9. THE BEGINNING OF THE REST
The original columns, published between 2012 and 2016.
Rehearsals were kept at a relentless pace even without a drummer. Steve had a whole bunch of new songs he wanted to work on and the rest of the band were eager to get things going again.
I sat there twiddling my thumbs most days, having nothing better to do. It wasn’t like we had flight cases to number or anything electrical we had to work out. It was just Steve, Paul and Dave running through a few bits and pieces and myself and Pete either as support or to do the beer run, fags etc. I didn’t drive so anything like a lunch run to the chippy was down to Pete, which left me in the studio with the guys most of the time.
I did learn to drive a few years later in Jersey. In fact it was the band that had paid for half the lessons and I was doing so well until the day of the test. We pulled up outside the Test Centre and my instructor advised me not to take the test. I totally agreed. I’d been fine up to that day but my nerve went and I made so many stupid mistakes. I guess me and driving are meant to be kept apart.
It was during this rehearsal period that Steve had two ideas that he kept playing over and over again. Dave would join in where he thought he should and it sounded fine. Then Paul would add a scream over the top and what you ended up with was the intro to ‘Killers’. The bit after the intro (when it goes into the main song), was the second piece that Harris had been working on. I suggested he put the two parts together and ‘Killers’ was born. It was just a suggestion and I’m not expecting royalties or anything. But when Steve said he would make sure I got a disc to hang on my wall, I was over the moon.
But that was then, and this is now. I’m still waiting.
A few years later in Nassau, Bahamas, I reminded Steve of our conversation, and he denied all knowledge of it. And that, quite simply, is what I had to put up with.
After rehearsing the same stuff over and over, a familiar face stepped through the studio door. I couldn’t believe it.
He was as tall as me, but not as good looking, his hair was curlier, but about the same length and he didn’t have the pot belly that I’d earned (roadie’s perks).
It was Dennis Stratton.
“Alright lads”, he said. A small chorus of “what the fuck?” went up as I watched Den greet all of us in turn.
I’d seen this guy before and here he was with his guitar in hand. Things are looking up I thought.
The first time I saw Den was several months before. I was just a punter in a huge crowd of noisy people in a pub called the Bridgehouse, in Canning Town, East London. I was towing along with Steve Harris mainly because I thought he wanted to see the band Dennis was in, called Remus Down Boulevard (or casually known locally as RDB). I was impressed by what I saw and heard. The band covered a multitude of songs from rock to blues and back again. After the gig Steve went off to have a quick word with Den. Then we left and Harris dropped me home. I never thought any more about it.
And now here he was, not even auditioning. Just, well… here!!!
The rest of the band put Den through his paces, which didn’t take long. He knew what Iron Maiden was about and had obviously done his homework. In fact I actually remember Dennis chucking a cassette in the bin with the comment, “I won’t be needing that anymore.”
I thought it was his George Benson tape but no, it was the demo that Harris had put together to give Den a heads up. It didn’t matter. Within a week Dennis knew all the songs inside out.
I always liked Dennis a lot. In fact, I still do. We meet up occasionally at a local pub where he and Dave Edwards still ply their trade as RDB. It’s always a good night out and I hope it continues. But more stories about Dennis later.
There had also been talk of a drummer coming in, somebody I hadn’t heard of. Although my knowledge of other local bands and musicians at the time were somewhat limited, I was happy to bide my time and see what fate had in store for me. Let’s face it; I worked for the band but for no one in particular at the time. Doug had gone so, in hindsight, the next drummer was going to be my problem.
That’s when I got introduced to Clive Burr for the first time.
Clive, a friend of Dennis, had been playing the local pub and club circuit and was basically told I was his roadie and he didn’t have a say. I’m not sure he was all that happy about it. That wasn’t my problem though. I was his first proper roadie. All I had to do was keep my head down and do my job. The rest of the band and crew knew I could do what was required but, for some reason, I had a feeling either Clive didn’t like me or wasn’t happy with the way I did things.
Over the few months leading up to recording the first album, we spent so much time in rehearsals, the drum kit never had to move so Clive seemed happy enough. And, I have to admit, Clive slotted into the vacant position left by Doug really well. In fact, compared to Doug, Clive was an absolute beast.
Doug was so laid back in his approach to drumming. Don’t get me wrong, he did the job extremely well, but Clive’s style was much more subtle. “These instruments are for hitting,” Clive said, “and that’s what we do to them.” I had never changed a drum skin for Doug. I didn’t have to. With Clive I was changing at least one skin a week and that was during rehearsal. On tour it was something else, but don’t rush me.
Prior to recording ‘Iron Maiden’ we went out and did a small promotional eleven date British tour introducing Dennis and Clive to the world, during which I got a phone call from my Mum halfway through the tour in Mansfield (I think), telling me my Granddad had passed away.
Obviously I was gutted but when asked if I wanted to go home, I declined. I felt I had a job to do. Plus, being at home, I would have felt pretty useless. My Granddad had moved on and so would I. And, let’s face facts, I couldn’t bring him back even with my connections.
I will never forget Paul Di’Anno mentioning my Granddad during the show and dedicating one of the band’s songs to him, but I felt so numb and, to this day, I couldn’t tell you which song it was. It wasn’t ‘Phantom Of The Opera’, that’s for sure.
The tour was a huge success. Den and Clive had bedded in well, the crowds had loved them and things were moving quietly but quickly on to the next phase.
