The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world





When I was a kid we used to travel to see a lot of shows – but it was always the same group of us, always the same venues – places like Nottingham Rock City, Sheffield City Hall and Leicester De Montfort Hall were always places of wonder to us. In those formative years we must have seen our ‘big three’ of Motorhead, Maiden and of course Saxon play a dozen times a piece. They were simple days when rock was fresh and new and we were kids who would have laughed at the thought that there could be any other genres for the music we loved than Hard Rock or Heavy Metal…

Biff was a bit of a legend to us too growing up - whereas some rock stars were ensconced in their castles or living it up in Beverly Hills there was always something so real about Biff and Saxon: after all Biff lived in the same town as us when we were growing up, and a sighting of him in town would have us running to the nearest phone box to get everyone out on the off chance we’d catch a glimpse of the ‘Barnsley Big-Teaser’ (kids you might want to ask your Grandparents about that phone box thing)…

Saxon and their music is one of my most cherished childhood memories of Rock and to get to talk to Biff after all these years and even tick off the truth about a very old local urban legend made it one of my personal favourite interviews.

Of course Saxon are still with us and on the evidence of their last few releases it would be hard to argue that they aren’t in the  form of their lives producing ass-kicking old school Metal – just the way it should be.  Sometimes you should meet your heroes because they are all that you hoped they would be...

Mark: Hi, Biff, love the new album, the live one, “St George’s Day Sacrifice-Live in Manchester”.

Biff: Thank you very much.

Mark: So many great releases from Saxon over the last year, does it feel like a new golden era for the band? You seem to be releasing an awful lot of material.

Biff: Yeah, we’re on a bit of a roll at the moment, our profiles gone up quite a lot in Europe, well, actually around the world really! We’ve had these things in the pipeline for some time, the last album “Sacrifice” and we had an unplugged album as well, “Unplugged and Strung Up”, and the next release will be a DVD, coming out soon.

Mark: Oh, I understood you were in the studio at the minute, is that new studio tracks?

Biff: No, I’m doing a prog rock project with some friends of mine, so I’ve been singing on that, but that’s finished now. So, I’m back in the studio with Saxon next week, writing.

Mark: Can you tell us anything about that? Sounds interesting!

Biff: Prog rock album, I can’t tell you anything, because it’s linked to a film and I’ve been sworn to secrecy!! But, you’ll hear about it in the next three weeks! It’s a great album, it’s a concept album connected to a film.

Mark: Sounds great, we’ll certainly look out for that one. It’s a wonderful track listing on the live album as well, I suppose with every year that goes by it must get harder to pick a set list!

Biff: That particular set list is from the “Sacrifice” world tour, so it just so happened that we played Manchester on St George’s day, so we just threw a couple of extra songs in. So we were lucky enough to catch it, it’s got quite a few new songs on there.

Mark: On the unplugged album, you reached way back in the catalogue. Is that something you’ve wanted to do for a while?

Biff: We’re always looking to the back catalogue, especially with the first album; there are some undiscovered gems on there. The thing with the first album is, it’s not quite so “Metal”, so there’s quite a few songs on there you can do unplugged and rejig them a little bit. We enjoyed doing it, it was good fun.

Mark: You hit the European festivals this Northern Summer.

Biff: Yeah, we’ve started already actually, we’ve already done four, it was a bit cold, mind you, but we had plenty of flames on stage so it was alright!! We are doing some pretty big ones soon, we’ve got one at the end of June, I  think we’ve got one in July, and then in August we’ve got about 6 or 7, August is the real festival season.

Mark: It must be great in Europe at the moment, there seems to be a real resurgence, and I guess that’s been going on for a few years now.

Biff: Yeah, it’s good at the moment, if anything there are too many festivals. It’s good for bands like us, we can work regularly, and we’re going out with bands like Amon Amarth, and people like that are around as well, so there are some great bands around.

Mark: It’s a special year for you as well; it’s hard to believe it’s the 35th anniversary!

Biff: Yeah, it is, we are headlining Wacken, and it’s their 25th anniversary, so there are quite a few anniversaries going on at the moment.

Mark: You are also going over to the UK in December.

Biff: Yeah, we are doing our 35th anniversary tour, actually it’s October, November and December, and we start in Greece and then go through Europe. There are some plans to take that to the other side of the world in the New Year, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed on that, because I know there are some festivals on in Australia in January, February, aren’t there?

Mark: Yes, and we’d love to see you over here for those!!

