INTERVJU: Biff Byford i Saxon

Saxon fångar dagen med nya albumet “Carpe Diem” och vi fångade frontmannen för ett samtal om gamla flygplan, kommande coveralbum, religion och spöken:

While I lived in France I lived in a chateau and sometimes you could see children stood on the stairs. Not all the time and not crystal clear, but like a glance in the corner of your eye.

Regarding the title of the new album, would you say that you “seize the day” more now when you´re getting older?

It´s more since we´re in this fucking pandemic and it hasn´t got anything to do about getting older. I think it´s a good motto for this period in everybody´s life, I think. Live for today definitely.

Tell me about the two recent shows you guys did in Manchester and London? How was it to be back on stage again?

It was great! Sold out shows and there wasn´t many people who didn´t turn up, so I was quite surprised. It was very successful, and people had a great time. The atmosphere was great. We had the full 40th anniversary production in there so it´s a bit of a visual onslaught.

Last time we talked, you mentioned that you had plans of filming the Stockholm gig. Is that still the plan for the August show?

You mean the Gröna Lund one? As far as I know that´s still on. We´ve not had any of the festivals cancelled yet and I think we´re just about to announce Sweden Rock Festival as well. We might film Bang Your Head or we might film Gröna Lund. I don´t know. We have to make our minds up. I think we can get more production into Bang Your Head than Gröna Lund. I don´t think Gröna Lund is a massive stage. We´ll get in as much as we can really.

I´ve picked a few tracks from the album that you can comment on. First one is the title track “Carpe Diem” and the Romans.

Well, you know, the Romans were everywhere. They were the same as the Vikings who were everywhere as well. There´s a place in northern England where they built a wall from coast to coast, like a mini Great wall of China. It´s still there and you can walk it. It was built by Emperor Hadrian a couple of thousand years ago and I just thought it´d be nice to do a song about that and I do like the part of “Seize the day – Carpe Diem” so I kind of brought them together with the album cover. I like it and it´s a good album opener. It´s a full on guitar riff.

Another one is “Dambusters” I learned about those early on since my granddad and my uncle were both fighter pilots and my dad is just a total fanatic about British WWII planes. Where did you pick up on the Lancasters?

These guys are legends in the UK and they had this idea of dropping a bouncing bomb on a dam. It´s just one of those whacky things that happens in war I suppose. People get desperate and think of these mad ideas and they send off these young guys to do it, but not a lot of them came back. I just think they deserve a song. When I was a boy they were shown on TV and we would talk about it quite a lot, the Dambusters, so I knew about it in my childhood. There´s a Lancaster that´s placed very close to me, between Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. You can see them flying sometimes during the test flights. There´s a Lancaster, a Spitfire and a Hurricane there and it´s called the Memorial flight. I think about the Lancasters and the dambusters is quite cool. I don´t think everybody in Europe is aware of it. I don´t think the German fans are that aware of the dambsuters. They probably know the Spitfire like we know the Messerschmidt. The dambusters are probably for people who know the history of the war and for people in the UK because they´re sometimes in the papers, like when a crew member has died.

For a song like that, even though you know the background, do you do any kind of research?

Like I said, I didn´t have to really because I know all about it. They set off in the early hours to get there and it was a bit of a suicide mission really. Two of the dams burst and one didn´t. On one the Germans were waiting for them and then they had to run the gauntlet of the night flight just coming back, so I know all the details from when I was a boy.

Tell me about “Lady in gray” You sing “She´s supernatural…” Have you ever experienced something supernatural?

Yeah, a lot of times in my life. That particular story on that was that I bought my son and his girlfriend a night in the most haunted castle in England and the room is called the Gray room. “The lady in gray” haunted that room and apparently, she died when her husband left her. She died of a broken heart and she roamed the castle looking for him. That´s where it comes from. If you google her you come up with lots of images walking through rooms.

Could you give an example of anything you´ve seen yourself or experienced?

I´ve seen some things. I´ve talked to a few people who actually weren´t there. I was working on an old house, a medieval house, and I was working with a friend. I was on a ladder doing something on the ceiling and he was on the floor, sitting next to me, and I was talking to him for quite some time and then I heard the door open and he waled in. I went “Who the fuck was that I was just talking to?” (laughs). Things like that. I´ve seen cats walk through walls. It didn´t really bother me because I´ve never been hurt. While I lived in France I lived in a chateau and sometimes you could see children stood on the stairs. Not all the time and not crystal clear, but like a glance in the corner of your eye.

That would definitely freak me out.

You get used to it actually.

Then we have “The Pilgrimage”, which I understand was supposed to be the album title at first. It has a lot of classic 80´s Saxon to it.