I arrived home at 6.00am on the morning of the funeral and my Dad said he understood if I didn’t want to go. I kissed him and Mum goodbye on the door step, told them I was sorry, and went to bed.
Later that day we all went to our local pub and said our private farewells to Granddad George, over and over again.
A few days later it was back to the studio, but this time it was different. Clive had ordered a custom built drum kit. Ludwig shells, but Tama hardware, so the shells had to be fitted with Tama fittings. This was all done without my knowledge but I didn’t care. I was still happily employed by Iron Maiden and we were going places.
The new kit arrived at Hollywood studios and Clive and I were given a couple of days to set it up the way he wanted.
Using band money, probably provided by Rod (who else?), we were happy going off and getting McDonalds or KFC, or whatever we fancied and bringing it back to the studio.
Vic was always hanging around and the rest of the band would drop in occasionally to see how we were getting on. If memory serves me right, the rest of the band would spend hour upon hour at Dave Lights’ place in Wapping, going over new material.
So for me and Clive, this was the easy bit. Being left alone with a huge drum kit in carrier bag size pieces, excluding the bass drum, and two floor toms, all we had to do was put it all together.
How hard can it be?
Actually it was easy when you knew how. Once the bass drum was in position and the two floor toms were close enough, the rest just fell into place. All the stands were marked up with colour coding and we used Jubilee clips to make sure that stand partitions didn’t go up, let alone down. Everything hunky dory, we went home. The next day, Clive didn’t like it. And that became the story of my life.
Day after day we went through the same thing. Set it up, Clive didn’t like it. Take it down. You could see the band getting frustrated but that was nothing to how I felt. All I could do was keep going and try and appease the man. In the end somebody spoke to Clive and he agreed to live with what he had.
Now, can I just add here, I have no idea if this was something to do with his condition, I don’t even know if he knew about his problem then, but what I can tell you, without malice or prejudice, was that he became difficult to work with and for. Most people didn’t see it or realise it but Clive wasn’t the easiest person to work for.
Even during the shows, mostly in Europe and Japan, he relied on me to count him in, on certain key changes, especially during ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ and one other that I can’t remember now. Basically, if it hadn’t been for me, his timing would have been all over the place, but I remained the unsung hero, and wonder what would have happened if he’d got it wrong.
It would probably have been my fault for that too.
For months on end, gig after gig, Clive would sit behind his kit and say that something was wrong. I couldn’t or didn’t understand what he wanted. Every day was the same routine, I would set the kit up, and Clive would turn up and say it was wrong. I spoke to people far more professional than me like Doug Hall, the band’s sound engineer, who said: “Don’t worry about it. He’s just feeling his way into the band.”
It actually got to a point when I dreaded the band turning up for soundcheck. As far as I was concerned the drum kit was set up the same way every day. There was a system on the kit that meant I couldn’t set it up wrong, but Clive would still say it was.
Clive and I even had long chats about it. One of which, was at The Colston Hall, Bristol. The band had come in early to do a radio interview at a local record store, so myself and Clive found somewhere quiet and had a chat and I was basically told, if I didn’t get my shit together, I would be out. I responded by saying that I wasn’t happy being treated like an idiot and that I was working for the good of the band. I was doing what I could to keep him and everybody else happy but I would do my best to keep the kit as he wanted. The conversation ended peacefully enough and, give credit where it’s due, he came back from the record store with the new Rush cassette ‘Moving Pictures’ and as he passed it to me he said: “I’ve heard it. It’s not all that.”
I gave a wry smile, I mean, really, what did Clive know about proper drumming?
That wasn’t the end of our spats and I stayed with him for longer than I expected, but he was the most infuriating man I had ever met. To set up the kit for Clive as I always did, and then for him to turn up almost every day and say I’d done it wrong was frustrating enough, but to watch him put it back to where he’d found it, during the show I might add, was bloody infuriating.
At one show in Reggio Nell Amelia, Italy, one of our trucks had jack-knifed on the mountain road toward the town so half of our equipment turned up late, including the drum kit. When it arrived I sweated buckets to get the kit set up as quickly as I could, taking care to put it where I always had.
The one thing you don’t do is piss off an Italian audience by cancelling a show.
So, getting later and later and without a soundcheck to make sure everything was in working order and where it should be, in true Iron Maiden tradition, the show went on as it should have, and was an outstanding success.
Unbelievably, after the gig, Clive found me loading our backline on the truck and asked to have a word. After everything we had been through that day, I expected the worst.
What I actually got was a “thank you” and he told me that I’d got it right for once.
I could have killed him there and then but I bit my lip. As I said, he was bloody infuriating.
N.B. I wrote this several months before Clive passed away, and this is not designed or in any way meant to discredit what he did for the band. He will be sorely missed and it was a privilege to work with him. Clive was a brilliant drummer, and will always be remembered so.
We may have had our disagreements, but I never had any bad feelings about him. We were both just doing our job. Rightly or wrongly, we both served the bigger cause.
When Colin Claydon took over from me, I saw the band on the road a few times, and as far as I’m aware, the relationship between Colin and Clive was a good and strong relationship. So my only conclusion is that Clive’s problem was with me and I still have no idea why?
But it must prove a point. When Clive left Iron Maiden, and Nicko took over on the sticks, I got a call from Tony Wiggens, the band’s Tour Manager, asking me to go back. But more about that soon.
The original columns, published between 2012 and 2016, led to the hugely popular ‘Loopyworld – The Iron Maiden Years’ book, which you can buy from eBay.