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Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith: Why I Love Fishing

Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith shares tales from the riverbank ahead of his new fishing and music memoir

Infinite Breams. For The Greater Good Of Cod. Trout Of The Silent Planet. Yes, these fish/Iron Maiden puns are crap (carp?), but we don’t care – there’s never been a better time for them. On September 4, Maiden guitar genius Adrian Smith releases his first book, Monsters Of River & Rock: My Life As Iron Maiden’s Compulsive Angler, a memoir that tells his story through the worlds of music and fishing.

With Maiden’s summer diary suddenly frustratingly clear thanks to COVID-19, Adrian’s had unexpected extra time to indulge his hobby over the past few months, heading to the riverbank “maybe three nights a week” for a few hours. But, clearly, since the man’s written a book largely full of tales of fishing, this is more than a hobby for Adrian, just as music is. In fact, it’s allowed him to see the world, make new friends, and, occasionally, get wet. We’re hooked. So, Adrian, please tell us more…

We’re talking fishing…
“Yeah. That’s probably a first for Kerrang!, innit?”

Yes. Where did the idea to do a memoir bridging the worlds of music and fishing come from?
“Well I think I was just sitting around with friends, talking about this and that, and someone said, ‘You should write a book’. But it started off as a fishing book, and then I realised… My passions are fishing and obviously music, so it started as a fishing book, and I introduced more and more music as it went along. It’s probably about 70 per cent fishing and 30 per cent musical anecdotes, touring and stuff, because they are entwined, you know? I just can’t get away from it.”

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Does fishing act as a bit of an escape from the busy, intense world of music?
“Absolutely. I mean, the perfect example would be when we did the Powerslave tour [Maiden’s famously intense World Slavery Tour from 1984-5]. That was 12 months of back-to-back American tours, European tours, Japan, Southern Hemisphere – we did everywhere. And we were burnt out, there was no doubt about it. I just took off fishing for about six weeks; I went up to Canada with my girlfriend, now my wife, and just chilled out. I went up to the mountains and fished for trout, and it restored my energy again. That’s a good example of it – you can just chill out and get away from the madness, which I love most of the time, but you know, it’s healthy, mentally, just to get away. And you can sort your perspective on life out on the riverbank. You can just meditate. Billy Connelly described it as ‘meditation with a punchline’, which I really like. You’re sat there, completely absorbed, and if you get a fish it’s a bonus, almost.”

What first drew you to fishing as a lad?
“My dad was a keen fisherman. He worked hard every day, Sunday was his day off, and he’d go fishing. It was like a religion. He’d wake me up at five in the morning and say, ‘Come on, son,’ and we’d go fishing. Me him and my brother would go down the local canal, The Gasworks Stretch in East London, which is as grim as it sounds. I’d sit there and catch nothing, and my dad would sit there and catch these beautiful roach. I couldn’t believe these fish existed in these harsh surroundings. I was fascinated, I was hooked from day one.”

How did it snowball into a big thing for you?
“In my mid-teens I started going on my own, and then I discovered music when I heard Deep Purple. My older sister had one of their albums, and I’d never heard anything like it, and I was hooked on that. I gave up other things like football and fishing to pursue the dream of being a musician. I didn’t get back into it, ironically, until I joined Iron Maiden. Clive Burr, the drummer, who’s no longer with us, sadly, he was a keen angler. He hadn’t been for a while and we started talking about it and started going again. Also, after the first rehearsal we had, Steve Harris said, ‘Come on, let’s go for a jog’. I was like, ‘Really?’ But we did that, and then started playing football. So it was ironic that those things I’d given up I started doing again when I joined the band.”

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Do you have ambitions for fishing that are like climbing in the Alps is for a mountaineer?
“Well, fishing can take you on adventures and be a reason to travel. I’ve always wanted to go to the Amazon. You go on a houseboat and cruise right into the jungle and fish there for all these crazy fish. There’s places I still want to go, but I have been lucky to get to fish all through the world, from New Zealand, across America, Europe. I have been very lucky to be able to do that, but there’s still a few, unexplored – literally – territories.”

What’s a good fishing trek for you?
“I’ll pop down the canal for a couple of hours after dinner, or I’ll pack up my car with my bivouac and my cooking gear and a couple of beers and head off for three days and just chill out on my own on the bank. I’ll take a book and just chill – it’s a great way to relax. I like the whole spectrum of fishing. I fish for a lot of different types of fish, I’m not just into one thing.

“It’s really relaxing. There’s something about water as well. My missus loves the ocean, but I love rivers and lakes. I can just sit and stare out at a lake and get lost in it for hours and not know where the time’s gone. People say, ‘Do you get bored?’ and I say ‘No’. Sometimes I’ll take a book, but I don’t touch it. I like to look at the water cos there’s always something going on, especially if you wake up at dawn – it’s a different world, not one you normally see. I’ve been to bed at dawn a lot of times! But it’s different seeing it the other way around.”

What are your tips for someone starting out?
“Well it’s always good to have someone show you the ropes. My dad taught me to fish, he taught me respect for the countryside, how to treat the fish with a degree of respect – we always put them back. Also, use the proper gear. If you’re fishing for big fish, use sensible gear so you don’t break the line. And you need patience, of course. A whole lot of patience. And that’s good to learn, because you can take that away with you.”

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Have you been using lockdown time over summer to fish?
“Yeah, I usually go out three nights a week fishing in the Thames. It’s very hard to find anywhere now that’s quiet because everybody is off work and a lot of people have taken up fishing again, so everywhere’s a bit crowded. And that’s not what I want, I need a bit of solitude. But I’ve found a nice quiet bit of the Thames where it’s brilliant. You do get the odd swimmer coming through, but it’s not too bad. Even at 7am, you get people!”

Where’s your favourite place for fishing?
“Canada was amazing. We encountered bears, we nearly ran into a giant moose one time. It was just fantastic, unspoilt wilderness up there, somewhere you could really get lost. The fishing was just a bonus. But that’s an example of how fishing can take you places and lead to other things. You make new friends, discover new places, so that was a real adventure. Tasmania, Australia, New Zealand, all fantastic. And that’s totally different fishing there. In New Zealand, the water is totally pristine and you can see to the bottom in 10-feet of water.”

Does it help with creativity? Do you every find yourself whistling on the river bank?
“A couple of times. But normally I’m just so focussed on the fishing. But afterwards when your mind’s clear you do come up with stuff, because you’ve given yourself space to be creative. But not so much on the riverbank, although if I do I’ve got my phone and I’ll sing into it. Sometimes, though, before a tour when I should be practicing but I want to go fishing, I’ll take a guitar and a little practice amp with me, and sit in my tent and practice while I wait for a bite. It’s joyous. What more do you need? I could quite happily live like that.”

What’s your ultimate catch story?
“It would have to be a fish called a chub. They call them ‘blockheads’ in Germany. The British record for many years was around 8lbs, and I caught one two ounces under that, 7lb14, which is a very rare, special fish. I was flabbergasted. It was a freak of nature, it was. That’s the size of a big baby. When I was a kid I dreamed of catching a chub, and in the book there’s a story that the first decent chub I hooked, I lost. I was gutted, but I made up for it.”

Monsters Of River & Rock: My Life As Iron Maiden’s Compulsive Angler is out September 4 via Virgin Books

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Posted on September 3rd 2020, 7:00am
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