As Iron Maiden struggled to stay on top of their game at the start of the 1990s, they suddenly faced the monumental blow of losing their classic lead singer. With this chapter of our in-depth series on Maiden History we look into Fear Of The Dark and the breaking of another line-up.
Singer Bruce Dickinson joined Iron Maiden in late 1981, replacing Paul Di’Anno. Within just three years he would be a fundamentally important part of creating the metal masterpieces The Number Of The Beast (1982), Piece Of Mind (1983) and Powerslave (1984). But after entering the 1990s with Maiden, Dickinson would feel an irresistible urge to leave after more than a decade as their lead singer. What really happened behind the scenes in the dark days of 1992 and 1993?
“UP TILL NOW I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN”
Our in-depth look at Iron Maiden’s history began with a series of chapters about the 1980s, the decade that made them. We started the journey by discussing the creation of the Maiden sound, and the coming and peak of their classic era with the arrival of Dickinson and drummer Nicko McBrain:
After becoming the world’s biggest metal band in the mid-1980s and successfully experimenting with their sound in the closing years of that decade, Iron Maiden achieved a status that made people expect a great deal from them. The making and meaning of the classic albums Somewhere In Time (1986) and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (1988) illuminates in particular the importance of guitarist Adrian Smith to Maiden’s legacy:
What is also clear in retrospect is how Dickinson expected Maiden to develop along lines that never sat well with the rest of the band, the singer hoping to emulate the radical stylistic experimentation of classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin. Dickinson was thus deeply disappointed with Somewhere In Time and only temporarily pleased with Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. He wanted something else.
As Maiden sailed into the 1990s, easily the most controversial decade of the band’s existence, Dickinson and band-leading bassist Steve Harris took charge of steering Maiden away from their late 80s sound and style. This upset Smith greatly and forced him to leave the band as they started working on their first 90s record, No Prayer For The Dying (1990):
The result of this was a steep drop in record sales and diminishing concert crowds, a trend that had already set in when they toured America in 1988. Maiden might possibly have fared no better in commercial terms by sticking to their late 80s style, but it’s impossible to escape the fact that many fans and critics perceived No Prayer For The Dying to be Maiden’s poorest album to that point.
The paradox is that Maiden set out to alter their style in 1990 because they thought, along with many music journalists, that their late 1980s had been a stylistic error. What they had proudly proclaimed to be groundbreaking albums, Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, would just a few years later be viewed as embarrassments. Dickinson stated in 1992 that Seventh Son “was a flawed album and the tour was too much … we forgot about the music.” And as he looked back on that period much later, he conceded that the very point with No Prayer “was to do something that was the opposite to Seventh Son.”
Maiden hyped this musical change as artistic integrity, and their new and low-key live shows as a conscious move away from the errors of their 1980s ways. But Harris also admitted that the shift to a less sophisticated sound was due to some fans being disappointed in the band’s late 80s style. Which means, in plain language: Declining record sales, particularly in America, influenced Maiden’s course.
But the cure did not work. The No Prayer album and tour saw a significant drop from the American sales and attendance of Seventh Son, which had already declined by almost half from the levels of Somewhere In Time. This situation is the backdrop to the making of Fear Of The Dark in 1992 and Dickinson’s split from the band in 1993.
The clock was ticking.
HOMEMADE FEAR AND DARKNESS
Iron Maiden convened in Steve Harris’ own Barnyard Studios north of London in early 1992 to rehearse and record their ninth studio album. Their first project there had been the writing of Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son in late 1987 and early 1988. A couple of years later they had decided not only to write No Prayer For The Dying there, but to record it in the rehearsal room as well, using the Rolling Stones Mobile unit.
Now, with another year of recording and touring ahead of them, the third Barnyard adventure saw Maiden making use of what had by then become Harris’ brand-new private recording studio:
This burst of Barnyard activity in early 1992 would yield Fear Of The Dark, the most eclectic and least cohesive Iron Maiden album of all. It is home to some stadium-sized singalong anthems while at the same time being regularly criticized for a lack of quality control and aesthetic coherence. It was also by all intents and purposes a test run for how Maiden albums would be written and recorded throughout the 1990s.
Many years later, in his autobiography, Dickinson would muse that Maiden had by this point “fallen under the spell of papal infallibility.” In his opinion, Maiden were now going along with whatever Harris wanted because he had a proven track record of leading the band to incredible peaks in the past. “Why is the Pope always right? Because he is the Pope, and can never be wrong,” Dickinson would write. He thought in retrospect that Maiden were becoming a band of yes-men that always deferred to Harris, and ultimately stagnated through not questioning their own complacency.
