10. RECORDING THE FIRST ALBUM
The original columns, published between 2012 and 2016.
With Steve and Rod constantly pushing everyone to get things moving at breakneck speed, gigs were getting organised before the crew were ready. Then we got told, and I mean GOT told, that we were going into a studio in Holborn, Central London, to record an album. EMI had stumped up the funds and wanted Iron Maiden out there as quickly as possible.
The whole thing was a rush. The crew, being myself, Pete and Vic, took everything from Hollywood Studio’s to this tiny little studio, found in an underground car park, just off Kingsway in Holborn. If you asked me how to get there now I couldn’t tell you.
I used to be quite good at directions and was known as the navigator on tour because, as I’ve said before, I don’t drive, so navigating became my thing. This place was hard to find, but on the second attempt we did.
With the van being too big to get into the car-park itself, we had to unload everything at street level, and we were guided to where the band’s equipment should be set up, two levels lower. Not the easiest load in I’ve ever done when you have to compete with vehicles going in both directions and our truck blocking the exit.
Now, some of you may be saying: “But that’s easy”, and some of you may be right but, on this occasion, it wasn’t “easy”. The streets of London are not as wide as the streets of Paris or New York so having a truck parked over a car park entry/exit, even in the early hours of a Sunday Morning, is bound to cause some kind of congestion. And it didn’t take long for the constabulary to show its lovely face.
By the time Vic had explained to the nice policeman that we were here to load our equipment into a stupid little studio that somebody thought a great idea to build, two levels down, in an underground car park, the nice policeman let it go with the comment: “I thought this was Candid Camera until I realised they stopped that years ago.”
He also said something about his son being into Iron Maiden and left us to get on with it.
So this should have been the easy bit, loading the equipment from ground level down to the dungeon that became our home for the next weeks but things didn’t get any better.
I was then shown the booth where they wanted me to set up the drum kit, about the size of a small council kitchen. “This is going to cause a row”, I said to Vic. He agreed but told me to get on with it and to wait and see what happens when the band turned up. I did as I always did. I got on with it.
Sometimes you know when things are right and when things are wrong. This was wrong. But hey, I was just doing my job.
You know that saying about not enough room to swing a cat? Now, assuming that you have the cat by the tail, a fucking kitten would have been too big, and that’s if it had all of its legs removed, and possibly its head too. Sorry cat lovers, but I’m just giving you scale. I have two lovely cats and would hate to see them harmed, but metaphors are what we have here.
Vic then took the van away and went to collect the band.
I set the drum kit up and crammed it into the space provided and just hoped that Clive had enough arm and leg room to play the damn thing. I had visions of him hitting his elbows on the walls, and I wasn’t happy.
After a few hours of turning the drum kit from one side to another and realising it wasn’t going to fit, I said to Pete: “Let’s just wait till Clive gets here.”
We both agreed that Clive’s kit wasn’t going to fit in the space provided, so now it was out of our hands. With nothing else to do until the band arrived, me and Pete went and had a fag.
That was when I saw one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. A huge white stretch Limousine slowly made its way toward the studio doors, and I realised that the band were in it.
I had heard talk of a Limo being discussed by Steve and Vic, but had no idea of what they were really talking about. So, this was it!! Not your everyday mode of transport but, if the band wanted it, they got it.
It didn’t impress everyone though. Pete walked off with his “what the fuck?” head on as I stood there in disbelief.
“Is the coffee on Loopy?” asked Rod. “Why are you asking me?” I said. I was the drum roadie for fuck’s sake, not his, or anybody else’s skivvy. I went for a walk too.
An early Sunday stroll down Kingsway and Holborn is something I will remember forever. I was happy to be away from the in-house bickering that had sprung up.
The question and the answer were both the same really. Up until a certain point in the band’s history there had been no rows, arguments, or even the slightest upset. Now, here we were a few months later, having signed a contract to one of the biggest recording labels at the time, and ‘Arguments R Us’ were looking to see if they could get in on the action.
When I got back 25 minutes later there had been some discussion about the fact that the drum kit was too large for its designated area. I sat with my smug face on, listening to the comments being thrown back and forth. Hadn’t I said all this to Vic three hours before? Apparently so, but no one ever listened to me.
The drum kit was dismantled and set up in an entirely different room, which I think was once the reception area. This meant that the only TV and coffee machine in the whole of the studio was now in Clive’s drum room. At least the kit sounded good, and smelled of Columbia’s finest.
