The Road Warrior
35 years, 20 albums, countless live shows and still no sign of slowing down: Saxon prove to be a force to be reckoned with and something every rock fan in the world should witness. To celebrate their 35 year history Saxon are about to embark on their 38 date tour ‘Warriors of the Road’. Northern Life chatted to Yorkshire lad and lead singer Biff Byford to take a dive into metal history.
He may be a ‘warrior of the road’, but he’s sipping tea at his home in Whitby when I meet up with him. In his formative years heavy metal didn’t exist, until Biff came along… “It happened by accident,” says Biff. It was the chemistry between the different band members who all helped to create this unique sound.”
Formed in Barnsley, the band was originally named ‘Son of a Bitch, then ‘The Americans’, “we didn’t like that, it was a stupid name,” laughs Biff. The record company thought of the name ‘Anglo Saxon’ but we hated that, so just dropped the ‘Anglo’ and the rest is history.
“With our latest tour being our 35th anniversary we are going to feature our big three albums from the 80’s, known to the fans as ‘The Holy Trinity’ – Saxon’s seminal albums Wheels of Steel, Strong Arm of the Law and Denim and Leather. We’re going to mix it up. It’s going to be a bit of a party.” And by the sounds of it Biff is no stranger to partying. “We just get drunk!” chuckles Biff. “When we’re on tour we sleep on the tour bus or in a hotel, so we usually have a drink in the evening, have a laugh then off to bed!”
If you’re not familiar with Saxon’s music, it’s loud, it’s fast and it’s incredibly noisy. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but nevertheless it inspired a generation of long-haired, tattooed drainpipe wearing rockers in the 80’s, and over 30 years on heavy metal is still going strong.
“We had millions of fans in the 80’s and some of them went off, got married and came back again and some of them never left,” says Biff, “a lot of younger fans are getting into that 80’s thing.
There’s not a lot of bands around that play our kind of music so if you’re into melodic heavy rock then I suppose Saxon and Iron Maiden are the only bands around still doing it.
“There’s been a massive heavy metal revival in the last fifteen years. The band has got much bigger in the UK in the last five years.
Now in his sixties, Biff ’s heart lies with heavy metal, but also enjoys other genres of music, “I’m not into modern jazz I don’t really get it at all. I quite like traditional jazz and blues, that’s really where our musical influences came from.” When I ask Biff what his guilty pleasure is when listening to music, I smile at his response, “Abba, I love Abba!
Biff readily admits that the internet is a great platform, however when it comes to promoting himself on social media, he recoils “The thing is I haven’t got time, we have a webpage that’s really active. I’ve always been asked to do twitter when on tour, we’ll see. It’s just having time.
“The digital age of music and the accessibility of the internet has taken a lot of money away from record companies and bands but on the other hand it’s put a lot more people in venues,” says Biff. “You can go on the internet, see the tour dates, watch the bands at the flick of a little switch. For bands the internet is really great but for record companies it’s a
bit of a pain.”
Born and partly bred in Last of the Summer Wine country, Biff regularly visits his home town of Honley.
“I was there until I turned five, and then moved to another nearby village, it was a nice childhood growing up in the countryside. It was very wholesome.
“My mum was a musician. She played piano and the organ at the local Methodist church, so I suppose it rubbed off on me.”
Biff can play a range of instruments, and no doubt his mum’s musicality influenced him, however I imagine that his style of his music would significantly differ from that of his mum’s. I can just imagine him shouting out the lyrics to Wheels of Steel after the congregation at his childhood church had finished their rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers. “I played flute when I was at school so I was into music from a young age. I tried the guitar first and couldn’t be bothered with all the practising so I went onto the bass.
I have played bag pipes but I’m useless at it!”
Unfortunately, Biff ’s mum died before he took music up, however he had plenty of encouragement from his dad who was very supportive, “He just wanted me to do something rather than nothing.”
Growing up in a small community Biff readily admits that music was his escape route into the big, wide world. In his youth Biff ’s musical diet consisted off The Kinks, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. As a young musician, in a small northern village it was difficult to break
out, “but you’ve just to keep trying,” says Biff, “let others listen to your music and see what they think. It’s a great profession but it’s not very good if you don’t get any success, it can be really depressing. My son’s playing guitar, he’s only 16, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ll give him some advice but I’ll just let him do it himself. I’ll keep my eye on him make sure he doesn’t get ripped off for millions!”
The years have been kind to Biff, who still sports a hairstyle not dissimilar to a lion’s mane. Still rocking at the age of 63, Biff shows no signs of slowing down and regularly goes running in an attempt to keep fit. “I’m so relieved to know that I’m not shrinking with oldage, I go on ‘the rack’ every day that might have something to do with it. However I’m a little bit wider and a little bit slower,” he laughs.
After years and years of gigging, shouting and playing very loud music, I was curious to learn if his hearing had suffered at all.