At the time, producer Martin Birch would claim that the new studio was equal to any he had ever worked in, which is more than a little hard to believe from a legendary producer and engineer who regularly worked in studios like London’s Battery, Electric Lady in New York City, and the Record Plant in either New York or Los Angeles.
Dickinson has often been outspoken in his criticism of the Barnyard, later saying that “there were big limitations on that studio” and suggesting that Birch and other unnamed people did not dare “to voice their unease”. He saw it as a set-up that inevitably put Harris even more in charge of Maiden’s productions: “Fear Of The Dark was recorded in Steve’s studio because he wanted it to be. He’d bought it and he’d paid for it and the band were gonna pay him back for using his studio.”
With Dickinson apparently the only dissenting voice, even if possibly half-hearted, recording of the new Maiden album went ahead in early 1992. After working closely with Birch for many of the previous Maiden records, Steve Harris would now officially share the production credit.
One of co-producer Harris’ jobs on the Fear Of The Dark project was getting drummer McBrain to de-tune his snare. “I think that half the trouble’s been he’s bloody deaf!”, said Harris after having convinced McBrain to ditch his thin and very loud snare for a fatter and fuller sound to go with the new emphasis on thundering toms.
Another issue would be the guitar sound.
In the wake of Smith’s departure, Harris and Birch had to combine original guitarist Dave Murray with new arrival Janick Gers. Although popular with fans for his enthusiasm and generosity, Gers’ playing style could scarcely be more different from Smith’s. How to match Davey would always be the question when it comes to the Maiden guitar sound, as Dickinson writes in his memoirs:
“An essential piece of the Iron Maiden jigsaw was now missing, and the new piece, in the guise of Janick Gers, didn’t match the space. His style was clearly different, but we were bereft of the melodic duelling with Dave Murray’s more florid style.”
One could argue that Gers was too close to Murray in both style and tone. They both played the Fender Stratocaster almost exclusively, and Maiden lost a crucial dimension when Smith left the building, taking his Les Pauls, Ibanezes and Jacksons with him. Two duelling Stratocasters were left for Maiden to orchestrate, and a sense of groove and melody left with Smith.
At any rate, with the release of the album in May 1992, Harris seemed very happy with the more muscular drum sound, and equally pleased with the writing input of the other band members. If Dickinson felt that Harris was getting too all-powerful, Harris felt that Maiden were diversifying.
This time Gers also got songwriting credits, unlike on the previous album. This fact illuminates a piece of Maiden politics that is not too well known. Information is easily available, even in Mick Wall‘s official Maiden biography, that Gers co-wrote Bring Your Daughter…To The Slaughter with Dickinson. The guitarist says that Dickinson “brought out this song that sounded AC/DC-ish, and I said, ‘Nah, it wants to be more like…’ So I put the chords in and then we re-did the chorus.”
The track was held off the singer’s first solo album, Tattooed Millionaire, having been intended only as a soundtrack one-off anyway, and was subsequently re-recorded for Maiden’s No Prayer For The Dying in 1990. With Dickinson listed as the sole songwriter.
Why not credit Gers? It seems to be a matter of policy that dates back to the very beginning of the band in the 1970s.
CREDITS IN THE DARK
The official biography includes information snippets from pre-1980 members of the band. Original Maiden guitarist Dave Sullivan claims in the book that he and the other original guitarist, Terry Rance, both contributed to writing material that ended up on the band’s first album in 1980, including the title track. Their names were never mentioned in the credits, so presumably there had been deals made.
A telling example is the Killers (1981) intro piece The Ides Of March, credited to Steve Harris. This instrumental track is also featured on the Samson album Head On (1980), with the title Thunderburst, and it is credited there to Harris and drummer Thunderstick (along with the rest of Samson, but that is likely just as inaccurate as the lone Harris credit with Maiden). Thunderstick, real name Barry Purkis, had been in Maiden for a short while in 1977 and apparently co-wrote the track with Harris without being credited for the Iron Maiden version on Killers.
Adrian Smith also co-wrote a few late tracks for Killers, but he’s nowhere to be found in the album’s songwriting credits. Neither would he be credited for co-writing the single track Twilight Zone, even if he says today that, “I think Dave had that riff for Twilight Zone. We kind of bashed it down very quickly. I actually wrote the whole harmony part. I don’t even remember Steve being there that much when we did it. I wrote all the harmonies and chord progression for that.”
