"WE'VE WRITTEN A SONG ABOUT MOTÖRHEAD." SAXON'S BIFF ON EVE OF FASTWAY/GIRLSCHOOL DATES
'The Vinyl Hoard' (8LP box)
Release Date: 28th October 2016 (Demon)
Bastions of British Metal kick off their tour with Girlschool and Fastway with this 8LP box of vintage live material and the announcement of a new studio album...
Twelve months ago Saxon released the highly acclaimed 'Battering Ram' (reviewed here) and spent months on the road with Motörhead, a tour that was cut short when Lemmy passed away.
Now, on the eve of the rearranged UK tour, with Girlschool and Fastway in tow, we are treated to this wonderful box set. A year ago Demon issued an LP set of the 1991 to 2007 era that immediately sold out, and now this set compiles the live albums 'The Eagle Has Landed Pt2', 'The Eagle Has Handed Pt3' (both previously CD only, 1996 and 2006 respectively) and the Rocksound Festival 2006, originally released on the 'To Hell And Back Again' DVD. Four double LPs on gold vinyl in gatefold sleeves and a box. A treasure chest indeed.
And to boot, Saxon's label UDR issue the 2LP, 2CD, DVD and blu-ray 'Let Me Feel Your Power', recorded last year on tour with Motörhead and at later shows too.
Add with news that the new album is being recorded as we speak, it really is all go on the Saxon front.
Not only do Saxon get better with age, they are as busy and energetic as ever; a single malt whiskey has nothing on these guys. MetalTalk spoke with lead singer Biff Byford about the box set and he also gave us the lowdown on the tour and new album. You can see what Biff said below.
Originally part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (their eponymous debut on the Carrere label was widely considered the first LP of the movement), their punk tinged twin guitar Metal would, with a few line-up changes, move to a more solid Metal direction. Hits including 'Wheels Of Steel', '747 (Strangers In The Night)', 'Princess Of The Night' and 'Crusader' are still live favourites.
With original bassist Steve Dawson and guitarist Graham Oliver now fronting their own version of Saxon, the current line-up is the most stable in the band's career and first cemented on the tour for the 1995 album 'Dogs Of War' (Graham Oliver's final album with the band, the guitarist leaving just prior to the tour). With new guitarist Doug Scarratt now alongside Paul Quinn, the line-up was tight, the transition seamless. By then drummer Nigel Glockler had already left the band and rejoined, and bassist Nibbs Carter was no longer the new boy, having come in for two live albums prior to 1991's 'Solid Ball Of Rock'.
Recorded in 1995 on the 'Dogs Of War' tour, the live album 'The Eagle Has Landed Pt2', a title taken from their first live album, was originally released in July 1996 with no original vinyl format.
Despite the oft held opinion that the 90s was a low time for Saxon and rock music in general, the band are clearly on form and energetic. Recorded in Germany, where the band remained big during fashion changes, 'Dogs Of War' saw Saxon move in a power Metal direction. Having experimented with punkish NWOBHM, hair Metal and, on their comeback record 'Solid Ball Of Rock', rock'n'roll, the band decided to move to the genre they'd influenced. As Biff told me in 2015: "The heaviness was kinda intentional. There were all these European power Metal bands writing about battles, swords, and I thought Hey, we're Saxon, we did 'Crusader', let's get back to that. So we did with 'Dogs Of War' and it worked. We'd gone too far down the rock'n'roll route; needed to get back to our roots, we'd lost our heaviness."
What is also obvious from this album is that Saxon have never been afraid to dip into every part of their catalogue. Kicking off with the then new album's title track, another highlight is 'Requiem', with Stevie Ray Vaughan and John Bonham just two of the fallen legends Biff dedicates it to. Another track well worth a listen is the classic 'Denim And Leather', featuring Yngwie Malmsteen – blistering to say the least.
Move on ten years and, bar Glockler's parting and returning (again), and 'The Eagle Has Landed Pt3' is effectively a compilation of the tour for 2004s 'Lionheart' album. Of the original 2CD, each disc is spread over a double LP here. Between 2004 and 2005, source material comes from London, Stockholm, Wacken 2004, Paris and several dates on the German leg of the tour. Then current tracks like 'Jack Tars' (still a live favourite) and the excellent but brave cover of 'In The Court Of The Crimson King' sit perfectly next to 90s epics such as 'Unleash The Beast' and 80s classics like 'Never Surrender' and 'Suzie Hold On'.
'Play It Loud' is one you don't hear too often, and even the more commercial tracks sound wonderful with 'Broken Heroes' from 'Innocence Is No Excuse' a prime example. 'The Eagle Has Landed' and 'Crusader' run to over seven minutes each, 'Wheels Of Steel'/'Demotion Alley' to over twelve with the introduction a singalong segment or a bass or guitar solo never boring at a Saxon show.
There are few frontmen who work the crowd like the ever charismatic Biff does. I was at the London show recorded here and can testify first hand how good the show was.
The final double LP here is the Rocksound Festival 2006, previously only available on the 'To Hell And Back Again' DVD, adding something extra special to this release. With 'Dogs Of War' sat next to the pounding 'Strong Arm Of The Law' (listen to Nibbs Carter rule on this one) and the more recent 'Witchfinder General', it's a treat beginning to end, not to mention it's one show rather than a compilation.
