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SAXON Frontman BIFF BYFORD Discusses the Band’s 40th Anniversary, MOTORHEAD, and Tricks for Touring [w/ Audio]

Saxon lead singer Biff Byford spoke with us about the legendary metal band’s latest release, The Eagle Has Landed 40 (Live), in celebration of their 40th anniversary, and their history with Motörhead.



On August 2nd, British heavy metal vanguards Saxon, who continue to deliver their seminal metal music to sold-out venues worldwide, will salute their 40th anniversary by releasing The Eagle Has Landed 40 (Live) on Militia Guard/Silver Lining Music. The album is a cracking, crunching and wholly representative celebration of four decades as one of the UK’s leading heavy metal lights. Entire musical genres have been born and died since Saxon released their self-titled debut in 1979 and, through eras and trends since, Saxon has continued to both entertain fans everywhere and prosper with albums and tours saturated in the band’s consistent trademark sound and quality. The Eagle Has Landed 40 (Live) celebrates all the classics from their early years with the modern classics which have continued to define Saxon as legends.

Forty songs covering four decades, from “State Of Grace” to “Machine Gun,” from the blistering “20,000 FT” to the thunderous “Battering Ram,” Saxon bring you on a victorious, boisterous journey through the human waves at Wacken, the stalwart supporters in Berlin, the mad dogs and Englishmen in London, and other illustrious international cities via a selection of songs chosen by none other than Biff Byford himself. There are also tributes to their old friends and former colleagues Motörhead, with the supercharged “They Played Rock ‘n Roll” and a cover of “Ace of Spades” featuring an appearance from the dearly departed “Fast” Eddie Clarke. And to round off the MotörSaxon magic, there’s a roaring version of the classic “747 (Strangers in the Night)” featuring Phil Campbell from Helsinki in 2015.

Check out this nifty trailer for Saxon’s The Eagle Has Landed 40th-anniversary package:

The final result is not merely a triple album of great music, but a stirring and gloriously LOUD odyssey through golden years of heavy metal history guaranteed to bring the headbanger out of even the mellowest rocker in the room. You can pre-order the deluxe album RIGHT HERE.

Saxon frontman Biff Byford took a bit of time to talk with PureGrainAudio about The Eagle Has Landed 40 (Live) and subsequent anniversary touring, as well as dropping some kind words around Motörhead. That interview is transcribed below, and can also be enjoyed as an audio experience courtesy of SoundCloud.

Can you maybe talk a little bit about your feelings surrounding this 40th year anniversary that you are entering into?
Biff Byford: Well, I mean, it came at us really quick. We’ve been on the road with Judas Priest last year and doing our own shows around and about. So yeah, it came on pretty much flying at us, really. But I’ve been planning this live album release for quite some time. All of last year, basically. Yeah, it was something you know where a lot of people are getting excited about our fortieth anniversary so I thought it might be good to do something a bit special for it.

Now you and Paul Quinn have been together for more than four decades crafting music. Most marriages don’t last that long, you know what I mean?
Byford: Well mine certainly didn’t.

Mine neither. Have either of you ever questioned how your lives might have turned out if you’d never met?
Byford: Oh, I don’t know. I think would it be us probably being in separate bands, actually. I think we would have been musicians and doing what we do. But I think we’d been would have been in separate bands probably. I don’t know how it would have affected our success.

Here is the album artwork for the The Eagle Has Landed 40 (Live).

As as a band, Saxon has weathered through numerous musical genres; hair metal and thrash and grunge, even some electronica. Did you ever feel any pressure to change the Saxon sound over the years?
Byford: No, not really. We have experimented a little bit, changed it a bit. Not too much but, you know, a little bit. Maybe a little bit less heavy now and again. But some within the last ten years we’ve been straight on the express line you know… So yeah, you know we pretty much are the idea of what our fans want us to write. Initially, we have to write for ourselves. But we’ve been very lucky so far. People have liked what we’ve done.