Bruce Dickinson certainly co-wrote tracks for The Number Of The Beast without being credited. The official explanation for the singer’s absence from the Beast credits was always the Samson publishing dispute, the notion that he was not legally allowed to write for Maiden because of a contract involving his previous band.
But it seems unlikely that he would have been credited in any case: Killers and The Number Of The Beast were the respective first albums for Smith and Dickinson, and it seems that people never got writing credits on their first albums. Harris was honest about his policy upon the release of Gers’ first Maiden album in 1990:
“You get the same wage anyone would get when they first join. Before you can talk about royalties you have to find out if this thing is really gonna work first. It was the same when Bruce joined. Or Nicko. If it works out OK on the world tour we’ll see about royalties then.”
Royalties could mean several things. There were mechanical royalties for album sales, royalties for sales of merchandise, but certainly also publishing royalties for songwriting. Did new Maiden members sign away the right to credits on their first record? Did past members agree deals to have their names removed from credits? It would probably be a sensible policy in terms of protecting Maiden from whatever legal fallout there could be with members joining and leaving at a rapid pace. However, such a business practice would serve just as much to create an image of Iron Maiden, and particularly Steve Harris, that was certainly manipulative.
This will remain conjecture without absolute proof, but the evidence is persuasive. Maiden fans had a similar occasion for head-scratching in recent years, when the Dickinson solo track If Eternity Should Fail was instead offered to Iron Maiden and The Book Of Souls (2015). It is frankly impossible to believe that Dickinson’s writing partner Roy Z had nothing to do with that track, but his name is not on it.
Gers co-wrote a lot of the 1992 material with either Harris or Dickinson, showing a knack for working smoothly with both. Tracks like Be Quick Or Be Dead and Wasting Love would only happen because Gers provided a new source of inspiration for an increasingly restless Dickinson.
Harris said that he and Dickinson didn’t write together for Fear Of The Dark “purely because he got together with Janick, and then I got together with Janick, and by then we had enough.” Which might have been a lost opportunity to work out some issues that would soon be a catalyst for Dickinson and a major problem for Maiden.
“MAYBE ONE DAY I’LL BE AN HONEST MAN”
In the spring of 1992, after finishing his vocal duties for Fear Of The Dark, Dickinson also started work on a second solo album. Tattooed Millionaire had done well enough for the record company to cough up more cash, and Dickinson got back together with Millionaire producer Chris Tsangarides to work on new material. It was inevitable, for sure, but also the beginning of a process that would culminate in Bruce Dickinson leaving Iron Maiden the following year.
Throughout 1992 Dickinson divided his time between Iron Maiden’s Fear Of The Dark world tour and recording 13 new solo tracks in windows of opportunity. The Maiden tour warmed up in Norwich, UK and Reykjavik, Iceland in early June before getting properly underway in the United States and Canada. The band incorporated several Fear Of The Dark numbers in the set mixed with classics, including opener Be Quick Or Be Dead being followed by a surprisingly early The Number Of The Beast.
The North American leg was very brief by classic era Maiden standards, a sure sign of the changing times, and quickly segued into Maiden’s first proper tour of South America with shows in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, although their scheduled appearance in Chile was cancelled due to pressure from the Catholic Church. The European leg was also quite brief, but Maiden planned a longer tour there in the spring of 1993.
The Maiden live experience was certainly vital in 1992, highlighted by their second Donington Monsters Of Rock headlining show on 22 August, but Dickinson must have been struck by the poor attendance in the US where Maiden were playing smaller venues and fewer dates than ever. If he and Harris had hoped that Fear Of The Dark would rejuvenate their popularity Stateside, they were faced with utter failure.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Iron Maiden seemed to be as big as ever, and held sway over MTV audiences through high-profile coverage of their Donington appearance on a popular 1992 heavy metal bill that included Skid Row, Slayer and WASP:
By early November 1992 Iron Maiden was off the road. A Japanese leg had brought the first part of the Fear Of The Dark tour to an end in Tokyo. Steve Harris got ready to head up the production and mixing of live albums that were pencilled in for 1993, while Bruce Dickinson went back to his gestating second solo album.
