As the founder of Iron Maiden, one of the biggest and most celebrated heavy metal bands of all time, it’s fair to say that Steve Harris has little left to prove. The West Ham United fanatic however, isn’t one to rest on his laurels, and launching British Lion in 2012, the bassist returned to his pre-premier league roots, swapping Maiden’s Ed Force One 747, for the confines of life in a far less glamourous tour bus. Taking to the road with British Lion again on an extended twenty-seven date 2016 tour, we caught up with Steve on the final date in Belfast, to talk about the band, life on the road, and his famed ‘Hammers’ Fender Precision bass. Eyes of the young; Eamon O’Neill.
How are you today, Steve?
I’m good, yeah. I’m really good.
You’ve reached the end of British Lion’s tour with tonight’s show in Belfast; how has it been?
It’s been fantastic; there’s been great reactions everywhere. We’ve all really enjoyed it, and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been really good.
The current run was quite an excursion, wasn’t it?
It is if you include Maiden, I suppose. This tour was about five weeks. We did about four or five weeks last August, so it’s about the length that we’d normally like to do. One of the tours we did was only ten shows because we were doing a festival and we did some other shows with that, but when we do a full tour, four or five weeks is pretty good. There’s a lot of shows, and there’s not many days off. This is the fifth show in a row, but at this level, I quite like that.
What is it you like about playing on this smaller scale?
It’s the sort of set-up where we’re on the bus, and there’s lots of hanging around. With Maiden it’s different because we’re flying – we fly in and we fly out – and quite often you’ll go home on days off or whatever, so it’s a whole different thing.
Since your other band is doing more than okay, what is it that makes you want to do thirty-odd dates slogging around Europe on the bus?
The day job? Maiden, yeah, it’s doing all right! Well, I’ve never minded the bus for starters. The only thing to put up with on the bus that’s a bloody nuisance is the snoring, really! It’s all right when you’re going along, but if you’re going on a short trip; like when we went from say Dublin to Limerick, which was only two or three hours, then you’ve got the rest of the night with no road noise, and you have to deal with the snoring.
You don’t have any such problems on Ed Force One then?
Well, you’re not on it long enough really to be worried about that, so it’s not really an issue. But, yeah, I think that’s probably the toughest thing really.
What was it that prompted you to launch British Lion?
Well, it’s just doing something a little bit different. It’s all within the ‘rock’ genre, effectively, but it’s more ‘rock’ than ‘metal’, if you like. It’s categories within categories, but I’ve never really liked categories anyway. It’s just a different thing, working with different people and a different outlet, and it’s playing small places, which is great for me, because I can’t do small places with Maiden anymore. I haven’t done small places with Maiden for over thirty years, so I really enjoy it. And I like going back to the basic type of thing, with the bus, and meeting the fans, and just being close to the fans.
You do go out and meet fans after most British Lion shows, which is clearly very difficult with the day job.
Yeah, it’s impossible because there’s too many people. But I really enjoy it, and also, this actually gets me match fit, I think, for Maiden. It keeps me out there, and it keeps me active, rather than having an extended period of time - I wouldn’t say ‘off’, because there’s always something to do, there’s always stuff I need to do as I’m pretty busy - but it keeps me playing live, which is what I love to do most, and it gives me the opportunity to go out and to that. You’ve just got to grab the opportunity. I mean, it wasn’t ideal because we haven’t got a new album out or anything like that for this tour, but we had a window of opportunity, so it was like; “let’s do it.”
When you were writing for the British Lion album, did you have to consider if the material would be best suited to British Lion, rather than Iron Maiden?
Well, it doesn’t really work like that because I’m working with different people, so as soon as you work with someone outside of Maiden; that’s it – it’s not going to be used in Maiden, end of. I think the problem will come if I write something and maybe I’m not sure of whether to use it in one place or the other; that’s not really happened yet, but it’s a possibility, I suppose.
There are some obviously similarities with Iron Maiden's music with the material, yet it’s very different too.
I think there’s different stuff going on, but there are similarities as well, I suppose there would be. I mean, I think the stuff like ‘Chosen Ones’, even older songs; the guitar in ‘A World Without Heaven’ is not dissimilar to what we do in Maiden, really. I mean, I think we could do some of those songs in Maiden, but we wouldn’t because they’ve been written with other people.
You’ve been premiering songs from the next British Lion album on this tour.
Yeah, we’ve got more than a few songs; we’ve got plenty of songs, and we’ve got three or four songs that we’ve got to just tidy up and finish up. We’ve basically got a full album’s worth already, so, there’s not a shortage of ideas, which is great, and so hopefully we’ll get time to do that sometime next year.
You’re also working on a live album; are you going to be working hands-on with that?
Yeah, I will be. David Hawkins [British Lion guitarist and keyboardist] will be involved, Tony Newton [producer, engineer] gets involved. It’s a lot of work, just physically listening through all of the stuff and working out what’s good and what’s not, really. We’ve been recording on the last two or three tours, and that’s going to take time.
Going back to the origins of British Lion, and it was back in 1992 that you first started working on the project.