And yes I mean coffee, not marching powder (honest Officer, I wasn’t snorting it, I was just smelling it…)
But I digress. Once the kit was set up Clive didn’t bitch or moan about it once. The whole album was recorded with the skins he had from the start. The only new thing he used each day was sticks. Happy days!!!
So much for the rush, but so much time wasted too. If only one of them, Rod, Steve, or even Vic had had the hindsight to at least go and check the place out, none of this would have happened.
In a gig situation if Steve didn’t like something he would pull the show, i.e. the Brecknock. Harry told the pub landlord he wanted to use our lights, the landlord said no. We went home. Our light show was far superior to anything they had to offer.
It was simple really. We put on a whole show. If you don’t want part of it, you get none of it.
But looking back none of this was really my problem. I was still doing this for nothing. We all were. Me, Dave, Pete and Vic, were all volunteers really, but more and more was being asked of us.
If the truth be told, and have I lied to you yet, dear reader? None of the crew actually started getting paid until after the first album was released, and we all got put on a paltry £30 a week, take it or leave it deal. And now EMI were getting on Rod’s case because they weren’t seeing the benefits from the money they had forwarded the band.
I have no idea of the sum involved when Iron Maiden put pen to paper and, to be honest, I didn’t care then, and care even less now. All I know is the deal was enough to make the few people at the top of the Iron Maiden tree substantially happy.
The recording of the first album at Kingsway Studios went as well as it could with one small problem; the choice of Will Malone as Producer. I don’t know if Steve or Rod have spoken about this publicly but, to me, Will was not the best choice. I don’t even know how we got him.
When I think back to those days of trying to find someone suitable and to hear the way Maiden songs should be/were, then the choice of Will Malone was the wrong choice. Although it could have been a lot worse.
I remember being in a studio with a producer who had recorded with some punk band, going on and on about this and that. I could see Steve wasn’t listening and, after letting the guy go on for about 15 minutes, Steve said to Vic: “Pack up, we’re going home.” And we did just that.
Another occasion found us in front of The Sweet’s Andy Scott. Now this would have been brilliant if Andy could have moved away from his past. He told Steve he would get a better bass sound from him if he used a plectrum. That was the last thing Andy ever said to Steve as, shortly after, he told him he was fired.
So, we ended up with Will Malone and, as a testament to time, the first album achieved Gold status everywhere. Still not my producer of choice, but what an impact. The album went straight into the UK charts at number 4, and none of us saw that coming.
Notice how the next few albums had Martin Birch at the helm. Unfortunately he wasn’t available when we went in to do the first album. I’m sure it would have sounded twice as good and taken half as long. Oh! And by the way, the first album was recorded in less than a week.
For those of you who like to keep train spotter notes, and I know there are loads of you out there, whilst we were recording ‘Iron Maiden’, BBC2 showed ‘Lone Star’ live in concert and we heard the track ‘Comfortably Numb’ from the forthcoming new Pink Floyd album ‘The Wall’. That album went on to be a crew favourite while touring the UK, much to Dave Lights’ disappointment.
Going back a little way, I mentioned the stretch limo that the band turned up in. This was one of Vic’s ideas. He had friends in the motor trade (probably the same people who kitted out the Green Goddess). They got hold of two similar cars, (sorry but I can’t remember the makes or models) and basically bastardized them into a limo.
Admittedly the band only used it for a while as, being such a big car, the UK roads weren’t quite ready for it, but it was a comfy car to ride in. I remember travelling in it all the way from Hackney to Cromer, just me and Vic. And, as I don’t drive, I had a choice of seats. It didn’t matter too much though. The seats were comfortable wherever you sat.
The other thing I wanted to go back to was Rod, who was not Peter Grant (Led Zeppelin). The way he used to talk down to me and Pete wouldn’t be tolerated these days; in fact nine times out of ten he would have got a smack in the mouth.
If it hadn’t been for the likes of me, Pete, Dave and Vic, this band he happened to pick up on the cheap (my words, nobody else’s) wouldn’t have been anywhere near as ready as they would have liked. We quit our jobs, toured for nothing, and generally gave everything we had, including what little money we had to buy fuel, food, drink, the occasional B&B, you name it.
He didn’t care about your well being either. I sprained my ankle in Barcelona whilst stepping off the tour bus. Rod’s reaction was “So fooking what? You’re surplus anyway.”
I know that arrogance and ignorance go hand in hand, and, where I live in Collier Row, Romford, it’s a way of life. But to be treated the way he treated us was pretty bad, and I know he doesn’t come from round here. Or maybe he did, in a former life. That would explain a lot…
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.