EXCLUSIVE: Just five days after wrapping up Iron Maiden’s hugely successful ‘The Book Of Souls’ world tour, Steve Harris is out on the road again; this time with side project British Lion, swapping the private jet for the humble tour bus. Juggling both acts, readying a second British Lion release, and working on their live album, as well as being kept busy with “other stuff for Maiden which I can’t really talk about”, he’s a man with a lot going on. We sat down with Steve at Ramblin’ Man Fair to talk festivals, Trooper Ale, and a whole lot more. Karma killer; Eamon O’Neill.
How are you today?
I’m good, yeah, really good. Considering I’ve just finished a tour with Maiden and then straight on this, I actually feel pretty good. But I think that’s a good thing; you just keep the momentum going, because quite often you just stop, and you stop touring and your body sort of goes; “All right, it’s time to shut down now”, but if you keep going, it’s all right.
You kicked off this tour on Colchester a couple of nights ago; how was it?
The very first gig, I felt a bit strange, a bit jetlagged, but it didn’t really affect anything. The crowd reaction was great, and certainly, midway through the set to the end we played well, I thought. There was a couple of little issues earlier on, but it’s the usual things; the first two songs the drummer’s monitor amp blew up. It’s always the way, but you get through it. I watched The Who last week in Quebec city, and that was their first gig, and it was the same; they had problems. It’s teething problems, it’s normal.
The last time we spoke, it was at the last date of the last British Lion tour; how does it feel to be kicking off again with the band?
At the end of the tour, we’re hopefully tighter than we are at the beginning, but having said that, it was only really, what, seven months ago or something like that? We only had two days rehearsal, because that’s all we really had time for, but the first rehearsal was almost like we hadn’t stopped, we just kind of carried on. That’s what people were saying about the first gig, so yeah, I’m really pleased, and last night, I think we played even better, tighter, so, hopefully… I shouldn’t say that really, it’s tempting fate! The problem today is we’ve had no sound check, so it’s going to be literally; throw the gear on, line check, and we’re off. When that happens, you might have problems, and the sound could be all over the place, so it’s a challenge, really.
Is it nice to be playing at a festival where you’re not headlining, and you don’t have the same pressure?
Well, we headlined the festival last night, the Rock & Blues festival [in Pentrich, Derbyshire], and that was really good, but obviously this time, we’re on at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I’d rather play more time, to be honest. Last night we played a full set, and we needed to play the full set for the first couple of days, really.
It’s been a while since you’ve played a festival that you didn’t top the bill.
Yeah, we [Iron Maiden] were headlining by ’81, and the only place we weren’t headlining in ’81 was in the States. We didn’t headline in the States with the bigger shows until ‘83. But, yeah, it’s good; new challenges, different things going on, and it spices up the whole thing and just shakes things up a bit. I love it, and I really enjoy doing stuff with this band.
There’s a real energy in British Lion’s live show that wasn’t as instantly apparent on the album.
That’s the thing; the album was meant to sound like 70s, like it was made in that way, because that was the influences, and that was the sort of vibe we were going for. Obviously, the band, I think we sound more current than that, really, and like you said; it’s heavier, so the second album will be very different, I think.
Where are things at with the second album?
Well, we’re going straight in after this for a few days, just to get some backing tracks down for the second album. Not all of the songs, but probably half of them, and then we’ll do the rest later. But yeah, we just need to get it going and get something moving on it, because I was supposed to be working on the live album, and then with Maiden and everything else – there’s other bits and pieces that I did for Maiden which, it is what it is; it’s my day job, and it comes first, totally - so if things get thrown in that you have to do, then I have to do them.
Is the British Lion live album on the back burner for now?
It’s not on the back burner; it’s just been delayed a little bit. It’s not like it’s not going to come out; it will come out at some point, it’s just that I haven’t had time to deal with it. It’s one of those things.
Have you got a little bit of downtime now to concentrate on things like that?
I will after this tour, hopefully, to sort out British Lion, unless something else gets thrown in the works, which you never know! That’s the thing; there’s all these things cropping up all the time. It’s funny, Adrian [Smith, Iron Maiden guitarist] said to me one day, he goes; “It never stops for you, does it?”, and I thought about it, and I thought; “Yeah, you’re right, it doesn’t really!”
How do you keep going, straight off Ed Force One on these massive tours, and then onto the little tour bus?
It’s no big deal, really. I enjoy the bus, so it’s not a chore. It’s fun; it’s actually a lot of fun. Also, it keeps you grounded. The whole thing with the jet and everything else, if you let it, you could go away with the fairies, you know what I mean? You could go off on one, and this keeps me down to earth. But let’s face it, it’s a lovely bus we’re on; it’s still ‘glamping’, we’re not exactly in the tent quite yet!
