By: Rob Cavuoto
One of the leading bands of the ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ movement, Saxon, has just released their 19th studio CD, Call to Arms, and is currently touring U.S. in support of this latest release. As evidenced by such ass-kickers as “Hammer of the Gods” and “Call to Arms,” the group hasn’t lost their grip on composing hard-hitting yet anthemic heavy metal with their latest offering.
Comprised of members Biff Byford (vocals), Doug Scarratt (guitar), Paul Quinn (guitar), Nibbs Carter (bass), Nigel Glockler (drums), Saxon is responsible for penning some of the 1980′s most enduring metal anthems, including “Wheels of Steel,” “Strong Arm of the Law,” “Motorcycle Man,” “Princess of the Night,” and “Never Surrender,” and along with the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, helped breath life back into a metal scene that many had left for dead at the time.
It’s been 35 years since Saxon was originally up and running and the group can still easily hold their own.
I was fortunate enough to sit with Biff Byford in NYC and chat about the new CD and what it was like to ride the British invasion of metal.
Rob Cavuoto: The thing that I love about your new CD, Call to Arms, is how you managed to recapture your sound and vibe from ‘80s. What was your secret?
Biff Byford: We have a good team in place on this CD. The drums were recorded straight with no samples. All the guitar songs were organic. We went back to a more working-class sound. We intended to get back to our roots and got into that mindset from the beginning.
Rob: It seems with this new release there is resurgence in Saxon. Do you agree?
Biff Byford: Definitely, there is a fantastic vibe out now with for us with Call to Arms.
Rob: Many bands from the ‘80s have given up on making new CDs and just go out as nostalgia acts. Why do you continue to make and release new music?
Biff Byford: We are still climbing mountains because they are there. It’s just within us to create new music and we are fortunate enough to do so. To write songs, put them out, and have people still find them relevant is exciting is a great feeling.
Rob: Tell me about the significance of the CD’s title and artwork?
Biff Byford: We originally had all the song titles and once we finalized them we could have used any of them as a CD title. I really liked “Call to Arms,” and it goes with the flavor of that song with the First World War. It’s also a rallying cry to our fans as well. It works on two levels.
Rob: You voice is every bit as good as it was back in the ‘80s, your still a powerhouse. What do you attribute that to?
Biff Byford: I stopped smoking a while ago so I’m sure that helped. I guess I didn’t abuse myself as a young man with liquor and drugs. We were too poor for those things, so that might have worked in my favor.
Rob: In the ‘80s Saxon was riding the crest of the British invasion of the metal scene. Looking back how important was it to be involved in that?
Biff Byford: It was massive. The metal scene is growing again, where many people who were young back then want to relive it now and the new young fans like the sound of it. They want to know how it all started and who influenced who.
Rob: Denim & Leather and Power and the Gloryreally spoke to me as a metal fan as well as a guitar player. Do you think it still speaks to kids nowadays?
Biff Byford: I think they do. The young fans in our audience are really getting off on them as well as the fans that have been with us since the beginning. Songs like “Power and the Glory” as well as the songs off Call to Armswere written to be performed live. People forgot that a lot of bands from our genera wrote songs for live shows and then went back and recorded them.
I think bands have moved away from that with huge productions and a million guitar overdubs. So we went back to that way of thinking. Take “Crusaders,” the production wasn’t as great as it could have been, but the actual song is a monster with over a million hits on You Tube. It was our biggest selling CD and when people hear it live it takes on a completely different meaning.
Rob: How do you keep yourself satisfied with touring after all these years? So many bands get tired of it at this point, but Saxon keeps going. How do you keep something that’s so “old hat” fresh?
Biff Byford: We have a good chemistry in the band and we play quite aggressively. We aren’t just standing up there. That keeps you on the edge and we are quite adrenalized on stage. We are playing all the big hits and always changing the set list a bit to keep it fresh. We are playing five new songs off Call to Arms. We also play a couple of songs also off Power and the Glorysince that was such a big LP here in the states.
Rob: I read that Spinal Tap was based on Saxon, is that true?
Biff Byford: I don’t think it was totally based on Saxon. We’d have to be a big band to have it based off of us. The bass player in Spinal Tap modeled himself off Steve Dawson, I think that is connection. Steve is also a bit of a Spinal Tap type of character.
I think the old members in the band are trying to drum that up since they are planning to release a book. I personally think the movie was based on a lot of different bands.
Rob: Can you give me a great Spinal Tap moment?
Biff Byford: The first one that comes to mind is the time we were shooting a video with a lot of models in Spain. The truck that we were traveling would pull to the gig, and would back up to the back of the stage. Then, the doors would open and we would burst out onto the stage.
Unfortunately someone put something in front of the doors and we got stuck and couldn’t get out. There we are in the back of this truck thrashing about trying to get out. The audience could see the truck wobbling and thrashing about.