KERRANG! ISSUE 31 DECEMBER 1982
SAXON BY CHRIS WELCH
EH OOP lads, what does Biff Byford drink for Christmas – real ale or Yorkshire bitter?
“Nay lad, two gallons of batter pudding mixture,” says his side kick Graham Oliver.
Biff winces. It may be the festive season but he doesn’t want to overdo the Yorkshire image. “I wouldn’t mind if they blew up every brewery in the country,” he booms, as I prepare to smother Saxon in buckets of yuletide snow.
It seems a strange way to make a living, I muse, as I lean over the group from my position atop a twenty foot ladder. The boys are clad in what looks like the costumes from Leeds Empire’s production of Aladdin, all silk and gold lame, while Paul Quinn has gone mad and blacked up his face, the more to resemble an authentic Wise Man.
There were, according to my reading of religious history, only Three Wise Men, but as the whole of Saxon have turned up for the picture session, save the wisest of the lot, drummer Nigel Glockner, they all join in the posing for lensman, Fin Costello.
It was Fin who furnished costumes, snow and smoke in the basement of his lslington studio, and Saxon who provided the goodwill and seasonal greetings. They were richly rewarded with several hundredweight of plastic flakes dumped on them from a great height, which I heaved to cries of:
“More snow-keep it coming!” It covered their hair, clothes and boots until they began to look like victims of some industrial pollution accident.
They needed to make the most of their pre-Christmas fun however, because Saxon, hard workers all, spend most of their time on the road, bashing out Heavy Metal and keeping up the pressure in a fiercely competitive world.
This year they’ve been blasting non-stop – endless tours of America, rock festivals in Britain and recording and mixing sessions. Although they seem a bit shell-shocked by the need to keep on the battlefront, they’re still the same blunt, honest and cheerful bunch of mates who richly deserve greater glory in the Metal history of the world.
Just as I was about to talk to Steve, Paul and Graham about the future of the band, there came a great crashing at the door.
“That’s Biff,” said Graham. “Aye he’s got a loud knock. We always think its police when he comes to our house. He’s just a naturally loud person in everything he does.”
While we were waiting for Biff to cease demolishing the front door, Graham told how they’d been to America no less than six times during 1982. Why were they spending so much time abroad – was it simply the work and money, or were they trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records?
“We’re still trying to break there really,” said Graham. “This trip is just for recording and we’ll spend a month in the studios. Jeff Glixman is going to be our producer. He did Gary Moore’s last album and he’s a bit of an Anglophile. He’s been to see us in concert.”
Said Steve: “He’s liked us for a long time, and he’s into English bands, especially the guitarists. We were just one of the bands he’s always wanted to work with. We’ve always produced ourselves in the past, but decided to bring in someone else this time. We decided on Jeff and he’s great. We’re not aiming for anything drastically different – just an improvement. In one week we flew the Atlantic three times, hence the bags under the eyes.”
Saxon certainly need a break and are adamant they’ll spend their Christmas at home. Said Steve: “I think we’ll be four weeks in the studio and then have to mix the tracks afterwards. It depends really. When we did ‘Wheels Of Steel’, it only took two weeks to record and another week to mix. That were it.
“So we want to do the next one quickly. You get stale if you keep going over things. We like to get things down first or second take, but sometimes that’s impossible. On our first album there’s a track called ‘Judgment Day’. We had 33 attempts at that one.
“We just kept making mistakes,” said Graham, “and began to get paranoid. On the next album we’ve all contributed to each track, whether it’s a lyric or guitar part. Same as always. We’ve got 14 songs ready and we’ll probably choose ten.”
Will it be as heavy as previous albums?
“Hopefully. It’s gonna be called ‘The Power And The Glory’, and that track is typical Saxon,” said Buff. “This is our sixth album in three years. The reason we’ve done that is so that when you go into a record shop you find a Saxon file. We were sick of going in and seeing everyone else with their own bin. We used to be filed under ’S’.
“I’ve just got a recording of Radio Clyde who recorded us up in Glasgow. Excellent. Brilliant. So if we can get hold of that… well there’s another source for us.”
