Iron Maiden's Steve Harris on British Lion, Songwriting, Playing Smaller Venues Than His Son | Page 2 | Revolver

Iron Maiden's Steve Harris on British Lion, Songwriting, Playing Smaller Venues Than His Son

NWOBHM icon talks connection to fans, Seventies influences, staying grounded
British lion 2020 PRESS

Steve Harris is brilliant at many things, but relaxing isn't one of them. Exactly two months after wrapping up the 2019 leg of Iron Maiden's epic Legacy of the Beast Tour with a pair of massive October gigs in Santiago, Chile, the band's fearless leader was back on the road again — this time for a short tour of U.K. clubs with British Lion, his long-running side project. 

"I didn't really get the rest I was supposed to be getting," he tells Revolver with a chuckle. "There was loads of other stuff going on after we finished the Maiden tour — business stuff, personal stuff, whatever — so I wasn't able to relax. But it is what it is, and I'm really enjoying being back out with British Lion."

Sometimes mischaracterized as a Steve Harris "solo project," British Lion actually originated from the songs of Grahame Leslie, who sent Harris a cassette tape of some of his compositions back in the early 1990s. Impressed, Harris began mentoring Leslie and British Lion vocalist Richard Taylor, then gradually ended up managing, producing, playing bass and writing songs with them. Though British Lion's self-titled 2012 debut was recorded piecemeal with a number of different musicians, the band has since solidified around Harris, Taylor, Leslie, guitarist David Hawkins and drummer Simon Dawson — a lineup whose power can be fully heard and appreciated on The Burning, which just dropped on January 17th.

"It's a proper band, now!" Harris exults. "It's morphed into a proper touring and recording outfit. We went straight in off the road from the last British Lion tour to begin recording the album. Some of the tracks we'd already been playing live, so we already knew them really well. And Tony Newton, our out-front engineer, is also our recording engineer, he knows his stuff, and he knows us really well, so it made life a lot easier to just go in and bash it out, really."

Which is not to imply that The Burning is a ramshackle, one-take affair. The album's 11 songs, all polished to a gleaming hard-rock sheen, possess the sort of tuneful immediacy and charismatic swagger that should resonate deeply with fans of 1970s rockers like UFO and Thin Lizzy. American fans are getting to experience the album's fiery anthems like "Lightning," "Bible Black" and "Father Lucifer" live for the first time on the band's current month-long club tour of the United States.

Harris took a few minutes out of his perpetually packed schedule to speak with Revolver about the album and upcoming tour.

WHAT DOES BRITISH LION ALLOW YOU TO DO THAT IRON MAIDEN DOESN'T?
STEVE HARRIS
 Well, play clubs, for a start! I was just laughing about it the other day, because my son [George, guitarist of the Raven Age] was playing in Manchester Arena while I was playing in a club — hahaha! It's a bit of a role-reversal there. Quite funny. It's good.

DOES PLAYING CLUBS WITH BRITISH LION KEEP YOU GROUNDED?
Yeah, it does. It totally keeps me grounded. After swanning about on private planes and playing arenas, now I'm playing small places with not very good facilities. So yeah, it's back down to earth with a bump! [Laughs] But I like it. And the thing is, I brought it on meself, because I asked them to book me in these places, so ...

DO YOU APPROACH THE LIVE SHOWS IN A DIFFERENT WAY THAN YOU APPROACH SHOWS WITH MAIDEN? OR IS IT PRETTY MUCH SAME GEAR, SAME CLOTHES, ETC.?
It's pretty much the same gear, although if I'm out with British Lion and playing on a smaller budget, I can't really afford to take all of my rig with me. But I still get very close to my Iron Maiden sound with my Tech 21 gear, so I'm happy about that.

ARE THERE ANY DIFFERENCES IN YOUR PRE-SHOW RITUALS OR WARM-UPS?
Well, I don't really have any, anyway, so it's not really an issue. [Laughs] With Maiden, we don't really do soundchecks. We'll soundcheck at the first couple of shows, and then our crew does all the line checks for us after that. With British Lion, we do soundchecks, because every venue is totally different. There's totally different setups — different stage widths, different side stages, different pits — every night, so you have to do the soundchecks. But Maiden, with a stage that size, it's basically the same every night. It might be indoors or it might be outdoors, but always the width and the depth of the stage are the same, so you don't have those variables. But at a small venue, you've just gotta get the sound as good as you can. Well, you've gotta get the sound as good as you can with Maiden, as well, but we don't have to do it — the crew can do it! [Laughs]

AT MAIDEN SHOWS, THERE'S USUALLY A PRETTY LARGE PHYSICAL BARRIER BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR FANS. IS BEING ABLE TO CONNECT WITH THE AUDIENCE ON A MORE INTIMATE LEVEL PART OF THE APPEAL OF PLAYING CLUBS WITH BRITISH LION?
Well, that's why we started using catwalks with Maiden, so we could get out closer to the crowds. And then the venues started moving the barriers further back, which defeats the object, really. But yeah, I just like playing to smaller audiences where I can be up close and personal and in their face. I enjoy it! I feed off the people who are down in front at Maiden shows, too, especially the indoor ones. Sometimes, at some of the festivals, where we don't have as much sway over where we put our stuff, it makes it a little more difficult. And if we're further away, I hate that. I don't like being further away from the crowd. But we're professional, and we deal with it! [Laughs] We don't let it affect us. But mentally, or whatever, it does take the sting out of the performance a little bit, if I'm honest. For me, at least — I don't know about the rest of them.