Around that time, towards the end of 1992, Dickinson decided that his new solo effort was not working. Producer Tsangarides and the new material was ditched and soul-searching ensued for the ambitious singer. What gave Dickinson pause Tsangarides did not know for sure, but he saw how the project might not put enough distance between the solo artist and his day job:
“He found a band, basically a pre-set band called Skin, and he went into rehearsals with them on these songs he’d written. It was a bit heavier, Janick wasn’t there. And I think possibly a load of the tunes should have been for Maiden.”
Dickinson felt like he was on autopilot, not challenging either himself or his audience, just steaming ahead into waters that were too well charted already: “I got two thirds of the way through and I was utterly depressed, totally miserable.”
In retrospect this is clearly a time in Dickinson’s career when he was publicly dishonest. He talked up Maiden’s Fear Of The Dark as being a modern and groundbreaking album for a new age, while at the same time privately agonizing over not being modern and groundbreaking with either Maiden or his new solo project.
The frustration of “trying to conform to the established Maiden routine” was getting to Dickinson. He was, by his own later admission, “bored and desperately looking for other things to do.” Ironically, Maiden manager Rod Smallwood provided the push that would make the difference. Upon hearing the 1992 recordings he told the singer that making a solo album should actually mean something.
“Rod pulled me to one side and said, ‘Look, if you’re going to do a solo record, don’t just glibly do a solo record. Do a really fucking good one.’ And that’s when I realised I was just going along with the flow, making my solo album in the same way we were motoring on with Maiden. So I went, ‘Right, full stop,’ and I pulled the whole thing.”
First order of business would be to visit Los Angeles in November 1992, with the original intention of reworking and reconstructing the first attempt at a record with producer Keith Olsen. By the time they got going, Dickinson had decided that he would rather start from scratch on a second attempt. He remembers going into the Olsen sessions and feeling that, “I wanted a dark and emotionally jagged record, in line with my thoughts at the time.”
Synthesizers, computers and guest performers were put into action as Dickinson and Olsen went about recording 8 new tracks that were designed to take the singer in a completely new direction. But it would soon become apparent that the experiment veered off into territory that was in fact too radically different.
“Keith had his own studio in LA and had reworked David Coverdale’s records, turning them into American radio monster hits. The problem was that I preferred David Coverdale produced by Martin Birch. The radio success equalled soulless perfection in my eyes.”
The results of the Olsen sessions were so different from any of Dickinson’s previous music, in or out of Maiden, that Smallwood possibly kicked himself for having opened a can of worms. When the manager visited Dickinson during his LA experiment in early 1993, he found a troubled singer, but one with a clearer mind: His time in Maiden was up.
THE REAL LIVE
The point of Fear Of The Dark was to win fans. We’ve all heard the Maiden boys boasting that they don’t care about sales and just do what they love, but there is actually plenty of evidence to the contrary. Not that Maiden would necessarily be cynical trend-chasers, but they were at least highly self-conscious in the early 1990s. Dickinson made his thoughts about the new album clear when they toured it in 1992:
“It sounds really 1990s. And there are people saying ‘Oh shit, there’s no reason why we can’t play Iron Maiden now’ and that’s the key to it out there. Getting your record out on the media.”
With this he echoed Harris’ earlier statements about getting real and begging forgiveness from record buyers for their late 1980s. The inference being that it was clearly off course and should be filed away as an honest mistake. What better way to prove the point than recording the 1992 live shows for a long awaited live album?
While Dickinson was exploring new avenues with his solo material, Harris was producing and mixing the new Maiden live project in early 1993. Martin Birch had decided to retire, and the kingdom of the Barnyard would now be ruled by Steve Harris alone. It was completely at odds with Dickinson’s need for experimentation.
As Dickinson later said about Harris: “Steve is not that flexible a personality, it’s just the way he is, you know. He knows pretty much what he wants and I think he tends to exclude a lot of options.” In the singer’s view it was increasingly unlikely that he would succeed in pulling Maiden in any kind of adventurous direction. The band would follow their chosen track in perpetuity, with Harris now installed as de facto producer of all things Maiden in his own studio.
Dickinson was feeling resigned, about to give up his role in the Harris-dominated dynamics of Iron Maiden. A few years down the road in the mid-1990s he would be very clear about his own unhappiness and his sense of being helpless in steering Maiden when Harris was completely in charge of both audio and video:
“For example, Rod the manager would ask me, “Is there any chance you could get Steve to try and do this?”, and I just said, “Fuck, why don’t you ask him yourself?” Why come to me? Steve, at that point, started getting very interested in the idea of himself being a producer, and he was already editing Iron Maiden’s concert videos. Something which I argued with him against as well. I said that I didn’t think much of his editing, basically.”
