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SAXON – Rocking The Nations
Anthony Morgan
October 2016

Saxon (l-r): Nibbs Carter, Paul Quinn, Biff Byford, Doug Scarratt and Nigel Glockler

Hard rock trio Motörhead were scheduled to tour the United Kingdom during late January 2016, with support from Yorkshire, England-based metal ensemble Saxon and London, England-based hard rock outfit Girlschool. Sadly, Motörhead frontman Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister died on December 28th, 2015 at the age of 70 following a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer. The bassist / vocalist had learnt of his condition just two days prior.

Saxon have rescheduled said tour, the veterans upgraded to headlining act. Supporting are Girlschool and English rock assortment Fastway, including former Motörhead guitarist Fast ‘Eddie’ Clarke. Beginning on October 28th at the O2 Academy in Newcastle, England, the tour concludes at Rock City in Nottingham on November 9th.

“We tried to put a package together which was interesting,” submits Biff Byford, vocalist and co-founder of Saxon. “Obviously, it’s not as interesting without Motörhead, but yeah. It’s just sad really that we had to cancel the gigs in January, so yeah. We just put it all back together and tried to do some gigs and carry on really, to support the Battering Ram album (October 2015). We’ve got this live album coming out now as well (Let Me Feel Your Power).

“It should be great, actually. I’m looking forward to it. I was talking with Eddie yesterday; I think he might get up with us and play a Motörhead song, and that might be cool. Eddie could play anything, but we would probably play ‘Ace Of Spades’ I would think (from the November 1980 album of the same name), or ‘Overkill’ (March 1979) – one of their bigger songs. So yeah, it’s good. It looks like a good package, I think. I think it’s quite unique, because I don’t think Eddie and the Fastway boys go out a lot. So, it’s a good chance for people to see them.”

Fastway’s selection as a supporting artist wasn’t chosen due to ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke figuring among their respective line-up, as certain quarters might mistakenly assume. “No, no,” the frontman clarifies. “It just came together by accident, really. It just came together that Fastway were doing some festivals and things. It wasn’t really planned, to tell you the truth. The Girlschool idea, obviously we put that forward quite a long time ago, but the Fastway thing just came along.”

Saxon’s connection with Motörhead dates as far as back as 1979. “My first tour ever was with Motörhead in 1979 on their Bomber tour,” Biff remembers. “We had a bit of a following at the time, but not a lot, no. No, not much of a following. It was the tour before they recorded No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith (June 1981). The Bomber tour was massive, though. They were huge; Motörhead were huge before we even started writing our first album (Saxon, May 1979), really.

“So yeah, it was a great tour for us, definitely. That’s a lasting memory, and we’ve been friends with the Motörhead boys – all of the Motörhead incarnations over the years – really well. I think Motörhead were probably our biggest friends in the rock ’n’ roll world, and obviously Girlschool were around at the same time really. They more or less started the same time as we did. So yeah, we have good memories of them touring and partying. I once went to a party with Girlschool at the Tower Of London, which was really crazy.”

One would be safe to assume certain stories could not be recounted in print. “I couldn’t tell you, but we haven’t got time anyway,” the singer chuckles.

Not every band has earned a positive response from Motörhead’s audience through the years, although Saxon isn’t one such case. “No, not every band is suited to Motörhead,” Biff agrees. “Motörhead loved us because of that; they loved us because of our music. It’s quite similar actually; me and Lemmy both wrote historic lyrics, and we both wrote rock ’n’ roll lyrics. I don’t think our music was massively similar – not the latest stuff anyway – but some of their early stuff is quite close to our stuff. They influenced us quite a lot. ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’, ‘20,000 Ft’ and things like that (both from September 1980’s Strong Arm Of The Law) are quite Motörhead’ish. They’re not the same, but it’s the same sort of punky aggression that Motörhead had.”

Saxon’s forthcoming 22nd full-length studio album will feature a tribute composition to late Motörhead frontman Lemmy, entitled ’They Played Rock And Roll’. “There’s not much to tell, really,” the mainman reckons. “It’s a song about that tour, the 1979 tour basically. I asked Nibbs (Carter, bass) to write a song that was similar in style to Motörhead, which he did. He wrote the guitar riffs and everything, and I put lyrics to it that I had already written. So, it was a pretty easy song for us to do. We might play something off of the new album… I don’t know yet. We haven’t got a lot of time to rehearse, actually, because we can’t make any noise at the first gig until five ’o’ clock. So, we’re a bit pushed for time.”