THIS IS THE FIRST TIME YOU'VE ACTUALLY PLAYED AMERICA WITH BRITISH LION, CORRECT?
Yeah, first time ever. Last year, we played the first time ever in Canada, South America and Japan, so it was all a new experience for everybody — well, not for me. Actually, it was for me, too, because I'd not played those clubs in those countries before. So yeah, good stuff!

DID YOU EVER PLAY ANY AMERICAN CLUBS WITH MAIDEN?
We didn't really play clubs. We did play Harpo's in Detroit, but other than that, we never really played clubs — well, maybe you call them clubs, but they're a lot bigger than the clubs we played in the other parts of the world. We hardly did any of those in the States. We sort of bypassed them, same in Europe. Because in Europe, we supported KISS. In America, we supported Judas Priest, and then we were headlining arenas the next time through. We bypassed a lot of those smaller venues, so it's nice to finally play 'em! 

WAS THERE A DIFFERENT MISSION OR APPROACH TO RECORDING THE BURNING THAN YOU HAD WITH THE LAST ALBUM?
Yeah, it was very much different. Obviously, the first one was dictated by the fact that it was recorded all over the place in bits and bobs. I mean, it doesn't sound like that, I don't think, but this one was just very, very different. It sounds more like we are live, really. We really tried to capture the essence of what we're like live. 

THERE'S A DEFINITE 1970S HARD-ROCK SOUND AND VIBE TO THE RECORD. WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING BACK TO THAT WELL?
Yeah, UFO, the Who, all that sort of stuff. Yeah, there's definitely that vibe going on. I think it's just because that's what I've always been influenced by. I mean, the Seventies stuff is what always inspired me and still does, even with Maiden, as well, although we're more prog these days — but still, that era. I just feel lucky that I was able to grow up with the influence of what I think is the most creative era in music ... or certainly in rock music, anyway!

HOW DOES THE BAND'S SONGWRITING DYNAMIC WORK?
Well, it's driven by basically by Richard Taylor and David Hawkins. They come up with the bulk of the ideas, and it goes from there, really. I mean, it has to be that way, because I suppose if I was to come in with stuff meself, I'd probably be wondering which band I'm going to do it with! [Laughs] So it's driven by them. They're very talented writers. I'm very lucky — I've got two bands with really nice people and really talented writers. I'm a prolific writer meself, but yeah, it's great to be surrounded by like-minded people.

SO AT THIS POINT, YOU'RE NOT BRINGING YOUR OWN SONGS TO BRITISH LION?
No. If I've got an idea, I would probably take it to Maiden, first. Well, it depends. I suppose if I had an idea that didn't suit Maiden, then maybe. I've got so many ideas, but I think it's better that it's coming from them guys, because it takes you somewhere else. It still has the influences that I'm into, but a couple of the guys are about 10 years younger than me, so they bring in slightly different influences, as well.  

WHAT ABOUT YOUR BASS PLAYING? IN INTERVIEWS FOR THE LAST BRITISH LION RECORD, YOU MENTIONED TRYING SOME THINGS THAT YOU WOULDN'T NORMALLY DO IN MAIDEN.
Yeah, I tried a few different sounds, a few different things, some bits and bobs and what have you. I tried experimenting a bit in the studio, but then of course when we started playing live, I just went back to me old sound, the way of playing that feels comfortable. So this record has got that on it. [Laughs] It just feels better like that, so that's what's going on.

CAN YOU EVER SEE A DAY WHERE BRITISH LION WOULD OPEN SHOWS FOR MAIDEN?
Oh, no. [Laughs] For example, this coming summer, we could have done some festivals on the same day, but I just don't think it feels right to do that. Professionally, it feels wrong to me if I'm onstage with another band while people are expecting to see Maiden later that day. Maybe it takes the sting out of seeing me later, I don't know. It just doesn't feel right to me. We are doing some of the same festivals this summer, but different days — the day before, or the day after — and that feels OK to me.

I MUST SAY, I'M IMPRESSED WITH YOUR WILLINGNESS TO DO A FULL-ON CLUB TOUR AFTER ALL THESE YEARS OF PLAYING MASSIVE STAGES WITH MAIDEN. A LOT OF MUSICIANS AT YOUR LEVEL WOULDN'T EVEN CONSIDER SUCH A THING.
Well, I love it! The thing is, though, when you're going to a new country or a new city where you've never been before, with a band like this that is new to people — even though the band's been around for a little while, we've not played here before — you don't know what to expect, really. You don't know how many people you're going to get in. Luckily enough, so far, so good! The only place where we played to quite a little audience was in Hamburg, but the promoter didn't promote it right — he thought my name would just sell it out on its own, and it doesn't work like that. You can't expect to go in and do big numbers just because it's me. Even with Maiden, we don't get complacent about promotion. We had, like, 95 people there, or something, but we still went out and did our stuff, and we gave it 110 percent like we always do, and basically said, "Go and tell your mates — they should have been here!" [Laughs] But I just hope that people do come and check it out, because I think they'll be pleasantly surprised.