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.”