The Maiden founder for his part was very proud of his first proper producer’s job and Maiden’s first live album since the classic Live After Death many years earlier: “If someone hasn’t seen Maiden before and was to ask, ‘What are Maiden about?’, I’d hand them this.” The idea with the 1993 live releases was to be as painfully live as tapes off the sound desk can be, including “the odd bum note here and there” as Harris put it. The line from the band, one that was readily repeated by many journalists, was that this was a marked improvement over Live After Death.
Maiden were still running to distance themselves from the 1980s.
But the original plan for the 1993 live onslaught is fuzzy, with Harris later stating that the material was brought out earlier than intended because of Dickinson’s shock announcement. It’s hard to tell what this means, since the bassist was done mixing the first of these albums by the time the singer said he wanted to leave. In any case more recordings were lined up as Maiden adjusted their setlist for the 1993 leg to include nearly forgotten gems like Prowler and Where Eagles Dare for the first time in ages.
Harris faced the unenviable situation of rolling out his producer debut with Maiden’s A Real Live One in March 1993, while getting ready for another Maiden tour, even as the lead singer announced his departure from the band. Dickinson would stay on for the Real Live Tour and finally drop out in the summer of 1993.
Dickinson tried to frame this as a good way to go, but both the singer and the band failed spectacularly to make the Real Live Tour a worthy farewell. In retrospect it’s easy to see that Dickinson should have kept his departure a secret. The singer admits that going on stage with Maiden at that point felt like being in “a morgue” some of the nights. He was naive in thinking that leaving Maiden could be celebrated, and he also underestimated the grief that fans and band alike would feel at seeing him go.
Kerrang! sent a writer to see the band on the road in 1993, and he delivered a piece that opened with a series of expletives uttered by McBrain in a hotel bar at 2 in the morning. It was pathetically poor journalism, dirt for dirt’s sake, but the writer was in the right place at the wrong time:
“Good fucking riddance! I can’t wait to get to the end of this tour and find a new singer. In my heart of hearts, I don’t want to be doing this. I want us to find a new singer and do a new album. We ain’t dead yet.”
What anyone could tell, was that the rest of Maiden did not see it coming. Even Gers, who had always been close to Dickinson, had been blind-sided by the announcement that the singer would be leaving, musing a couple of years later that, “I still don’t know why he left us. A few weeks before he told us he was leaving I’d had a chat with him about the band and he thought everything was going all right. When I heard he was leaving us, I was totally surprised.”
Harris did his best to play down the resentment that seethed in his band on the 1993 tour, but failed to hide his own sense of disappointment and betrayal: “Personally, I think he’s maybe made a mistake, because I can’t see why he couldn’t do both his solo thing and Maiden.”
What all of this was down to is predictable.
There had been one key trigger event for Dickinson as he pondered artistic life beyond Maiden’s 1980s triumphs. During the Keith Olsen sessions in late 1992 and early 1993 he had recorded a track called Original Sin, unreleased to this day, in which he faced his troubled relationship with his father:
“Tell me father where have you been
All these years, in original sin
I saw you each day, we had nothing to say
And now it’s too late to begin”
Lyrics for Original Sin
Dickinson has later stated that “it was those words that made me wonder what I was doing in Iron Maiden.” The singer and writer, in short the artist, had come to a crossroads where he could not pretend that he didn’t see the choice in front of him: “I suddenly thought, ‘Well, that’s probably the most honest I’ve ever been on a record.’ I thought, ‘If you want to, you can stay with Maiden, but things are sure not gonna change.’ Or I could take a chance and go somewhere else.”
Dickinson’s worry was seemingly about himself and his artistic relevance to the world around him, and his concern about his place in the ever shifting landscape of rock music spurred him on. As he writes in his autobiography: “My problem was to establish where I belonged in modern rock music, if indeed I belonged in it at all.”
But there was something deeper than narcisism behind the urge and discomfort that the singer was feeling at the time. As Dickinson recently told journalist Charlie Rose:
“I was having my little artistic dark night of the soul. I realized I had no idea how to be creative outside of the framework of Iron Maiden, and it terrified me. I was thinking, ‘I am in an institution, and I will die in this institution if I don’t do something about it, what can I do?’ I had to figure out whether or not actually I belonged in the universe as a singer anymore.”
