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Plus Exclusive Video Interview With Biff Byford

mark taylor
Words and Interview: Mark Taylor
22nd January 2018


At the tail end of last year, Heavy Metal legends Saxon released a definitive collection of their highly successful early career, 'Decade Of The Eagle - The Anthology 1979-1988', on BMG Records.

It was a period which saw Saxon ride the crest of the wave of the NWOBHM movement, storming both the singles and album charts and even at one stage out-selling Iron Maiden and Def Leppard.

Here, Biff Byford talks about each of that golden decade's studio albums, as well as reminiscing about their friendship with Motörhead, appearing on Top Of The Pops, Tommy Vance of The Friday Rock Show, his dislike of Saxon's ballads, what it means having Nigel Glockler in the band and the reasons as to why he would like Saxon to re-record the 'Destiny' album with Andy Sneap producing.

You can watch the interview right here.


(BMG Records)

There's been numerous Saxon compilations released over the years but none so documentative as this, featuring a chronological body of work that saw the working class band from Barnsley in South Yorkshire become one of the leading lights in Heavy Metal.

Opening up this package, it's pleasing to see on the inside cover a photo of the 'classic' line-up. The 'classic' Motörhead lineup - Lemmy, Fast Eddie Clarke and Phil 'Philthy Animal' Taylor - released a trio of classic albums with their second, third and fourth releases, as did Saxon with 'Wheels Of Steel', 'Strong Of Arm Of The Law' and 'Denim And Leather', albums that like those classic albums from Motörhead, were recorded over a remarkable period of just two years, 1979 to 1981.


Only Biff Byford and Paul Quinn remain today from this vital era but the contributions of guitarist Graham Oliver, bassist Steve Dawson and drummer Pete Gill are paramount.

This compilation starts with four tracks from their eponymous debut album from 1979. The album made a little rumble but Saxon were just starting to rev up their engines, showing a sign of things to come with songs about motorbikes, girls and Heavy Metal.

A year later came 'Wheels Of Steel', which really put Saxon on the map with a Top 5 album and a support tour with Motörhead. Produced by Pete Hinton and Saxon, this is the definitive sound of Heavy Metal as songs like '747 (Strangers In The Night)' exploded through the speakers with an almighty, ground shaking, decibel breaking sound with soaring guitar work from Graham Oliver.

Best enjoyed with the volume turned to the maximum. The title track is a headbanger's anthem which immediately gets the listener reaching for the air guitar.

Incredibly the album 'Strong Arm Of The Law', an album that Biff wanted to call 'Heavy Metal Thunder', came just four months later. The epic 'Dallas 1pm', a track about the assassination of John F Kennedy which featured that thumping bass line from Steve Dawson, came from this album.

'Denim And Leather' was the last album to feature Pete Gill, who left the band due to a hand injury. On this album Saxon would sing about their own experiences, with 'And The Bands Played On' being about their historic date at the first ever Monsters Of Rock at Castle Donington.

The title track summed up life for most British Heavy Metal fans with lyrics referring to our non-trendy dress sense referenced in the title, staying in on a Friday night listening to Tommy Vance and visiting the record store the very next day.

Saxon would see their fortunes gradually diminish after this with 'Sailing To America' from 84s 'Crusader' being the first lead in single to not break the Top 40 since 'Wheels Of Steel'.

By the mid 80s the pretty boys from America we're starting to take over with bands like Motley Crue, Ratt and an emerging Bon Jovi being the flavour of the day. The commercial success of Def Leppard Stateside meant that Saxon were encouraged to Americanise themselves which was met with mixed results. However, songs such as 'Back On The Streets' and 'Broken Heroes' still stand up today. The album from which they came, 85s 'Innocence Is No Excuse' was the last to feature Steve Dawson.

The album 'Destiny' from 1988 would prove to be the last charting album from Saxon for almost two decades but it did contain the single 'Ride Like The Wind', originally recorded by Christopher Cross, that would become a fan favourite and still occasionally makes its way back into the live set.

This is an excellent collection for the latter day fan who is yet to discover all of Saxon's early works, or for the old headbanger who can't be bothered to get his old vinyl down from the loft.

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Saxon will be releasing their 22nd studio album, 'Thunderbolt', on February 2nd on the Silver Lining Music label. It has been produced by Andy Sneap.

The band will be performing a handful of select UK, Holland and German dates before heading to the States as special guests of Judas Priest. Saxon will then return to Europe for a more extensive tour in the autumn.




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