Plus: Bruce Dick­in­son of Iron Maiden

Depend­ing on your taste for metal, Bruce Dick­in­son is ei­ther a house­hold name or it doesn’t ring a bell. But from 1982’s The Num­ber of the Beast to a new live al­bum out this month, he was Iron Maiden’s un­stop­pable front­man. His lat­est re­lease is What Does

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Like many who re­cover from a se­ri­ous ill­ness, Bruce Dick­in­son was in­spired to re-eval­u­ate his life af­ter be­ing treated for a can­cer­ous tu­mour on his tongue in 2015. Re­solv­ing that the time had fi­nally ar­rived to em­bark upon his mem­oirs, the 59-year-old Iron Maiden lead singer has now pro­duced What Does This But­ton Do? which moves from his “av­er­age to mid­dling bru­tal ex­pe­ri­ences” in English board­ing schools to his ex­ploits fronting one of the big­gest heavy metal bands of all time.

“This was about the third time in the past 10 years that some­one has asked me to do an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy,” he says. “I’d bat­ted it away on the pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions, as like, ‘Ah, it’s a bit too soon.’ But when I got this can­cer di­ag­nosed and then got over it, I thought, ‘You know what, maybe I should start writ­ing some of this stuff down.’ It seemed that get­ting clear of can­cer had given me a new lease of life, and it also gave me an end point to this par­tic­u­lar book.”

De­ter­mined to write it all him­self rather than em­ploy a more ex­pe­ri­enced col­lab­o­ra­tor, Dick­in­son threw him­self into the task.

“I did it that way be­cause that’s the sort of thing you want in an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, which is some kind of sense of how that per­son views the world and ob­vi­ously this is who I am,” says Dick­in­son, whose first draft was al­most three times the length of the fin­ished book.

“We got rid of a lot of sto­ries – not be­cause they were rub­bish, but be­cause my edi­tor, Jack Fogg, said that he wanted to edit the book as if it was a novel of my life,” he says. “I’d ended up with a log­jam of very sim­i­lar sto­ries. They were all good sto­ries but you re­ally just need to tell one and then move onto the next chap­ter. I could see his way of think­ing, which was prob­a­bly right, but what it means is that I’ve got loads of great sto­ries on the cut­ting room floor, so we’ll see what hap­pens next time.”

Dick­in­son has steered away from in­clud­ing any “births, mar­riages, di­vorces” or other per­sonal de­tails. “An au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is a strange beast,” he says. “There’s an ex­tent to which if you start bring­ing in wives, kids, girl­friends, and all that sort of stuff then it be­comes a mov­ing tar­get for the press and crit­ics.

“Straight away, they’ll go for the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor but, in fact, it’s not re­ally as rel­e­vant to the en­ter­tain­ment value of the book as you might think. It would have been very easy for it to turn into a kind of con­fes­sional, where the au­di­ence is in the priest-hole, which I hon­estly don’t think is very en­ter­tain­ing.”

He cites the ex­am­ple of his two favourite books, David Niven’s The Moon’s a Bal­loon and the late jazz singer George Melly’s Rum, Bum and Con­certina. “They’re both just the right com­bi­na­tion – for me at least – of great sto­ries and bits of in­for­ma­tion that peo­ple might or might not know about, along with their own take on things,” he adds.

“I also didn’t want to mess up the lives of those near­est and dear­est to me.” So we won’t be read­ing about Dick­in­son’s sec­ond wife, Paddy Bow­den, and their three chil­dren.

Hav­ing been a mem­ber of Iron Maiden for al­most 30 years, the front man ad­mits that be­long­ing to a lon­grun­ning rock group is very much like be­ing part of a fam­ily. “It’s ex­actly like that in that you don’t choose your own broth­ers and sis­ters,” he says. “The mother that birthed us all was Iron Maiden, so that’s the rea­son why we stay to­gether. Our loy­alty is more than to each other; it’s to the band, and that’s why the band works.”

Af­ter play­ing in a cou­ple of pub bands dur­ing his univer­sity days, Dick­in­son’s first big break ar­rived in1979 when he was asked to be the lead singer of hard rock­ers Sam­son, who had al­ready en­joyed moder­ate suc­cess with their de­but al­bum, Sur­vivors. With punk in the as­cen­dant, Sam­son were pro­claimed by mu­sic mag­a­zine Sounds as one of the trail­blaz­ers of the clum­sily ti­tled New Wave of Bri­tish Heavy Metal move­ment. How­ever, Dick­in­son in­sists that it didn’t amount to more than some sen­sa­tional head­lines from a few ex­citable jour­nal­ists.

“What hap­pened at the be­gin­ning of the 1980s is that mu­sic turned into a whole se­lec­tion of tribes, which hadn’t hap­pened in such a frag­mented way be­fore that,” he says. “Sud­denly, the mu­sic in­dus­try got chopped up into all these lit­tle ghet­toes, which didn’t re­ally ex­ist in the late 60s, when it was all like big one area. There was no ar­gu­ment to say that just be­cause

“The mother that birthed us all was Iron Maiden, so that’s the rea­son why we stay to­gether. Our loy­alty is to the band.”

you liked Mo­tor­head, you couldn’t also like Joan Baez. But in the early 80s, ev­ery­thing was sec­tioned off. The New Wave of Bri­tish Heavy Metal was a part of that, and one of the rea­sons for that was that it was a re­ac­tion against punk and new wave.”

