Iron Maiden’s legendary bassist is back on the road with British Lion… and he’s very excited about the future.
Words: George Garner (@george_garner8)
It’s been over three years since Steve Harris revealed British Lion, his first-ever musical endeavour outside of Iron Maiden. It took over 20 years to pull off after the original incarnation of British Lion dissolved, but they’ve since released their killer self-titled debut and toured numerous times. While Iron Maiden’s huge Book Of Souls world tour has occupied much of his time of late, this month and next, Steve and his British Lion bandmates – singer Richard Taylor, guitarists David Hawkins and Grahame Leslie, plus drummer Simon Dawson – are back on the road, playing their first shows in over 14 months. Kerrang! recently caught up with Steve and Richard in Portugal as they kick-started their European tour to find out about how they’ve grown as a band. But there’s more to discuss than that. There’s still a lot about British Lion’s past, present and future that people don’t know about. It’s time to let Steve and Richard spill the beans…
SO, STEVE, THIS YEAR YOU’VE BEEN TOURING WITH BOTH IRON MAIDEN AND BRITISH LION: HOW THE HELL DO YOU FIND TIME TO DO IT ALL?
STEVE HARRIS: “It’s crazy, I know it’s crazy. You just have to grab your chance to do things if you get offered stuff. I’ve got to learn to say no maybe – not just with this, but with lots of things. But, I don’t know, basically it’s been 14 months now since I’ve played with British Lion – time flies when you’re enjoying yourself.”
YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING UNRELEASED BRITISH LION SONGS LIVE FOR A WHILE NOW – ARE YOU ROAD-TESTING THEM FOR THE SECOND ALBUM?
STEVE: “To be honest with you, we just didn’t have enough material. We had to do that stuff. In an ideal world we probably wouldn’t have done. It’s weird, though, really, because years ago I had an idea that you couldn’t really do now because of the internet and that. Back in the day, I thought maybe you could have released a Maiden album with all-new live material. That would have been possible, maybe. But now you couldn’t because obviously no matter where you go in a band you can’t get away with anything because people film it on their cameras on their phones. It is what it is, it’s a different thing now. I know some people have probably checked out YouTube footage of the new songs, I still don’t think it’s going to be as good a version as what we put on the proper album. Hopefully, people will still want it. Of course, there’ll be other songs as well. It’s nice, like you said, road-testing them – I think it makes them better. The way we’re playing the songs now is a lot better than the first album was.”
THAT USED TO BE AN INTEGRAL PART OF SONGWRITING, FIGURING OUT SONGS BY PERFORMING THEM BEFORE RECORDING…
STEVE: “That was the same with the first two Maiden albums, really, because most of those songs, probably 90 per cent of those songs, were already road-tested for four or five years before. They’re obviously up to scratch by then.”
BRITISH LION’S DEBUT TOOK OVER 20 YEARS TO COME ABOUT. HAS ANYTHING SURPRISED YOU ABOUT THE BAND NOW IT’S BEEN UP AND RUNNING FOR A FEW YEARS?
STEVE: “The band’s been evolving anyway and the songs have been evolving with it, or vice versa. We’re finding our feet as a band, finding more of a sense of what we are. Without analysing it too much, I think the [new] songs are really probably going, if anything, maybe in a heavier direction perhaps. I mean, Spitfire to me sounds like really heavy Thin Lizzy. But others might think something different about it. But they’re really good songs, really powerful songs, and they certainly stand up against any of the other songs really. And some of the ones we have got up our sleeves are just as good.”
SO ARE YOU FEELING INSPIRED TO WRITE SONGS AT THE MOMENT?
STEVE: “Yeah, I feel inspired with everything in life, really. Obviously, whether you like to think about it or not, I think it did shake us all up with what happened with Bruce. There’s no two ways about that. And, not like I wasn’t enjoying life and buzzing about things anyway before that, because I was, but it’s even more so since then. It just makes every bit of time precious. This is why I’m out gigging because that’s what I love to do. The first couple of weeks I was a bit like a zombie after the Maiden tour, I think everyone was, and it takes a couple of weeks just to get back to normal anyway with jetlag and stuff. It’s just the way it is. After that you feel good again. I was feeling a bit rough around the edges towards the end of the [Maiden] tour, but I knew that within a certain amount of time I’d be itching to get out there again.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHERE YOU WANT TO GO LYRICALLY ON THE NEXT ALBUM?
STEVE: “Richie’s been doing a lot of the lyrics lately and so I don’t know where he’s going with it, but it’s all good stuff. I’ve heard a bit here and there, but it’s more his thing, and he’s so good at it. There’s no pressure at all, one way or another. When we get together and hear the bits and pieces that either of us comes up with, it sparks one or the other off. It’s great.”
SO RICHARD, WILL IT ALL BE NEW SONGS AS A BAND – OR DO YOU STILL HAVE OLD SONGS FROM THE PAST 20 YEARS TO REVIVE?
RICHARD TAYLOR: “I don’t think we’ll go back too far, but there will be stuff from, say, 10 years ago. Since the first album we’ve been writing a lot more intensely and there’s some great stuff there and we need to go in and record it.”
