As we are led into one of the venues rehearsal rooms, Steve chats about the last few shows and how excited he is to be finishing off the recent British Lion tour in Ireland. There is no quesiton that we are in the presence of one of heavy metal’s most treasured individuals and as we sit down to chat about his highly regarded solo band, British Lion, he is more than happy to fill in the blanks on the bands forthcoming plans.
OD – There is no doubt that you are a busy man, but since the British Lion album has been out since 2012, there have been a few new songs added to the setlist over the last few years. Would you say that there is another album’s worth of material there, as I believe you have about 8 tracks for the next album near enough completed?
STEVE – Yeah, there are eight tracks that are completely finished and we have about three or four more that are sort of half completed I suppose. When I say that, I mean that all the ideas are there, it’s just that we need to rehearse them and get it all sorted out. So, yeah we have the guts of a new album there. The idea is to get stuck into it as soon as we can really, that’s all depending on the schedule with Iron Maiden of course.
OD – Do you find yourselves trying out some new material while on tour during soundchecks etc?
STEVE – We don’t really have any time, to be honest. Basically, this tour has been something like 27 / 28 dates and we have barely had any time off. I don’t really do any writing when on the road and I’ve never done that with Iron Maiden either because there is just never anytime between all the travelling and the promo stuff. It’s just not the way I go about it, although I’m aware that some bands do and if that works for them, then great. It’s really a question of finding the gaps in between all the madness (laughs).
OD – Having been involved with the band since back in 92’ and with only one album under your belts, was the writing process happening sporadically here and there, rather than long periods of concentrated writing sessions? I know that there was a portion of the early songs that made the album with the rest being written at a later stage.
STEVE – Originally I was involved with them from way back and it’s well documented. I was managing them and getting them gigs back in the early days, as well as driving them about the place from gigs to gigs (laughs). They then ended up recording some stuff at my studio and then it just all imploded, as these things do from time to time. So I just thought, “I’ve just got to do something for the songs and try and salvage them”. So basically, I just couldn’t bear to let the songs disappear and the only way I thought it could go forward was if I got involved with them.
I stayed in touch with Richie (Taylor – vocals) and the rest of the guys and it’s just been great to see that things have worked out. Ther are so many ideas that have been passed around and it’s just really exciting to be part of it. We are a new band effectively and that’s a challenge in its own right. When you look at other bands and even the legacy of Maiden, we haven’t done that many live shows so we have something to prove not only to the punters at the gigs but also to ourselves and being truthful about it, each show is getting better all the time. I just love it!
Looking back on British Lion, we had some material from the first incarnation of the band that we saved and if I remember correctly it was ‘World Without Heaven‘ which was one fo the first songs that we completed back in those days and I think there was ‘Eyes of the Young‘ also. Then a lot of the material from the debut then came later from writing with David (Hawkings – guitar) and we put together ‘This is my God‘ and ‘Us Against the World‘.
OD – Were you working from remote areas and sending ideas to each other during this time?
STEVE – We had a bit of that going on from time to time, but mostly it was whenever we could get some time together. Over the last 19 years or so I haven’t really been back in the UK that much because I don’t live there anymore. It’s like this British Lion tour, we all had a gap in the schedule and it was a case of “let’s do this now” because we really didn’t know any other time that it could have happened.
We did a tour last August for about a month and then before you know it, fourteen months has gone by and I have obviously been enjoying myself with the day job (laughs).
OD – Regarding the writing process, is it a situation where you all come to the table with ideas or is there a kind of structured approach to the formation of song ideas, ie Richie will have a particular lyrical subject or Graham will have a riff etc and you build on that? I know you have said before that it’s all been a very natural / organic process.
STEVE – Well Richard is really the catalyst I suppose between Graham (Leslie – guitars) myself and Richard and we sort of all bounce off each other, it’s a really good process and they are all really strong songwriters.
OD – I understand that the new material is going down really well and seems a little heavier than stuff from the debut. Was there any particular influence for you personally on writing the new material?
STEVE – I do think things are moving into a heavier sounding territory. A few people have said that recently on this tour also. Some of the ideas have been around for a while but then when we start playing them live, they start coming into their own. That’s the reason behind why we want to put out a live album. The band are so much stronger and heavier than we were since we started. It’s evolved into something different and I personally think that’s a great thing. It’s like any band really. Once you start out you are kind of finding out who you are and then by the time you get to the second album or you’ve been touring a lot, doing live shows or whatever, the sound starts to shift slightly to something that is more the true essence of what the band really is.
