxon. We’ll do a few songs off the solo album, a couple of covers that I quite like, and one or two Saxon songs at the end. When we get closer to the tour, I’m gonna ask people what they would like to hear and get some of the fan’s input (through social media) and see where that goes.”

Biff Byford’s School Of Hard Knocks is released on Friday 21 February through Silver Lining Music. Biff’s UK tour will take in the following dates in April:

Friday17th April Gateshead Sage 2 BOOK TICKETS
Saturday 18th April Birmingham Town Hall BOOK TICKETS
Monday 20th April Glasgow St. Lukes BOOK TICKETS
Tuesday 21st April Leeds City Varieties BOOK TICKETS
Wednesday 22nd April Bath Komedia BOOK TICKETS
Friday 24th April Liverpool Arts Club BOOK TICKETS
Saturday 25th April Aberdare Coliseum Theatre BOOK TICKETS
Monday 27th April Milton Keynes Stables BOOK TICKETS
Tuesday 28th April London Islington Assembly Hall BOOK TICKETS
Wednesday 29th April Brighton The Old Market BOOK TICKETS
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