Biff Byford is one of the NWOBHM’s great survivors and the charismatic Saxon frontman is sounding better than ever after completing two UK headline tours in one year!
A regular favourite on the rushonrock pages, the boy from Barnsley checked in to offer his thoughts on the seminal metal movement which burst out of the British Isles in the late 70s.
And he also welcomed back old buddies Anvil after touring alongside the Canadian comeback kids this month.
rushonrock: Thirty years on from the dawn of the NWOBHM do you feel bands like Saxon, Leppard and Maiden have created a legacy to be proud of?
Biff Byford: I think so. Definitely. We were three of the bands which created that movement but there were many, many more and everyone played a part in laying down the foundations for something very special. That style of rock music at that time made waves around the world. These days it’s quite an important genre but looking back I don’t think we realised its importance. I think its significance is proved by the fact that there are so many bands from that period still going strong. And more and more people are into heavy metal now. People want to go and see real concerts with real bands. You get a lot of young bands these days quoting ourselves, Leppard and Maiden as major influences and it’s great.
rushonrock: Was there competition between the founding members of the NWOBHM bands and is there now?
BB: I think there’s always been a competitive edge when it comes to bands and music. The NWOBHM would never have been so successful if that wasn’t the case. In our camp we just wanted to write great songs and go on tour. We didn’t feel like it was a competition but we were ambitious like the rest of the bands. We played with Maiden quite a lot in the early days and we were always joking about who was the best band on the night. Or at least I thought we were joking. It’s not quite as competitive now but we always listen to the new music those bands are outing out. The latest Leppard and Maiden records have been great and all of us are touring regularly.
rushonrock: What inspired so many great bands to emerge from the UK at the same time?
BB: It’s hard to tell. I just think it was one of those periods when everything came together. There was a lot of punk music around at the time and there was a call for something different I suppose, although it probably influenced all of us more than people might think. There was a new generation of fans looking for their own identity and the NWOBHM bands answered that demand. It suddenly took off. We did a couple of dates with Motorhead and played with Nazareth. The Wheels Of Steel entered the lower reaches of the charts, we found ourselves on Top Of The Pops and that set us on our way.
rushonrock: Do you see a new breed of metal bands out there capable of carrying the NWOBHM standard forward?
BB: There are definitely some good bands knocking around right now and some great unsigned acts who should have deals. I love the Black Spiders as an example of a tradition British metal band with the potential to make it big given the right breaks. There are a lot more converts to metal music out there now and we do our best to support the upcoming acts by offering them slots on our bills. On the latest tour we took a young Swedish band out with us looking to make an impression in the UK.
rushonrock: Is the live scene in the UK conducive to breaking new bands?
BB: It’s better than it has been. There are a lot of pubs and clubs putting live rock bands on again. For a long time these places were the domain of the tribute act and while I have nothing against those guys it was tough for new bands with original material to make their mark.
rushonrock: How good is it to see Anvil back?
BB: We did some shows with them way back in the 80s – not many but enough to make their acquaintance. We bumped into them at a festival in the US and it was mentioned that we might tour together in the UK. They were well up for it with their film doing so well over here and they’ve always been a great live band. I admire those guys in so many ways. You have to survive and that’s often tough when your first love is making music. But they’ve done it and, watching their film, it was very poignant. If you’ve ever been in a band or you love watching bands then it’s a great film.
rushonrock: Why do you think their popularity waned?
BB: Anvil were always seen as contenders to become a great band and for some reason the Canadian guys appeal more to European audiences with their sound and outlook. They were one of the first bands to put the word metal on their tracks and that did everyone a favour. Their first album was hugely influential but maybe somewhere along the line they just missed the breaks or took some wrong advice. Who knows? I’m just glad they’re back and it was great being out on the road with them.