Al­though Sam­son once shared a man­age­ment com­pany with hard­core band UK Subs, Dick­in­son main­tains that punk didn’t have much to of­fer from a mu­si­cal point of view. “The only use­ful thing about punk was that it sidestepped the main­stream record com­pa­nies,” he says. “Al­though of course, it didn’t re­ally be­cause all the suc­cess­ful punk bands like The Clash and The Sex Pis­tols were signed to ma­jor record la­bels, so they were as­sim­i­lated pretty rapidly into the main­stream.”

With Sam­son call­ing it a day at the 1981 Read­ing Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, Iron Maiden man­ager Rod Small­wood ap­proached Dick­in­son about re­plac­ing pre­vi­ous vo­cal­ist Paul Di’Anno, who had de­parted af­ter singing on their first two al­bums. With their first al­bum to­gether, 1982’s The Num­ber of the Beast, be­com­ing their first num­ber one al­bum in the UK be­fore reach­ing the top 10 in sev­eral other coun­tries, it proved to be a bap­tism of fire for Dick­in­son.

“It was a bit like go­ing from a lo­cal Sun­day league soc­cer team and then sud­denly walk­ing out onto the pitch and be­ing told that you’ve be­come the striker for Manch­ester United overnight,” he re­calls. “But I just got on with it and climbed the steep learn­ing curve. That’s been pretty much what I’ve tried to do with what­ever sit­u­a­tion I’ve been in. I’ve never joined a band that wasn’t big­ger than I was at the time. Even when I was first start­ing out, ev­ery band I ever joined was al­ways way fur­ther down the evo­lu­tion­ary path than I was, so it was my job to catch up pretty damn quick.”

Con­tribut­ing to six more al­bums over the next decade, Dick­in­son quit Iron Maiden af­ter 1992’s Fear of the Dark to con­cen­trate on his solo ca­reer. Re­join­ing in 1999, he be­lieves that the time apart had been ben­e­fi­cial for all con­cerned.

“I learnt so much do­ing my own ma­te­rial that it was trans­ferred di­rectly back into Iron Maiden,” he says. “Even though it had been an un­com­fort­able few years – prob­a­bly for them as well as for me – it was still very en­joy­able, and in the end, it was very, very suc­cess­ful.”

Re­leas­ing five more al­bums over the past 15 years, cul­mi­nat­ing in 2015’s The Book of Souls, Iron Maiden will re­lease a live al­bum of their sub­se­quent world tour later this month. And while Dick­in­son isn’t 60 un­til next year, most of his band­mates – in­clud­ing bassist and pri­mary song­writer Steve Har­ris – are in their early 60s. “It’s got­ten eas­ier as we’ve got­ten older be­cause a lot of the ex­pe­ri­ences you have that cause con­flict, you’ve al­ready been through, so in most cases, you can avoid rep­e­ti­tion of those kinds of sit­u­a­tions,” he re­flects. “Also – as I say – our loy­alty is above all to Iron Maiden, and our per­sonal loy­al­ties are kind of sec­ondary to that. It’s not that we’re not friends – of course we’re friends – but we’re friends be­cause we’re in Iron Maiden.”

Dick­in­son is man with many pas­sions, out­side of the band. He brews beer and fences (rep­re­sent­ing Bri­tain at the lat­ter in the 80s). He’s writ­ten two nov­els and in­volved him­self in a range of not par­tic­u­larly lu­cra­tive en­tre­pre­neur­ial projects. A qual­i­fied air­line pi­lot, Dick­in­son has been able to in­cor­po­rate his love of fly­ing into his work with Iron Maiden. He took con­trol of Ed Force One, the band’s dis­tinc­tive Boe­ing 747-400, dur­ing their last world tour. “I am ab­so­lutely like a tour bus driver,” laughs Dick­in­son, who flew Iron Maiden to both Christchurch and Auck­land when the band vis­ited New Zealand in April last year.

A ded­i­cated rugby fan, he was thrilled to be pre­sented with a spe­cial All Blacks jer­sey be­fore their show at Vec­tor Arena. “They made up a lit­tle shirt for me, which was a great hon­our,” he says. “I said, ‘Do you mind if I wear this on stage?’ And they said, ‘No, that’s why we made it up for you.’ So I did. We also got to meet a cou­ple of the All Black coaches and we went to see a rugby match, which was re­ally good for my­self and our man­ager Rod, as we both re­ally like rugby. Clearly, we’re big fans of the All Blacks, ex­cept for when they play Eng­land.”

What Does This But­ton Do? (HarperCollins) is avail­able now, RRP $36.99. Iron Maiden’s new live al­bum, The Book of Souls: Live Chap­ter, is out on Novem­ber 17.

“I am ab­so­lutely like a tour bus driver,” laughs Dick­in­son, who flew Iron Maiden to both Christchurch and Auck­land last year.

Pag­ing Cap­tain Bruce: a qual­i­fied air­line pi­lot, Dick­in­son flew the band’s plane dur­ing their last world tour. He and the rest of Iron Maiden are pic­tured on the tar­mac in Cura­bita, Brazil.

He also makes beer, team­ing up with an in­de­pen­dent brew­ery to launch Trooper in 2013.

Away from heavy metal, Dick­in­son (left) en­joys fenc­ing and rep­re­sented Bri­tain in the 1980s. This tour­na­ment was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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