I think tracks like ‘Bible Black‘ is a good example of who we have progressed as a band as it’s definitely a heavier track, but it still has all the melodic stuff that we like to write in there also. I don’t want to loose that element of who we were when we started out as there is some really nice 70’s style influence going on here and there. I just want to incorporate all of our influences and make it our own moving forward.
OD – Regarding this tour, how have the shows been, as I’m sure most of the punters as I know that some of the shows are a first for British Lion?
STEVE – Well we’re just having a blast. We go out there giving it everything and batter the audience as best we can (laughs). We recently played Planet Rock there a short while back and I would have to say that 95% of the people that were there, either didn’t know who we were or were not totally familiar with our music. Our job was to get our there and try to win over a crowd with material they don’t know and it was a challenge. We had to beat them into submission (laughs).
Judging by the reaction from the crowd and the smiling faces, by the time we had come to the end of the set, it was a clear indication that we had done a good job. I mean, it’s different when we are headlining our own gigs because most of the people would know what we’re about and will have either seen us before or know our music. One of the recent shows we did on this tour, there was something like 1,500 punters there and from what I could see, only a handful in the front row actually knew the words, so yeah, it’s a challenge but a very rewarding one.
We really feel that we do a good job each night and it’s been a great experience for the band as a whole. I’m personally looking forward the next three shows here in Ireland, as it will be a first for British Lion. I’ve been here before obviously, but none of the other guys played here before.
OD – I understand that you have plans to release a live album, can you give me a little insight as to why it’s a right move for British Lion?
STEVE – Well, we are recording all of the dates on this tour and we have a bunch of material from other tours and shows in the past. I think the band is a little different to when we started out and the reason we want to do a live album is to show people that in the cold light of day, we are as good as we like to think we are ourselves (laughs).
Honestly, I think we are a better live band than we are on record if you know what I mean. Well, we’ll soon find out about that, won’t we! (laughing) It’s just the right thing to do for us and we feel that it sends a message out there of who we are and also that we really believe in what we are doing.
OD – This is obviously very different to what you do with Maiden, for you personally British Lion must be a refreshing change of scenery and something different for you, would you agree with that?
STEVE – Yeah, it’s different but also the same in a way. I just love doing what I do and when I get up on stage and really just get into the music and the live performance aspect of it, the feeling can be the same. Obviously Iron Maiden is on a way bigger scale to British Lion, but as a musician playing live, it’s just the adrenalin rush of playing in front of an audience that gives you that rush. As I’ve said, it’s been great to get out on this tour and do smaller shows and I suppose it’s a nice change of pace from the bigger stuff, but I just love it all.
OD – I understand that the recording for the debut was done in various studios over a long period of time, with the follow-up album, will you be planning to set aside a period of time and try to record in one period of time, or has that not been considered as of yet?
STEVE – Yeah, I think the next studio album will be recorded in one session, rather than the process we underwent with the debut. We have the material now and as I said earlier, we have been playing a good chunk of it live now, so we are well rehearsed and know the songs very well. So, hopefully, we’ll just go in and bash it all out in one go, but I really don’t know how it’s all gonna come about. If we run out of time, we’ll just have to do bits and pieces, whenever we have the opportunity to do so. It would be really nice to it that way and be honest, that’s the way that I’m used to doing recordings, so hopefully we can get it all done and boxed off in one session.
OD – When you consider the follow up to the debut British Lion album, would you ever consider doing anything like what Metallica have done by producing a video for every track on the album?
STEVE – Well, this is obviously a different level of budget for British Lion. I’m not sure we would do every single song but who knows, we’ll just have to see the way things pan out.
OD – You have seen just about every kind of transition happen within the metal genre, do you feel confident about the future of heavy metal right now?
STEVE – I think there is a lot of good bands out there. You’ll have to ask my son George (Harris, The Raven Age vocalist) about it all, as I’m not 100% up to speed on all of the recent genres (laughs). From what I’ve seen, there is a really healthy batch of bands that are doing some really exciting stuff. When you take a look at bands like Ghost, I think they are a great new band – although they are probably not that new now, but also Nightwish are becoming a big band and that’s just great to see. You have Within Temptation also, who have been around for a while and are finally getting to perform for larger audiences and reaching a bigger fanbase. I’m biased, but I really do think my son’s band The Raven Age have great songs and are a really exciting new band, who have as good a chance to do as good as any other band. There are lots of bands out there at the moment and it’s really good to see that there is a huge selection of different sounds, unlike when Iron Maiden started out and heavy metal was just kind of kicking off.
