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Steve Harris | The Tinnitist Interview

The Iron Maiden & British Lion bassist on his upcoming Canadian tour & more.

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Steve Harris (centre) & British Lion.

Steve Harris and British Lion are roaring across the pond for their first tour of Canada — but it won’t really be the band’s maiden visit to the Great White North.

“We actually did our first two videos in Canada,” the 62-year-old Iron Maiden and British Lion bassist tells Tinnitist. “It just so happened that Maiden was on tour in Canada at the time, and our guitar player David Hawkins was actually on holiday at the time in Canada because he’s got family there. So I thought, ‘Well, there’s two of us all the way out here; I might as well get the other three out and shoot a couple of videos on a couple of days off. We shot one of them up in Banff and the other in Vancouver. So there’s already a little bit of history with British Lion in Canada. And we thought it’s about time we actually came around and did some shows.”

And how: It’s been six years since the band — which also features singer Richard Taylor, guitarist Graham Leslie and drummer Simon Dawson — released those videos to promote their self-titled debut album of ’70s-style hard rock. But given Harris’s packed Maiden schedule, it’s easy to see why it’s taken him so long. And why British Lion‘s Canadian trek consists of just a handful of Ontario and Quebec dates with Maiden’s onetime opening act Coney Hatch, which is reuniting for the event. (Check out my interview with Coney bassist Andy Curran here.)

From a rare holiday in The Bahamas, Harris — who speaks as fast as Maiden plays — called up to discuss Lion’s evolution, stocky Yorkshiremen and how it’s all just rock, innit?

Photo by Adels

It hasn’t been that long since the last Maiden tour, and you’re already gearing up to go back on the road. Don’t you ever stop?
Well, I do take a bit of time off here and there. And when I have down time, I enjoy it. But I’m not the sort of person who can lie around on a beach for too long before I start getting twitchy. There’s been a bit of time between tours, but there’s other bits and pieces of things I’ve been doing. We’re finishing off work on the second British Lion album as well, so I’ve been pretty busy.

Are you a workaholic?
No, I wouldn’t say that. I just have to grab the moment. When you have an opportunity come along and a bit of time to do it, you just do it. I’ve learned that — with Maiden being so busy all the time, I just don’t know when I’m going to next get a chance to do stuff, you know. So you just have to cram things in. Like these shows.

How long does it take to shift gears between the two bands?
Not long. On the tour before last, I finished a festival tour with Maiden in Europe, had one day off, and then went straight into one day’s rehearsal with British Lion, and then the next day we started the tour. Sometimes it’s good just to keep the momentum going from a physical point of view. And from a practical point of view, you’ve got crew guys who can just go straight on to another tour. It all kind of makes sense really.

British Lion has a very different sound than Maiden. Does that scratch a different creative itch, or is it just the flip side of the same coin?
Well, I mean, it’s all rock, innit? At the end of the day, it’s all under the same umbrella, really. It’s just a different style of rock. But I think if people come and see it live, they’ll understand things a little bit more. The first album was meant to sound retro. It was kind of UFO-based — with a slightly different edge to it perhaps. But the album we’ve been doing is more representative of where we are now. We’ve evolved, playing live as a band in Europe over the last six or seven years.

Evolved how?
Well, it’s got ‘eavier. Especially live. I don’t really know that there’s anyone else out there doing what we’re doing. But I suppose everyone likes to think that, don’t they?

Aside from the music, what’s the biggest difference between the two bands?
Well, obviously you’re working with different people and different personalities. Just that alone can be very different. And some of the band have not toured much — or not toured worldwide anyway. They’ve toured, but not like I have. And some have done tours in North America but others haven’t. So it’s nice and refreshing really from that point of view.

I know you don’t play any Maiden songs live, but you must get fans yelling for them at shows.
No, actually we don’t. Maybe that’s a difference between Europe and North America. So maybe we’ll see that over there. But no we haven’t had it at all. Obviously, we’re not Maiden. And people know they’re not going to get Maiden — even if they ask for it. (laughs) They’re in the wrong venue.

“I enjoy playing everywhere, really. I enjoy gigs of all shapes and sizes. And I do enjoy the thing of being right close to the audience in a small venue.”

Some artists of your stature don’t want to play smaller venues. Obviously you don’t feel that way.
No, I don’t. Maybe I’m one of the lucky people who can do both. Some bands end up not enjoying going back to play those venues because they couldn’t wait to get out of ’em. But I have never felt like that. I enjoy playing everywhere, really. I enjoy gigs of all shapes and sizes. And I do enjoy the thing of being right close to the audience in a small venue. I mean, I don’t enjoy the practical side of it when it comes to the facilities in some of these venues. But the actual gig itself, that’s what it’s all about. So you just fucking deal with it and put up with whatever else goes with it. That’s the way I’ve always felt about everything, really. Awful facilities, cramped stages, whatever: That’s not what you’re there for. You’re there for the gig. And if the gig’s good, it’s worth it.

Are all the gigs good?
Yeah, they are. (laughs) I’ve enjoyed them all. They’re all different degrees of good really. I mean, everyone has a night where the sound is not what it could be or you have technical problems. Everyone gets that, no matter what level you’re at. But when people come in and they know the songs, it’s great. Now, we’re playing new territory on this tour. We’re putting our toes in the water somewhere we haven’t been, so I don’t really know what’s going to happen. But what I can say is whenever we play new territories in Europe, people have been coming along knowing all the words to the songs and stuff like that already. So it’s been fantastic. Whether that’ll happen everywhere else, I can’t say. But that is also part of the excitement. We don’t know what we’re going to get.

Well, you’re probably safe: After all, wasn’t Canada one of the first places Maiden took off outside England?
Yeah, definitely. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen a second time. You never know. But things are looking pretty good. And I’m sure some people know the songs. After all, the album’s been out long enough to learn them. (laughs) I just can’t believe how the time’s gone. It’s scary, really.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask what’s next on the Maiden front.
Well, people know we’ve announced the Rock in Rio show for next year, and there’ll be other shows. But I just can’t talk about them right now, unfortunately. I’ve been sworn to secrecy. Rod (Smallwood, the band’s longtime co-manager) gets pretty protective about stuff like that. And he’s a stocky Yorkshireman, so I don’t think I’d better step out of line and say anything.

British Lion & Coney Hatch Canadian Tour Dates:
Nov. 1 | Queen Elizabeth Theatre | Toronto
Nov. 2 | Maxwell’s | Waterloo
Nov. 3 | Brass Monkey | Ottawa
Nov. 4 | L’Imperial | Quebec City
Nov. 5 | Théâtre Corona | Montréal