I surmised that Biff was hatching plans to use it for Volume II of the Saxon live album sage.
“The audience was star of tape. We’re thinking of bringing out an album next year that’s half live and half studio. There’ll be some songs over from ‘Power’ and we’ve got all this live material
. And the Radio Clyde stuff really is good – on a par with our own recordings. The drums and bass are superb.”
Said Steve: “There are actually three Saxon bootleg albums out at the moment one from England and two from Japan.”
How did the band feel about such pirating of their music – was it an accolade or an outrage?
“I’m totally…. not bothered said Graham somewhat glumly.
“People complain because of the quality.” said Biff. “and that bothers us. We’ve heard lots of bootleg tapes where the audience is louder than the band. But there was such a demand for bootlegs of the band “live” we had to put our own album out.
“Were committed to live work anyway, and it’s no good people telling us: ‘If you do a commercial song it’ll get played on the radio, and then you’ll have a platinum album’. That’s bullshit as far as we’re concerned We’re committed to playing live in America, like we do here and everywhere else. The albums should sell because we are good.”
Have Saxon albums charted there yet?
“Oh ay, in the bottom end of the Top 200.’ But you’ve got to remember that album sales in America are huge and with a number one you’re talking about millions. We’ve suffered a lot from imports to America as well.”
Saxon are well liked on the American Heavy Metal underground circuit and as soon as their albums are released here they get exported to Stateside specialist shops where all the potential Saxon fans get them.
Said Graham: “They even import copies of Kerrang! which sell for like three dollars in all the record shops. ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ hasn’t been released in America yet but just about everybody has got it. So that’s why our next LP will be a world-wide release on one day.”
But enough of such commercial trifles, what about Christmas? How will the Saxon hordes be celebrating “Oh we’re planning on going home,” said Biff dryly, looking under whelmed with enthusiasm.
Said Steve: “They’re trying to get us to do a gig in Greenland on Christmas day. Something to do with a sled and reindeer. But I think somebody else has got that gig. We always try to get home for Christmas. The only time we ever worked at Christmas was when we played the working men’s clubs, years ago, and that was because we could get double money.”
Biff looked more interested: “Christmas is like sacred to us. It’s the only period when we can get time to ourselves.”
I’d envisaged wild booze ups in the dales and moors, but they didn’t seem all that keen about the prospect. ‘Oh there’ll probably be some drinking,’ said Graham. ‘Biff drinks his Yorkshire pudding batter. But basically we’ll be relaxing, and eating mince pies.’
Biff said he had found a new home and will spend his time moving furniture and fittings.
“It took him ages to find a big ‘un with an outside bog,’ said Graham, who was sounding more and more like Les Dawson.
“I’ve got an inside bog and an outside house,” laughed Biff. “Now I’ve got three bogs. I’ve converted bedrooms into bogs.”
I was still convinced that Biff must be a reet Yorkshire boozer and tried to tackle him on the subject of real ale, feeling sure he would leap into a long dissertation on the wonders of Tatlock’s Brassic Ales.
Instead, grumbled Biff: “I don’t drink it. There are pubs that only sell real ale. But I’m not particularly into ale – period, it wouldn’t make any difference to me if every brewery blew up tomorrow. I know people like a pint, and I used to drink beer, but I never liked it. I only drank to be one of the lads.”
So it will be a generally quiet but very WISE Christmas with Saxon. What then are their plans for the New Year?
“There is talk of doing a gig which we will film for a commercial video,” revealed Biff. “And we are talking about doing a gig in Wales as well, which we missed out on our last tour, when the gig collapsed. The video is one of out top priorities. We want it to be a good one with live footage, backstage stuff and bits of promotional videos,”
Wasn’t there a danger of revealing their stage act to everybody at once with a video on general sale?
“Well our stage act changes every tour anyway. We’d do a special production for the video. You mean like ‘Video Kills The Rock Band? It would be pointless to give away all our ideas on one video.
“And you’ve got to remember in some countries they haven’t seen us anyway so we want to give ‘em a taste of Saxon. And I don’t think they’d get bored with watching somebody set fire to a guitar. The visual will go down well and of course the songs”.
