Iron Maiden digs into '80s hits for 'legendary' tour
Bruce Dickinson, front man for heavy metal legends Iron Maiden, is a fascinating mix of salesman, singer, and intellectual. He was as keen to talk about the English poet and artist William Blake, when contacted by phone at 3 a.m. in the morning, as he was to do the hard sell on the group’s forthcoming world tour, which kicks off today in Mumbai, India, before coming to Japan later this month.
"This is not like old men coming out of the woodwork to go and see the band," he said in a recent interview from the UK studio where the band had just finished rehearsals of the tour's set list. "These are young kids who have been brought up with the band."Unlike 2006-7's A Matter Of Life And Death Tour, on which they played material from their latest studio album, this tour, entitled the Somewhere Back In Time Tour, will focus almost entirely on the group’s 1980s back catalogue, as well as using an outlandish ancient-Egyptian-themed stage set based on the band’s Powerslave Tour from 1984 and ’85.
"Metal is fairly melodramatic kind of stuff," Dickinson commented. "If you were to compare it to other forms of performing, it would be, at the very least, musical theatre, and it could be like really absurd opera. All of those things tend to take a fairly broad brush approach to things. They want to make a bit of an impression."But, by focusing exclusively on the 80s, the decade many think still defines the band, isn't there a danger of Maiden coming across as yesterday's men?
"What always worries us, certainly, is being lumped in with some of these nostalgia acts that go out there," Dickinson responded. "That would be absolute death for us. We go out and we do these tours as celebrations of stuff we've done in the past. But, in between times, we do full-on album tours in which we play by-and-large, almost exclusively new material. We find that by sandwiching the tours in this way, we actually increase our fan-base. Most of these kids have become Maiden fans with the last two or three studio albums that we’ve done, and they've also bought the back catalogue. But they've never heard the band perform it, so, for them, this is legendary."Dickinson's focus on the defining period of the 1980s, when Iron Maiden were at the forefront of what was awkwardly christened the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) as well as the band’s recent history, skips over the period in the 1990s when he quit the band. This was partly to pursue other interests, including a solo work and a part-time career as a pilot, but was also due to artistic differences with the band’s founder, bassist, and main songwriter, Steve Harris.
Dickinson's role as a singer and lyricist means that words have always much more important to him in the early stages of songwriting than they have been for Harris, who often focuses on getting the instrumental part done first then fits words later. Experience, however, has taught the two musicians to find strength in their respective differences.
"I think the good thing to do is always to respect other people's strengths and to know your own weaknesses." Dickinson said. "Steve's good at a whole bunch of things that I really have no interest in. I'm interested in the end result, and I’m interested in the emotional input and things like that, and Steve is absolutely fascinated by twiddling knobs and the minutiae of everything. I see that as being, 'well, hey, somebody has to do that job.' I get really bored with all that. He absolutely adores it, and so, between the two or three or four of us – whoever's writing all the songs – it all gets done. We all know our little foibles, and we all know when to push and when to back off in terms of getting our ideas across."Although Dickinson's solo work has been more introspective and, on occasion, even bawdy, the lyrical themes and ideas that he sings about for Maiden take their inspiration from the elevated realms of literature, myth, religion, and history.
"We've always decided that we want to tell stories," he explained. "We either pinch them from legends or we pinch them from history, or we glue two bits of legend together, or we plunder a bit of Shakespeare and turn it into something else."The grandiose elements of heavy metal have always made it an easy target for the 'cool set.' In their native England, Maiden has long been regarded by the music intelligentsia as a joke on a par with Spinal Tap, the famous mock documentary about a rock band. Despite the band's enormous worldwide popularity, this image has often seen them shunned by fashionable media outlets. But the sell-out response across five continents for the present tour – including riots in Venezuela caused by a local promoter's failure to book the band – shows that Maiden is having the last laugh.
"We've hardly advertised this tour," Dickinson pointed out with relish. "This is word of mouth. This is like an uprising of a million and a half people round the World going to go and see Iron Maiden, a band that you can’t see on MTV or VH1, or hear on the radio, or anything like that."
International Herald Tribune Asahi Shimbun
1st February, 2008