Exclusive: Iron Maiden's Steve Harris talks about his British Lion solo project
26th Aug 2012 | 23:01
“I want to cram in as much as possible before I kick the bucket”
Iron Maiden bandleader Steve Harris will release his debut solo album British Lion in September.
More than a decade in the making, the 10-track collection finds Harris collaborating with a new band – vocalist Richard Taylor, guitarists Graham Leslie and David Hawkins and drummer Simon Dawson – and is described by the bassist as “70s-influenced, British-sounding hard rock”.
Speaking exclusively to Classic Rock from Montreal during Maiden’s 34-date North American Maiden England tour, Harris promises that British Lion will contain some surprises for Maiden fans, noting: “I don’t know what people are expecting, but it’s probably not this.”
Interview: Paul Brannigan
People might be surprised to learn that there’s a Steve Harris solo album on the way…
Yeah, and I think that’s a good thing: it’s the one chance I’ve had to keep a bit of mystique. The album has been coming together over a ridiculously long time, but we’ve managed to keep it a secret and that’s been kinda fun.
So where did the impetus for British Lion come from?
How it started was that Graham Leslie came to me with a cassette of songs – which shows how long ago it was! – and I thought they were really good, so I said I’d try to help his band do something. I ended up managing them and producing them and writing with them, although I kept that fact under wraps, to the point where even some people in the band didn’t know. Anyway, when that band imploded I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to do something with this’, because I thought the songs were so strong.
Back in 1992 you told Raw magazine that you were mentoring a young band called British Lion: was that the same band?
Yeah, that’s how it originated. Over the years I’ve kept in touch with Richie and Graham, and then Richie was working with another guitarist called David Hawkins, who’s a really talented guy, and so we started writing songs together. So on the album there are six songs written with Richie and David, there’s one with just me and Richie, and the others are me, Richie, Graham and a couple of other guys that were around at the time.
So why is this the time for a Steve Harris solo album?
Because it’s ready, it’s finally, finally ready. The guys have been waiting very patiently for years for me, and it’s been frustrating at time, but what can I do, I’m so busy with Maiden. People have already said to me, ‘Are you going to do this instead of Maiden?’ and I’m like, ‘Of course not!’ Maiden is always going to be the priority, always has been and always will be, but it’s interesting and exciting to try new things.
No one reading this will have heard British Lion yet: how would you describe it?
Well, what I think and what other people will think might be two different things, but I’d say it’s more mainstream rock than metal, very British sounding, very 70s-influenced and quite commercial… but good commercial. There’s all kinds of stuff going on, with nods to The Who and UFO and some classic British rock bands, but it’s not the progressive rock album some might be expecting.
There’s quite a nostalgic feel to the album in places: is British Lion a homage to the music you grew up listening to?
You could say that, I suppose, but then you could probably say the same about Maiden. But yeah, the older you get the more nostalgic you are: you become more aware of your own mortality and start thinking weird and wonderful things… especially when you’ve had a few pints of Guinness!
Perhaps inevitably, there are elements of the classic Maiden sound in the album too. What was to stop a song such as Us Against The World ending up on a Maiden album?
Because it’s written with other people. There’s no way I’d ever bring anything to Maiden that was written with outside people because there’s no point: there’s a lot of great songwriters in Maiden and we don’t need or want any help.
Some people will be confused as to why you need to do a solo album at all, given that Maiden has always been your band: surely within Maiden you can do whatever you want?
Well, no Maiden isn’t really like that. Yes, on the early albums most of the songs are mine, but as we’ve gone into different eras with different people writing, there’s been more and more collaborations. And I think it’s been important for Maiden to do that rather than have me dictating everything. But I have bags full of ideas, so many that I couldn’t record them all in my lifetime, and I tried out a few different things on this, because I had the time to do experiment.
Will you tour British Lion with the band?
Yeah, I mean, what are my alternatives, playing acoustic bass on my own? We’ll definitely tour it. But there are no shows arranged yet, because we don’t know yet what we’ve got. I know we’ll be playing clubs, which is great because I’ve not played clubs for years, but do we play in front of 200 people, 400 people, 600? I’d be totally happy with 200 people a night, that’d be brilliant, but I just don’t know.
What expectations do you have for the album?
Truthfully, I don’t know what kind of reaction it’s going to get. And that’s quite exciting for me. Even with Maiden I don’t have expectations and this is a very different thing: this is stepping outside that safe Maiden bubble and finding out what’s going on in the real world.
Will British Lion free up other people in Maiden to do more solo stuff?
I think Bruce will do another one: we were talking about my album the other day and I think it got him thinking that it’s been 10 years since he last did one. So it’s probably time he did another one. Maybe this will prove to everyone that you can be in Maiden and do other stuff as well. And there’ll definitely be another British Lion record. I want to do more things with Maiden obviously, but if some of the guys decide that they don’t want to do as much in the future, then I’ve got this as well: this is my safety valve, because what else am I gonna do? I want to cram in as much as possible before I kick the bucket.
* British Lion will be released by EMI on September 24.