BRITISH LION – “It’s Emotional And It’s Powerful And It’s Real”
January 31, 2020, a month ago
Long delayed, the second record from Steve Harris’ other band British Lion is finally here. It’s called The Burning and—credit to the Maiden great—he’s stuck to it and toured faithfully. What’s more, the album is a tougher yet still melodic record than the debut, definitely punchier and more steeped in band chemistry, which, as it turns out, makes perfect sense.
“It’s quite different to the first album purely because we’ve been touring for like about the last seven or eight years with the same lineup,” explains Harris. There’s a few different people playing on the album, but obviously, all five that we’re touring with now are on there as well—the second album is just the unit that has been touring for the last seven years. And it makes a massive difference. We’ve been playing together all that time, we’ve done shows all around the world, travelled a lot together, and just done a lot of good shows together in Europe and Canada, South America, Japan, and now we’re touring the US for the first time. So really, we’re turning into quite a nice tight unit, and it shows on this album, I think.”
And very guitary as well, with dual axes clanging along in disciplined lockstep over the exacting rhythms of Steve and drummer Simon Dawson, who, compared to Nicko, Steve says, “uses a lot less drums for a start, and I can actually see him (laughs).”
Continues Harris with regard to David Hawkins and Grahame Leslie, “Just different styles; in the same way that all three Maiden guitar players have different styles from each other. Dave Hawkins is younger than the rest of us, so maybe he’s got some different influences going on there, including sort of ‘80s American ones, while Graeme is more rock, The Who and UFO and the like.”
Asked to compare to the Maiden guys, Steve figures, “I don’t think either of them sound like anybody in particular, but Dave Hawkins leans possibly towards Adrian, purely because he tends to work out his solos like Adrian does. It’s good to work with different people doing different stuff, although it’s all rock, as far as I’m concerned.”
With a few keyboard bits, as it turns out. “Yeah, I play the keyboards on this album, just purely because it was easier. I was there to do it, and David was fine with that. First album, David did all the keys. Well, there wasn’t a load of keys on the first album anyway. But I mean, Dave is a far better player than I am. But it’s just purely, I was there, around and able to do it, and it wasn’t really difficult stuff. It’s just kind of what we call wash, to add a bit of ambience or atmosphere. But I don’t ever profess to be a good keyboard player, really (laughs). I do what’s necessary in the studio, and then someone else does it live anyway.”
Up top there’s Richard Taylor who sings clear, clean and melodic. Really, loads of the persona of the band comes from Richard, to the point where The Burning could pass for a Richard Taylor solo album. Hard to explain, but there’s his lyrics, plus his prominence in the mix, over songs that are pretty straight-forward, kind of like blue collar Maiden, focussed, less eccentric than Maiden, more like a general access NWOBHM band crossed with UFO or Thin Lizzy, as it were.
Explains Harris, “Richard’s stuff, really, is coming from his upbringing, and the fact that he had a tough time, and ended up being in… one prime example of that is ‘Land Of The Perfect People,’ which, he was an orphan, and basically the orphanage he was at, it was run by the Taylor family, and they basically ended up moving from there and they took him and they adopted him. So he had quite a tough upbringing and I think a lot of that’s come out, which is really good, because it’s emotional and it’s powerful and it’s real. A lot of it is him getting stuff out. As a vocalist, he’s got his own unique sound, really. But he’s definitely more of a rock singer rather than a metal singer. Everyone’s got different influences, and all those things end up coming into the pot somehow or other. It’s just part and parcel of working with different people and getting different reactions.”
Steve provides lyrics on “Spitfire,” which is, he explains, “basically about my father, when he was in the war. All the kids were basically evacuated, to get away from London, out of the war zone. So he was moved out to the countryside and it’s about that. He was evacuated, funny enough, to Suffolk, where some of the band now is based; Simon, our drummer, is in Suffolk and so is Richard and David Hawkins.”
Back to the tightness and forward mass of the record, Steve says that the core narrative was laying it down live in the studio. “We just went in and played live as a band, recorded most of it like that and then just added a couple little embellishments on top, very little, really. That was the idea, was to do it as live as possible. We had been playing some of those songs live for a while anyway, so they were the really easy ones, and those just went straight off. But the other ones we hadn’t played live yet, we needed to get them sounding like the same sort of vibe. So we just worked them up in rehearsal and got up and did them. Plus Tony Newton did a great job at production, you know, capturing the essence of what we were doing live. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to get a band to sound live, and he did a fantastic job and pat on the back for that. Maiden does the same, really—we try to re-create what we do live. I think it’s the best way you can be, rather than the other way around (laughs).”
Asked why he does British Lion in the first place, Steve figures, “It’s mainly because I enjoy working with these guys. I think they’re really good people and I think they deserve a real good shot. But not only that, I just love playing small gigs. I love playing all the different size of gigs, actually, but it’s a challenge. I love playing with Maiden and I enjoy travelling, and whether it’s being on a nice plane or on a bus or whatever, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a chore for me. I just enjoy it all. I never get fed up with playing or touring. And we get on great. I don’t really care about material things. I think the way we travel around in a bus is great for them and it’s great for me. It is what it is. We play something like the one tonight, and there’s no shower, and you just deal with it. But I’ve always been like that; it doesn’t cause problems in that sort of respect. I’m used to touring more than they are, but I mean, they’ve all toured at some point, although they’ve never toured the States before, so that’s fun to do with them.”
“I never met Neil,” answers Steve, in closing, asked for his thoughts on the passing of Neil Peart, an icon of progressive metal, as is, really, Steve Harris. “I’ve played tennis with Geddy and Alex, because I’m a good friend of Andy Curran from Coney Hatch. He’s worked for many years with Rush, so we end up playing doubles in tennis and stuff. So I’ve met them, and really lovely guys, and good tennis players too. But, you know, I never met Neil. It’s just one of those things. Sometimes, some bands, you kind of meet on the road and at festivals, this, that and the other, but some bands you never cross paths with. And he was one of those people. Like AC/DC, for example—I’ve met Brian Johnson once, but I never really met the rest of the band. And yet the amount of touring that both bands do (laughs)—Maiden and AC/DC—you’d think we’d cross paths somewhere or another, but we haven’t. It’s quite strange. It is what it is. Loads of musicians I’ve met, but that’s just the way it goes.”
“But Neil, well, it’s just awful, really. Very sad. Huge talent, of course. I feel sorry, obviously, for the family, and obviously his band members have been put in a really awkward situation. But yeah, what a fantastic talent and sadly missed.”