IT’S TAKEN A LONG TIME FOR BRITISH LION TO GET TO THIS POINT. WHAT’S IT LIKE TO FINALLY BE OUT TOURING WHEN IT ONCE MUST HAVE SEEMED LIKE IT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN…
RICHARD: “It’s fantastic. In a way, I appreciate it more now I’m older. The original British Lion was 25 years ago, Steve was our manager and the only other original member was Grahame. You know, we were very young and I was kind of naïve, I didn’t know anything about the music business or really what I wanted. I guess in that way, that’s why the band didn’t go where we wanted it to go. It was timing as well; our timing was wrong. That’s 25 years ago, I’ve had to survive as a musician and that wasn’t easy – there were some really tough years in that time. But I stayed friends with Steve, and it wasn’t long after the original British Lion imploded that he said, ‘Look, I want to work with you and write with you.’ I knew he was a man of his word. He toured the world with Iron Maiden, but each year we’d get together and I’d show him some of my songs, he’d come in and write and every time he’d say, ‘We will do it…’ and that gave me hope, really. It wasn’t easy with all the years in between writing songs. The back catalogue of songs we’ve got is incredible.”
DURING THOSE HARD YEARS DID YOU EVER THINK OF PACKING IT IN?
RICHARD: “Yes, many times. I mean I was married, I’ve got family and kids. I had about five or six brilliant years where I joined a function band in London and I used to do some amazing parties, got paid great money. I could support my family or whatever. But the band leader lost his wife and then the band just stopped. All of a sudden, as a musician, you’ve got nothing. No income coming in. It was tough. I remember coming back to Suffolk and my wife’s father was in the offshore business and he offered me a job to go and work on the oil rigs. And you can’t play music anymore; you either do a proper job or… I just couldn’t do it, you know? Music was all I knew, it was my passion.”
IT SOUNDS LIKE LIFE MADE YOU MAKE A CHOICE…
RICHARD: “Yeah. There were good years and bad years. I had good years where I survived, I remember for six months I had a bedsit in London when I was busking. I used to busk on the streets and make enough money. I remember busking for a week, and I found my own patch, and within a few days I had people coming up to me saying, ‘Why are you on the street? Come and play in our bar!’ and within a week I was playing in bars and then in hotels. It’s been a rollercoaster. I’m lucky as hell. We’re all lucky to do this.”
SO THE FEELING THAT IT’S FINALLY COME GOOD?
RICHARD: “It’s quite emotional, really. It’s been a tough struggle. Nobody knows the true story. Right from 25 years ago, I believed in the songs then, and some of those very early songs are on that debut album.”
IS IT HARD TO SING THOSE SONGS ONSTAGE, GIVEN HOW PERSONAL THEY ARE?
RICHARD: “To be honest, it’s kind of what’s helped me through life and given me the confidence in life. You can’t always express yourself when you’re in a conversation, meeting people in a working scenario or socialising; you can’t tell your story. When I get to sing songs, that’s something that gets me over the nerves. I try and get into the song and the words, and the words mean so much. I try not to read too much, but I’ve read comments on Facebook and whatever, and occasionally you hear a comment about a lyric or a line and you think, ‘Wow, they’ve really connected to that line, they get it.’ By the time we do the second album, there’s some great songs there. The words are real and honest. It’s the only way I can write, I can’t write fantasy, I don’t read fantasy. I only read real life things, they’re the only things that really inspire me.”
AS WELL AS WRITING NEW SONGS, YOU ALSO MENTIONED PLANS TO RELEASE A BRITISH LION LIVE ALBUM?
STEVE: “Well, we’ve been talking about a live album for a while. We recorded the last couple of tours, and obviously we’ll record stuff from this tour and get as much stuff as we can to get a good cross-section of stuff and then we’ll definitely put a live album out, because I think it’s important.”
FINALLY, WHAT ARE YOUR NEXT GOALS FOR BRITISH LION?
STEVE: “Well, we’ve had lots of offers from all over the place – I mean we really have, people have been complaining we’ve not been to other countries, which is great! It’s just finding the time. And also, the other guys do other jobs, it’s not like they can just up and go anyway. I’m not sure how much we’d be able to do even if I did have more time. I know I started doing it because I wanted to play clubs, but if we get opportunities to play festivals, for example, I can’t turn them down because for those guys it’s fantastic. It would be great to do it and get across to more people, I’ve got to look at it not just as my thing, it’s got to be everybody’s. If we get offered stuff that makes sense, and we can physically do it, then we do them.”
British Lion are on tour now – you can check out their remaining European tour dates below:
22 Poland Krakow Kwadrat
23 Poland Gdansk Klub B90
25 Germany Leipzig Hellraiser
26 Germany Essen Turock
27 Germany Hamburg Markthalle
29 The Netherlands Zoetermeer Boerderij
30 Belgium Vosselaar Biebob
2 Folkestone Quarterhouse
3 Trecco Bay Planet Rockstock
4 Dublin Button Factory
5 Limerick Dolan’s Warehouse
6 Belfast Limelight
Tickets are available here!
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