Saxon frontman Biff Byford will release his debut solo album ‘School of Hard Knocks’ on Friday 21st February via Silver Lining Music.
After revealing the title to fans in a video message earlier this month, Biff has now confirmed the 11-track album was self-produced and it features a solo band consisting of Fredrik Åkesson (Opeth) on guitars, Christian Lundqvist on drums and Gus Macricostas on bass, with Biff himself playing additional bass too.
‘School of Hard Knocks’ also boasts guest appearances from Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell, Alex Holzwart (Rhapsody of Fire), Nick Barker (Voices), Dave Kemp (Wayward Sons) and Biff’s Saxon band mate Nibbs Carter.
The album was recorded by Jacky Lehmann at Brighton Electric Studios in Brighton (UK) and mixed at Queen Street Studios in Stockholm (Sweden) by Mats Valentin.
Commenting on the record, Biff – who recently underwent an emergency heart operation - says: “It’s been great to break new ground, explore new territories and work with some old friends 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.”
Check out the lyric video for lead single ‘Welcome to the Show’ right here:
Thematically, ‘School of Hard Knocks’ delves into intensely personal – and occasional nostalgic - realms, however it also explores the Middle Ages and Medieval history amongst other subjects.
“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,” says Biff.
“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?”
The album opens with the spoken word track ‘Inquisitor’ and songs including ‘Welcome to the Show’, ‘School of Hard Knocks’ and one Biff’s personal favourites ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’.
He comments: “One of my favourites is ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, which is quite ‘prog metal’ and I love that.
“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.”
Elsewhere there’s a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Scarborough Fair’ which features a new Fredrik Åkesson arrangement.
“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,” laughs Biff. “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.”
Nodding to Manchester artist L. S. Lowry, the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ artwork looks like this:
Biff is also planning some live dates to support the album, as he explains: “I’m going to do a ‘words-and-music’ tour in small venues.
“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.”
Last month Saxon announced the postponement of all their 2019 shows, including their trio of UK concerts, as Biff needed an immediate surgery on his heart.
All three October UK dates have now been rearranged for March 2020 with the planned Glasgow date moving from the Braehead Arena to Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom. Tickets are on sale from Planet Rock Tickets now.
Saxon’s upcoming tour dates are as follows:
Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom – Fri 27th
London Eventim Apollo – Sat 28th
Manchester O2 Apollo – Sun 29th