Now will this Eagle Has Landed 40 live package be available as a more generic package for consumers? Or is it only the 747 deluxe limited versions that are available now for pre-order?
Byford: No, no, there are are other vinyls for sale. CDs as well. They didn’t do any cassettes on this release, although I would have liked that. But yeah it’s vinyl and CDs. And then there’s the 747 box set which is a bit special because you get a booklet with 40 pages of photographs from the ‘70s right up to last year. So you get a plectrum for every album printed on there, and you get a signed sort of lyric sheet from a 1981 song I wrote. So yeah it’s quite a big package, and obviously, there’s only 747 of them because our biggest hit in Europe was a song called “747.”

Now, personally, my first Saxon album was Power & The Glory and it was recommended to me by a record store employee while I was buying other metal albums in ‘83. And it cost me a bit more because it was an import. But I bought it primarily because I thought the album cover art was pretty badass.
Byford: Yeah well a lot of people in North America came to us on the Power & the Glory album because we toured with Iron Maiden. So it was a fantastic thing having the new British wave of heavy metal thing hitting America big time. So we had a lot of people come to us on that album. Obviously, the first four albums were pretty successful in America, but that one was sort of our first really big album in America, so I think people started to notice us then.

“Ride Like The Wind” with this newly-released and remastered music video from Saxon.

And I, of course, went back in after playing that album and I bought up the previous four albums, and the previous three, the artwork looked more like it was a crest or badge or a medal design. You know what I mean?
Byford: Yeah, we were big into the symbols back then. And we still are, actually. But we like great artwork, and it was really we just started a new thing, I think. You know, it was slogans like “wheels of steel” and “strong arm of the law,” you know? And the badges to go with it. So I think it all sort of worked for that time.

You’ve stuck with the Saxon logo pretty much on every one of your 22 album releases except for Forever Free and Destiny. They’re the only two that really deviated from the Saxon crest. Do you know what I mean?
Byford: Yeah I think that was maybe down to the record company just trying to be a bit more modern and possibly failing miserably (laughs). That’s so it goes really. We haven’t had that many record companies in that period. We only had two from that period; we had Carrere was with us as the first one, and the second one was EMI. I think EMI in the ‘90s wanted a bit more of a modern edge to it. They wanted us to be a bit more edgy with a different logo. But you know we weren’t really agreeing to that if you know what I mean?

Right. Do you keep a hand on all of those decisions? When a label will come to you and say, “I think we’ll be a great idea!”
Byford: I do now. Yeah. Probably not back in the day, but I do now. Me and the manager go through everything that’s released by Saxon, and if it’s going to be officially released, it has to be what we’re looking for and have the right look all the time.

Our gallery of Saxon live at Budweiser Gardens (London, ON) on March 27, 2018:

Saxon @ Budweiser Gardens (London, ON) on March 27, 2018

Now have you had band discussions about what your 40th-anniversary tour dates are going to look like? Specifically, songs to include in your set list and that sort of thing?
Byford: Yeah, I’ve already done that. I already did that a while ago. So we played our first 40th-anniversary show just this weekend in Sweden. So I’ve done the set list. It will change a little bit on every show because we don’t want it to be too predictable. It’s mostly the same but a little bit different on every show. We’ve just been through the production now for the Eagle and the video screens and everything else that’s going to be there. So yeah. End of this month is a big show in Spain. We’re headlining a big festival there with the Eagle and Castle show.

Do you have any plans to bring a headlining show back over to North America?
Byford: Well I don’t think we pull enough people to bring a big production to pay for it. We were thinking of maybe doing some. We’ve been offered a festival in Mexico. So that would enable us to come over and maybe do three, four, or five shows for the 40th anniversary. It would be great to bring the Eagle, but we’ll see. It’s all down to logistics, and you know, trying not to lose too much money to do it really. But yeah, we are talking about it, put it that way. Around December.

