"Things have gone further than we envisaged, but that’s life": Saxon's Biff Byford on their new guitarist, extraterrestrial life and the future

Biff Byford headshot
(Image credit: David Charles)

Fans alarmed over Saxon’s future, following the decision last year of co-founding guitarist Paul Quinn to step away from touring, can rest easy. With guitarist Brian Tatler of Diamond Head now on board (he was originally expected to just be playing with Saxon live), new album Hell, Fire And Damnation is a continuation of a proud recorded legacy that now spans four and a half decades. Frontman Biff Byford gives us the lowdown on that and more.


Hell, Fire And Damnation is a screaming dizbuster of a heavy metal record

Glad you like it. I think of this one as quite a magical album, actually. I should tell you the story of how it came together. 

Please do

We weren’t planning on releasing it until November 2024, but Judas Priest asked whether we’d like to join them on their arena tour, also featuring Uriah Heep, which is in March. Meanwhile, Paul [Quinn, guitar] had decided he didn’t want to play live any more, which was a bit of a curve ball. We had five or six songs, but when I casually asked Brian [Tatler, from Diamond Head] whether he had any ideas, it turned out he did. One of them became the riff for the title track. 

Wasn’t Tatler supposed to be just playing with Saxon live? 

It’s just the way things turned out. But because Paul wasn’t around during the writing, and because it was made more quickly than expected, things happened differently. 

So does Paul play on the album at all, and are any of his songs on it? 

He’s on a couple of songs, but there are no writing credits. This time around it was all about the situation. We just had to forge ahead. 

Have you seen a change in Paul since he took a step back from the road? Does he seem happier? 

It’s not for me to say, but I think he blows hot and cold. Sometimes he regrets [the decision] and others he doesn’t. But it leaves a massive hole to fill. Saxon now tours more than we did back in the 1980s.

How is Tatler gelling with Saxon’s other lead guitarist, Doug Scarratt? 

They work together really well. Sometimes strange things happen. I think Brian co-wrote three songs on this album, ones that he didn’t consider right for Diamond Head. In some respects Brian is a member of Saxon now. Things have gone further than we envisaged, but that’s life. I’m sad for Paul but happy for Brian. Like Paul, he’s a legendary riff-meister. 

How did Brian Blessed come to narrate the album’s spoken word intro, The Prophecy

He’s a mate. We’ve known Brian for quite a while. He’s from Mexborough, just outside the Barnsley area, and we keep running into him. Brian introduced us at Bloodstock [in 2021] with a cry of: “For Saxon, for England and St George.” Brian sent us three versions, including one that said: “Saxon’s alive!” 

Presumably that will be used as an intro at shows? 

Oh, definitely. Yeah. 

With its lyric of: ‘Red hot and heavy, the greatest in the land’, Fire And Steel is one of those love letters to heavy metal that Saxon deliver from time to time. 

That’s right, we do. But the song is actually about Sheffield. That’s what really inspired it. 

It’s pretty amazing that it’s taken Saxon this long to write a song about the Battle Of Hastings in 1066. 

You’re right. We should have done that before now. I co-wrote a song called Saxons & Vikings for Amon Amarth [it appeared on the Swedish band’s 2022 album The Great Heathen Army], and it occurred to me that we should have one about the end of the Saxons and the Normans. We like to sink our teeth into a good story.

Is Pirates Of The Airwaves a tribute to the pirate radio stations of the sixties, like Radio Caroline? 

Yeah, but Radio Luxembourg was the big one for me in the 1960s. They played all these songs that the BBC wouldn’t allow. Stations like Luxembourg and Caroline changed the music scene for ever. 

The song There’s Something In Roswell is self-explanatory. Do you believe in extraterrestrial life? 

I do, actually. I like to think we are not alone. I enjoy mystery. Did it [the spaceship] crash, or is it a conspiracy? Roswell was the first big example of all that stuff. I read a book about it when I was in my teens. Like the song says: ‘There’s something there.’ 

What does 2024 hold for Saxon? 

There’s the arena tour with Judas Priest and Uriah Heep [six UK dates between March 11 and 21] and we’ll probably carry on touring all year. A trip to America is pencilled in at some point, and we hope to come back [to Britain] to play some longer shows of our own some time in the autumn. 

In a Classic Rock interview for Saxon’s previous album, Carpe Diem, when you were asked about possible retirement for Saxon, you fired back: “Listen to the fucking record.” 

Ha ha ha. Did I? 

You did. But nothing lasts forever… 

We’re not even thinking about it, actually, especially now that Brian has become more involved. We’ve definitely got one more album in us. That’s the plan, anyway. I might even make another solo album. I’d like to do that if there’s time. 

Hell, Fire And Damnation is out now via Silver Lining Music. Saxon's tour with Judas Priest and Uriah Heep begins on March 11. Get tickets.

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.