Album review: BIFF BYFORD – School Of Hard Knocks

BIFF BYFORD - School Of Hard Knocks

Silver Lining Music [Release date 21.02.20]

One of British heavy metal’s finest icons, vocalist (and occasional bassist) Biff Byford has fronted Saxon since the mid 70s, when they were called Son Of A Bitch. And after talk of a solo album for a couple of years, delayed only by Saxon’s continued busy schedule, School Of Hard Knocks comes and gives us a very hard knock indeed.

Opener Welcome To The Show is a great way to start, builds nicely, and Biff’s distinctive vocals come in. A nod to the 80s, there’s a good feel and a great guitar solo. It’s typically 80s in places with a big feel.

The title track immediately stands out, a mix of mid 80s Saxon with a touch of Denim & Leather. It’s autobiographical too, I strongly insist you read the lyrics to this one.

There’s more great guitar from Fredrik Akersson (Opeth), and drummer Christian Lundqvist (The Poodles) and bassist Gus Macricostas do a fine job too.

Inquisitor is a short spoken word piece with some atmospheric guitar driving it, then The Pit And The Pendulum is a bit more power metal with some prog touches, running to over seven minutes to boot.

Do you get a range of metal feels, and it’s not all Saxon, it showcases Biff. Fantastic cover of Wishbone Ash’s Throw Down The Sword too. Skill and feeling go into this, 7 minutes of magic. And a transcendental guitar solo, the world must stop when you listen to tracks like this.

There’s guest appearances from Motorhead’s Phil Campbell, Saxon’s Nibbs Carter and Rhapsody’s Alex Holzwarth, amongst others.

Saxon are one of Britain’s best and hardest working bands, so much so I wondered if this album would ever appear it’s been touted what feels like an age ago (I’ve spoken with Biff so often I forget when).

There’s a feeling of openness and honesty from this album, release too. Worth the wait? Definitely. If you can relax and enjoy life half as much as Biff sounds like he’s had here, you’re onto a good thing.

And after a recent health scare, Biff took time to speak to us about the album, before preparing for a solo tour and the rearranged Saxon dates. ****1/2

 Review by Joe Geesin

JG Hi Biff. How are you?

Biff: Good thank you. Fine. Getting stronger. I started singing again last week, so getting better, coming back.

JG The new album’s been on the cards for a few years now, was it good to get it finished?

Biff: It’s been a few years in the thought process, but it only took a couple of weeks to record. There was a gap before the next Saxon album so it was good timing. It was a bit weird putting it all back though.

JG I like the proggy bits.

Biff: I do too. I could talk for a long time about prog. By using Fred (Opeth), we got some good style.

JG How did it come about?

Biff: Well partly from fans asking about when I was going to do one. It was a chance to work with some mates, explore ideas, work on a different level.

JG Who would you most like to work with?

Biff: Difficult. I don’t know. It would probably be Eddie Van Halen on guitar with me on bass. But I don’t thing about these things because it’ll never happen. I don’t live in LA or London so I’m not on the jam circuit. It’s more difficult if you’re not near it all. When Lemmy lived in LA he would play with all sorts of people. I’m back in Yorkshire now, I moved back here from France 8 years ago, playing with people is a different world.

JG What can Saxon expect form the forthcoming Saxon live shows?

Biff: They’ll be big shows, a full on production. As live as possible, a great mix of modern and analogue, totally rocking.

JG And the solo show?

Biff: These will be a bit different, more intimate. I’ll sit down and talk things through, see how it goes. I’ll be able to tell a few stories, some happy some sad. Then there’s be a band set, a mix of solo stuff and covers, maybe requests (laughs), down to earth, every night will be different. It’s not going to be an unplugged thing, just more organic.

JG How did the album title (and title track) come about?

Biff: I’m from an industrial background, working class, seemed like the best angle, it’s autobiographical. It could have been called Heart Of Steel but that’s not so rock’n’roll. The cover art I bought and we decided to use it, it tells a story.

JG How does it feel to have been at the forefront of the NWoBHM for 40 years?

Biff: Exactly the same as if we weren’t (laughs). It’s a title, I know what you’re saying. I’m sure Iron Maiden get asked the same thing. But it’s great, we’ve always flown the flag, and we’re pleased our profile has risen over the last 10-15 years.

I guess it all started in 1979, it’s in our legacy, as it is for other bands like Def Leppard too.

JG The Eagle Has Landed 40 5LP box was quite a magnificent package of an album, wasn’t it.

Biff: Yes, really nice. Expensive but a labour of love for us and the label. It’s great. With these things the packaging is as important as the music if not more so, it adds colour, feel. We tried to keep the colours simple, like the original Eagle Has Landed. We’ve done several live albums and this one was something else.

JG Will you be slowing down a bit now?

Biff: Apparently not. I’m out with Saxon in March, solo shows in April, then festivals over the Summer, then we’re out with Judas Priest. The Priest guys are great, and they sent me a video message when I was in hospital.

We have a new album due either late 2020 or early 2021, the guitar parts are done, they’re waiting for me now. I’m looking forward to the coming year.

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