This issue of belonging to something of perceived artistic worth would be the deciding factor in the end. Dickinson was done with fantasy. In the era of grunge he craved the bare-bones rawness of putting his demons out in the open, and there was also the lure of unknown adventures: “I began to feel that somewhere there was something else outside of Maiden that I was missing.” In his own words, as told to Maiden biographer Mick Wall, the singer “wore a groove in the kitchen floor” while debating the potential split with himself.
When Dickinson tried to sum up his thoughts in interviews the following year, while promoting the resulting record, Balls To Picasso (1994), he was quite open about the fact that this was no easily explainable decision. Bruce would tell Kerrang!:
“I didn’t think I was going to make a record and have to leave the band. We’d let something out of the box and I just couldn’t stuff it back in there. The thing is, you get to a point where, without any rhyme or reason, you feel you need to do something else.”
The outcome was finally decided when Dickinson read the Henry Miller quote about all growth being an unpremeditated leap in the dark. In February 1993 Maiden manager Rod Smallwood visited Dickinson in LA and was told that Bruce wanted to leave the band. “It had to stop for me, because it was getting false,” Dickinson recalled years later. “It wasn’t a shared dream anymore.”
The singer cheerily told his manager that he would have both Maiden with a new singer and also a new solo artist to manage. Smallwood did not say much and he did not argue, but he asked if Dickinson had really thought it through.
He had. To a certain extent.
At the other end of the split sat a dumbfounded Steve Harris.
Putting a brave face on things is pretty much a Harris reflex. But two things made the trial of early 1993 particularly tough on Mr. Maiden. First of all, Dickinson caught him at one of his lowest personal ebbs ever, just as Steve’s divorce from Lorraine happened. They had met as teenagers and had been an item ever since, marrying and having four kids. Now it was irrevocably over.
The second thing that troubled Harris was the fact that Dickinson had never talked to him about his urge to leave Iron Maiden. When Dickinson had first gone solo in 1990, a lot of people wanted to know if Harris was worried. His answers would always be stoic, insisting that the guys in Maiden could do whatever they liked as long as they still wanted to be a part of Maiden. He later revealed is private thoughts to biographer Mick Wall:
“When Bruce came back from his solo tour, in 1990, I realised then that he didn’t have the same fire onstage with Maiden as he did with his own band. So I asked him then, you know, ‘Are you still happy?’ And he assured us that he was totally 100 percent still there, which I think he was on the Fear Of The Dark album. I must admit, I’d been worried when he first did his solo thing. I thought he might leave then, but he didn’t, so now I really thought he was back into the fold.”
In fact, Steve had felt assured that Bruce would talk to him if he was ever uncertain about his commitment to Maiden. Apparently, this turned out not to be the case, and some years later Harris voiced his frustration with what he felt was a lack of honesty:
“When he did leave, he basically went to every magazine in the world and said bad things about Iron Maiden. He cited reasons for leaving that had never been discussed at band meetings and that got to me.”
Dickinson disputes this in his autobiography, claiming that, “I had tried to raise my concerns about the sound and production of our albums, about the assumption of perfection and the lack of honest criticism within the band. Everyone looked at me as if I had lost my mind.”
Back in 1994, the singer would tell Metal Hammer something similar:
“I was starting to think: ‘Well, I’d better have a serious word with the chaps, and find out how far they are prepared to go to take a chance with the band’s reputation in order to try and do something artistically that’s really, really new.’ So I had big chats with Nicko and with Dave and Janick and everybody, and basically just playing devil’s advocate the whole time, saying the world is really changing – not like a bit, but a lot. It’s not like a haircut anymore, and Deep Purple will never sell another platinum record. Those days really are gone.”
Whether he definitely raised these concerns with Harris in particular, if Steve Harris is actually the person behind the “everybody” in the above quote, Dickinson simply does not tell.
The singer felt an urge that could not be ignored, the sense that he would regret it if he didn’t explore the unknown possibilities that lay outside of his comfortable existence in Iron Maiden. Hindsight would make the emotional turmoil of 1993 much clearer to him:
“I wasn’t happy with the idea of being a cog in a successful, well-oiled machine. My life was like Groundhog Day, albeit gold-plated Groundhog Day. And I realised that the only way I’d find out whether or not I was any good was if I stepped outside my comfort zone. And the only way I could do that was by leaving the band.”
