Saxon We’re always a fixture of the Hard Rock magazines when I was a kid and went to see them when they rolled through South Wales and always remember going home thoroughly entertained particularly from Biff Byford and his banter as much as his vocal dynamics on their classic catalogue of songs. Fast forward many years and apart from the odd crossed paths at festivals Saxons popularity ebbed and flowed and in recent years people seem to have given them the respect they deserved and that’s due in no small part to frontman and Bard of Barnsley Mr Biff Byford.
I’ll admit its been quite some time since I played a Saxon record but always read interviews and had a lot of kudos for Biff and when I heard he was set to release a solo album I was intrigued and sought out the press kit in order to catch up with the legend and see if he was going to take this somewhere he could ever take his band Saxon and if so would he stand or fall in what is a super competitive market and with music being the forum it is today it’s easy to get lost in a sea of streams and downloads so I opened the Email quite excited as to what was going to greet me in the ‘School Of Hard Knocks’.
The first thing I noticed was the pipes that have been the silver-haired frontman’s trademark are still impressive and intact even at the tender age of 69. The album tackles topics such as the county that Biff has always championed – Yorkshire. Biff sings from the heart and bears his soul throughout the record and even has time to throw in a cover of ‘Scarborough Fair’ where he excels in his display of power and I come out from behind the sofa and without a hint of irony or sarcasm he did himself proud. There is also time later on the record for a cover of Wishbone Ash ‘Throw Down The Sword’. Of course, there is room for guest appearances to be fair that’s the point of a solo album anyway, isn’t it? Indulge yourself, be the boss and take the record in any direction you choose. This record isn’t short of names with guest appearances by Phil Campbell (Motörhead/Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons), Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody of Fire and Turilli / Lione Rhapsody), Nick Barker (Voices), Dave Kemp (Wayward Sons) and Nibbs Carter (Saxon) all present and correct.
worry not there isn’t any cod reggae or disco going on and at times its all hard rockin’ stuff but when he does stray it provides the record with its highlights such as the Wishbone Ash cover and the acoustic song from the heart ‘Me And You’. The albums title track is the only time he comes anywhere near what Saxon is famed for but then he is telling his story so I guess its only fitting there should be one of those Saxon like riffs and to be fair it’s one of the best songs on offer.
There are some long songs that are a journey in themselves like ‘The Pit And The Pendulum’ and the Wishbone Ash cover but you also get spoken-word interlude ‘Inquisitor’ that just showing off guitar noodling and if its possible I’m sure I heard Biff grinning. So all in all an album that will please fans of Biff will have people tipping their hat in respect to his service and dedication and I have some tracks I will take with me more than others but I always love hearing his voice be it on a ballad or rockin out screaming his lungs out Biff Byford has earned his stripes and stab at a successful solo album and if anyone has a bad word to say about Sir Biff of Byford send em to me I’ll sort em out.
Biff has certainly been through the School of hard knocks and has one of the genre of Rocks’ most distinguishable vocals and sang some of the best most enduring and endearing songs he wanted to tell his story and does it well. Without a hint of smugness or over-inflated egos like a lot of his contemporaries, Biff has always remained true to himself and been as honest as the day is long. He has always come across as a man well-grounded and proud of who and where he came from and now he’s been able to release a record and sing about his extraordinary life from his heart and by bearing his soul he gets the thumbs up from me. Arise, Sir Biff of Byford a true hard rockin’ legend.
Buy ‘School Of Hard Knocks’ Here
Author: Dom Daley