British Lion’s Steve Harris: “It Reminds Me Of The Old Days With Maiden, Of Fighting For Everything”
Steve Harris is a true believer. It’s kind of his superpower. Not only did it supercharge Iron Maiden’s ascent from pubs to the world’s biggest stages, it has other outlets as well. One reveals itself as we join him in The Raven Age’s tour bus, as he praises his son George’s band’s live credentials before they play Tufnell Park Dome in London.
Even when the odds are stacked, Steve never loses faith in what he loves. “Look mate, I’ve still got that,” he grins, gesturing to the West Ham FC coat folded up neatly beside him. “I’m not a fair-weather supporter. Never have been.”
Today we’re here to talk about another beneficiary of his undying loyalty: British Lion. It was back in 2012 when Steve revealed – in a story of dovetailing destinies spanning decades – that he had joined forces with singer Richard ‘Richie’ Taylor, guitarists David Hawkins and Grahame Leslie, plus drummer Simon Dawson. For eight years they’ve built things up from scratch, sometimes playing gigs so intimate they required Maiden’s legendary bassist to walk through crowds to access the stage. And he fucking loves it.
“I’m really happy,” beams Steve. “We’ve got proper fans that come to see us for us, and not because of the day job. You get that as well, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just saying it’s finding its own fanbase now and they’re champing at the bit because it had been so long waiting for this album.”
On January 17 that wait ended as British Lion released their second album, the 4K-rated The Burning. “It’s a statement of intent of how we mean to carry on,” says Steve of its 11 explosive tracks. Pre-existing fans will be thrilled, but it should also convince any naysayers to take another look. Lest we forget, British Lion’s self-titled debut was a baptism of fire, especially for the band’s vocalist.
“I warned him,” says Steve. “When you’re a singer, it’s a different ball game. You’re going to get lots of comments, and they’re not all going to be good. People can be cruel. You’ve got to take it on the chin.”
Backstage at Manchester Club Academy a few days later, Richie recalls some of the critiques he received during British Lion’s fledgling days.
“It really hurt bad,” Richie admits. “How can you compare any singer against Bruce Dickinson? No-one comes close. He’s phenomenal. But I’m not a metal singer. That’s not what I do.”
Richie is, however, a fighter. Literally. “I certainly wouldn’t get in the ring with him, that’s for sure. He’s got a really good right hook on him,” smiles Steve. Rather than be immobilised by trolls, Richie dug in deep for The Burning’s recording sessions, with Steve personally handling production to capture his raw emotion.
“I wanted aggression and excitement,” the bassist offers. “I didn’t want Richie [in the booth] with fucking candles.” He has one word to sum up the singer’s performance on new songs like Elysium and Legend: “Goosebumps.” When you learn the story behind the record, you can understand why…
Who is Richie Taylor? It was a question many were asking when British Lion first revealed themselves to the world. As it so happens, it’s one Richie’s also been asking his entire life. It’s the reason new songs like Native Son cut marrow-deep, seeming more like pages torn from an autobiography than flights of the imagination. They hit Steve hard.
“I do personal stuff, but I tend to disguise it in other stories,” he explains. “He’s a bit more open than I am, maybe he’s a bit braver, I don’t know. It’s powerful. He’s getting stuff out of his system, the same way I did when I was having problems back in The X Factor time [Maiden’s 1995 studio album]. You have to wear your heart on your sleeve sometimes. It’s a good way to exorcise what’s gone on with him.”
One new song in particular, Legend, sheds light on what that is.
“I was abandoned as a kid,” explains Richie, his voice hushed. “I don’t want to give the hard luck story, but it’s true. I had lots of psychological problems growing up because I didn’t know who the hell I was. That’s really what I’m writing about.”
Richie proceeds to recount his life: of being adopted as an infant and the laws – since repealed – that prevented his biological mother from tracing him. “It’s in your genes, it’s in your psyche,” he says of the gnawing absence he’s endured.
“I was really strong in so many areas in my life, and confident, but whenever I got in a relationship I’d always feel insecure, this huge sense of loss,” he explains. “It was really, really painful.”
Legend details his healing process, its soaring chorus capturing him singing of a ‘future written in the stars, long ago’. Its power was certainly not lost on Steve. “He had to find out who his parents were,” he observes. “That’s tough. There’s a lot of feeling for him there.”
So it was, seven years ago, that Richie travelled to his birthplace, Enfield, to meet a social worker. There he was presented with records containing his real name: William Anthony Bullen.
“She told me…” he pauses, his voice breaking. “She told me my entire history. I knew nothing about my mother or my father. My mother was Irish and came over here in the 1960s. She was still very young and somehow got pregnant. The council decided it would be better for my upbringing to be in the UK, rather than go back with my mother because she wouldn’t be able to look after me, and she had no fixed address.”
Richie has since located his mother in Dublin, although, sadly, she’s in the grip of dementia. While he says there’s little possibility of locating his father, he’s hopeful he may be able to trace his ancestry geographically. He has at least made contact with an uncle in Cork and aunt in America. A measure of peace has been found.
“The moment I found out who my mother was, and when I started reading The Primal Wound [by Nancy Verrier], all of a sudden my entire past made sense,” he says. “I could make sense of all the areas in my life where the pain occurred.”
Nor is Richie the only person who’s been using British Lion as a means of self-discovery. So, too, has Steve Harris.
Back on the tour bus, and not for the first time, Steve Harris is chuckling on the sofa. He is recalling the seesaw of emotion British Lion experienced as they once bounced from an ecstatic, sold-out gig in Essen, Germany to one in Hamburg that was less populated.
READ THIS: Album review: British Lion The Burning
“The promoter thought my name was going to sell it,” he smiles. “I think there were 95 people in there…”
There’s a gleeful glint in his eye as he says this, not only because this was, thankfully, an anomaly, but also because he’s proud of how they handled it.
“We reacted in the most positive manner,” he says. “We went out there bombastically to give ’em it, like, ‘Go and fuckin’ tell everyone they should have been here!’ That was the attitude.”
It’s not unusual for musicians – even those at the start of their career – to grow weary of touring. Some people may conceivably wonder why, after all that he’s achieved, he would want to re-immerse himself in the world of club tours. Those people clearly don’t know Steve Harris.
“I still have the hunger,” he declares. “I still love it, and I still look forward to gigs and touring.”
Indeed, British Lion is his own way of testing and reaffirming the values that define him.
“It reminds me of the old days with Maiden, of fighting for everything,” he reflects. “I love that challenge. It keeps you grounded. It’s all very well swanning about on a small private plane, or a big private plane in some cases (laughs), and that’s wonderful – I’ll take that all day long! But it’s nice to do a challenge: can I go out and still have that feeling?”
That feeling extends beyond the vicarious thrill he gets seeing his British Lion bandmates experiencing touring milestones for the first time. At the heart of Steve’s indefatigable drive is a deep sense of gratitude and reverence for life itself.
“The older you get, the more you see things as being even more sacred,” he explains. “Every gig you do is sacred, because you don’t know when the next one’s gonna be. You’ve just got to live life to the full, day by day. I’ve always had that attitude anyway, but it becomes even more precious the older you get.”
British Lion is Steve wringing everything he can out of life, and it’s worth everything it entails: the extra touring, the hard work and, yes, any trolls they encounter.
“Anything you put out can be shot down,” he reasons. “You could do three great albums, do a fourth album and people will still slag it off – that’s life. You’ve just got to believe in what you do. And we do.”
Nothing dampens his superpower. Steve Harris is a true believer. He might just make one out of you, too.
British Lion are playing Download festival on June 12 – 14 at Donington Park. Get your tickets now.
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