Iron Maiden Biography

Formed in London, England, in 1975, Iron Maiden was from the start the brainchild of Steve Harris (Stephen Percy Harris, 12 March 1957, Leytonstone, London, England; bass), formerly a member of pub rockers Smiler. Named after a medieval torture device, the music was suitably heavy and hard on the senses. The heavy metal scene of the late 70s was widely regarded as stagnant, with only a handful of bands proving their ability to survive and produce music of quality. It was at this time that a new breed of young British bands began to emerge. This movement, which began to break cover in 1979 and 1980, was known as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM. Iron Maiden was one of the foremost bands in the genre, and many would say its definitive example. Younger and meaner, the NWOBHM bands dealt in faster, more energetic heavy metal than any of their forefathers (punk being an obvious influence).

There were several line-up changes in the Iron Maiden ranks in the very early days, and come the release of their debut EP, the band featured Harris, Dave Murray (b. David Michael Murray, 23 December 1956, Edmonton, London, England; guitar), Paul Di’Anno (b. Paul Andrews, 17 May 1958, Chingford, London, England; vocals) and Doug Sampson (drums). The band made its live debut at the Cart & Horses Pub in Stratford, east London, in 1977, before honing its sound on the local pub circuit (the Bridge House and the Ruskin Arms) over the ensuing two years. Unable to solicit a response from record companies, the band sent a three-track tape, featuring ‘Iron Maiden’, ‘Prowler’ and ‘Strange World’, to Neal Kay, DJ at north London’s hard rock disco, the Kingsbury Bandwagon Soundhouse. Kay’s patronage of Iron Maiden won them an instant welcome, which prompted the release of The Soundhouse Tapes on the band’s own label.

In November 1979, the band added second guitarist Tony Parsons to the line-up for two tracks on the Metal For Muthas compilation, but by the time the band embarked on sessions for their debut album, he had been replaced by Dennis Stratton (b. 9 November 1954, London, England), and Sampson by Clive Burr (b. 8 March 1957; drums, ex-Samson). A promotional single, ‘Running Free’, reached number 34 on the UK charts and brought an appearance on BBC Television’s Top Of The Pops. Refusing to mime, they became the first band since the Who in 1973 to play live on the show. Iron Maiden was a roughly produced album, but reached number 4 in the UK album listings on the back of touring stints with Judas Priest and enduringly popular material such as ‘Phantom Of The Opera’. Killers boasted production superior to that of the first album, and saw Dennis Stratton replaced by guitarist Adrian Smith (b. 27 February 1957, Hackney, London, England). In its wake, Iron Maiden became immensely popular among heavy metal fans, inspiring fanatical devotion, aided by blustering manager Rod Smallwood and apocalyptic mascot Eddie (the latter had been depicted on the cover of ‘Sanctuary’ standing over Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s decapitated body).

The release of 1982’s Number Of The Beast was crucial to the development of the band. Without it, Iron Maiden might never have gone on to be such a force in the heavy metal arena. The album was a spectacular success, the sound of a band on the crest of a wave. It was also the debut of former infantryman and new vocalist Bruce Dickinson (b. Paul Bruce Dickinson, 7 August 1958, Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England), replacing Paul Di’Anno (who went on to front Dianno, Paul Di’Anno’s Battlezone and Killers). Formerly of Samson, history graduate Dickinson made his live debut with Iron Maiden on 15 November 1981. Singles such as ‘Run To The Hills’ and ‘The Number Of The Beast’ were big UK chart hits, Iron Maiden leaving behind their NWOBHM counterparts in terms of success, just as the movement itself was beginning to peter out. Piece Of Mind continued their success and was a major hit in the UK (number 3) and USA (number 14). Clive Burr was replaced by Nicko McBrain (b. Michael Henry McBrain, 5 June 1952, Hackney, London, England) on the sessions, formerly drummer with French metal band Trust, who had supported Iron Maiden on their 1981 UK tour (he had also played in Streetwalkers). Piece Of Mind was not dissimilar to the previous album, showcasing the strong twin-guitar bite of Murray and Smith, coupled with memorable vocal lines and a sound that perfectly suited their air-punching dynamic. Single offerings, ‘Flight Of Icarus’ and ‘The Trooper’, were instant hits, as the band undertook two massive tours, the four-month World Piece jaunt in 1983, and a World Slavery retinue, which included four sell-out dates at London’s Hammersmith Odeon a year later. With the arrival of Powerslave in November 1984, some critics accused Iron Maiden of conforming to a self-imposed writing formula, and playing safe with tried and tested ideas. Certainly, there was no significant departure from the two previous albums, but it was nonetheless happily consumed by the band’s core supporters, who also purchased in sufficient quantities to ensure UK chart hits for ‘Aces High’ and ‘Two Minutes To Midnight’. Live After Death was a double-album package of all their best-loved material, recorded live on their gargantuan 11-month world tour.