After a three year absence, ageing rockers SAXON are back and gigging determinedly. It’s their 10th anniversary, and they’re claiming there’s a ‘new positiveness’ in the camp.
PAUL MILLER questions vocalist BIFF BYFORD, the man who braved ‘Top Of The Pops’ wearing skin-tight silver strides, about Saxon’s relevancy in the light of a new decade
WE’RE PLAYING big gigs, small gigs, fat gigs, thin gigs, we don’t give a fook! We’ll play anywhere!”
The years may be beginning to take their toll on voice and features alike, but Biff Byford, voice of tireless tramps Saxon and unforgettable as the only man rash enough to do ‘Top Of The Pops’ in skintight silver strides, is determined not to let the 700-odd souls gathered in the Leeds Irish Centre believe that Saxon are a lost cause.
Three years after most sane people had figured that weak-kneed albums like ‘Destiny’ and ‘Rock The Nations’ had forced Saxon into ignoble retirement, the quintet are back and are halfway through their most extensive UK tour since the ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ jaunt, way back before most of your bedtimes.
Back is Graham Oliver, the man whose wiry mane seems in constant battle with his onstage facial grimaces. Back too comes Paul Quinn, whose art of conversation is every bit as deadly as Steve Davis’. Even the ever-youthful Nigel Glockner, with hair the colour of the grey Yorkshire sky, is back.
Indeed, the only new Saxon blood is that of 22 year old bassist Nibs Carter, a fiery, shit-hot bassist who looks like Jason Newsted, plays like Billy Sheehan and charges around the Leeds stage like a man in desperate need of the toilet. During an in-state signing in Peterborough days-earlier he took his underpants off to sign for a female fan. That boy’s gonna be a star! Biff roars proudly.
Biff claims that the 25 UK dates (dubbed 10 years of Denim and Leather – a little opportunist considering that debut album ‘Saxon’ was issued 11 years ago) Saxon are doing a back-to-roots thing that the band really wanted to do.
Of course, most will realise that playing to 700 people a night in venues like Leeds Irish Centre and Peterborough Cresset is a sure sign of desperation.
Yet Saxon have very little choice. Currently label-less after the expiration of their EMI contract (although Biff stresses that they are promoting the rather fine ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Gypsy’ album out on Roadrunner), manager-less and with all the public credibility of the Poll Tax, this really is the only route open to the band.
“We’ve been away from some of these places for a fookin’ long time,” Biff emphasises. “In the last few years we’ve just done seven or eight shows in England and then gone on somewhere else. We thought, it’s our tenth anniversary, let’s just do a whole lot of dates.”
The tour finishes on April 12 at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, then the band go on to Germany (with Metal Church and Toranaga in tow), Austria, Yugoslavia and finish in Budapest on May 8. After a few days rest they then start in the UK again, this time taking on bigger shows and cities that this leg of this jaunt has missed out.
THE RELEVANCY of a band who made their mark in the first half of the last decade must surely be questioned in 1990.
“Ten years isn’t that long,” offers Buff somewhat unconvincingly. “I don’t think fook all has happened. From 1980 until now, what British bands have broken There’s nobody who’s come along and replaced us, there’s no-one who’s replaced Iron Maiden.
“It means a lot to us to be understood in our own country and this tour means more to me than playing some fookin’ 12,000 seater in Texas.”
Saxon very much see 1984’s ‘Crusader’ as their crunch album. It was the start of the decline in Saxon’s record sales, signalled the last of the radio airplay and the start of some vicious press. The sanitised single, ‘Sailing To America’, did them few favours either.
Although Biff feels that the single was misunderstand, but it was much the red rag to a UK audience sensitive to bands appearing to desert their own country for the lure of the Yankee dollar.
“It’s a shame how we’ve been let go by England,” chips in Graham Oliver, shaking his head.
Many people would take the view that it wasn’t England that let Saxon go, but rather that Saxon fked off and let England go. Saxon, slowly but surely, became yesterday’s band.
