Blaze Bayley is back on the road following and the pandemic. Kicking things off at Stonedead Festival in Nottinghamshire, the onetime Iron Maiden front man is raring to go, following the release of his latest album ‘War Within Me’. “The most important thing is just that we get to play live”, he affirms. We caught up with Blaze to talk life on the road in the new normal, the writing and recording of Maiden’s ‘Como Estais Amigos’, and what’s coming from Wolfsbane. Smashed and blind; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Blaze, how has your Stonedead Festival been?
Good, good. It’s gone great. It’s been a magnificent day filled with anxiety and excitement in equal measure. It started on Thursday when I went up to Manchester to rehearse with the guys. We had a full day’s rehearsal on Friday which started out a bit scary because my pipes hadn’t been used with full power for quite a long time.
Stonedead is your first show since before the pandemic, isn’t it?
This is the first show in sixteen months. Our last show was in London in March of last year at Burr Fest, and then the dominoes fell, and everything went.
You’ve been busy during the pandemic, none the less.
We were going to do an album anyway. We were scheduled to record an album last year, and that went ahead. The album’s called ‘War Within Me’, and it came out around May. What happened was, every time a festival cancelled, we had three more days to spend on the album. Then when the little tour got cancelled, we had two more weeks, and so we ended up in the luxury situation that is so rare these days; we had almost a year of time that we could spend working on the album.
That’s almost like back how it was back in the ‘80s, isn’t it?
It is, when bands used to take a year off. It was purely accidental, well, not planned in any way. We really used that time well. There were a lot of challenges because was never in the same room as the drummer, and that’s the first time that’s happened. We’d have to send him things and go; “can you put a groove on this?”, and things like that, but we got through it, and we were really focused on making a positive record. And now, ‘War Within Me’, as an album, my hardcore fans that have got everything in my catalogue say it’s one of the best albums that I’ve ever done in a career of thirty-five years.
It seems to have been getting fantastic reviews too.
It’s incredible. I’m so surprised really, because you finish it, and you’ve had it under the microscope, and it’s just a bunch of parts that you hope is an album, and then a few months later you listen to it, and you go; “oh actually, it’s a good album!” [laughing] So, you just don’t know when you finish it, and you go; “this is for my hardcore fans; will they like it?!”, but everybody said; “oh, I really like it”, so I was very lucky.
I wanted to touch back on Burr Fest, and what a phenomenal show what was with you playing your ‘Maiden Years’ set; there were tracks that Iron Maiden have never played live.
Thank you very much. That’s right; Maiden have never played ‘Virus’ live, or never played ‘Como Estais [Amigos]’ live.
Your touching version of ‘Como Estais Amigos’ that night was the highlight of the show.
For me, personally, that’s my biggest Maiden song because it’s got so much to it; it’s my first trip to Argentina; it’s my first time meeting Argentinian people; and writing with Janick Gers, and Steve Harris. The lyrics came to me because I saw the memorial for the fallen soldiers of the Argentine, and then our fallen soldiers, the British fallen soldiers, and a friend from primary school that was in the marines and died in the Faulklands. So, it was so important.
Do you remember writing the song with Janick Gers?
Janick and I had this idea, and it was written on the hotel notepaper, in Parliament Square – I think it’s the Continental Hotel – Buenos Aries. I’d written the lyrics there, put them away, and then the next year Janick and I are writing together; “have you got anything to go with this?”, and I go; “well I’ve got this stuff I’ve wrote down”, and it just came together as a lyric straight away. It was obviously a moment of magic.
Steve Harris was the producer on ‘Virtual XI’; what did he make of it?
We took it to rehearsal, showed it to Steve [Harris], and said; “right Steve, what do you think of this?”, and he goes; “I love it, but, it doesn’t do that there, it does this there, and it does that there”, and I go; “oh no, you’re joking me!”, and I said; “I thought it was finished”, and he goes; “no Blaze, it; not finished”. He sprinkles his magic on it, and does a bit of rearranging, and there it is, of course, and it makes complete sense.
