Saxon have been a life-long passion for Joe Geesin who has followed the band since the mid-1980s. More recently he has contributed sleeve notes and curation to several re-issues. And now he’s ready to write the band’s biography…
Barnsley born and bred Saxon, fronted by the charismatic vocalist Biff Byford, were formed in the late 70s (as Son Of A Bitch) and were originally part of the NWoBHM. In fact, their 1979 debut LP, issued on Carrere, is widely considered the first album of the genre.
My introduction to Saxon was in the mid 80s when a friend gave me their fourth album Denim And Leather, originally released in 1981, Hooked. I have always loved the mix of trad heavy metal with the very occasional hint of the band’s roots.
The band’s roots are split over two bands; the blues comes from SOB (from the Free album Tons Of Sobs), featuring Graham Oliver and bassist Steve Dawson, and the more progressive Coast, featuring guitarist Paul Quinn and bassist/vocalist Biff Byford.
I first saw Saxon live at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1985, on their Innocence Is No Excuse tour, and again in the mid 90s when I was at college. Saxon had left the UK and decamped to Germany by then. But the album, Unleash The Beast, was as good as anything they’d put out in the 80s. Small venue though, in Tunbridge Wells.
The 90s was largely, in my personal opinion, a crap time for rock music. Anything Nu or Alternative I hated, Grunge even more so, which made working in a number of record shops (including Our Price) difficult.
Even Iron Maiden’s 90s output passed me by, and Saxon were about the only metal band showing both quality and consistency. In fact I’d put 1991 into room 101 if it wasn’t for Saxon’s Solid Ball Of Rock, which had a more rock’n'roll edge, and the title track was co-written by guitarist Bram Tchaikovsky, originally of The Motors. And The Motors are the first band I ever got into.
Saxon in the late 1980s (left to right) Paul Quinn, Paul Johnson, Biff Byford, Nigel Glockler, Graham Oliver. Glockler had rejoined the band in 1988 when Nibbs Carter replaced Johnson on bass. Oliver left the band in 1994, replaced by Doug Scarratt, and went on to form offshoot Oliver Dawson Saxon with original bass player Steve Dawson after losing a court battle to secure use of the Saxon name.
Another live show (London) in 1999 and by 2000 I’d moved to London. And since then I’ve only missed one London show and that was due to a PR issue. And every show has explored the band’s catalogue, throughout the 80 and 90s, throughout the 00s too.
How many bands play material just from an early period, and a couple from whatever the new album is? We all know them. I’ve passed up free tickets to Motorhead who fell into that category. But not Saxon – one of Britain’s best live bands. And when the post 2000 albums have taken turn nodding to prog metal, rock’n'roll, power metal and their NWoBHM roots.
I was soon able build a rapport with the band, interviewing now ex-guitarist Graham Oliver for some CD releases on Angel Air, and through star PR Roland Hyams I was invited to the launch party for 2007′s The Inner Sanctum, where I was able to interview bassist Nibbs Carter and guitarist Paul Quinn. Another launch party/playback for Into The Labyrinth, and by this stage I’d interviewed Biff a couple of times.
Saxon in 2013
During the 2010s Demon Music Group put out a series of wonderfully packaged CD and LP box sets that I became involved with, as well as reissues of Solid Ball Of Rock, Forever Free and Dogs Of War, as well as a retrospective (see links below).
At one of the High Voltage festivals in East London, where Saxon were performing, I was lucky enough to spend some time with guitarist Doug Scarratt and his family front of stage, and with Biff and his family back stage.
One of my personal highlights with Saxon was in 2015, where drummer Nigel Glockler returned after a few gigs out following an operation, and I spent time with him in the bar after the show. And this coincided with my writing a full feature, interview and discography for Record Collector magazine. And after that interview, Biff joked that I should write a Saxon Biography. Now that I have a deal on the table, it’s down to the band. So Saxon, if you read this, get in touch.
Recommended albums (plus links to archive reviews)
Wheels Of Steel (a fan fave but to me it’s overplayed – there are better)
Denim And Leather
Innocence Is No Excuse (a bit more commercial)
Solid Ball Of Rock
Unleash The Beast
The Eagle Has Landed 40 (a 5LP box).
(i) (iii) Simon Dunkerley
Biff Byford chatted to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio in November 2014 in the ‘Favourite Tracks from Favourite Artists’ series. In this edit he discusses the band’s progress in the 1970s and 1980s.
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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Featured Albums w/c 14 September (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 PERFECT PLAN Time For A Miracle (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 OVERLAND Scandalous (Escape Music)
14:00-16:00 ANNIE DRESSNER Coffee At The Corner Bar (indie)
Power Plays w/c 14 September (Mon-Fri)
GALLOWS CIRCUS Medicine Man (indie)
ROY ZIV Currents (indie)
NOVATINES Honey (indie)
KILFEATHER Never Stop (indie)
VANILLA FUDGE Immigrant Song (Golden Robot Records)
BROKEN MACHINE Sweet Mary Jane (indie)
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