Biff: We were on one but we had to cancel it because the record company were going to sue us, because we were over time with the album! It would be nice to get back in next year and do some festivals definitely!

Mark: It’s nice to know that you are still thinking of us down here, there were a lot of people upset when you pulled out.

Biff: We are not a band that cancels things lightly, and we always postpone them and redo them later, the festival we just couldn’t do it, we had too many legal commitments.

Mark: It would be great to see a band like Saxon, there’s a lot of ex pats over here especially.

Biff: It would be good to do the 35th anniversary show, wouldn’t it?

Mark: It would! The last time I saw you guys was at Rocklahoma, in the States.

Biff: Oh, yeah, that was a while ago! I remember it being really hot, and I remember watching Anvil frying in the sun! We toured America last year and it was great, we had a great reception, so I think the profiles gone up there as well. It would be nice to get to Australia because we haven’t played there very much, and we do know we have a lot of fans there, and people need to see you live, to get in to you, don’t they?

Mark: I think so, I remember as a kid going to Rock City, Leicester De Montfort Hall and we’d be seeing Saxon, Maiden or Motorhead!! Those were the days!! It’s great that we still get to see bands like that these days as well. It’s also the 30th anniversary of “Crusader” which was, and probably still is one of my favourite albums of yours!

Biff: Yeah, it’s a big album that, and obviously the album cover is iconic as well. We are doing something a little bit special at the Wacken festival in August for that. So, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for that that it all works out and we don’t set ourselves on fire!!

Mark: You have some great supports on the tour; you have Andy’s “Hell”, who are on part of the tour and I believe produced or mixed the last album.

Biff: Yeah, he does a lot of that stuff now; I was with him yesterday actually. Yeah, we have Andy Sneap’s Hell, and an Irish band, Stormzone, and in Europe we’ve got Skid Row, so it’s a pretty good ticket really!
Mark: You have a special treat also at the Shepherd’s Bush show; you have Doro on stage with you.

Biff: Yeah, Doro’s going to come on stage and do some songs with us.

Mark: We really appreciate your time today; we got so many questions over the internet, when I said who I was talking to, I’ve never had such a big response! That tells you, you have a lot of fans here in Australia. So, here’s a few from fans, does playing live on stage and the feeling you get change over the years??

Biff: I don’t think so. I think the secret is to try and stay fit and focussed really, and take enjoyment out of the old songs and the new songs. I also think it’s down to the audience sometimes; they make the songs great, not the band. Two shows are never the same, that’s what makes it great being on stage.

Mark: Another one that came in, was Saxon have always been a very English band, and you’ve always had a huge following of loyal fans, what do you think creates that sort of bond?

Biff: Again, I think because the 80’s was such a strong time for bands like us, we wrote such great songs then, as did Maiden, Judas Priest, Whitesnake, all through that early 80’s, I just think all those songs go into rock DNA, and I think that’s what gives you that longevity. Also because we were based in England, all our first hits were in England and so people perceive us to be English, as with Maiden as well, we’ve always got the Union Jacks on stage and everything. I think us and Maiden have that British identity, definitely.

Mark: I think so, and it’s great to see you flying the flag all around the world as well. Has the way you write and your approach to song writing changed over the years?

Biff: It’s changed a little bit. I tend to do a lot of the lyrics and the melodies on my own now. After we’ve written some musical ideas, I tend to go off and do ideas on my own, try them, and then take them back to the band again. I think in the early days we used to do it all together in one room, I still wrote everything, but people were around, so I’ve got used to working on my own a bit more, but I think you get more experienced as well.

Mark: It’s funny, as that’s what Ian Anderson said to me yesterday! He said over time you just get more experienced at doing it, and he also doesn’t like the studio, so with modern technology, he likes the fact you can now do it all in your own room, making music. I guess that must have changed the way you write too?

Biff: Yeah, it totally does, we all have pro tools, and we all send files backwards and forwards to each other, and yeah that makes a massive difference. Obviously the band has grown up through the technology changes, so we know all about analogue and digital, and no doubt we’ll know everything about the next move as well!

Mark: Whatever that may be, that’s right! Do you listen to a lot of contemporary music?

Biff: I don’t listen to a lot of music because I’m working most of the time, I listen to various things now and again, but most of the time I’m listening to what I’m doing, it’s a really full on job! I do listen to other bands, I like the samplers you get with magazines, they’re quite handy, with what they perceive to be their best tracks on the album, and they’re cool.