I don’t know why that song isn’t as big as ‘The Clansman’.
For me personally, it’s bigger than that, it’s bigger than ‘The Clansman’. I love ‘The Clansman’, you know, it’s a joy to perform that song. My voice is more bluesy and emotional, and in ‘Como Estais Amigos’ it’s captured. I do everything that reveals my passion for singing in that song when we perform it, and I’ve performed that all over now, and the reaction in Brazil, and Spain, and France and Germany; it’s incredible.
It’s been great to see you finally celebrate your Maiden years, but have you ever thought of performing either ‘the X Factor’ or ‘Virtual XI’ in their entirety?
No. The anniversary set was kind of my favourites and the ones I really enjoy doing; the ones that feel like old friends, and there’s a lot of great music on those albums, but I do everything in my own style. I don’t do the studio version of ‘Virus’; I do a version of ‘Virus’ that has evolved over the years that Chris Appleton [guitarist], and me and the rest of the guys have bent into our own shape, to do our own way, and that feels really good. The other ones as well, you know, there’s certain things; on ‘The X Factor’, there’s no guitar harmonies – there’s unison guitars – and I put those back in. We go; “how do you feel about putting in harmonies?”, and I go; “yeah, we’ll do it”, and so my set has those touches in it. But I don’t see a value in doing both albums. My albums are short amount of time, and I like to pick out odd songs here and there, and if I did another anniversary set, then I could say; “this time we’ll do ‘Lightening Strikes Twice”, or something like that.
Something you touched on was the lack of guitar harmonies on ‘The X Factor’; was that a conscious decision by the band?
Yeah, that was a conscious decision by the band. I wasn’t involved in that decision.
So it was a definite decision to say; “we are not using guitar harmonies on this album”?
Yeah, as far as I remember, that was it.
Was that to get away from the traditional Maiden sound?
I don’t know, I can’t really comment. You’d have to talk to Dave [Murray] and Steve about that really, but that was then, that was where it was. That’s a period of time; bands go through transitions and do different things, and then the next version of Maiden has got three guitars! So, you wouldn’t have predicted that; “oh, we’re having a reunion, except it’s not quite a reunion. It’s actually a lot more than a reunion; we’re having a massive reinvention of ourselves!” And of course it’s fantastic, it’s absolutely wonderful.
What have you made of ‘Writing on the Wall’, and the new material?
Yeah, I like it. Bruce is sounding absolutely fantastic. He always sounds good, but he sounds really strong in that one, so it’s nice to hear that. When he has that confidence in his voice, it really means something, and it’s something very special. I think maybe on ‘No Prayer For The Dying’ and certain parts of ‘Fear of the Dark’ there were areas and certain songs where he didn’t have that confidence, he didn’t have that joy. He’s still the most amazing singer in the world for rock and metal, but I think on those ones he didn’t have the joy that [you hear when] listening to later albums, and listening to the new single you go; “that’s Bruce pumped up and going, can’t wait to see him!”
Moving on, and what’s happening with Wolfsbane currently?
We’ve cleared a bit of schedule and we hope it will be possible to come back next summer for a few shows. We hope the album will be finished this year. We’re four guys with vey different lives. We were four young men living at home when we got together; now, we’re four old farts! We get together, and you just can’t believe it; the young you would have shot the you now if they heard you having a conversation about reading glasses! But, that doesn’t affect the music in any way because we’re together in the room, and somebody will go; “what about this?”, and then suddenly it’s like; “yeah, this reminds me of ‘Kathy Wilson’, except it’s on drugs? Is this absolutely insane?” Yes it is!
What can you tell us about the new album?
We’ve got all songs like that, and you can’t believe the variety of music, and the different things we have on there. I think it’s more Wolfsbane than I think we’ve been since ‘Kathy Wilson’ . It’s absolutely the four of us going; “you know what? We don’t give a fuck anymore”; we’re just trying to be us, and we’re not trying to be anything else. We just egg Jase [Edwards] on, and we go; “can’t you make it sound a bit more like a spaceship?!” It’s insane, and it’s been great fun to do it.
