Saxon’s legendary frontman, Biff Byford will release his first ever solo album School of Hard Knocks on 21st February through Silver Lining Music, and it features a number of guest appearances from the world of rock.
This welcome news comes during the singer’s current recuperation following heart surgery.
An aural storybook from the heavy metal bard it highlights both his life and passionate interests, with School of Hard Knocks in all senses intended as a classic, masterfully-constructed old school British hard rock album.
On School of Hard Knocks Byford takes on not just tales and stories from his heart and soul, but also investigates the Middle Ages and medieval history amongst other subjects, subjects long-time Saxon fans know are dear to him.
“I’m singing about my past of course and about things I like, but mostly I wanted it to reflect me, my personality and my life,” said the singer. “Song-wise it’s more diverse and not just focused on heavy metal. I wanted it to be a slice of the music I like, from metal, to rock ‘n’ roll. I’m a guy who’s just as happy listening to Metallica or Judy Garland, because as long as it’s great and entertains me, then what more do I need?”
From the spoken word introduction of ‘Inquisitor’ with its stoic, poetic take on the Spanish Inquisition to the autobiographical, old school ‘Wheels of Steel’ era thrust of ‘Welcome to the Show’ and ‘School of Hard Knocks’, listeners should get to know the man behind the image well over the 11 tracks that comprise the album.
“One of my favourites is ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, which is quite prog metal and I love that,” he commented. “I’m a big prog rock fan and was a huge fan of Yes back in the day and being a musician-bass-player myself, the musicianship in bands like that really caught me. There’s a version of ‘Throw Down the Sword’ by Wishbone Ash, and the reason I did that was because it was the first song I ever heard that was anything to do with history in the sense of battles and war, and was really the thing which started me on the road to writing historically-driven songs.”
Byford and Opeth’s Fredrik Åkesson also offer a new arrangement ‘Scarborough Fair’, that proved a worldwide hit for Simon & Garfunkel.
“It’s a traditional medieval song, and the story goes that Paul Simon happened to hear somebody playing it in Whitby, which is just down the road from Scarborough,” laughed Byford, “But I wanted something which represented Yorkshire and it is a Yorkshire folk song, so we tried a new arrangement which made it a little heavier, and it works really well.”
School of Hard Knocks was produced by Byford, recorded by Jacky Lehmann at Brighton Electric Studios in Brighton (UK) and mixed at Queen Street Studios in Stockholm (Sweden) by Mats Valentin.
Alongside the aforementioned Åkesson on guitars, and Byford himself playing occasional bass guitar as well as singing, the rhythm section features Christian Lundqvist formerly of The Poodles on drums and bass player Gus Macricostas who has deputised for Saxon.
However, Saxon’s longstanding four string player Nibbs Carter is also featured among the guests as are Phil Campbell (Motörhead/Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons), Alex Holzwart (Rhapsody of Fire), Nick Barker (Voices) and Dave Kemp (Wayward Sons).
School of Hard Knocks fulfils a long-standing wish from Byford to explore rock ‘n’ roll a little more.
“It’s been great to break new ground, explore new territories and work with some old friends,” he noted, “And having waited so long to make this album, I have to say, I am delighted with it! It has a whole range of styles, from the ridiculously heavy to ballads, and it is certainly my album.”
Available on CD, vinyl, in digital formats and as special D2C bundles the record can be pre-ordered by clicking here. ‘Welcome To The Show’ has also been released as a single and you can watch the video for it right here at RAMzine.
The singer is also looking towards planning some live shows in the new year, events that will continue the theme of breaking new ground.
“I’m going to do a words-and-music tour in small venues,” he stated proudly, “The first part will be me in conversation with the audience about anything really, from heart attacks to sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, old times, new times, friends, enemies and whatever anyone wants to chat about… Then bringing out a band and playing some new songs, covers and maybe end with a Saxon song or two.
“I’m still working out the details, but it’s a show I’ve wanted to do for a long time and one which I don’t think has been done in hard rock before. It’ll be something different and a lot of fun.”
The future looks bright for Biff Byford and RAMzine extends him a swift full recovery from his recent surgery.