And as well, work is underway on other tracks to be included on the forthcoming platter. “We’re writing and recording at the moment,” Biff informs. “We’ve done a few backing tracks already. We’ve got about ten or 12 backing tracks. We’re still writing, really. I’m in the studio at the moment actually, writing a new song. Yeah, we’re working on the new album, and we’ll do a bit of recording next week and rehearsing. Then I think we’ll go back in again in February and take it from there, and see if we can get it finished. We’re off to America in March with UFO. So yeah, we should have time to finish it really.”

Summer 2017 issue is being targeted. “We may miss that window, though,” the lyricist warns. “I don’t know.”

Irrespective of the affair’s eventual release date, Saxon’s 22nd studio outing proper will feature familiar musical traits. “I don’t see us suddenly turning into U2, no,” Biff laughs.

As referenced towards the inauguration of this respective feature, Saxon’s 21st studio outing proper – Battering Ram – will be belatedly promoted via live dates throughout the United Kingdom, scheduled to begin during late October 2016. “We’re gonna try to play from a few of the middle albums, from the 90s and 2000s,” the vocalist discloses. “It depends on what the audience will let us play. It’s down to them, really. If we start playing the newer stuff and they start screaming for the older stuff… We’ll have to see how it goes, really. It’s a bit of an unknown quantity, really, with setlists. You never know what people want to hear. We rehearse quite a lot of songs, so we do have quite a lot of songs in the arsenal. We’ve got ‘Lionheart’ (from the September 2004 album of the same name), and we’ve got ‘Attila The Hun’ (from March 2007’s The Inner Sanctum), and we’ve got ‘Killing Ground’ (from the September 2001 album of the same name). We’ve got quite a few songs in there from the last ten albums, so we’ll see how that goes.”

A steadfast, unwavering Saxon setlist doesn’t exist. “We have a setlist, but we don’t stick to it very much,” Biff muses. “Sometimes we change. We have songs we can play at different shows, so it makes it a bit more interesting for people. A lot of people travel around and go to different shows. So yeah, we might change it around a little bit.”

An eight-LP live box set dubbed The Vinyl Hoard undergoes release on October 28th in conjunction with the beginning of Saxon’s 2016 UK trek. “It’s a good looking piece of kit, actually,” the frontman compliments. “I quite like it, the golden vinyl. I like that, and obviously Paul Gregory has done the artwork. It’s good. The artwork looks better in a bigger size when you have real, real art, if you know what I mean, like old paintings. It looks great when it’s on a bigger format.

“This is live stuff, but I think that’s it now. We’ve also got the Let Me Feel Your Power DVD coming out on the 28th, which was filmed when we supported Motörhead in Munich before Christmas last year. They were the last shows we did with Lemmy. It’s two shows in Munich, and we also put on there an American show we did. We thought it might be nice for people to see one of our American headlining shows, and then there’s two or three songs from Brighton. So, we’ve got that coming out as well. We’ve got quite a bit of stuff coming out around the tour, like The Vinyl Hoard and Let Me Feel Your Power. Obviously, we’re still promoting the Battering Ram album, because that’s the tour that got cancelled when Lemmy died.”

The Vinyl Hoard collects various live sets originally issued in CD format. “They’re all ones that were in the original set when they were on CD,” Biff seconds. “We wanted a nice cross-section. You’ve got the Dogs Of War tour, which is quite early. You’ve got the Lionheart tour, you’ve got the Rocksound Festival recorded in Switzerland, and you’ve got other bits and pieces on there. I think it’s quite a good package, and it’s all on vinyl. If I had told you that ten years ago, you would’ve thought I was mad.”

The respective live sets collected were recorded in various countries, causing yours truly to ask as to whether audience receptions differ from area to area. “You’ll have to buy the releases to find out, mate,” the singer jokes. “Not really, though. I think the American audiences are probably a little bit older, but that’s because you can’t drink there until you’re 21 in some states. So, the dynamics are a bit different there, but no, not really. I think people like different songs, like the big hits of the day. Power & The Glory (March 1983) was a big album in America or Crusader (April 1984), so people probably know those songs more than they do in Europe.”

The Vinyl Hoard will be released on October 28th, 2016 via Demon Records, while Let Me Feel Your Power undergoes issue on the same day through UDR Music.

Interview published in October 2016.

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