WEB-EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: IRON MAIDEN’S NICKO MCBRAIN ON THE ‘FLIGHT 666’ DVD AND PLANS FOR A N
The idea that metal legends Iron Maiden, a band who has built a loyal fanbase with little help from radio and TV over the past three decades, would tour the world in its own airplane came easily.
What has since become the setting of a new documentary about the band and its tour, Iron Maiden: Flight 666, the Film (Banger/UMe), came as a spark of inspiration sometime during the group’s Death on the Road tour, circa 2005. The band was discussing all the cities in the world to where they’d like to travel. Frontman Bruce Dickinson said (here, in the words of drummer Nicko McBrain), “Well, we need our own bloody jet airliner, don’t we?” After the group agreed, they worked out the logistics—including Dickinson, an accomplished pilot in his private life, electing himself to fly the plane—and it wasn’t soon after that that they were boarding a 757 dubbed “Ed Force One” to cruise the world. “We were like, ‘We don’t have to pay for a captain!’” McBrain says. “Like, did we not realize that we still had to pay him to fly the freakin’ thing. [Laughs]”
At the insistence of their manager, Rod Smallwood, Iron Maiden hired Canadian filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, who previously worked together on the documentaries Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal, to film the tour 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The documentarians took full advantage of having unprecedented access to the band members, who are notorious for rarely opening up their private lives, for some candid sequences, as well as the opportunity to connect with the group’s fans. The band didn’t always take kindly to the observation, but it paid off. “There was a time when I wanted to kick the guys off the plane at 35,000 feet,” McBrain says. “I said, ‘See that exit over there? I’m gonna open that door and I will throw your camera out, and you’re gonna be following it.’ It was wonderful in the end, though.” The film, which is out Tuesday on DVD, will air on VH1 Classic and Palladia on Saturday, June 6, at 9 p.m. EST., and also on regular VH1, Saturday at midnight (technically Sunday, June 7). Looking at the process of making the film now, McBrain says he’s happy with the results.
REVOLVER Iron Maiden have done so many concert films, documentaries, and music-video DVDs over the years. Other than the jet, what makes Flight 666 special for you?
NICKO McBRAIN It’s a bit of the agony and the ecstasy on this one. It was the first time that we had had 24-7 cameras with us. Not just filming the backstage stuff and the concert; it was filming us going to work and coming from work, while we’re at work, and then when we’re not working. We were always a very private band. We never were and we still aren’t a band that would chase the limelight, chase the paparazzi. We steer clear of places where we knew people would be at to take photographs for OK magazine. When you look at the film…they had 500 hours worth of film to edit from. And there’s a lot of it [laughs] that are those sort of things that you didn’t want people to see that’s on the cutting-room floor. They did a fantastic job.
Why did you want to pull the curtain back now?
Good point. We’ve had many opportunities. There was a documentary on the making of the last record. It didn’t go away from the studio, per se. It didn’t go into our private lives, but you still got an idea of what we’re all about as individuals as well as collectively as Iron Maiden. To answer your question, it was something we were talked into doing, and I’m so glad that we did it, because the proof in the film is 100 percent right there.
When you watch the film, was there anything that made it to the final cut that makes you cringe?
There was one golf shot where I missed a putt, and I wished they hadn’t put it in it. [Laughs] It was the money putt. But there wasn’t anything in there that was, “Oh, my Lord.” We all had the option that if there was something we weren’t happy with, we could point that out and they could make some changes if they wanted to.
In the beginning of the film, someone hands you a bottle of wine, as you’re boarding the plane for the first time. Later, Bruce teases you about it. What was so special about that bottle?
When I got on the plane, this geezer comes up and he hands me this bottle of Château Palmer. And I thought, Oh, I thought it was a gift. As you noticed, I was exuberant. I get up the top of the stairs. And what you didn’t see after that, when I got on the plane, was [production manager] Dicky Bell came up and said, “Oh, I see you’ve got your wine there. That’s one of the bottles. We just wanted to check that it’s the right one that you ordered.” I had ordered like three dozen bottles of this Palmer and some lovely red wines for the duration of the tour to drink on the plane. So not only was my bubble burst, because I thought someone was actually handing me a going-away gift, but it was actually one of the bottles that I’d paid for! And when Bruce got on the plane before we took off, he knew I was a bit disgruntled about this, and he was going, “Oh, and we can drink all of Nicko’s wine that he got.” [Laughs]
At least you were able to enjoy the wine, even if it wasn’t special.
