Източник: списание Enfer (Франция) – Брой 24 Интервю на Филип Тачърд
After Maiden's massive success at the Espace Balard, on 29th October, where some 10,000 fans celebrated the band's undisputed triumph, we couldn't resist having a chat once again with one of the musicians. This time, we addressed Steve Harris himself, leader and founder of the band.
The only shadow cast on this bright day was Iron Maiden's first loss of a football game against a team of French Metal musicians..
Well, except that, when I play a football game, I'd rather win. I'm waiting for the next opportunity to play again... and win!
I'd like to talk about the beginnings of the band and this period that's a bit hazy for many people. When exactly did it all start?
The very first line-up of Iron Maiden dates back to the end of 1975. Our first concert was in May 1975. That was in the East End of London.
At first, there were five of us. There was Paul Day at the vocals, who then went on to sing with More and who's nowadays with Wildfire; we had two guitar players, Terry and Dave, who didn't do anything else after they left; and there was Ron on drums, who's played since with John McCoy and Bernie Torme.
Three months later, both guitar players left and they were replaced by Dave Murray and Bob Sawyer, who is now with Praying Mantis.
In fact, there have been many changes in the band before we actually started working regularly.
At that time, wasn't it a bit of a challenge to play Hard Rock music?
Maybe it was. But we stuck to our guns for almost 4 years, playing pubsand clubs. At that time, Punk and New-Wave were invading everywhere,and the fashion was so oppressing that there was nothing else to do butbide our time and wait until things got better.
I've never intendedto give up and, even if all those line-up changes would havediscouraged most people, I had faith in the band, mostly after DaveMurray joined.
As we all had a day job, we got enough money on the side to record a demo.
With it, we got gigs in different places in the country and we wereable to leave the London scene where the Punk craze was stifling everyother kind of music.
So, once out of London, we could play for audiences that were lessnarrow-minded and guided by fashion. Slowly, we built a reputation thatsparked the interest of big record companies.
So, as the big venues were all occupied by Punk bands, I suppose that the pubs and clubs must have been a pretty competitive area for Rock bands. How did you deal with this competition of the "non-Punk" bands
In fact, I don't recall that there was any kind of real competition between the other bands. There were anyway less bands than today and many didn't have the guts to carry on. Some bands were playing in a similar style to ours, but they didn't make it, like Urgent, whose vocalist sung for us for a time, or Grand Master, a band that was playing a kind of commercial Hard Rock, or a few other bands that simply disappeared.
But it was hard for everybody because they all thought that they couldn't make it outside of the clubs..
But you never thought of giving up?
No, never. I became really hopeful when Paul Di'Anno joined the band. We were a four-piece at the time, with Dave Murray, Paul Di'Anno, Doug Sampson on drums, and myself, and I was convinced that it was the final line-up. I had almost given up on finding a second guitar player that could be as good as Dave.
How about Dennis Stratton?
Well, he only stayed eight months in the band. He was there at the right time for the first album. If you take the B side of the Running Free single, there were only four of us and Dave was playing all the guitar parts.
Dennis didn't follow the evolution of the band. He never understood that, once the album was released, success was close at hand and we needed to work even harder. He thought we were still at the level where we play in clubs and pubs, hence the split.
Didn't things move forward faster after you teamed up with manager Rod Smallwood ?
Yes, of course. From 1975 to 1979, we never had any management. So I was doing everything in the evenings when I was available because, like all the others, I had a day job to survive. Then, as the band was getting more and more organised, I was getting phone calls at the office, and I had to explain all this to my bosses in the company where I was working. Eventually, they allowed me to use the telephone for private calls. I was a clerk, writing up various documents, and my bosses were amused by the fact that there was a rocker in their study, they used to call it the "Bomber Harris Enterprise". But it became rapidly hard to manage and, when Rod Smallwood arrived, things got much better.
How did you meet Rod?
After we recorded our first demo, we met that girl after a concert, who said she was working with Rod Smallwood, and who wanted a copy of the demo. We gave it to her and she gave it to Rod. At the time, Rod Smallwood was manageing Cockney Rebel, but he was looking for something else due to some tensions within the band. He even wanted to quit the business. After he got our first tape, he came to check us out at a pub gig we were doing in London.
The problem was that, that night, Paul had been arrested by the police because he was carrying a knife.
So, we had to play the gig almost completely instrumental, and I was singing on a couple of songs. Rod told us that he'd come back to see us with the singer, and that he'll make a decision only afterwards. So, we got Paul out of jail and we started rehearsing seriously, because I hadn't forgotten what was promised to me. The next time, Rod did come back and saw the full band on stage, and decided he was going to manage us. That was a few months before we signed with EMI. You see, it was close!
