Über Röck recently conducted an interview with vocalist Biff Byford of British heavy metal legends SAXON. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Über Röck: We have this new nine-album box set, “Eagles And Dragons”, to discuss. It starts with “Solid Ball Of Rock” and ends with “Into The Labyrinth”. What was the reasoning behind putting this set together now and why specifically these nine?
Biff: Well, the albums became free, the license became free last year, and Demon Records already had two of the albums, “Solid Ball Of Rock” and “Forever Free”, so they badly wanted the rest, as did quite a few other people. We didn’t really license the albums for a vinyl deal, it’s just a deal for the catalogue, but the idea came along that we should release a vinyl box set. I put the idea to them and they went for it. Also it’s got some exclusive artwork which, again, was an idea I had to make it more collectible. So yeah, it won’t be done again, basically, so this is a great piece of memorabilia and they’re great albums. There’s some absolute gems there.
Über Röck: “Unleash The Beast” was the first album with Doug Scarratt coming in to replace the departed Graham Oliver. How did his arrival change the dynamic of that band?
Biff: Well, the “Dogs Of War” tour was the first tour Doug did with us. Graham didn’t do that tour. They took Graham‘s guitar off the album, got some other guy to play it. I think maybe people think I did that, but, actually, it was the record company who did it. They were a bit pissed off with him, I suppose. He’s always wanted to release a version with him on, which, I think, if anybody gave a shit, he could do. I don’t have a problem with that. There’s not much different anyway. But with Doug‘s arrival, the musicianship changed. Graham‘s not really a technical player, Graham was more of a groove player at rhythm. He played solos obviously but his soloing was more smashing guitars and pyro going off, setting it on fire — you know, the Hendrix thing. He was more famous for that, I think. So Paul Quinn was able to blossom out a bit more when Doug came in. Paul‘s more of a mad schizophrenic blues player; he’s brilliant, Paul. Doug is more of a stylized player and there’s a ten-year generation gap, so he’s a little bit more modern. Listening to people like Steve Vai and people like that, whereas Paul is basically a Hendrix, Clapton-y chap but in his own style. But the album opened up musically for us, more dynamics. We were able to play a little bit more complicated riffs. That’s not to take away from what Graham did, but it just enabled us to go a little bit more muso.
Über Röck: I think that a lot of fans do accept that unquestionably, that there’s really two eras of SAXON; the older groove-styled playing, the more modern sound with Doug.
Biff: I think you write songs for the ability of the people that are in the band. Don’t forget that Nibs [Carter, bass] joined on “Solid Ball Of Rock” and he’s an absolutely brilliant musician. So the dynamics of the band changes; that’s all I’m saying. Things like “Terminal Velocity” and stuff hark back to more of an eighties style and the newer stuff like “Unleash The Beast” is quite modern. The beginning riff is quite complex and I don’t think we’d have written that in 1980. We were writing stuff like “Heavy Metal Thunder”, which is still on the edge, really fast and aggressive, so we wanted fast and aggressive still but with more musicianship and that’s what we got.
Über Röck: When and how did you first start working with [cover artist] Paul Gregory?
Biff: On “Crusader”. He did me a sketch of “Crusader”. It was his idea, and I was, like, yeah. One of our management people who lived in his area knew his work from some “Lord Of The Rings” stuff he was doing. They’d seen his work in exhibition and they thought he would be good for SAXON because of all that mythical, Saxony, Vikingy stuff. All that imagery fits with us massively.
Read the entire interview at Über Röck.