Yes, we certainly did. There’s quite a few of the journeys where more than one or two bottles were consumed.
Later in the film, there’s a shot of a man in Colombia crying because he caught one of your drumsticks. How did that make you feel to see?
I had mixed emotions when I first saw it. I thought, Now, hang on a minute, was he crying because he wanted one of Dave [Murray’s] or Adrian [Smith’s] or Janick [Gers’] guitar picks? Was he crying because the gig was over? Which is probably what it was. Was he crying just because he did get my drumstick? It was probably the last two. We have since met that lad.
The wonderful endearment of that scene is it’s not just that you focus on the guy who’s holding that stick…the girl behind him starts crying, and the bloke behind the girl starts crying. And they’re not looking at one another. And I’m thinking, There’s a contagious vibe going. And that’s that kind of passion that these Latin American audiences—they’re just so passionate. And the Crying Man—we called him the Crying Man—as I said, I did get to meet him in the last two months, when we did the Ed Force One trip again. We got to meet him and take care of him, and I got to say hi to him, and I gave him another drumstick, so he had a pair then. He had a left-hand stick, and now he has a right one. [Laughs] He was grateful. Lovely bloke, too.
Is Bruce’s piloting as smooth-sailing as it looks on DVD?
Oh, my Lord, yeah. Bruce’s flying prowess is unquestionable without a doubt. It got to the state where people got rather complacent after the first few weeks, and unless it was something that was a little bit too heavy, they’d go, “Oh, that’s out of ooorder.” [Laughs] But he’s great pilot.
It looks like you had so much gear in the back. Did any get lost?
When we first started talking about putting this together, one of my key mumblings and grumblings about things was that I had to take my drums out of the flight case and put them into individual boxes. My point was, something’s gonna go missing, and what the heck’s gonna happen if we’re in Australia or Argentina somewhere and one of my drums is stolen. How am I gonna get a replacement? What happened was we had a guy named Jeremy from Rocket Cargo, and it was done stringently.
But having said that, they did lose one of my drums, but from my little practice kit. We had just started in South America, and one of my drum techs said, “I’ve got a bit of bad news.” I said, “Oh yeah, what’s that?” He said, “We’ve lost a bit of your drum set.” And I went crazy. And he said, “No, no, no. It’s from your main kit, it’s from your little practice kit.” And I went, “It doesn’t matter.” It did matter—of course it matters, but it wasn’t my touring kit. But there was a little bit of worrying about how to keep an eye on so much when we’re playing so many shows around the world. We were very, very fortunate. They kept a great eye on everything.
Looking at pictures of your kit, you must have had several individual packages.
Yeah, I’ve got 11 drums and 15 cymbals, plus all the spare bits and bobs. And all the hardware had to go in individual cases, hard cases.
One thing that stood out in the video was, do you play barefoot?
Yes, I do. It’s something I used to do when I was a kid. As I started playing stronger, heavier, hard-hitting music as I got into my teenage and into my adult life, I started using a Ludwig Speed King pedal. You can’t play one of them in bare feet, because it’s not very smooth; there are holes in it. So I went to using boxing boots, and so over the years of my drumming, I went from barefoot to boxing boots to back to bare feet when I switched to a DW pedal. And I’ve been playing barefoot for, I don’t know, eight or nine years. The only reason I like to play in bare feet is because I have more freedom.
Final question: Is Iron Maiden working on a new album?
We start working on a new record in November. We’ve got November and the first couple of weeks of December booked into writing. We’re gonna do a new album in January 2010, and we should tour with that in late summer, fall time. That’s the plan. Hopefully, God willing, everybody’s health is good and we can get on with it and get out there again.
Interview by Kory Grow