On 20th February 2020, legendary frontman Biff Byford released his first full debut album ‘School of Hard Knocks’ via Silver Lining Music. He’s now gearing-up to embark upon his tour of the same name in the UK, starting from 17th April 2020.
Words: Andy Rawll
Interview: Mark Taylor
Mark Taylor joined Biff in his Inner Sanctum at London’s rock n roll hotel, the Karma Sanctum, to find out more about the album and what had influenced the style and selection of songs.
In this short, yet fascinating discussion, Biff reveals how the images in the Lowry-esque cover by Leicester-based artist John Hanley represent his character-forming upbringing in Yorkshire, with his version of the traditional local folk song ‘Scarborough fair’ an astute choice to be the latest single to coincide with the promotion of his ten-date tour.
He describes this solo album as retrospective in nature when compared to the more contemporary sound of ‘Saxon’, epitomised by the gleaming metal of the fine 2018 album ‘Thunderbolt’. Indeed the eleven tracks of ‘School of hard knocks’ cover a fair amount of ground from the fist-pumping exhortation of ‘Welcome to the show’ to the heartfelt ballad ‘You and me’ dedicated to his wife. It’s no surprise that the two most Saxon-like songs ‘Pedal to the metal’ and ‘Heart of steel’ were both co-written with longstanding Saxon bassist Nibbs Carter, however, sonically these hark back to the more organic classic ‘Denim and leather’ animal than the fire-breathing metal beast of more recent years.
The sprawling and dynamic prog-tinged epic ‘The pit and the pendulum’ provides the accomplished centrepiece for the album. Collectively, the album lacks the thematic or stylistic cohesion of a typical band-based album. However, the diversity of the album provides a refreshing perspective on the proud Yorkshire man’s broad range of influences and this solo album provides the perfect vehicle.
An unexpected but faithfully rendered version of Wishbone Ash’s catalogue classic ‘Throw down the sword’ is a case in point. Without context, it might be judged as slightly indulgent and superfluous, however its inclusion is an important element of the story that Biff wanted to tell through a debut solo album that comes during the sixth decade of the iconic frontman’s career.
Turning our attention to the tour, Biff revealed that the ‘An evening with…’ style show will be split into two halves. The first features Biff in conversation with Don Jamieson (American comedian and star of VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show) on all aspects of his life and career. After the break Biff and his band will play some new songs, covers and, maybe, a Saxon song or two.
Biff says: “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 band for the tour will be Gus Macricostas on Bass, Kicken Lundqvist on Drums and on guitars Rob Marcello and Howie G Jarrett.
School of Hard Knocks UK Tour Dates
Fri 17th April Gateshead Sage 2
Sat 18th April Birmingham Town Hall
Mon 20th April Glasgow St. Lukes
Tues 21st April Leeds City Varieties
Wed 22nd April Bath Komedia
Fri 24th April Liverpool Arts Club
Sat 25th April Aberdare Coliseum Theatre
Mon 27th April Milton Keynes Stables
Tue 28th April London Islington Assembly Hall
Wed 29th April Brighton Old Market
Tickets are on sale now.
The new album ‘School of Hard Knocks’ features Biff Byford on vocals (and a spot of four-string thunder) along with Fredrik Åkesson (Opeth) on guitars, drummer Christian Lundqvist and bass player Gus Macricostas. The album also features 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). The album was produced by Biff Byford, recorded by Jacky Lehmann at Brighton Electric Studios in Brighton (UK) and mixed at Queen Street Studios in Stockholm (Sweden) by Mats Valentin.