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INTERVIEW: STEVE HARRIS, Iron Maiden – April 2016

| 8 May 2016 | Reply

INTERVIEW: STEVE HARRIS, Iron Maiden – April 2016
By Shane Pinnegar

Iron Maiden Steve Harris 01

Playing around the country on the Antipodean leg of their Book Of Souls World Tour, is legendary British band Iron Maiden. SHANE PINNEGAR got bassist Steve Harris on the phone for a chat.

Iron Maiden are being flown from city to city on this tour by none other than commercial pilot and band vocalist Bruce Dickinson. Dickinson, who recently successfully battled throat cancer, causing the delay of their Book Of Souls album and tour, was not behind the controls when their Boeing 747-400 plane – Ed Force One – was damaged at a Chilean airport on 12th March, causing logistical headaches for the band when the plane was grounded for repairs.

“Yeah, it was frustrating,” says Harris, taking up the story. “I think, obviously, Bruce was devastated about it – [even though] it was not his responsibility, because he wasn’t even on the plane when it happened. The ground staff messed up, but it’s one of them things, what can you do? You just have to get on.

“What I was amazed about, is the fact that we did the next gig two days later in a different country across a mountain [in] the Andes – and still managed to go on stage on time! That’s just down to our management, crew and everybody and I thank them for that, I think that was incredible.”

“It’s all fixed, we’ve been flying on it. We got the plane back in Brazil so we’ve been flying on it since,” Harris assures us, confirming that Ed Force One is fully operational again and Dickinson will be piloting her around Australia.

A constant force on both the heavy metal scene and record charts around the world for over 35 years now, Iron Maiden have sold almost 100 million records worldwide, and count millions of fans as supporters. I put it to Harris that huge responsibility must come hand in hand with that.

“Well, I know what you mean, yeah,” he says with a shy chuckle. “I think when you see a lot of fans and they feel really part of it, yes, you kind of do feel a bit like that, but I think you kind of try not to let it get too much because you should be striving for things yourself rather than being driven by what other people think or say. But yeah, I know what you mean.”

Book of Souls is studio album #16 for the metal stalwarts, and successfully marries their early heavy metal with your more recent progressive leanings. It’s a fantastic record, and Harris says the songs have been going down well live.

“Yes, they are. It’s like any new tour with new songs, you’re not going to get the reaction that the old stuff gets. Which is quite funny really, because we ended up with Wasted Years in the set, for example, and I remember playing that song on the original tour [when it was first released in 1986] and people not really reacting that well at all to it really, because it was so different for the time. It’s just always like that when you’re playing new stuff.

“[The new songs are] getting decent reactions – but maybe one day a couple of them songs will be regarded as a massive part of the set, [once] people know them more,” he continues. “But I think it’s really important to push your new stuff: it keeps things fresh, and I think it’s important for the band and the audience to have new stuff… it just keeps the whole thing from ending up being like a, well, not cabaret but, the human jukebox which a couple of countries seem to like. I understand that people want to hear certain songs but we’ve got so many songs to choose from and when you’ve got a new album and a new tour you need to have conviction with it and go out and do it.

“I think that’s what kept us where we are, really. We just keep reinventing ourselves all the time and, as I said keeping it fresh.”

Steve Harris Iron Maiden

It proves a certain relevance as well, rather than just relying on songs from 30 years ago.

“Well that’s it,” Harris agrees. “We’ve got plenty of songs we could go out and just play all the time and every now and again, if it feels right to do it, we do do that in between albums. But we’ve never been scared to play a lot of new material: in fact one album – A Matter Of Life And Death – we did the whole album from start to finish, and we’re doing six new songs now. We’ve always done at least five or six new songs, every time we come back with a new album.

“Some bands play it safe and that’s fine, that’s up to them, but we’re not like that. We prefer it to be a bit of a challenge.”

With such an epic and much-loved back catalogue Iron Maiden more than most bands, could play for three or four hours and not have a boring moment. Choosing a set list can’t be easy.