How did you meet Paul Di'Anno?
As you often do, down the pub! It was the Red Lion, in North London. In fact, I had a mate, who's since gone to start a band in Sweden, who knew that I was looking for a new singer for the band. At that time, we were a three-piece: Dave, Doug Sampson and myself. So, he introduced Paul to me and he said, "I'd really love to sing, but I have no experience whatsoever". And I told him that I didn't either and that we could rehearse together anyway.
So he came down there and we played a few covers, like Purple's 'Lady Double Dealer', or some songs by Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. Then we started playing our own songs, 'Iron Maiden' and 'Prowler', and it worked out really well. We were convinced that Paul was the singer we needed.
So we rehearsed together for 6 months before we gave our first gig, the one just before Rod Smallwood arrived and Paul had his first run-in with the law.
At that time, no deal was in sight?
Oh no. We never had a deal before we signed with EMI. Rod was with us because he had this gut feeling. We signed all sorts of papers with him later, once the album was released and started selling well.
What does this first album mean to you?
It was an achievement after seven months of hardship, as well as the proof that we could record our own songs properly, keeping them true to what we wanted to do.
Did you think at that time that you were going to become the most popular band in the world?
Oh no! Not at all! We were ready to fight and become popular in the UK, but we didn't think we could make it big outside of the country. We'd gone through such hard times just to be known in London, that our aim was only to break through in the UK.
When we heard that the album was selling very well in Europe, then in the States, we thought it was all a dream.
But don't you think that this first album was released at the right time?
Yes, I think so. It was released at a time when things weren't moving much as far as Heavy Rock was concerned. For the bands of that time, it was different, and even the big names like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest or Kiss were having it tough because the so-called Rock intelligentia was ignoring them.
On top of that, our album was released right after we'd toured the UK with Judas Priest.
People who'd come to the gigs were surprised to see a new Heavy Rock band, and many fans would come up to us at the end of the show to ask us when our album was going to be released. We've been lucky: it was a good time, a good tour, and a good album.
But before this album, didn't you release a single that you produced yourselves?
Yes, a little single that was released about a year earlier. In fact, it was like a demo we'd done with Paul on a very low budget on a 16-track recorder, without any effects or overdubs. I'd put all my savings together to record our songs for this demo.
As I wanted to release it as a single, we had had to own the master tape, though.
But we didn't have enough money to buy the tape itself. So I told this bloke in the studio, "Just wait another week, we'll come back for the mixing and we'll pay you for the tape". Unfortunately, he also need money and, by the time we came back for the master tape, it was too late. He'd recorded something else on it.
So all we had was this cassette, from which the single was made. This is why the sound quality is rather dubious.
Anyway, at the time, Dave, Doug, Paul and me only had this van in which we used to live like a bunch of Gypsies. All the money we were making with various jobs was used for the music and the petrol to keep this wreck on the road.
Was the single useful to you?
It helped us to get some gigs in London and around. In fact, we only sold very few of them, as the rest was sent to various places, like record companies or radios.
Then you had the opportunity to record the Metal for Muthas compilation with EMI.
That was the first time for us that we entered and worked in a real professional studio.
EMI were looking for new Rock bands for their portfolio, and so they'd decided to release a compilation featuring many unknown bands.
From this compilation and the reaction of the public, EMI thought that they could pull out one or two bands for each compilation. As the people from EMI had heard about us, they asked us to record two tracks, 'Wrathchild' and 'Sanctuary', but there were no strings attached either for the band or for the record company, no more than Praying Mantis or Tresspass or any other band present. That was only giving a chance to the bands, that's all.
At the time, the band was composed of Dave Murray, Paul Di'Anno, Doug Sampson, Tony Parsons, who very briefly was with us, and myself.
Then you toured with Judas Priest?
And we know the rest: a very successful tour of Europe at the end of 1980, supporting Kiss, a second album, Killers that gave the band the recognition it deserved, a tour in the US, then a second European tour where problems arose.
Paul was not able to front the band anymore and was quickly replaced by Bruce Dickinson, straight from Paul Samson's team.
Success was event greater at the release of the Number Of The Beast album, shutting up all those who had voiced any doubts on Paul's replacement
With hindsight, how did you feel about Paul's departure and Bruce's arrival?