Have you ever been jaded at all by the touring lifestyle?
No, not jaded. I think sometimes you might think; “I’m ready to drop that song from the set”, perhaps things like that. That doesn’t happen very often, but you know, when you do a really long tour you might feel a bit like that, but not jaded in the sense of not wanting to be out there. I can’t speak for all of them [in Iron Maiden], but for me, I just really enjoy playing. That’s why the others are going off on holiday now, probably, and good luck to them if that’s what they want to do.
So it’s the love of the stage that keeps you going?
For one thing, as I said earlier, carrying on another tour, it’s good to keep the momentum, and also, even logistic-wise, some of the Maiden crew work with us, and if they go off on holiday, it’s difficult to get them back again, so all those elements come in. Also, the timing; it’s an opportunity for these guys [in British Lion] to do some festivals, which they’ve not really done much of. So it’s nice for me to go out and do that with them and see how they react to it, because it’s a big opportunity for them.
It must be great for you to be able to do this at all levels.
That’s right, and it varies from festival to festival; last night we were headlining, last year we did a festival in the Czech Republic where we were mid-way on the bill, Planet Rockstock we headlined last year. It depends what sort of level of festival it is. When you’ve got bigger bands, or established bands, if you like, on an established festival like this – it’s been going three years, and they’ve got some good quality bands – obviously we’re a little bit further down the bill, as we would expect to be as we’ve only had one album out. But it’s all part of it, and in the future, if we move up the bill or we don’t, it doesn’t really matter. Maybe the other guys might have a little bit of ambition, but I’m enjoying playing them all. Personally, I like playing the indoor, small gigs, sweaty gigs, where we get to play a full set – I enjoy that. But it’s just a career challenge, and here [at Ramblin' Man Fair], I’d say 98% of the audience probably won’t even know any of our songs.
Would you ever consider taking some tracks that Maiden would never do, such as ‘Burning Ambition’ for example, and dropping them into the British Lion set?
No, I mean, I think it would be all too easy to do that, and maybe even songs from the Blaze years which may never see the light of day with Maiden again. People ask me that question, and yeah, on one hand, but I think, if I did that, I’d have to do a third project. I wouldn’t want to do it with this, because this is a totally different thing, and it’s more rock and roll than metal anyway, and I think those songs, if I did it, maybe I’d get Blaze or someone to do it with; I don’t know, it’s not something I particularly have the time to do, or have the inclination right now anyway! But if you’re thinking about it, I think that would be the way to go, rather than doing it with this, because this is a totally separate entity; I don’t think it really would be right to do it with this anyway.
British Lion are also playing Steelhouse Festival in Wales this weekend, which is sponsored by Trooper Beer.
Well, I think Rod [Smallwood, manager] and all the people that work with us thought that it would be an opportunity with British Lion going out and doing some festivals to get the Trooper beer out there, with an obvious connection, so yeah, why not? I’ll just make sure we’ve got a few beers for the bus, because we haven’t got any at the moment!
If Steve Harris can’t get a Trooper, there’s something badly wrong!
Exactly! So I says to them; “You’d better sort that out”, so they’re going to sort that out.
Has the success of the beer brand surprised you?
Yeah, it’s doing fantastic, it really is; it’s doing really, really well. It’s very tough to get it into certain markets around the world, especially, say, in America, were every state is different; different laws and everything else, so it’s tough to actually get it in there. But it’s doing well. Pubs, they might try and put it on the cask, or on the pump, and they’ll test it like they do with other beers, and most of them have been asking for it back, for re-runs of it, and a lot of places have been selling out, which is good and not good! It’s all a learning curve as well, because it’s something totally different. But it’s like with everything we do, we try and do it the best we can, and we do it with good people and it makes a difference.
Which variation have you enjoyed best?
It is a nice tasting beer, and people seem to really like it. You can talk about it honestly because it is nice, and I enjoy it myself. The only thing is, I was actually liking the Red ‘N’ Black [porter] slightly more for a while, but now I’m not so sure; I like them all.
You’ve got the new ‘Hallowed’ variation coming out shortly too.
Yeah, it’s probably… it’s endless really; it could be!
Finally, what’s happing with you for the rest of the year?
Well, basically, I’m supposed to be taking some time off. I’ve got offered loads of stuff with British Lion to do at the end of this year, which was tough to turn down, but I think I’ll have to do it probably next year, because it’s been so full on. I mean, I haven’t really had many days off at all on this tour, and even with Maiden because I’ve been busy doing other stuff which I can’t really talk about, but it’s loads of stuff. I need to take some time off, but, you know, I need to do this live stuff with British Lion, so I got to find time to do that, so I’ll work it out!
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