Formed in England 40 years ago, Saxon was one of the leaders of the new wave of British heavy metal. In the 1980s alone, Saxon had eight Top 40 albums in the U.K., four of which hitting the Top 10, two of which reaching the Top 5. In turn, Saxon has sold over 15 million albums. Metallica, Mötley Crüe, and Pantera are among the major artists that have called Saxon a major influence. Even Elton John was a fan, having played piano on a few Saxon tracks.
Unlike most of its hard rock peers, Saxon never broke up or went on hiatus. 2015 brought the release of the group’s 21st studio album, Battering Ram, as produced by Andy Sneap. Vocalist Biff Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn — both original members — remain in the Saxon fold, as rounded out by guitarist Doug Scarratt, bassist Timothy “Nibbs” Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler; Doug is “the new guy,” having only joined Saxon 21 years ago in 1996.
On the eve of band’s 2017 studio release, Saxon will be touring the United States with UFO. The two iconic British groups — who last toured together in the 1980s — will be playing at B.B. King’s on Mar. 29 and 30 with support from Jared James Nichols and DJ Alex Kayne. Downtown spoke with Biff in late 2016 about what’s coming up for Saxon and plenty more. Saxon can be visited online at www.saxon747.com. Biff is on Twitter as @Biff_Byford, while the quintet keeps an account as @SaxonOfficial.
What do you wish more people knew about Saxon?
Biff Byford: I wish they knew that we’re really good at what we do.
How would you describe your latest album Battering Ram to a long-time Saxon fan that hasn’t yet heard it? Is there also a new album in the works?
BB: It’s a mixture of old and new. We hate to be predictable and I don’t think any of our albums are. Neither is the new album we are recording now.
Saxon songs are generally renowned for having memorable guitar riffs and sing-along choruses. When writing a song, does the music usually come first? Or does the vocal hook?
BB: There aren’t any rules. At the moment, my writing partner is Nibbs so if I have a specific melody we write to that or I may write within an idea.
In your song “Play It Loud,” you mention listening to Deep Purple. Was that the first hard rock band that inspired you?
BB: I think I liked the early Purple stuff, it moved me.
The villain in the first two Back To The Future movies is named Biff and the primary villain in the third Back To The Future movie is named Buford. Is that a coincidence, or do you think there was a Saxon fan involved with the movies?
BB: In the U.S.A., people called Biff are quite preppy, but there could be a connection. Maybe the director was a fan in the 80s?
Was the experience of writing your autobiography Never Surrender enjoyable? What inspired you to write a book?
BB: I liked writing the book. It’s a great way to put things in perspective.
What do you remember about your first-ever gig in New York?
BB: I think it was L’Amours, maybe? I loved New York — a crazy and wild place!
Your voice has held up remarkably well over the years. What do you do to take such great care of your voice?
BB: I don’t really do anything but just try not to strain too much.
Next year marks Saxon’s 40th anniversary. Are there any plans to celebrate that accomplishment?
BB: No, but we will be celebrating in 2019 from when our first album came out and we changed our name to Saxon.
What’s the latest on the movement to make heavy metal a recognized religion?
BB: It is a recognized religion in the U.K.
When you’re not busy with your career, how do you like to spend your free time?
BB: Just chilling with my family.
Do you have a favorite album of 2016?
Finally, Biff, any last words for the kids?
BB: Yes! Keep the faith. We’re on our way.