Popularity may have waned in some territories during the 90s, with a resurgence and purple patch coming from 2004 and beyond around the world, this live set proves that the power, passion and performance has not changed one bit. The setlist does – daily. Recorded and mixed well in a digital age that sounded great on release, the music sounds just as good back where it belongs – on vinyl.
Whether the punk tinged NWOBHM or the later rock'n'roll, or the more recent introduction of their pre Saxon progressive Metal influences, Saxon emerged in the new millennium more the complete Metal band than ever and Saxon continue to prove it on stage. As Paul Quinn and Nibbs Carter told me back then: "A nod back to the 80s isn't a step back. We haven't changed a thing. Except our socks and underwear."
And in 2008, when I asked Biff about how he keeps active and his vocals in shape. He replied: "I don't know, I'm just lucky I guess. I didn't abuse myself when I was younger, you know, with the drink and drugs, so I'm getting the benefits now."
Like the 9LP box set 'Eagles And Dragons', Demon have packaged it wonderfully.
This, and the new live album 'Let Me Feel Your Power', prove how good the band are on stage. Each member connects with the crowd as well as playing their respective backsides off. Biff Byford is like a panther, prowling the stage ready to take control of your ear drums. The epitome of class and classic British Heavy Metal. They always were, always will be.
So we spole to Biff about the box set, the new studio album and the forthcoming tour with Fastway and Girlschool.
How do you think this box set has come out?
"I like it a lot. We wanted to call it Saxon Hoardes, which was a bit pretentious, or Demon Hoardes, but the label wouldn't have liked it."
Demon are doing a good job with these releases, aren't they?
"Yes, really well. The last one sold out really quickly. We wanted to package this one differently making the vinyl gold, like treasure. Great packaging, it's the way to go. Decent packaging and limited. We'd done the last box and wanted to make this one different.
"All of it was my idea, like treasure, and Paul Gregory did his interpretation for the cover art."
How did you feel about the live material at the time?
"Good. The first set was Doug's first tour and he did fit in really nicely. At the time we were writing, touring, recording, and he slotted right in.
"Yngwie Malmsteen played on 'Denim & Leather' on that one as well, did a great solo. He's played with us a few times, he's a good mate."
"What's your view on the Vinyl vs Digital debate?"
"Everyone's got a preference; to really appreciate vinyl you need some serious kit and albums in decent condition. MP3 are really squashed.
"I love vinyl. I have both. If you can be bothered, you can listen to it and appreciate it. Or you can collect it as a momento of the release."
What can fans expect from the forthcoming tour?
"Fastway and Girlschool. How cool is that?
"We were playing with Motörhead and were due to tour with them and Girlschool, so we all felt we had some unfinished business, so it should be great.
"We'll be playing some songs off of the 'Vinyl Hoard' and some off the new DVD 'Let Me Feel Your Power', as well as some greatest hits, try to squeeze in as much as possible.
"The Fastway thing was by accident, like I said we all had unfinished business. Fast Eddie's a big friend, knows all the band, and he's a great guitarist."
How big a loss to you was the passing of Lemmy?
"For us, it was massive. We were big friends, toured with them over the years, so at the time closer to him than most.
"He was ill, and he was better some nights than others, so it wasn't a massive shock that he died, but it was still a big loss. But yes he was ill and the reaper comes for us all. Such a big character, there'll be a lot less for people to write about. A lot was exaggerated but there was always something to write about. He lived the life, even when he was at home in his flat he was killing zombies."
Will there be any further tribute to Motörhead?
"I don't think there's anything planned. Phil and Mikkey are doing something at a festival in Sweden, but Mikkey's busy now, now he's joined The Scorpions.
With 'The Vinyl Hoard' and the new 'Let Me Feel Your Power' kicking off the tour, it's all go for Saxon at the moment.
"It is all go. Maybe the record companies should have coordinated (laughs). It's great for the fans, the new DVD is great. It was recorded at some of the last shows with Motörhead. It was great to see those shows."
What can you tell us about the new Saxon album?
"We've recorded it, done several drum tracks, we're running two studios, writing and recording. We've written a song called 'We Play Rock'n'Roll' about Motörhead.
Title? Not that going to tell you [laughs]."
What's happened to your long planned solo album?
"It's still there, there's tracks all over the place. I might do that next. There's some tracks that wouldn't fit onto a Saxon Metal album. Maybe I should call it 'Outtakes'? Or 'Intakes'? [laughs].
"I put it to one side because I've been writing with Saxon for the new album. There's stuff [for the solo album] I've written with the Saxon guys, me and Nibbs, me and Paul and Doug, me and Nigel, and other stuff."
Any message for your fans?
"I'm really happy with where we are at the moment. We're getting new fans, and we're very grateful for everyone who listens. Unfortunately they love it [laughs]. And hopefully we'll make the next album better than this one."
Tour Dates wih Fastway and Girlschool
28th October: Newcastle O2 Academy
29th October: Glasgow O2 ABC
30th October: Belfast * Limelight
1st November: Dublin * Academy
2nd November: Manchester O2 Ritz
3rd November: Bristol O2 Academy
5th November: London O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
6th November: Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall
8th November: Sheffield O2 Academy
9th November: Nottingham Rock City