Airforce are preparing to take flight again, with a brand new album set for release this September. Featuring original members Chop Pit [guitars], Tony Hatton [bass], and former Iron Maiden drummer Doug Sampson, the NWOBHM heroes have recently recruited Portuguese vocalist Flávio Lino. We sat down with the band at Burrfest in London to chat the early days, later days, and Doug’s tenure with Maiden. Aces high; Eamon O’Neill. Note: This interview took place before the COVID-19 crisis.
Hi guys, and welcome to Burrfest; how are you feeling about going on today?
Chop: Well, we’re felling quite excited about the whole thing. It’s a great charity, with Clive Burr the MS charity, and we’ve good friends of Mimi, his partner. So for us, this is an honour. We’ve done it a few times now, and this will be the third time we’ve done it.
The fest seems to be a little bit of a NWOBHM reunion; would that be a fair thing to say?
Doug: That’s a very fair comment. It seems to have kicked in again. It’s been a long time coming. When we got the Airforce back together again, a lot of things are mirroring what happened years ago. It’s great, and it’s exciting.
Airforce have been workinghard this past few years; what got you back together?
Tony: I think it was Andy Holloway, and it was Iron Maiden fans tracking down anything to do with Iron Maiden, which led to Doug, which led back to Airforce. There was a track put on the ‘Origins of Iron’ album, an old Airforce track recorded back in the ‘80s, and then that led onto doing the ‘Judgement Day’ album .
Chop: We actually done one track for the ‘Origins of Iron’, and then I liked the track so much that I wanted to do a complete album.
Tony: So we did a retrospective of the stuff we’d recorded over the years with several different line-ups as well, and then we met up for the album release, and the original three members – me, Chop and Doug – and then we just said; “well, should we give it another go? This seems like a good time to start again”.
2020 is the 40th anniversary of the release of the first Iron Maiden album, and Doug you’re playing with Ides of March later in the year, celebrating that fact.
Doug: It’s been a long time since I played with Paul [Di’Anno] and the band, and all the other members that I’ve not played with before like Terry Rance and Terry Wapram. Yeah, it should be exciting! It’ll mark the anniversary quite well. Paul’s up for it, and is really excited about it!
What songs will you be playing?
Doug: There’s a few obscure ones being thrown in there! I won’t say too much at the moment, but yeah, there’s a couple there that we’ve thrown in just to throw a curve ball, really.
Back to Burrfest, and Clive Burr was the drummer who actually replaced you in Iron Maiden.
Doug: Well, I’d stepped away from it because of health problems, so I knew there was going to be another drummer, but when Clive took over I could see that he was a really good drummer and he really, really added to the Iron Maiden feel at the time. I never actually met him, funny enough, and this is the sad part about it. We were rehearsing down the studio with Airforce, and they had a bar there, the Unicorn, and at one end was Clive – I think he was working with Dee Snider at the time – and I was sitting at the other end. We recognised each other, but we only had about another half an hour, and we were playing down at the Marquee the next week, but I thought; “next time I see him in here, I’ll go and say ‘hello”. And I never saw him in there again.
Back to those early Iron Maiden days, and you famously played on ‘The Soundhouse Tapes’; what does it mean for you to have your stamp on Maiden history like that?
Doug: Yeah, I’m very proud. When we done it, we never expected what would come. We’d done a demo tape, and we never expected it to last all these years. Obviously, it’s a great honour to be on it, and I’m still shocked, even today, that it’s still very popular. For the amount of years that Iron Maiden have been going, I was in a very, very small part of that history, but even so, I’m very proud of what I done in that period of time.
What was it like for you to hear tracks that you’d have played live like ‘Innocent Exile’ end up on the ‘Killers’ album, with Martin Birch’s production, a few years later?
Doug: Oh, it was brilliant to see that that’s what the finished product was. I mean, I’m sorry it wasn’t my drums on it, but to listen to it, it was fabulous. And even now, listening to some of them songs that we rehearsed or played live; ‘Drifter’ was another one that I thought was really great. The way that Paul sings that, it’s superb!
Iron Maiden really broke through in 1982 with a No.1 album in ‘The Number of the Beast’; how did you feel seeing that happen?