When Dickinson told manager Smallwood that the quest for his ultimate artistic voice would necessitate leaving Maiden, the singer said he would call Harris to explain. But Smallwood nixed it and jumped on a plane to see Harris himself, a misplaced sense of protection leading the manager to cut Dickinson off from an exchange that could have been meaningful. As Dickinson said many years later:
“I should have told Rod to fuck off and done it anyway. We might have compared notes and I’d still have been in the band, because at least some of this was about talking – real talking, meaningful talking.”
On the 1993 tour Bruce would say about Steve: “He’s not really the kind of bloke you could sit down with in a pub and pour your heart out to.” And Steve would say about Bruce: “When Bruce has problems, he doesn’t really let ’em out. I think I like to talk about problems more than he does.”
They were not predisposed to talking this through.
ALMOST THE END OF IRON MAIDEN
A sense of complacency was probably the fundamental reason why a 34 years old Bruce Dickinson decided to leave Iron Maiden. Thinking back to his early days with Maiden he said, “Me and Steve used to argue and fight like cat and dog for the first couple of albums, which arguably were the best two albums that we made.”
By 1985 and the career-defining Live After Death Dickinson had decided that getting along with people just fine was a more comfortable way of living. Maiden would be a quite civilized operation through the late 1980s and into the 1990s.
Ending his time in Maiden would not be that straight forward though. When the band took to the road for their Real Live Tour in spring and early summer of 1993, many would feel that Dickinson did not perform to the best of his ability. For the official Maiden biography in 1998 Harris, Murray and McBrain all swore that Dickinson only gave his best at high profile gigs, hardly performing at all in the less prestigious places they visited, and key crew members agreed.
“Fucking terrible. He was mumbling, hardly singing at all. One night, I went up to the monitor man and said, ‘What the fuck’s going on? I can’t hear him!’ And he pushed the fader up to full and said, ‘Look, there’s nothing there. He’s just mumbling into the mic.’ He may as well not have turned up at all, some nights.”
The singer would deny this with a terse, “That’s absolute crap.” In his version of events the singing was always good, but the stage act was not always what people had come to expect from him:
“I would never expect Steve to understand that it was difficult for me to go on stage, emotionally difficult, because it’s never emotionally difficult for Steve to go on stage; like it’s never difficult for him emotionally to kick the ball into the back of the net. So I thought what I’ll do is if I really feel like running around like a maniac I will, but if I don’t I’ll just go on and sing my bollocks off.”
Everyone in the band but Gers, who stayed friendly with Dickinson and would not comment, insisted that Bruce was “a shambles” on the Real Live Tour, only performing his best for the gigs in big cities and “lapsing into incoherent, half-hearted performances for the rest of the time”, as the official Maiden biography puts it. It’s a very delicate subject, and one that only fans who were there can really speak to, but Maiden’s long-time tour manager Dickie Bell also stated for the record:
“When he was good, he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was fucking awful. He didn’t even bother with the singing part some nights, as far as I could see. But Bruce does play mind games – he acts like he doesn’t really know what’s going on around him half the time, but he never misses a trick.”
The wound of Bruce leaving Maiden would go deep.
Dickinson would never agree with the criticism, obviously, and in defending his position he touched on the core problem of announcing his split before the tour: “I know the sea of wisdom from Steve is that I didn’t give a fuck. I suddenly realised that I didn’t have a clue exactly how to play it. I think for them to assume that you can just turn on a performance like a tap is… In a sense it’s kind of symptomatic of the whole thing, you know?”
When Harris was talking on the record for the official biography in the late 1990s, he was unable to conceal his hurt and disappointment and said, “The worst thing was, if he’d been fucking crap over the whole tour, you can sort of understand it. When all the press were there, it was a different story. He had no problem turning on a performance then.”
These must count as some of the harshest words ever said in public between members of Iron Maiden.
And despite what the singer thought of his ex-partner’s philosophy, it was actually emotionally difficult for Steve Harris to keep Iron Maiden going when Bruce Dickinson left. He went along with the singer’s idea that they would go out with a bang by doing a final tour with him, something Harris says he regrets. More than that, the Maiden chief readily admits that he considered retirement when Dickinson left the band:
“I spoke to Davey on the phone and I suppose, at that point, I did have a doubt as to whether to carry on or not. I thought, ‘I just don’t have the strength at the moment.’ ”
As Maiden came close to shutting down long before their time, it was soft-spoken guitarist Dave Murray that would provide the spark of leadership that turned the ship around and set it on a steady course for the 1990s battles ahead.