“Of the three bands that started together (Saxon, Maiden and Def Leppard), I bet we’ve toured England more,” defends Oliver. “We’ve been accused of selling out and going to America but we’re the only one of the three that have done Jack Shit there. Do you know that we’ve never spent more than six weeks in America at one time”
AS CHRIS Watts noted in his live review of the sold out Bristol show (ish 282), Saxon are a band resentful at the way they feel they’ve been treated, and find that bitterness hard to keep down. They are angry at the UK press’ ridicule and angry at themselves for allowing a succession of US producers (Kevin Beamish and Steffan Gelfas being two of the culprits) water down their music.
“The next album will be our album,” Biff asserts with defiant eyes. “It will definitely be a Saxon album. I don’t give a fook what anyone else says”
Biff, however, is at pains to point out the new positiveness that exists in the Saxon camp. And, despite Chris Watts’ live review, it should be pointed out that, as unhip as they may be, Saxon are playing as well as ever these days, indeed far better and more hungrier than they’ve been for years.
“There’s nobody behind us being negative,” Buff enthuses.
“I think we can start putting our stuff together. Doing these gigs is gonna be good for us. We’re surrounding ourselves with people who believe in the band.
“There’s always an element in Saxon of aggressiveness and menace. On some songs we frighten people. And we need to get back to that. We need a few ‘Motorcycle Man’s, a few ‘Power And The Glory’s, a few ‘Princess of The Night’s and a few ‘Wheels Of Steel’s, and actually get it down on record how we hear it in our heads, and we’ll be back. We’ll have another single us the charts we’ll be able to laugh about doing Top of the Pops’ again.
“I’m not being arrogant, but to see us live is to see one of the best live rock bands in the last 10 years. I wouldn’t be doing this now if I didn’t believe that.”
MACC LADS – MARQUEE, LONDON
THERE IS, as you probably know, e quite major requirement for watching the Macc Lads. You must be drunk. We’re not talking a little tipsy, we’re talking gibbering, staggering, shouting and aren’t toilets funny drunk. So following this simple rule with the aid of a drinking partner, I joined the throng for an evening of insults and bottom jokes.
Warming up the crowd was a large chap called Eddie Shit. Mr Shit was about as subtle as the Tories introducing Poll Tax on April fools day, but considerably funnier. Well, until his horrendous Judge Dredd-style cover versions began to wear a great deal thinner than the performer. We escape to the bar and await the Lads.
Okay, so the Macc Lads are stupid, sexist, infantile and ugly. But there comes a point where you just have to forget these things and sing along.
Credit where it’s due, the Macc Lads, white not yet making Macclesfield internationally famous, put an incredible amount of enthusiasm into their sets, and manage to avoid electrocution despite being drenched in beer from start to foul-mouthed finish.
Muttley gives his usual on-stage banter about Southerners being flat lager drinking homosexuals, though I can’t help thinking that he looks tired and perhaps wouldn’t be so brave without the support of their massive roadies.
It also strikes me that while the Lads will never be world renowned (other nations just don’t find toilets amusing) the Italians will no doubt hear all about Sweaty Betty during the world cup. I can only suggest that they get enormously drunk and learn the words.
The lads from Macc show no mercy and not an atom of sense.
ACID REIGN Devondale Hall, AIloa
TO SAY the least, Acid Reign are a tad confused.
“You’ve had fun songs, serious songs, stage-diving and politics. Nothing like all-round entertainment!”
Tonight midget nice-geezer H is known simply as ‘Humpty’. Cheeky chappie that he is, he’s managed to squeeze his trouser-worm into yellow Lycra shorts and now looks like a scholarship candidate for the University of Harvey Proctor. But Acid Reign pride themselves on their graceless exposé of Thrash’s po-faced intricacy and inherent doominess. Yet now they seem dissatisfied with the tag of simple court jesters. Tonight there is an uncomfortable feeling that Acid Reign might have overstepped their limits.
This, the first night of an extensive club tour promoting the ‘Obnoxious’ album, finds Acid Reign in a distant Scottish village. Attendance is, urn, respectable but hardly likely to rival Live Aid. Within the first 60 seconds the majority of the crowd are on-stage and wreaking havoc.