“Well, it’s not easy!” laughs Harris. “We could get up and play a whole load of songs that we’ve never ever played before, and still have two full sets of it, we’ve got that many songs! Maybe one day we should think about doing that. That would be a challenge…

“But, it’s not easy. These days, [after] what happened to Bruce, we basically said, ‘you choose the set because you’ve got to sing it,’ and to my amazement he wanted to put Hallowed Be Thy Name back in, which is a tough song to sing. You know, maybe he just wanted to prove a point. He’s been singing better than ever I think.”

Referencing Dickinson’s cancer battle, I ask Harris if the singer had been forced to retire, would Iron Maiden have found a replacement for him?

“No, I don’t think so,” he says bluntly. “It was difficult enough before without him [Dickinson left the band between 1993 and ‘99], these days it just wouldn’t feel right to do that. I think we would have knocked it on the head, to be honest.

“Well, it’s hard to say,” Harris adds, thoughtfully, “but certainly it didn’t cross our minds at all.”

Iron Maiden had Harris’ daughter Lauren as the main support act on their last Australian tour, and this time round it’s his son George’s turn, with his band The Raven Age. It must be proud for him to stand in the wings as a dad and see the response they’re getting.

“Yes, it’s fantastic,” Harris enthuses. “Obviously they’ve got to be there on merit – it’s no good them just being there, they’ve got to hold their own because our audiences are tough and they soon let you know if they don’t like it.

“Basically, The Raven Age has been going down absolutely fantastic everywhere, getting great remarks, great reviews. They’re a bloody good band with really great songs and I can only give them the compliment to say that I wish I’d written them myself! The bottom line is they have got great songs.”

Iron Maiden Steve Harris 02

Iron Maiden are often described as one of the biggest metal bands in the world, but in real truth they are quite simply one of the biggest bands in the world, full stop. That sort of latent prejudice against heavy metal still seems to be around even all these years later.

“Yes it is,” sighs Harris. “I mean, it makes you wonder what might happen if we did actually get any radio play anywhere! We don’t tend to get any – still don’t and probably never will, really.

“It’s just not the sort of music that gets played, it’s just weird, but then we’re not the only band. If you go back in the past, bands that I grew up loving, to mention one: Yes, for example. They never got any radio play. Genesis and stuff like that, UFO and all those sort of bands. There’s loads of bands that I love but you never hear them on the radio, and if you did it would be on a rock show that’s about 11 o’clock on a Friday night when everyone’s out. It’s just one of those things and yes there is a prejudice, but I think that’s what makes it stronger in a lot of ways because the fans realise that, they know that and the mainstream just doesn’t really get it.

“It’s a shame because it makes it so tough for new bands, it really does.”

Iron Maiden Steve Harris 03

Harris and other members of the band have said in recent interviews that they see no reason why they won’t make another Iron Maiden album. Have they started throwing ideas around on tour during soundchecks and downtime?

“No, we’ve never written on the road, there’s not time, there’s too much going on,” he says, dismissing the notion. “Take Bruce for example: he’s doing the gigs and then on his day off he’s flying the plane, so there’s not really a lot of time to actually be throwing anything around. So we tend to just try and get a rest when we need it and concentrate on new stuff when we’re off the road. We’ve always done that any way because we’ve always toured so hard and fast, if you like, that there’s not really been the time to sit down and write, we’ve always just allotted ourselves a specific period of time to write and never done it on the road. Some bands, I know they like to do that, and that’s fine – but we’re just not one of them.”

For many years I’ve though that an acoustic Iron Maiden set would go down really, really well, so I took the opportunity to ask the band’s founder if that is something they’d ever consider?

“Well it’s funny because we never really considered it, but there’s a Maiden tribute called Maiden UniteD, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it?” Harris explains [and no, we haven’t] “They did some acoustic stuff, [with] just really totally different arrangements of the songs. and I couldn’t believe it. The guitar player out of Within Temptation, Ruud [Jolie], he’s in the band, he’s obviously a really good player and the singer [Damian Wilson]’s fantastic as well so it’s kind of threw another element on it really.