Doug: Yeah, it had speeded up quite considerably! When Bruce took over on vocals, it took on a different dimension. Paul’s a great singer, but when he left, they got someone else in who just took it off in a different direction. I don’t think it’s really fair to compare them; it’s just that he brings it off in a completely different direction.
Come 1984 and the mammoth World Slavery Tour, it must have seemed so far away from Spaceward Studios, where ‘The Soundhouse Tapes’ was recorded!
Doug: Of course it did! But yeah, me and Chop used to pop around and see Steve, around at his place, and he was just the same as he’s always been. He hadn’t changed at all, so it was like it hadn’t affected him. It was just that the band had got bigger.
Chop: Yeah, Steve’s very, very down to earth. He hasn’t forgotten his old mates, and he always phones out of the blue to see how we’re doing.
A few years ago there was a big reunion and the ex-band members were interviewed for the ‘Early Years’ DVD; how was that?
Doug: Well, actually, I was on holiday the week they done it! They went down the Cart and Horses, and I’m not actually in the Cart and Horses on that. I went to their offices, and I recorded my bit just after Bruce done his. I was sitting in the canteen, and Bruce was on the other side! I hadn’t spoken to him for years, because I remember him from Samson. So, I went and done my bit up there at Sanctuary.
Did you enjoy seeing the finished DVD, telling the story of Iron Maiden’s early years?
Doug: Yeah, it was clever the way they blended it all in so the story continued. It was very good the way they done it. It was very interesting; I was hearing stories from after I’d gone that I never knew about. There were a few stories too that they’d obviously cut out, for what reasons, I don’t know! [laughing]
Back to Airforce, and what’s happening going forward?
Chop: We’ve got a new album about to come out. It’s with the record label now. The album’s ‘Strike Hard’, and it features [Flávio] Lino, our new vocalist, who’s a great vocalist. He’s changed the band completely; there’s a bit more excitement in Lino! He’s very, very good, and we’re honoured to have him front the band.
What’s it like for you, Lino, playing with these guys?
Flávio: Oh, it’s so painful! [laughing]. No, it’s good! Chop saw me two years ago when I played with my Iron Maiden tribute band in the Cart and Horses, and he approached me, and I said; “who the fuck is this guy?!” [laughing]. No, no, so we kept in touch, and I said; “let’s try this”. But the songs were good, and it’s not that big a deal to come from Portugal for every concert. It’s an honour, and it’s a pleasure, because they are real songs, well written, and the new album is fantastic.
For you Doug, with the new album coming out 40 years after your first recording with Iron Maiden, does this feel like coming full circle for you?
Doug: Yeah, it’s really great. I never expected it to happen, and everything we’re doing now, it’s like ’79 again. I was playing quite regularly in the rehearsal studio, but I wasn’t playing in a band. When all this came up, I thought; “let’s have a go at it, and see how far it goes”.
Finally, Nicko McBrain calls in sick, and he can’t make the gig; are you stepping on stage with Iron Maiden?
Doug: Oh, I’d love to! Yeah I’d love to. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon, but yeah!
Are there any songs you’d like to tackle that you never had the chance to?
Doug: Oh, anything off the ‘Seventh Son’ album. I love that album.
‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ has recently been voted the fans’ favourite Iron Maiden Album.
Doug: Yeah, I know, and that was my favourite before. I saw that, and then I thought; “oh bloody hell”, because every time I’ve been asked in the past what is my favourite album, I’ve always said that. The songs, they’re just so good. I can’t really put my finger on it. I mean, we’ve been writing ourselves, and it’s just so, so good. That is by far, but I quite like the last album, actually, ‘The Book of Souls’. I didn’t expect it to be quite like it was.
It seems that the ‘Iron Maiden family’ is a very real thing, even between the ex-members.
Doug: Yeah, once you’re in it, it’s like being a member of the Trotters in Only Fools and Horses; once a member; always a member! The actor who said that, who played Rodney’s wife [Gwyneth Strong] said that you’re always a Trotter as long as you live, and that’s how I feel with Maiden; it doesn’t matter what part you’ve played – you’re always a part of the Maiden family.
Airforce's 'Strike Hard is released on 4th September 2020, via Pitch Black Records. Visit the Airforce Store, here. For more info, visit the band's Facebook page.