For 45 minutes Acid Reign excel in their role of piss-taking, hi-NRG vaudeville. Sloppy, madcap and boisterous Thrash with tongues firmly in cheeks. Kev – Hicksville farmboy turned guitar killer – square-dances and high-kicks with all the precision of a Sunday Sport new exclusive.
Beside him ‘Humpty’ is the mischievous and demented pivot of the Acid Reign freakshow. As the band plough through ‘Joke Chain’ and ‘Creative Restraint’, H is a blur of yellow buzzing from every corner of the hall and every inch of the stage. He surfs across the crowd like a human battering-ram, ocean-sized grin fixed in place, quick-fire quips rousing the crowd to mob lensman Paul ‘Well Baggy’ Harries.
Yet following the blitzkrieg bomb-run of ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ – the closest Acid Reign will ever get to screwing Debbie Harry – the pace slackens and the humour grows tiresome.
H precedes the epic and multi-tempoed ‘Thoughtful Sleep’ with an apology, as if he realises the imminent battle that Acid Reign face if they want to be taken seriously. The brooding soundscape sits uncomfortably, sandwiched between impromptu impersonations of Mike Patton and the 30-second gem that is ‘Big Fish’ (‘Big teeth, swim like ‘f).
Acid Reign wind things up with blundering versions of ‘Trumpton’, ‘Postman Pat’ and Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’. A rare moment of sincerity follows with Kev’s brief speech on the Poll Tax before ‘Suspended Sentence’ closes the curtain on Acid Reign’s current confusion.
Ultimately Acid Reign are gonna have to decide whether they are mere politicians or merry prats. I really do hope they settle for the latter.
THE FEW – Maritime Bar, Southend-On-Sea
WHETHER THE Few’s pedigree is lost on Southend’s Monday night rock crowd is unclear. Certainly clues are thin on the ground that Phonogram’s latest signings can boast a drummer and guitarist who were both members of Def Leppard for about an hour. In fact the secret is so closely guarded that even the ever-present record company twaz is stuck for names and bills his protégés simply as ‘support’.
Thankfully any reference to Def Leppard is struck off the gig posters. It would be a cheap ploy on behalf of drummer Frank Noon, guitarist Pete Willis and Phonogram themselves. Right now the Few are happy to bask in obscurity and treat these early gigs as mere public rehearsals.
Visually there is little to suggest that the Few are about to change the seven seas. A wardrobe of yesterday’s denim, cycle shorts from hell and big-hair barnets clutter the small stage, already swamped by enough equipment to hint at former glories.
It would also be unfair to hang the Few on the shoulders of Pete Willis alone. Sure, the has-been sidekick who quit the pre-’Pyromania’ Leps is back on the small stage, but there is little evidence to argue that his role could not have been fulfilled by a thousand struggling musos from the small ads.
Instead it is left to vocalist Paul Jackson and ex-Nightrun guitarist Richard Day to carry the weight of the Few’s fledgling performances. These are early days, yet an obvious flair for melodic rock is already apparent and appreciated by the healthy crowd. Taking considerable muscle from Leppard and Free, Blackfoot and Bonfire, the Few are embarking on a career in the wake of Thunder’s recent skyrocket. It is knobbly-kneed thump-pop with few frills and even less pose, relying instead on well-crafted songs and the occasional burst of brilliance.
In Jackson the Few have a vocalist to match, if not surpass, the likes of Danny Bowes and Paul Rodgers. He says little, leaving the dumb-talk to Day, and instead sings us a song about hospital wards (‘Hell Can Wait’) that might one day be touching.
With Noon and bassist Wayne Grant providing a solid backdrop of competence and white teeth, the Few steam through a concise set that shows promise if not adventure.
The Few’s mix of melody, muscle and money cannot fail to guarantee exposure. They are obviously not bothering with building a live following and the whole project smacks of careerism, but there is no doubt that the Few are set for accolades.