Did you bring the Eagle on the Judas Priest tour?
Byford: No we didn’t. We had a production though. We have quite a big stage production. Judas Priest let us use a lot of the stuff that we normally use. But maybe we should do a crowdfund to help us bring the Eagle.

This is the lively, and live music video for “747 Strangers In The Night (Live).

I’m assuming that Judas Priest let you use Andy Snape as well because he’s on one of the recordings that are going to be featured on this 40th release.
Byford: He is yes, and that was from the Judas Priest tour, actually. So yeah, it’s pretty cool.

How many times did he perform “20,000 Ft” with you?
Byford: He’s done it three or four times actually. It’s his song that he plays when he’s in the building, if you know what I mean?

The Eagle Has Landed 40 also features two special tracks with Motörhead alumni. Can we talk a little bit about “747 (Strangers in the Night)” with Phil…
Byford: So there’s two songs on with Motörhead direct connections. There’s “747” with Phil. And again, he usually plays that song with us. You know if he’s on tour with us, or if he’s around. You know he’s a great guitarist. And we’ve got Fast Eddie on “Ace of Spades.” We were touring with him before he died. Yeah, so that’s a bit special, we’ve always had a big connection with Motörhead. Also, we’ve got the live version of “They Played Rock n’ Roll” on there which is off the Thunderbolt album. (“They Played Rock n’ Roll” tells the story of Saxon’s very first tour in 1979 with Motörhead.)

Your history of Motörhead goes back 40 years as well. Is there something you feel that you learned from Motörhead? Something that has stuck with you over the decades?
Byford: Oh yeah. I mean that was the very first proper tour we did with a bus in big venues. And you know, lots of people with full venues. So yeah, I mean they’ve taught us to be down to earth for the fans. Don’t be too much of a knob-head, you know? Don’t get too egotistical and always remember your fans. And to never think that music is too fast, always write what you feel. Don’t be writing what you think people are going to like, always write what you like yourself. So things like that, really. You know, they’re a great bunch of guys.

Experience the “Thunderbolt” from Saxon’s previous album of the same name.

Now in you’re 40 plus years that you’ve been touring, I’m sure you’ve developed some habits and rituals to keep you sane while you’re on the road. What helps you personally while touring? What makes it tolerable for you after so many years doing it?
Byford: Well, you have to try and stay as fit as possible for as long as possible on tour. You usually get about three weeks in, and it starts to get a bit tiring, especially if you’re drinking a lot. But you know, we sort of (sleep) in late when we are touring every night so. An average day would be we get up at sort of noon. And then sort out having showers and do a bit of exercising and then we’ll soundcheck, and then we’ll just relax until it’s showtime, really. Might do a few interviews and things. We’ll get to showtime and then go absolutely crazy. And then that show atmosphere and adrenaline rush will last through until 2:00-3:00 am in the morning and then it all starts again, you know?

If someone stopped you on the street and said they wanted your personal recommendation on where to start with Saxon, what album would you recommend and why?
Byford: I would probably say Wheels Of Steel. Because I think we created something quite unique, musically, then. It was a sort of a bridge between the early ‘70s rock and the newer sort of punk-style rock that was around. That’s what Maiden did as well, actually. Us and Maiden made that bridge between those two styles of music quite well, injecting a new sort of energy into our music, you know?

I have a personal question. I’m curious if you ever play “Suzie Hold On” live? Do you ever bust that song out, and possibly record it?
Byford: We do play it live. We played it on the last tour actually. But like I said, I like to swap the setlist around a lot. So we probably didn’t play it everywhere. We have played it though, yeah. It’s an easy song to do. And I might play it on one of the 40th shows, you know we might do it on one of the shows… I’ll just throw it in. (laughs) It’s one of the few songs that we have floating around that I can just throw in when we tour.

That was a b-side back in the day, was it not?
Byford: It was a b-side. A b-side to “Princess,” or something like that. I can’t remember what it was, but it was a b-side, definitely.