The personal darkness of divorce and band break-up almost brought the final curtain down for Steve Harris’ life’s work, Iron Maiden. However, one of the people involved had been at Harris’ side since the very inception of the band in the 1970s. Dave Murray had joined Maiden in 1976, only to be fired by an eccentric singer and a scheming guitarist. When Harris later restructured his band he built it around Murray, knowing that the guitarist was more important to them than anyone else at the time.
When Maiden met up to rehearse for their 1993 tour the chief was close to calling it quits for his band. Harris, Murray, McBrain and Gers found it hard to concentrate on the music, and probably dreaded the arrival of Dickinson for the final stages of preparations. At one point, several beers into their collective depression, Murray had enough of it:
“We were all really down, Steve especially, and we were even talking about packing it in. And we were all sitting around talking. It was probably the first real long, serious talk the four of us had had together in ages. I suddenly just got fed up talking about it and went, ‘Look, why the fuck should we give up just ’cause he is? Bollocks to him. Why should he stop us playing?’ I hadn’t really thought about it. It just came out.”
It turned the mood around. Iron Maiden emerged from that talk with a sense of purpose and fighting spirit. Harris said later that Murray “gave me the strength to believe we shouldn’t give up. In the end, the strength came from Davey.”
This very important decision in Maiden history brings to mind the words of Steve “Loopy” Newhouse, a Maiden roadie that observed the early relationship between Murray and the band leader in the late 1970s: “He and Steve became so close, that if one made a decision, the other would back it up straight away.”
In other words, a deep-seated personal dynamic was decisive in the turmoil of 1993. Maiden would not wind down as long as Murray and Harris wanted it to continue. After the less-than-enjoyable European tour, their final commitment with Dickinson was the televised Raising Hell concert with illusionist Simon Drake in August 1993:
McBrain recently told TVMaldita that doing this televised concert “was a big mistake, ’cause it wasn’t that great.” When asked if he was upset with Dickinson at the time, he answered bluntly, “Damn right I was.” The filming of Raising Hell would in many ways be the very nadir of Maiden history when it comes to band vibes.
“It was us and him. Without a doubt. It was not our finest hour. Bruce did have his own dressing room, he had his own make-up artist as well [laughs]. He left the band, and I had a real bad taste in my mouth and my psyche about the way he did that, and I wasn’t happy and amused with him at all. And he knew that.”
As McBrain’s memories of the time clearly tell us, Iron Maiden were desperate to claw their way out of a numbingly negative situation. When they had made the decision to go on and had battled through a final tour and television farewell with Dickinson, their collective strength would be put to use in finding a new singer.
By the fall of 1993, Bruce Dickinson would be hard at work on his third attempt at a new solo record. Meanwhile, Iron Maiden were cleaning house and releasing their second and third live albums of the year, A Real Dead One and Live At Donington.
At the same time they were going through a massive amount of audition tapes of singers that were lining up in hopes to replace Bruce Dickinson.
Maiden were looking for an x factor.
Sources: Kerrang! issue 306 (September 1990), Kerrang! issue 387 (April 1992), Kerrang! issue 388 (April 1992), Metal Hammer issue 8 vol 7 (August 1992), Kerrang! issue 432 (February 1993), Kerrang! issue 441 (May 1993), Kerrang! issue 487 (March 1994), Metal Hammer (June 1994), A Conversation with Bruce Dickinson: Stockholm April 28, 1996 (bookofhours.net, 1996), Iron Maiden: Infinite Dreams (Dave Bowler & Bryan Dray, 1996), Run To The Hills: The Authorised Biography of Iron Maiden (Mick Wall,  2001), Classic Rock issue 33 (November 2001), Iron Maiden in the Studio (Jake Brown, 2011), “Iron Maiden: Hope and Glory” (Paul Elliot, 25 May 2011), Bruce Dickinson: Maiden Voyage (Joe Shooman,  2016), Loopyworld: The Iron Maiden Years (Steve “Loopy” Newhouse, 2016), What Does This Button Do? (Bruce Dickinson, 2017), Bruce Dickinson Interview on Charlie Rose (2017), Iron Maiden: Every Album, Every Song (Steve Pilkington, 2020), Nicko McBrain Interview with TVMaldita (July 2020), Adrian Smith Interview with Eon Music (Eamon O’Neill, August 2020).