Maybe the ‘Wolfsbane For Donington’ campaign can finally get its wish?
I don’t know. I don’t really care, and none of us do. The most important thing is just that we get to play live. If we get together onstage the four of us, and there’s a few people there, that’s the most important thing. The last tour that we did we had incredible reactions, and it was just brilliant. So, whatever we get to do, we’re happy with. We gave up on all of that age ago. The most important thing is that we’re able to do the kind of gig that we want to do on our own terms. There’s so much business and politics, and being right for something ad all of that; we just don’t want to be a part of that, you know. And I’m only one guy; there’s four of us in the band and everybody has an equal say, so you know, things have to be done by consensus. It’s not my band, it’s our band, and I’m in the band and I don’t have any more rights or says than anybody else, which is a great feeling. Because we don’t live with each other anymore, also we’ve got plenty to talk about when we do see each other.
Back to your solo career, and how was it playing on the bill at K.K. Downing’s live return, in November 2019?
Oh, it was fantastic. As much as I like Wolverhampton Civic hall and Wulfrun Hall, the way the stage is laid out and the room is laid out at K.K.’s, it’s a proper rock gig. You’ve got plenty of room and you can move around, and it’s got a great vibe to it.
Did you catch up with K.K. backstage at the show?
Well, I went to see him a couple of months ago. They’re making the videos for the album [K.K.’s Priest], and Tim Ripper Owens was over and they we’re doing it there at the venue, and it was a lot of fun. I rode my motorcycle over, and K.K. came in and he said; “is that your bike out there?”, and I went; “yeah”, and he said; “can we use it in the video?!” I went; “yeah! This is going to be great bragging rights; my motorbike was in K.K.’s video!” So they did. The rhythm guitarist [A.J Mills] is a biker as well, and he rode it in one of the videos. I wasn’t interested in being in it at all; “oh yeah, put him on it! Great!”
How was it catching up with Tim Ripper Owens?
Yeah, I caught up with Tim there, and he loved the ‘War Within Me’ album. He was playing it in his car, and he goes; “oh, I loved your album, Blaze!”. It was really nice. He’s kind of starting again. He had done so well with the pre-orders of his album that they actually sold out of everything an they had to delay his tour, which is a lovely problem to have.
What’s happening for you going forward?
This is the start of our tour. We go to Ballymena, Northern Ireland, and then we come back around the rest of the U.K. We play all intimate venues, and hopefully we don’t have any problems and we end up at K.K.’s on 11th December. I’m going to play a lot of songs form the ‘War Within Me’ album because when we were doing it, we had the feeling; “oh, this’ll be great, live”. I really want to sing this live, whereas a lot of times when you’re making the album you go; “well, when it’s finished, why don’t we see how we feel?”, but as we were doing it, we were going; “no, we HAVE to do this!”, so that’s what we’re doing. Also, we’ve got a couple of songs from my ‘Tenth Dimension’ album because that’s the tour that had to be cancelled. So it’ll be that, and a couple of old favourites as well. We’re very excited about it.
Life may be returning to normal, but you’ve had to make a few changes for this run.
We do it in partnership with the venues because they’re independent as well; I’m an independent artist, and they’re independently owned, a lot of them. So it’s like; “well, let’s make sure, if it goes badly that we don’t all lose a lot of money”. People are confident about coming. The only difference – and it’s a tragic difference, really – is that I can’t do a meet and greet. Every gig I’ve done in so many years, I’ve done a free meet and greet at the gig, and we can’t do it on this one because of the risks. If something happens, you’ve to cancel the gigs. People are very understanding, so hopefully things will change next year, but for now, to save the tour and give it the best possible chance of going ahead with no cancellations, there’s no meet and greet.
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Blaze Bayley's 'War Within Me' is out now. For all things Blaze, visit Blazebayley.net.