A telling interview with the Saxon vocalist.

Demon Records has announced the release of an extraordinary Saxon box set containing vinyl LPs of the band’s nine studio albums recorded between 1991 and 2009. Eagles and Dragons will hit retail shelves on March 18.

The box set features nine rare seminal New Wave of British Heavy Metal albums which, before today, were limited releases on vinyl in assorted regions of Europe, including Germany, Italy, and the UK. These new luxury 180-gram vinyl LPs, including inner sleeves with all the lyrics, are a must-have for fans and collectors. The hand-numbered outer slipcase box features a specially commissioned, beautiful new cover painting by Saxon’s venerable artist-in-residence, Paul Gregory.

In addition, 500 copies with a framable print of the cover signed by Saxon frontman, Biff Byford, will be available exclusively from Demon’s D2C Store.

Byford said, “From 1991’s Solid Ball of Rock to 2009’s, Into the Labyrinth, this is the first time we have ever had a vinyl box set of nine albums in one package – never to be done again – with exclusive cover artwork from Paul Raymond Gregory; can’t wait to get my hands on one!”

The box set includes the following Saxon albums:

  • Solid Ball Of Rock (1991) featuring “Solid Ball Of Rock” and “Requiem (We Will Remember).”
  • Forever Free (1992) featuring “Forever Free” and “Iron Wheels.”
  • Dogs Of War (1995) featuring “Dogs Of War,” “Altar Of The Gods,” and “Hold On.”
  • Unleash The Beast (1997) featuring “Terminal Velocity” and “All Hell Breaking Loose.”
  • Metalhead (1999) featuring “Song Of Evil” and “All Guns Blazing.”
  • Killing Ground (2001) featuring “Court Of The Crimson King” and “Rock Is Our Life.”
  • Lionheart (2004) featuring “Witchfinder General” and “Beyond The Grave.”
  • The Inner Sanctum (2007) featuring “If I Was You” and “I’Ve Got To Rock (To Stay Alive)”
  • Into The Labyrinth (2009) featuring “Live To Rock” and “Valley Of The Kings.”

Byford was in London last week to promote the release and offered the opportunity to chat with him.

NRR: Hi Biff. I wondered if the decision to release the new box set was a band or record label idea?
Byford: Well the BBC and Demon wanted people to basically buy the nineties albums so we said “yeah.” I think it is a good box set, it’s all the albums of the nineties and the 2000s.
NRR: Are you personally a vinyl collector and fan?
Byford: No, not really. I don’t have the room (laughing). I have a room full; my collection is of old multi-track recordings and things like that. I do like vinyl, though. My son has a vinyl player, so we do listen to old vinyl sometimes.
NRR: Will there be any plans to release a companion box set of the earlier albums?
Byford: Well, I am sure that EMI/Warner Brothers will be doing it if this one is successful (laughs).
NRR: Saxon had scheduled a UK tour with Motorhead and Girlschool which, unfortunately, had to be cancelled
Byford: That’s right.
NRR: Obviously, your friendship with the man, the legend, and the icon, Lemmy, extends back for many years. What enduring memories do you have of him?
Byford: Well, you know that he was a very good friend of mine; I knew him for over thirty-six years. He was a very nice man, a gentleman really, and a funny, funny guy.
We were talking by text message, well, a couple of days before he died. He will be sadly missed because of the man, really, not because of his rock n’ roll rebel dedication. I will just miss him as a friend really. We were on tour with them when he did his last show in Berlin. He died very fast.
NRR: With the recent deaths of musical icons such as Lemmy and Bowie, has it made you increasingly more aware of your own mortality?
Byford: I think yes, hen people die. You look at those young kids [upcoming band Viola Beach] that … died in the car crash in Sweden; these tragic things happen, don’t they? And sometimes, when it is musicians that are well known or just starting in life, it’s always tragic I think.
NRR: Has it made you ever contemplate a day when you will step away and retire from what you do?
Byford: I don’t think that I will ever retire from the music business. I don’t know; let’s see. We are going to start writing the new album soon, in the next three or four weeks. So let’s keep our fingers crossed and see how it goes. With [Saxon], everything has to be right; the music has to be great. Otherwise, we won’t release an album.
NRR: When you are on the road, you are obviously missing out on quality family time. The band hasn’t played live for a while. When you are not touring, do you transversely also miss the buzz of playing music for a live audience?
Byford: No, you don’t miss it. Well, you do value your family time. My son is starting a band now; we are watching him and making sure that he does not make any mistakes. Yeah, it’s good fun when it is family time. We are a musicians family, so we are surrounded by rock music all the time. It’s different from what people would call a normal family life.
NRR: Viewing the extensive Saxon back catalogue and musical legacy, would there be any albums that you would now disown?
Byford: No, not really. There are a couple there that would be a bit iffy. I think that is more down to not a great spell of writing and not so many classic Saxon songs on the album. I wouldn’t disown them; every album has got something. Some albums have just got more than others, really. The new album, Battering Ram is a great album; people love it. You just don’t know how it will be received when you make an album.
NRR: If you were on a dessert island and could only take two albums, one by Saxon and one by another artist, what would your choice be?
Byford: I would probably pick a prog album, maybe a Yes album. Close to the Edge, because I listen to that a lot. Possibly, I don’t know one of the earlier ones; maybe [an album] that would have a few memories. Denim and Leather, perhaps.
NRR: What are the highs and lows of being a professional musician in 2016?
Byford: When you have been around as long as we have, there are not a lot of lows. I suppose losing, and falling out with your friends. Losing band members is always a bad point. You know, you have to pick yourself up and start again. There have been down periods, [but] not as many as people probably think.
NRR: Do you still feel that you have something to prove today, even after all these years?
Byford: (laughs) I think that when you are a songwriter, that you are always trying to prove that you can write a great song. I think that your inbuilt… some people have an inbuilt ability to spot when a song is great or not. I suppose that we have that ability, or some of us do. I think that we are quite lucky you know.
NRR: In life, what gives Biff Byford pleasure and what angers you?
Byford: What annoys me? I don’t like waiting around; it’s terrible. Waiting for planes and trains and cars. To spend all your life waiting, it’s terrible. That’s the only thing that I don’t really like. I am quite a bit of a workaholic, so I like to be doing things. I don’t like hanging around doing nothing; I feel that is wasted. It’s not as bad if you are lying on a beach or something; your waiting is organised. Unorganised waiting sucks.
NRR: On the flip side, what things in life do you enjoy?
Byford: Just family things really, seeing my children doing well. My daughter is at university, and she is doing well. My son is in a band, and he is doing okay. They are just starting out. I have twin boys, and they spend most of their time gaming and killing zombies. Going out for a meal with my wife; just general normal things.
NRR: Do you still have hopes, dreams, and ambitions?
Byford: Yeah, we want to go out on tour with Girlschool in the autumn. We are thinking about putting a tour together and taking Girlschool with us. At least, it is a bit of the package that we would have done with Motorhead. That would be great, and I think fans would like that. That is what we are working on at the moment.

[We will be doing] festivals in the summer; we are doing Download again, in the tent. It’s not exactly the main stage, but we kind of like being the underdogs; it suits us.

NRR: How would you like to be remembered?
Byford: For our music really and for not giving in.
NRR: Who would you, Biff Byford, like to sit down and actually interview yourself?
Byford: Hmm, I dont know. I think, probably, Jimi Hendrix! (laughs)
NRR: Thanks for chatting to me Biff. Good luck with the release of the album box set and see you on the road.
Byford: Cheers Mark, and thanks.


Saxon - Eagles and Dragons

Biff Byford
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