By this time, Iron Maiden had secured themselves an unassailable position within the metal hierarchy, their vast popularity spanning all continents. 1986’s Somewhere In Time was a slight departure: it featured more melody than previously, and heralded the use of guitar synthesizers. Their songwriting still shone through and the now obligatory hit singles were easily attained in the shape of ‘Wasted Years’ and ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’. Reaching number 11 in the USA, this was another million-plus seller. Since the mid-80s Iron Maiden had been staging increasingly spectacular live shows, with elaborate lighting effects and stage sets. The Somewhere In Time tour (seven months) was no exception, ensuring their continued fame as a live band, which had been the basis for much of their success. A period of comparative inactivity preceded the release of 1988’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, which was very much in the same vein as its predecessor. A concept album, it retained its commercial edge (giving the band their second UK number 1 album) and yielded hit singles in ‘Can I Play With Madness’, the surprisingly sensitive ‘The Evil That Men Do’ and ‘The Clairvoyant’. After another exhausting mammoth world trek, the band announced their intention to take a well-earned break of at least a year. Speculation abounded that this signalled the dissolution of the band, exacerbated by Dickinson’s solo project, Tattooed Millionaire, his book, The Adventures Of Lord Iffy Boatrace, and EMI Records’ policy of re-releasing Iron Maiden’s single catalogue in its entirety (on 12-inch).

After a considerable hiatus, news of the band surfaced again. Steve Harris felt that the direction pursued on the last two albums had been taken as far as possible, and a return to the style of old was planned. Unhappy with this game plan, Adrian Smith left to be replaced by Janick Gers (b. 27 January 1957, Hartlepool, Teesside, England), previously guitarist with White Spirit and Ian Gillan (he had also contributed to Dickinson’s solo release). The live show was also scaled down in a return to smaller venues. The 1990 album No Prayer For The Dying was indeed much more like mid-period Iron Maiden, and was predictably well-received, bringing enormous UK hit singles with ‘Holy Smoke’ and ‘Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter’. The latter, previously released in 1989 on the soundtrack to A Nightmare On Elm Street 5, had already been awarded the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Song that year. Nevertheless, it gave Iron Maiden their first ever UK number 1. The obligatory world tour followed. Despite being denounced as ‘Satanists’ in Chile, 1992 also saw the band debut at number 1 in the UK charts with Fear Of The Dark, which housed another major single success in ‘Be Quick Or Be Dead’ (number 2). However, it was Dickinson’s swansong with the band, who invited demo tapes from new vocalists following the lead singer’s announcement that he would depart following current touring engagements. His eventual replacement was Blaze Bayley (b. Bayley Cook, 29 May 1963, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England) from Wolfsbane. His debut album was The X-Factor, and on this and at live gigs (which they only resumed in November 1995), he easily proved his worth. This was a daunting task, having had to learn Iron Maiden’s whole catalogue and win over patriotic Dickinson followers. Bayley’s health was a matter of some concern, however, with the singer falling ill on tour owing to allergic reactions to certain environments. He had no such problems in the studio, however, and completed the 1998 release Virtual XI with the band.

In February 1999 it was announced that Dickinson and Smith (who had formed Psycho Motel in the interim) had rejoined Iron Maiden, restoring the classic 80s line-up (with Gers remaining as a third guitarist). To the great delight of their loyal fans, an excellent new studio album, Brave New World, was not long in following. The progressive metal leanings of this release continued on 2003’s Dance Of Death. In 2005 the band celebrated their 30th anniversary and reached the UK Top 5 with a re-release of ‘Number Of The Beast’. When A Matter Of Life And Death was released most fans and critics agreed that this was an astonishing return to form.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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