The decision to fire Paul was made by the whole band. He was getting fed up with the big tours, he had family problems, drug problems... He wasn't happy with the band anymore, and we weren't happy with him either. So, at the end of the Killers Tour, we just split.
And this is when Bruce came in?
When he joined the band, it was a huge relief for us. We'd known him a long time and he'd always been a great fan of Iron Maiden. Right from the first rehearsal, he gave us a brand-new conviction and we were back in business again. Because, even if we weren't worried about the music – at that time, I was writing almost all the songs – there was a general feeling of discouragement that worried me, and that even if the Killersalbum was doing really well and bringing us more and more success.
What is it like to work with Martin Birch?
I've always wanted to work with Martin as a producer. He produced the biggest bands, like Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and a few others, and when Iron Maiden started making it big, I asked him work with us. Martin Birch has got a great feeling about sound and, just by listening to a band, he knows immediately what sound they should have without denaturing the music.
What's really interesting is that he never renders the same sound from one album to the next, whereas so many producers tend to apply always the same recipe to the bands.
Martin Birch is someone who listens to our requests and who gives us the image we want to give. Now, he knows Iron Maiden perfectly and I don't think we'll change our producer before long.
What role do you play in the production of an Iron Maiden album?
In the studio, I don't have any other role than my direct participation to the recording, obviously. In fact, I deal with all the musical arrangements during the rehearsals so everything's ready when we enter the studio. If there's any problem, I'm the contact point between the band and Martin..
Since the Piece Of Mind, it seems that you've given the others more space to express themselves. Basically, you're not the only one to write all the songs anymore?
That's right, and this is also due to Bruce joining the band.
For the Number Of The Beast album, I had already prepared everything before Bruce arrived, so this is an album on which I did a lot of things.
With Bruce's arrival, we decided to work all together in order to diversify the music and the lyrics of Iron Maiden. Basically, if it's always the same person who writes the songs, the band starts to go around in circles and there's the risk of auto-parody.
This is why Adrian, Dave and Bruce started writing songs and submitting them to the rest of the band. It creates a new dynamic within the band.
Powerslave seems to deal with the Egyptian mythology, although there is only one track related to this topic. The album could as well have been based on the Ancient Mariner, given the importance of the track itself...
Yes, of course. But be all decided that the Egyptian theme should be chosen because Bruce's song, 'Powerslave', is excellent. Besides, we're all fascinated by this topic. We only decide what concept we're going to give to the album once all the songs have been written.
Going back to studio work, Iron Maiden's main trait remains the bass. Is it something you imposed or just a general aspect that the band agreed to?
It depends. The songs are very often written with chords I find on an acoustic guitar and that I transcribe afterwards on the bass before we start building the songs around this part. So, as I was writing virtually all songs for the band in the beginning, the specificity of a music built around the bass imposed itself album after album. I don't think that I force anything onto the band.
What kind of musical education have you got?
Like many others, I started by learning the guitar. I even spent a few years learning the classical guitar, then I gave up because I got bored of it.
In fact, I wanted to play the bass, and I had been told that, in order to do that, I absolutely needed to learn the bass chords on an acoustic guitar. When you think of it, this is pretty stupid, and I know now that you can play the bass without wasting your time like I wasted mine.
As soon as I started playing with a band, I gave up the acoustic guitar and I focussed exclusively on the bass.
What would you have done if you hadn't been a Rock musician?
I certainly would have been a footballer.
With the West Ham Football Club?
Oh yes! I would have loved it! I've been following West Ham for many years and I'm still one of their strongest supporters.
What kind of connexion is there between Hard Rock fans and footballs supporters?
To start with, I think that you can compare the atmosphere in a stadium just before the game to that of a concert hall, just before the lights go out. All the fans are there, singing, whistling, getting ready for the event. The main difference between a gig and a match, mostly these days, is the violence that the event triggers.
Basically, the football supporter has become so violent that a football match has become a way to violently express himself, whereas the Rock fans celebrate all together, not as clans, the event for which they came.
So, do you mean that being a Rock star is somehow less life-threatening than being a footballer or a supporter?
Yes, that's right. But I probably have a masochistic side, 'cause I still enjoy playing football.
And then again, as I watch Steve walk toward the tourbus waiting for him to go to new adventures, when I consider that this man was elected Number 1 international bass player but still explained to us in the most simple manner that 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' is simply a reflection of the many questions that run through his mind, I think that, when I grow up and I've read all of Dickinson's works in their original version, I'll start studying the way you can become both a great musician and a footballer who's not as stupid as the others.
This interview is taken from The Iron Maiden Commentary