Yeah definitely. It has a lot of similarities to the way we wrote songs in the 80´s. A lot of people say it has the spirit of “Denim and leather”, which I think is because of the guitar riff. I just like the word and I was just experimenting with the word really and what it means to people. It sort of covers three stages. It covers the religious pilgrimage and the pilgrimage to see like Jim Morrissons grave. I know a lot of people go there and I know a lot of people go France to see where their grandparents died in a battle or used to fight in a battle. And people pilgrimage to festivals. Glastonbury in England used to be a pilgrimage place and it still is I guess with the festival. The word pilgrimage, when you actually think about it, means a lot.

Are you in anyway a religious man?

I can be. I´m quite spriritual. I love the architecture of religion. I think there´s something special there, something weird there. I guess I sort of am religious, but not in the typical way.

I´m an atheist myself, but I´ve always been fascinated by churches and cathedrals. There´s something about them.

Maybe you´re not an atheist? (laughs)

I will see later on, I guess. (laughs) The final track I picked is “Black as the night”

I just thought about the Polar icecaps. If you think about it we´re all sort of living between them, don´t we. I thought it was a good idea to write a song about it, places that are dark 24 h of the day and what it must be like. I´ve experienced very short days in Finland and I´ve experienced very long days in Sweden.

Your autobiography “Never surrender2 (2007), have you ever thought of doing an updated version of it?

Yeah we have actually, but I just haven´t had the time to tell you the truth. I´ve been really busy making albums during the pandemic, the “Ispirations” album, the new Saxon album, the Heavy water album with my son and we´ve recorded “Inspirations 2” and I´m just making Heavy Water 2 at the moment.

Is there any track off of the “Inspirations 2” album that you could mention?

Well, we´ve done a Who song. I´m not going to tell you which one, but it´s not one you´d expect us to do and then again, “Inspirations” was like that with songs people didn´t expects us to do. It sounds pretty good. I like it and they´re all songs that influenced us and inspired us really. It´s pretty much the 60´s and 70´s again, those sort of periods.

Did you get to see The Who back in the 70´s?

No, I didn´t see The Who until fairly late on. Don´t ask me why I didn´t.

Have you ever had the chance to meet Roger Daltrey or Pete Townshend?

Yeah, I´ve met them a few times. I know Zak Starkey quite well, so usually when I go to see The Who he invites me so I get to chill with them backstage and that´s pretty cool.

Your voice is still really strong. Others at your age are struggling live. If you would experience that your voice is deteriorating, would you then just quit or would you keep on going?

I don´t know really. If you´re doing albums your voice gets more rest, unless you have to make an album in a week or something. Live is a different thing. You´ve got the travelling, the waiting, the stress, the drinking and sleeping is an important part for singing. I think singers sometimes get a bad rap. They´re doing long tours and they´re not going to be as good halfway through as they are at the beginning of it. It´s not like a guitar string, so you can´t expect singers to keep that high level of quality if you´re doing a long tour. It´s very hard. I suppose if you get put in a box after the gig and you never talk or drink or do anything and just breathe pure oxygen, then you could do it. I think you have to pace yourself. I don´t think any singer would be the same at the end, the quality will go down. I know what you´re talking about, you mean people that struggle to hit the notes, but I think that´s just down to luck and how you spend your early years. I didn´t really get involved in drugs and hard liquor when I was younger. I do get problems with the throat, but you just have to try and relax and get through it if you can.

The drugs and drink, was that ever tempting for you back in the day or did you just stay away from it?

Where I lived and where I was brought up there was no drug culture in the 60´s and the 70´s. It was just the family there really and girlfriends. We didn´t even have a car so it was very sort of rural. That´s why I didn´t see a lot of that when I was 14 or 15. We only had two big towns around us so if they didn´t come there we didn´t see them.

What are the chances of changing around the setlist? A buddy of mine wondered about a song like “Hold on” from “Dogs of war” (1995) for instance? Is that something you would consider digging up and playing live?

We have done it live a couple of times in America back in the day. I think we could probably play it now. It´s a great song. It´s not particularly a song that sets the metal world on fire, but it is a great track. It´s about two people struggling to get away from their parents and things. I think if another band had done it, like Bon Jovi or something, it probably would´ve considered to be a pretty powerful song. But yeah, we would consider doing it. There´s no reason why we shouldn´t do it. I know that in Scandinavia some of those songs and an album like “Innocence is no excuse” (1985), they really love them because they are a little bit more radio friendly. We are aware that different places have different favorite albums. In America “Power and the glory” (1983) is a big album and so is “Crusader” (1984). “Wheels of steel” (1980) is still a cult album there really. People have bought it because they got into “Power and the glory” and “Crusader”, so we are aware of that and we do like to change our setlist to suit that sometimes.

What are the chances of another solo album from Biff Byford?

I´m thinking about it right now. I´m starting to put some ideas together in my head about what to call it and some song titles. It´s in the cards definitely. I don´t think we´re playing until June, so there´s plenty of time to get some ideas together and get some demos made and see how it sounds.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Björn Olsson