Yeah, it goes back a long, long way. I’ve known Richard [Taylor, vocals] and Grahame [Leslie, guitars] that long, and David Hawkins I’ve know a lot later. Simon [Dawson, drums] I’ve known for years as well, because he was in Dirty Deeds, who supported Maiden. So everyone knows each other, and yeah, it’s been a long time. Obviously, back in those days, I was just trying to help them do something. I was doing everything for them, really; managing, booking agent, and god knows what else. But that was the thing; when I was working with them I couldn’t tell anybody I was writing and doing stuff with them, because it would take away from them, or it would cause other unforeseen problems. But then later on you think to give it the light of day; “well, sod it, I’m just going to actually be in it!”, rather than just kind of on the outskirts of it!
Was that empowering for you, to step away and not be ‘Steve Harris from Iron Maiden’?
Well, the funny thing is, I said to Richie Taylor many years before that, I said; “one day I am going to do something with this stuff”, and I don’t know if he thought I meant it or not, really, but I meant it, and I knew I meant it, so we did. And I’m glad we did, because it’s been a lot of fun, and the band is evolving all the time. I think we’re a better band now than we were on the last tour, and the tour before, and so on, and it’s just gradually, naturally, getting better and better, I think, and a lot of the fans that have been to see us on each tour have said the same sort of thing.
Has the band’s sound been developing too as you’ve toured more?
I’d say it’s probably getting a bit heavier, which again, is natural; it’s just a natural progression. I don’t want to lose the elements that we’ve got, because I think that’s what makes us sound different to other things, but we’ll see what happens; I’m not analysing it really.
The band has played all over Europe; have you any plans to take British Lion to the U.S.A. or elsewhere?
We’ve been offered a lot of things around the world, which time-wise, we just haven’t been able to do, which is unfortunate. We got offered to do a festival in Japan, and all kinds of stuff. In fact, we got a platinum disc from India, so it would be nice to go there at some point. It’s just finding the time, I mean, there’s lots of countries even in Europe I’d still like to do, that we didn’t get to do this time around, also, South America, North America. It’s nice to be wanted, and we’ve had offers, so time is the factor really, as to whether we can fulfil those types of things. I’d like to, even for the rest of the guys, because I’ve been in those countries many times, and I still enjoy going there, but for them, being first time in, I like to see that through their eyes. It’s nice to see that; it’s exciting for me to see how they react to a new place.
What’s it like stepping from massive arena shows to playing in the smaller venues again?
I don’t really think too much about it, I just enjoy playing. It makes no difference to me whether I’m playing in front of 10,000, 100,000, or 200; it’s not a lot of difference, really, in a sense. There is in the amount of people, and how close you are, and all that type of thing, but it doesn’t make any difference as far as attitude, and how you apply yourself to the gig; you still give 110% every night, no matter what you’re doing, however many people.
I wanted to ask a bit about your West Ham bass; it’s one of your older guitars, isn’t it?
It’s had a few re-sprays, yeah. It started off, actually, when I very first got it, it was white, and then I had it sprayed black. God, when was that… ’79, ’78? So it was black for a while, and then I had it sprayed the blue sparkly thing, which was sort of, a bit of a throwback to Thin Lizzy, really, I suppose; I had that look with the mirrored scratch plate, and then I had it sprayed with the West Ham colours.
So it wasn’t the chequered bass?
No, I’ve got two chequered basses; it’s not that one, I’ve still got those. No, the West Ham version that I’ve got now, that was done by the Fender custom shop, so they did it really properly. I applied officially to West Ham to ask and get permission, just because it was the right thing to do, and they said; “yeah, no problem”. That was back when Peter Storrie [former Managing Director] was involved with West Ham. I just did it properly because I thought; well, if I’m going to go out with the logo of the club, in the limelight and on front covers [of magazines] and things like that, then I should do it the right way.
What’s next for you, now that the tour is finished?
Home with the family. Christmas is always at home. We never do any gigs at Christmas, although we did get offered something possibly, with British Lion for the New Year thing, which I may do in the future. But Christmas itself is always with the family, so the management and all that know that it’s a no-go area, to even look about or think about any touring at Christmas time - do not disturb!
So you’re looking forward to putting the bass down for a bit?
Yeah, I’m looking forward to it, actually. I’ve always liked Christmas anyway. I enjoy Christmas a lot. I went to Belfast’s Christmas market today, which was nice. We’ve just been in Germany, and we visited the German Christmas markets, and they were good, and it’s a similar vibe here, which is nice.
Do you get a bit more peace to walk around a city touring with British Lion?
Yeah, because there’s not so many fans around, and also because I’ve got more time on my hands. I do more sight-seeing, so for example, I went to see the Titanic museum today, and I really enjoyed that. It’s just doing things that I don’t normally get the chance to do. It’s different with Maiden, because we tend to fly in, do a show, and then fly out, if we can, and it’s because we can; we can afford to do that, and I suppose it’s a leisurely way of doing it. But the downside of that is you don’t get to see much of the town you’re in. But then, to be fair, we have done many tours where we have done a lot of sight-seeing in the past. It’s a totally different vibe, I mean, we’re going on the ferry tonight.
Might you have a few drinks this evening, now that the tour is over?
Yeah, I think I will! We probably deserve a couple of pints. I did have a pint of Kilkenny Red last night which I enjoyed, after the show. I don’t drink before shows because it’s just not the right thing to do. But I might have a Guinness tonight. I do like Guinness, but I’ve got the taste for this Kilkenny Red now. I had one in an Irish pub in Austria, and I just really liked it. I liked it so much I’ve had a couple since.
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Steve Harris returns to action with Iron Maiden in April. For a full list of European dates, click HERE.