Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain on live extravaganzas, critical slatings and smacking Classic Rock in the mouth.
Keeping them out on the road all summer, Iron Maiden’s Legacy Of
The Beast World Tour prompted a thousand fine words from the rock-press cognoscenti. But nobody has nailed the show’s merits quite as succinctly as drummer Nicko McBrain. “From the band’s point of view, it was absolutely the bollocks,” he tells us.
You enjoyed the tour, then?
When people go on tour they always say: “It was the best yet.” But I have to be honest, this one was. Bruce [Dickinson], Rod [Smallwood, manager] and Steve [Harris] really excelled themselves with the visual aspect. We pulled out the stops with the Spitfire replica that opens the show – it was just one metre in length and wingspan smaller than a real aircraft. And, y’know, Flight Of Icarus, with the blowtorches and Bruce’s costume changes… He’s always been a bit of a ham, to be honest. I love him for that. But I didn’t really get to see the set. I watch the YouTube footage and I go: “Gawd, I never realised Bruce had a TNT plunger at the end of the night.”
Any challenges along the way?
We had some little hiccups, but that’s part and parcel of living on the road and flying with a private aeroplane. Coming out of Greece, the plane went technical and we sat on the runway for an hour and a half in a hundred-plus degrees. Our wives had a whole bunch of these souvenir Japanese fans. I can’t tell ya, seeing all the band waving these fans about… I wish I’d have taken a picture. It was precious.
The story goes that when Classic Rock was launched in 1998, Rod sent a fax saying “About fucking time”. Was that the general feeling in the Maiden camp?
Y’know, you had your Kerrang!s and a few other bits and bobs, but there was a lean period of time where there wasn’t really anything happening in terms of publications for our genre. When it was announced that you guys were kicking it off, yeah, it was great. And twenty years down the line we’re still having a natter.
How were things going for Maiden in 1998?
Obviously it was a bit of a lean period for the band, in the respect that Bruce had gone off to pursue a solo career, and we had Blaze [Bayley] in, and we did two great albums with him. That Virtual XI tour was mixed emotions for me; some nights it was absolutely amazing and other nights it wasn’t so.
Critics were hard on that Virtual XI album. Well, we kind of expected the reviews. When you change the profile of a band – especially when your frontman leaves and you get a different guy in – you’re always going to have some criticisms. I’ve got to be honest with you, we do care. Don’t get me wrong, we are selfish. We do the stuff that we do for us, primarily. We’re very blessed to be in that position… But, as you say, there was a bit of a downer in terms of the Virtual XI album not being received too well, and the critics slating it a little bit. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make a difference, but we shrug it off.
Bruce and Adrian Smith came back in 1999. What are your memories of that time?
Well, it was twofold. First of all, Bruce decided that he missed the band as much as we did miss him. The added bonus was that after we had the first meeting after we got back from Japan on that Virtual XI tour, and it was decided that we couldn’t carry on with Blaze, it all fell into place. All the stars aligned. I still believe it was divine intervention.
What was your reaction? I’ve got to be honest with you, when I was first told, I was sitting in a sake bar in Roppongi, Japan, with Rod and Janick [Gers]. And Rod turned round and told me that Adrian was coming back with Bruce and asked what did I think about it. I said: “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Janick said: “We’re traditionally a two-guitar band. Three guitars? I don’t get that.
I’ll step down.” Rod said: “You’re not going anywhere, mate.” Then I looked at Rod and I said: “By the way, are you going to cut your commission down?” And he said: ‘What the fuck do you mean, cut me bloody commission down?” I said: “Well there’s six of us in the band to be paid now.” He just looked at me: “Fucking typical drummer!”
It all worked out, though, didn’t it?
I laugh about it, but to be honest we had the icing on the cake with Bruce deciding to come back, and then there was the cream and the cherry on top of that. It was a complete win-win situation. Really, if that hadn’t happened, I don’t know whether you and I would be having this conversation. We are very blessed that Bruce came back.
Has Classic Rock’s coverage of Iron Maiden been fair over the years?
Yeah, absolutely. Cos if it weren’t you’d be eating corn on the cob with no fucking teeth, mate!
The first four albums in Iron Maiden’s The Studio Collection – Remastered are available now from studiocollection.ironmaiden.com