I have played many festivals where there are just so many different styles of bands on the festival bill and that’s just fantastic in my opinion. It’s great that it’s not all categorised into just one genre. There’s something there for everyone, well not everyone but you know what I mean.
OD – Considering the size of the venues that you are accustomed to playing, do you find that it’s strange playing in front of a smaller crowd? There must be a different kind of energy that replaces the vast audiences that Maiden, play to then performing in clubs where you can see the whites of their eyes.
STEVE – I love it. I really enjoy playing small places as well as festivals and pretty much anywhere, to be honest. I enjoy them all in different ways. I’m just very lucky to be in a position to enjoy playing such a variation of venues sizes. Things are just going so well for me at the moment and I’m really enjoying everything with British Lion as well as all the stuff with Maiden. The smaller venues can be just as intense as performing in stadiums because it’s that connection between the band and the audience, which is just a magical experience.
OD – Do you get nervous at any point either doing the very large shows or smaller club shows like on this tour?
STEVE – It depends if we have had enough time to rehearse, to be honest (laughing)! I’ve gone out with British Lion with only two days rehearsal in the past and that was a little stressful. I remember another time when I finished the last date on a Maiden tour and the next day went’ straight out and did ten shows with British Lion and that was a tad nerve wracking. In an ideal world, it would be great to have some gaps for rehearsals before tours but you just have to get out there and make the most of it.
This tour has been great, as we had four days rehearsals prior to heading out, which was great, as we needed to get the “rust” out of some of the tracks we had been playing live on the tour last year. The band has got better with each show which is just normal but it’s just the same case with Iron Maiden. Granted, we have the luxury of having longer rehearsals but in saying that, our setlist is much longer and there is a hell of a lot of production logistics to work into the show.
With the new album (Book of Souls) out this year, there is a hell of a lot of new material in the set with songs that are long also, so it can be slightly nerve-wracking if you’re not on top of things of not 100% confident with stuff, regardless of what show it is. Usually, it takes about five or six shows for things to settle down. It’s not just us the musicians, it’s the crew, production, sound etc. I don’t’ really think people notice it too much (laughing), we do of course, but then again, we are right in the middle of it.
OD – This is your first time British Lion are performing in Ireland (see review here) and with all of the demand for shows and the limited amount of time the band have to tour, it must be difficult to schedule tours, especially trying to fit in places which you have never performed before.
STEVE – Yeah, that’s right. We didn’t get the chance to get over to Ireland on the last tour for a few reasons, but just to be back here is great and I’m looking forward to the shows. One of the reasons that we saved Ireland for the last few shows of the tour was so it wouldn’t interfere with anything else and we certainly didn’t want to miss the opportunity to play here again.
We didn’t manage to fit in Glasgow on this tour and people were moaning, but we just couldn’t do it. We also missed out playing in Scandinavia on this tour, so we’re gonna have to pick up those places on the next tour. There’s also places that we would love to play like Greece and Croatia, so we just have to make a point of trying to logistically get all of these places in on future tours.
It’s great to see the demand because we know that we are doing something right for the fans. It’s nice to be wanted and if the punters are asking for us and the promoters are booking us, then we will do our damnedest to play a show, but as I said, there’s only so much we can do considering everybody’s schedules.
OD – Finally, do you have any other desires to do any other side projects or anything different within the boundaries of music?
STEVE – I don’t think I have time for anymore (laughing)! My daughter Lauren (Harris – vocalist Six Hour Sundown) has an album’s worth of material there and I really want to try and see can I get her to give it another bash and get it released as it’s really fantastic and deserved to see the light of day. She is interested in acting now and that’s taking up most of her time. I think it’s great that she’s doing what she’s interested in but I can’t help but feel that it’s a waste because the music she has written is just so good and really needs to be heard. If I can get the material released one way or another, that might get her back out there into music.
Regarding everything else, I’m just really excited about getting back out there with British Lion for some more dates in the future, releasing the live album and putting together the follow-up to the debut. Then, of course, it’s back to the day job, where we will be kicking off the European leg of Iron Maiden’s world tour next year. So I’m keeping myself busy and whatever happens after; that then I’m not sure (laughing).
British Lion’s debut album is out now and can be purchased from this link.
© OVERDRIVE.IE 2016
All live shots © Down The Barrel Photography 2016