Skip to main content

The 10 greatest festival experiences of my life, by Saxon's Biff Byford

Biff Byford
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

To mark the release of their 24th album, Carpe Diem, British heavy metal legends Saxon are preparing to spend another summer leap-frogging around the European festival circuit. 

They're scheduled to perform at the Mystic Festival in Gdansk, Poland, on June 2, and will finish the season a with a set at Grönan Live in Stockholm in Sweden on August 12. 

In-between, metalheads across the continent will be able to enjoy Biff Byford and the boys as the live circuit returns to something approaching normality, from Balingen to Bratislava, from Villafranca di Verona to Esch Sur Alzette. And beyond. 

Below, frontman Biff lists his Top 10 festival moments. 


Cèilidh Folk Festival

I don’t recall the year, but my mum took me when I was tiny. It took place on the back of a farm trailer and it was my first major gathering. That set me on my way.

Bath Festival (1970) and Lincoln Festival (1972)

I’m lumping these two together as, from memory, they were back-to-back [Actually they weren’t, Biff – Ed.]. Led Zeppelin were on at Bath, and although we were about eight miles away from the stage I’ll never forget Jimmy Page playing guitar with a bow. Lincoln had the Beach Boys, The Faces and Slade. My friend and I made a house with straw bales and filled it with Mars Bars… and as many girls as we could find. Which wasn’t that many, but there were a few. I returned cold, wet, hungry and smelling of straw

Monsters Of Rock (1980)

Headlined by Rainbow, this was the first custom-made festival for heavy rockers. I still meet people that come up and tell me about their own little twist on the day: “Just as you started 747 (Strangers In The Night) a plane came over.” Of course, we wrote a song about it, And The Bands Played On.

Kuusrock Festival (1981)

That one is in Oulu, Finland. It was my first experience of 24-hour daylight. I’d never seen people drink solidly for forty-eight hours before.

Reading Festival (1986)

We headlined that one, having flown in especially from America. It was during a period where the band was a bit fucked up. We had some different members and the chemistry wasn’t quite right, but I recall that it was a good one.

Wacken Open Air (1999)

This was our first time at Wacken. And it proved a huge eye-opener for us, because Germany is now Saxon’s second home. Eighty thousand fans singing Denim And Leather is quite a sight to behold.

Graspop Metal Meeting and Sweden Rock

I’m doing those two together as both are hugely influential festivals. We played Belgium’s Graspop in 2014, just before Slipknot. It wasn’t our usual audience, but afterwards Corey [Taylor, Slipknot vocalist] sent a message saying: “Well done… you bastards.”

Loudpark (2007)

We did that one in 2007, not having played in Japan for ages. It was a great moment in our history because it was a step into the unknown.

Download Festival (2010)

I took my son to see AC/DC, so I bought tickets, but we were booked to play the following day as well. Watching Angus from out in the crowd was great, and it was rite of passage for my son.

Rock On The Range (2015)

It’s incredible to think this was our first American festival. Our friends Judas Priest, who we were touring with, asked them to put us on. The promoter didn’t think we could pull bacteria. But thousands of people turned out to see us. It was a really special moment.

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’.