TEMPA TEMPA – JBs Dudley
This is quite extraordinary; I’ve seen a good band in a small club on a Monday night and there wasn’t a painful cliché in sight. Despite their name, Tempa Tempa have the unusual knack of writing great songs – shocking isn’t it
Mick Butler (rhythm guitar, lead vocals, sole songwriter) holds the whole thing together with natural presence and a great voice. Bastard. He’s also written three songs that record companies dream about, Gun being the only reference point I can offer ‘Long Way To America’, ‘Passion’ and ‘Mad Mad World’,
Of course there are faults but they can be rectified. Butler aside, the band have no image and precious little charisma at present. Lead guitarist Gary Sanders is a fine musician but he’s nailed in the shadows for most of the set.
Nevertheless, I’d advise you to check ‘em out.
WRATH- The Fiesta Palace, Waukegan, Illinois
WRATH HAVE been lurking around the fringes of the Thrash Metal scene for a few years now, compiling a small, loyal following and garnering a decent amount of positive press in the process.
Their third LP is called ‘Insane Society’ and it’s undoubtedly their most accomplished, which is why tonight’s hometown gig was weighed heavily in favour of tunes from the new disc.
Stylistically and even visually to some degree, Wrath are comparable to Testament. Chunky rifts dominate the proceedings, and MC-ing the musical attack is new singer Kurt Grayson, whose full-bodied roar and imposing physical presence definitely recall the Bay Area quintet’s Chuck Billy.
Wrath carry their own though, and the bands excellent guitar team pull off a number of rifts of great complexity which still catch one’s ears. Helped by a fairly crisp sound mix, the group flexed considerable live muscle on cuts like ‘Insane Society’, ‘Panic Control’ and ‘Test Of Faith’.
Yet throughout the evening, I never felt that Wrath unleashed their full potential. It may be that they’re just rusty and need to get a good-sized tour under their belts. Or perhaps the relative calmness of the audience (except for the first few rows) didn’t provide the right vibe for the musicians to play off. Still, this was a tight, biting performance from a band more Thrashers should know about.
ALMIGHTY – Cat Club, New York
A FEW months back, Stiff Little Fingers’ Jake Burns levelled his white Los Paul at an anticipation- drenched New York crowd and let chords fly quick and bloody. Tonight, the Almighty’s Ricky Warwick, Jake’s biggest fan and brightest bastard offspring, similarly beats the bejesus out of the small crowd gathered stagewards to glimpse the Almighty’s US debut.
He sends ‘em away kicking, screaming and creaming. The Almighty have arrived. All hail the Almighty.
Where Zodiac fell victim to his own one-jokesmanship, Wolfsbane to Blaze Bayley’s blue collar absurdism and Dogs D’Amour to the dreaded same-old, same old syndrome, the Almighty have it in ‘em to pump a new vitality into the languishing ideal of British power rock. They’re everything Skid Row purport to be but ultimately fail to deliver.
With ‘Blood, Fire And Love’ little more than an advance tape to American ears, the iron-fist battering and caged, lupine snarls of ‘Resurrection Mutha’ more than put the Almighty’s burning Stateside question mark firmly to rest; they will succeed here. As drummer Stump Monroe clicked into ‘Destroyed’ the electric buzz in the air was unanimous, with Cat Club lackeys and Industry Suits in complete agreement America could be in for a stomping, a bloody, sneering bout of primal attitude-overdose and ungainly power chording unglimpsed since the day Guns N’ Roses were still swearing they’d recorded “A good Motörhead record”.
‘Blood, Fire And Love’ turns an unshaven cheek. Delivered at twice the volume and three times the intensity, it proved this bunch capable of miles more than merely tossing about Lemmy and Zody’s best attributes. Electric to acoustic, the Almighty move with silken caress and low-key menace. To term it Ricky’s tip of the hat to New Model Army days sells the bleached black braggart’s notion of songmanship criminally short. An implicit understanding of multiple rock generations, from blues to bludgeon, is wonderful and rare at any age. At 23, it’s genius.
Seeing that the British have been importing their rock heroes from the wrong side of the Atlantic for the past few yeas, it’s no wonder America (Soundgarden, Faith No More and a few notable exceptions aside) has become so self-assured and lame.
A little more Almighty would do us al-right!