ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON JULY 1, 1983
By Steve Newton
Three of Britain’s heaviest heavy-metal bands–Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Fastway–played the Pacific Coliseum last Wednesday in a full night’s worth of brutal, gnashing raunch and roll.
I spoke to Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson over the phone from Los Angeles prior to the show and asked him about the band’s new album, their new drummer, and their perennial producer Martin “Black Knight” Birch.
The last time I did an Iron Maiden interview—about a year ago—I talked to drummer Clive Burr. Why is he not in the band anymore?
Well he had a lot of personal problems back home, personal and emotional things that really got to affecting his playing. There was a lot of disagreement and a lot of stuff went down, particularly in the latter part of the last tour to Japan and Australia.
But it was a fairly amicable sort of split. I think both parties realized that things weren’t really happening as they should be.
How has your new drummer, Nicko McBrain, fit into the band personality-wise?
Amazing. Complete maniac. I mean a real nutcase.
Is he a much different drummer than Clive?
Yes. They’re definitely two different sort of drummers. Nicko’s style is more driving than Clive’s. Clive used to orient things a lot around his tom tom, whereas Nicko is real straight and solid.
Piece of Mind was produced and engineered by Martin “Black Knight” Birch, who also worked on your previous albums Number of the Beast and Killers. How have his techniques influenced Iron Maiden over the years that you’ve been working together?
His technique is just encouragement, usually. The great thing about Martin is that he’s a very subtle producer in the way he works. He doesn’t actually suggest anything to do with the music at all. I mean we write and arrange the music and then he engineers it and gets the performances out of us. He motivates.
Basically we don’t write songs for airplay or anything like that, so we don’t need a producer who produces for that sort of stuff. All we wanted to get was good sounds and a producer who comes along and encourages us.
Martin thinks the way we do about the music, so he can be really critical like, “You can do a better guitar solo than that.” Or I’ll be singing away and he’ll go, “I think you can sing it a little bit better than that. I think you can go for one more performance and push it a bit more.” And that’s how he works. He’s always wringing the last drop out of everything you do.
Do you find that he and the band have grown together as a team?
Oh definitely. I mean it would be unthinkable to do an Iron Maiden album without Martin.
Why did you record the new album in the Bahamas rather than in Britain like the other ones?
Because we just got fed up with recording things in England. There are so many distractions, like record companies wanting to do interviews. And also, everybody always gets ill in England; everybody always gets the flu or something like that because we’re recording in the wintertime.
We’ve already booked the studio for next year. The sound at Compass Point Studio is incredible. AC/DC did Back in Black there. And the new album they’ve just done there too.
Your bassist Steve Harris is the most prolific member on the Piece of Mind album; he wrote four of the tunes by himself and cowrote two. Does he usually write most of the group’s tunes?
On the first couple of albums, yeah. These last two he’s written about 50%.
What methods does he use to compose songs usually?
Bass guitar. He writes it all on the bass. And then he usually whistles the melody into a little Walkman and writes down the lyrics.
Is the tune you wrote yourself on the new album, “Revelations”, taken from the bible?
Well bits and bobs. The first version of it is a hymn I used to sing at school. I was always very fond of the tune and the lyrics.
Were you in a choir at school?
No, I was just part of the congregation. You had to be a bit of a limp-wrist to join the choir, obviously. You had to get dressed up in white smocks and all that stuff. It was a bit like wearing a dress or something.
For his song “To Tame a Land” Steve was inspired by science-fiction writer Frank Herbert and the book Dune. Does he get a lot of his song ideas from fiction novels?
Yes–novels or movies. “Where Eagles Dare” is from a movie, and “Quest for Fire” is also a movie. Steve reads a lot of science fiction and watches a lot of movies. We’ve got a video on the bus, so he just sits in the bus and watches videos all day.
What is your personal favourite tune on Piece of Mind?
“Die With Your Boots On”.
Cause it’s a basic live track. It’s got a great chorus, and I think it sums up our philosophy really.
Which is die with your boots on. Whatever you’re gonna do, give it your best shot. Just for the sake of it.
Have you ever found that your stirring brand of heavy metal causes young fans to become violent at your concerts?
No, not really. Most people get into the music. I think if you put ten thousand people together in one place, and somebody has a few beers or something like that, there’s always going to be some idiot. There’s always one, you know.
But we have very very little violence at our concerts, very little indeed. The fans leap up and down and go crazy with the music and everything, but they don’t do it at each other.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see you live when you played Vancouver last summer with Scorpions and Girlschool. What is your stage show like these days? Do you still bring Eddie on the road with you?
The show we’re bringing over this time is the English show, which has a 50-kilowatt sound system and a half-a-million watts of lights. And lots of stage effects.
I understand you have your own custom-built PA.
Oh yeah, we’re bringing the whole thing over from England. It’s built by a company called Turbosound, and it’s terribly efficient.
Do you still bring Eddie on the road with you?
Oh yeah, yeah, we’ve got a 10-foot Eddie that comes streamin’ around. And we’ve got a few other effects too. Apart from that, we leap around like maniacs for the whole show.
I couldn’t help laughing when my editor told me Eddie’s been lobotomized and handed me the new album cover.
[Laughs]. I know. It’s great, isn’t it!
I guess Eddie’s gonna be mad about that. He looks pretty pissed off on the cover.
Yeah, he’s pretty upset. The next album cover could be Eddie’s comeback, you know.
Your album covers have always been gruesomely eye-catching. Does Iron Maiden work closely with Eddie’s creator Derek Riggs?
Well no, he just keeps on painting and comes up with things. We give him the song titles and the lyrics and leave it pretty much up to him. The album was originally going to be called Food for Thought, but we thought Piece of Mind was better [chuckles].
There’s been a lot of hub-bub in religious circles for the last few years about heavy rock being associated with evil and the devil. Did your last album, The Number of the Beast, cause a lot of people to interpret the band as a bunch of devil worshippers?
Oh I think there’s always one or two nutcases that do, but personally I don’t take it very seriously. I think they’re just a bunch of loonies who’ve got nothing better to do with their time.
To hear the full audio of my 1983 interview with Bruce Dickinson–and my ’80s interviews with Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray and Steve Harris as well–subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on nearly 300 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
Jeff Healey, 1988
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Roy Buchanan, 1988
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joe Satriani, 1990
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
…with hundreds more to come
One thought on “Bruce Dickinson on Martin Birch, the exit of Clive Burr, and the lobotomization of Eddie on Iron Maiden’s new album Piece of Mind”
Oh boy oh boy oh boy… I remember in the late 80’s when I was about 14 or 15 being invited by my friend to go to a “special event” at his Baptist church’s “youth night”. The youth pastor was displaying album covers and song lyrics from rock and metal band on overhead projector while pointing out their “satanic” meanings. Of course he played “backward messages” from Led Zep and Maiden’s Piece of Mind. Us kids knew better, though. We were both dyed-in-the-wool Maiden fans and wasted no time correcting him (and the more impressionable children and brainwashed parents) how wrong they were. Daring to extoll the Christian message of redemption in Maiden’s magnum opus “Hallowed Be Thy Name” got us ejected from the conference room and out into the parking lot ! Those were the days…