Mark: You mentioned earlier that you’re doing a prog rock record at the moment; do you have any other unfulfilled musical ambitions that you’d like to do?

Biff: Well, I’m slowly writing a solo album, between everything else! So, that’s coming along quite slowly, but I’ll probably have a solo album out within the next year.

Mark: Is that something where you’ve collected songs over the years or just done?

Biff: I’ve just started writing; I’ve done a bit of writing on my own and a bit of writing with friends, at the moment it’s just a bit of a hobby, doing a few hours in the evening.

Mark: Is it going to be very different? Will we be surprised?

Biff: I think it won’t be massively different, but it will be a little bit more melodic. It’s difficult when you’re writing on your own, specifically writing different things, I don’t know, it might have a tinge of AC/DC to it, that style, more classic rock than heavy metal. But then again I’m a bit of a metal freak as well, so it might have the odd track on there!!

Mark: Sounds good, I can’t wait for that one!! If you could have composed with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

Biff: I don’t know, let’s see. I’d like to do some composing with a lot of people, really, different people, I’d like to work with Slash, he’s got a good ear for a great riff, and it would be good to have a session with Jimi Hendrix that would be cool!

Mark: Do you think music has the power to change the world in 2014?

Biff: I don’t think our genre of music has. I think when musicians get together, like in Live Aid, I think that can change people’s lives; I don’t think it will change anything politically. A lot of great people have tried to change things through music and generally, it doesn’t really work. I think sometimes when you get 90,000 people in a field, some politicians think they can manipulate that, you can’t! Let’s have a good time and listen to the music, they are not there to be preached to! It’s very difficult to change things with music, folk music in the early days used to be the vehicle for that, and I suppose punk was antiestablishment, but I don’t think it really changed much. It changed with the record companies, but not with governments.

Mark: I think people think of things like Woodstock and Live Aid, and see some sort of movement there, that came together for a reason.

Biff: They made a lot of money for a lot of people who needed it.

Mark: Thinking back to your earliest memories of music, what was it that made you want to be in a band?

Biff:  When I first heard an electric guitar, my friend bought one, and he played it in to an old tape recorder and I was hooked from that second! An amplified guitar fascinated me as a 12/13 year old, and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Mark: From what you’ve learned so far, what’s the most valuable piece of advice anyone’s ever given you?

Biff: I think really, it’s to stay true, don’t bullshit people. Stay true to what you believe in, we’ve made some mistakes over the years, Saxon, in some ways with our music especially in the late eighties, but we looked at that and thought fair enough, it’s a fair cop! So, I think you have to be honest with yourself and your fans, and generally keep focussed on what you’re doing really.

Mark: If you could have been a fly on the wall for the making of any great album, at any point in time, what would it be for you and why?

Biff: We would have all liked to have been there for the Zeppelin albums, wouldn’t we? And we would have all liked another Abba album that would have been cool!! So, that covers the whole spectrum of music, doesn’t it?!!

Mark: Yeah, A-Z, that’ll do! Finally, what is the meaning of life?

Biff: I’ve just said that one really!! The meaning of life is to have a quality of life, and to be satisfied, as much as you can be.

Mark: I think you’re right. Now, would you mind clearing up an urban myth for me?? When I was a very young boy, I used to live in Boston (UK), and I know that you used to live there. One of my mates used to work on a market stall at Boston markets, and when you were out doing your shopping, he’d ring us up, and we’d all bike in to town to see if we could see you! He told me once, and I have no idea if this is true, but you once bought some potatoes from him, and you told him ‘Maris Piper’ (a variety of potato fruit and veg fact fanciers) were the best chipping potatoes!! Is that true?

Biff: No, I can’t remember that!!

Mark: Damn!!

Biff: What year would this be?

Mark: Definitely early eighties,maybe '84? You used to live by the river.

Biff: Yeah, it was 84/85, I had a big house, was nice actually! I may well have said something to him, but I can’t remember! I can’t even remember buying potatoes; I’m not a big potato man!

Mark: I’m sorry about that last question; it’s been one I’ve been dying to ask for years… Well thank you for taking the time to speak to us, it’s been a pleasure.

Biff: Yeah, no problem, I just hope we can get over there.

Mark: That would be wonderful, good luck with the album and the tour. Thank you so much for your time.

Biff: See you later.



Biff spoke to Mark Diggins June 2014





Interested in an interview for your band? e-mail prefers to interview live or via skype or phone but will consider e-mail interviews