“You should check them out – but we never thought we’d sit down and do that, not really.”

Maybe in the future then, when things settle down a little bit?

“I doubt it,” Harris says adamantly. “ I don’t think we’ll settle down, that’s the thing, I think we’re too busy, to be honest.”

When it does come time to hang up the touring boots, will Iron Maiden go out with a bang, with perhaps a huge concert to finish it all off, get all your ex-band members along to sing a song or play on a song?

“It’s hard to say really because we’re not thinking on those terms,” says Harris. “I think the fact that Bruce got ill and then came back… speaking for myself anyway, I’m just absolutely glad to be out here again playing with the band, so I think the way we feel at the moment is to just try and carry on as long as we can, so we’re not really thinking along those lines. I just love playing, it’s just nice to be out here again.”

No doubt in the younger days of the band touring was full of opportunity for, shall we say, indulgence. Has touring evolved to a more sedate lifestyle nowadays, with Harris now 60 and his bandmates ranging from 58 to 63?

“Personally I’ve never been into any of that,” Harris says. “I’ve always liked sports, I’ve played lots of sports and I want to keep myself fit as well – so I’ve never gone down that road in any way, shape or form.

“I’ve never done a drug in my life and some people find that hard to believe, but I never have. I can’t speak of other people when I say that, but I haven’t. I’ve just never been interested in it because to me if you want to be fit and play sports and jump around on stage, they don’t go together. I never went down that road so I can’t really comment on that.”

Harris was once fond of a pint or two, famously building a functioning pub – The Horse And Cart – in his Essex mansion in the ‘80s. He must have been pleased when Iron Maiden launched their own Trooper Ale in collaboration with Robinson’s Brewery in 2013.

Trooper beer


“Yes, the beer tastes great,” he enthuses. “In fact I actually did stop drinking for a couple of years completely, and when the beer came out it kind of started me drinking again really.

“Not because I had a problem with it or anything. I’ll have a pint once in a while if I fancy one, but I don’t really tend to drink too much these days either, really. But that was Bruce’s thing more, he was really heavily involved in all the tasting and everything like that, and he did a great job because it’s not just us sticking our label on a bottle of beer that’s already there: from start to finish it was something that he came up with, the tasting and the flavour and everything. It’s actually a really good tasting beer and stands on its own anyway, without our label on it.

“We’ve always tried to make sure that things are good quality that we put out, whatever it is.”

Band mascot Eddie is an instantly recognisable icon, nowadays. Has he transcended the band’s own popularity in the same way, for instance, that kids that don’t know the music buy Ramones and Motorhead T-shirts?

“Well as far as the artwork goes, yes,” Harris acknowledges. “Without a doubt, he’s certainly recognisable. We always used to joke in the early days that he was better looking than us anyway – and I think that’s certainly the case these days.

Iron Maiden Eddie

“It also meant that he can almost take all the limelight and we can just be a bit more in the background if you like. We didn’t have to be on any of the album covers for starters, so I think it’s a good thing… some people might say it’s a very good thing!”

After 40 years with Iron Maiden, what does Harris consider his greatest achievement with the band?

“It’s a difficult question to answer, really,” he says as he ponders, “because we’ve achieved a lot over the years that we’ve been really happy with. I think just making people happy, really. You see it in their faces every night [we play], and it’s just a fantastic feeling really, when you see people just enjoying what you’re doing and totally into it, and in some cases kind of almost obsessive about it.

Iron Maiden Steve Harris 04

“There’s no loyalty like a Maiden fan, let me tell you that, wherever they’re from, and that is a fantastic achievement in itself, I think. So, I would say that’s probably the main thing: the fans. Their loyalty is just amazing.”

Iron Maiden: The Book Of Souls Australian Tour, 2016:

Brisbane Entertainment Centre on May 4
Sydney Allphones Arena on May 6
Melbourne Rod Laver Arena on May 9
Adelaide Entertainment Centre on May 12
Perth Arena on May 14

An edited version of this story was first published in X-Press Magazine’s 4 May, 2016 issue and on

Category: Interviews

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