Who The F*ck Is BRUCE DICKINSON? Click This "Button" To Find Out…

January 26, 2022, 2 years ago

By “Metal” Tim Henderson

feature heavy metal iron maiden bruce dickinson

Who The F*ck Is BRUCE DICKINSON? Click This "Button" To Find Out…

That is an actual solo promo t-shirt from 2002, that Bruce Dickinson says he doesn’t even own! But it asks a very valid question, tongue-in-cheek of course! Who is this man? The treasured singer of Iron Maiden, who has been lighting up the stage with the band since he left Samson in 1981. And to this date, he’s on the majority of their 200 million audio/video sales! He is currently on the road with his appropriately-titled spoken word tour, An Evening With Bruce Dickinson 2022, that is hitting numerous cities in the US and Canada. On a recent episode of Streaming For Vengeance, BraveWords caught up with the “Air Raid Siren” just before he landed on these shores to talk about, well, talking to audiences, his upcoming new solo album, the delays in getting on the road to promote Senjutsu and much, much more. So dig into this feast from the beast himself!  

BraveWords: On this big tour, are you trying to answer the question that's on the back of this t-shirt? 

Dickinson: "Yeah, that's the one. Who is that guy? Well, you'll get a bit of an insight, but not in a lecturing sort of a way. The story starts at birth, because that's the bit that you don't really remember much about, and basically it's like The Rake's Progress. It's the story about how this spotty, not very tall kid, from a town that nobody's ever heard of, in the middle of an island, floating around in the North Atlantic that gets a lot of rain, ends up wearing the most ridiculous trousers and is the singer of one of the greatest heavy metal bands in the world. That's the first hour and a half of the show. And it's a bit of a romp, I go through school days, I go through how I learned to sing, I go through how I didn't end up being a drummer - there's a lot of stuff about drummers in there, so maybe drummers you should kind of look away now, because it gets messy. Nicko makes a few appearances during the show, he's always very popular. So, this is the kind of thing we're getting into, there's a bit of physical comedy, there's a little bit of some stand-up techniques in the storytelling, but all the stories are actually true, as incredible as that may seem, and so it's a sideways look at everything. Including things that I've done as kind of extracurricular activities, like getting throat cancer for example, and getting over that. And trying to talk about it in a way which doesn't have everyone going, 'Oh! Cancer! This is serious!!!'. When you get people rolling around in the aisles, laughing about someone getting cancer, you know you're doing a good thing. Because people walk away with a feeling that, 'I feel better after that', or, 'I learned a few things', but overall, ‘That was three hours of my life that was not wasted.' So, I've got some merch now that we've finally put together, and some of the shirts have got some little snippets of stuff I said in the shows. One of my favourite ones is 'Life is better than all the other options', that's on the back of one of them. Apart from 'What Does This Button Do?' as a philosophy, 'Life is better than all the other options' would be me. That would be it. And if I can get people leaving, thinking, 'I laughed my ass off, you know what? Life IS better than all the other options!', that would be great."

BraveWords: When did you actually get that feeling that you were built for the talking stage and not just Long Beach Arena?

Dickinson: "Ah! Well, actually that goes back to when I was ten years old. It goes back even before that when I designed my own puppet theatre. So, I always had this thing about theatres and stages and stuff. I wanted to be like the Punch and Judy guy with the Punch and Judy puppets, and the crocodile, everything, the whole thing. So I never got around to doing that, but I did do a lot of fairly, sort of extremely average, school plays and dramatics. I did some street theatre when I was 16, which was really cool, and there was a bit of improv in it. And I found it really switched on a bit of my brain that I really enjoyed. It's the same bit of my brain that writes songs. You create something out of not thin air exactly, but you create something out of two or three seemingly unrelated things. And suddenly 'Bing!' The light bulb goes on, and you go, 'Ay, I've got it! Have you seen ‘The Writing On The Wall? Tada!' So I have to engage it for certainly the second part of my show, for about 45 minutes because the first part of the show is an hour and a half, then a 25 minute interval. The audience have got cue cards which are blank. They can write on them whatever they want - statements, questions, absolutely anything, and then I collect them all up in the interval or before, and I go through them all. And effectively, I arrange them in a kind of improv script. And that's the next 45 minutes of the show."

BraveWords: Perfect audience interaction!

Dickinson: "That's not my idea. I quite unashamedly borrowed it from a guy I saw when I was an undergraduate in university, and my girlfriend almost forcibly said, 'We've got to go and see this guy, he's really funny.' I said, 'Who is he?', and she goes, 'It's this weird cross-dressing civil servant called Quentin Crisp.' There's a film about Quentin Crisp called The Naked Civil Servant, he was sort of an early LGBTQ activist. He was so funny, and had such a dry wit, and he did this thing with the cue cards as the Q&A at the end, and I went, 'That's brilliant!'. And I always remembered it, and then I tried it at a few of the book reading things that they did when I did the book tour. They said they'd like me to read some bits from the book, and I thought that was a bit boring because they can read it for themselves. It's not like I'm Sir Richard Burton. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be better if I tell some stories around the book that really happened but are not in the book? Or tell some of the stories that are in the book but not like they were written down?' Anyway, I tried out this thing with the cue cards and it kind of worked and that's what started this whole process rolling. I've got a speaking agent and he said, 'You should do this as a one-man show.' And I went, 'Oh, that makes me a bit nervous, but let's just try a few and see how it works.' So, I've actually done about 50 or 60 of them before the lockdown, dribs and drabs. Then the lockdown happened so we just went, 'Well, let's book a U.K. tour.' So I just did nine shows in the U.K., I got 42 in the U.S.A. and Canada, and yeah, it's going great. I mean nobody knows what this is  over there. Although I'm trying to describe it, the best thing to do is go see it. And the first half dozen shows, people are going to be telling other people what it is, because they're going to be on social media going, "It's great! Come in the water's lovely. Don't be afraid, it's only three feet deep you won't drown.'"

BraveWords: But that's the beauty of this beast. It all ties into a quote I read somewhere (joking), and I'm trying to think of what book - "Nothing in childhood is ever wasted." I love that quote from your book, What Does This Button Do?

Dickinson: "Yes, that's right. That's my quote! I said that. Actually there's a few quotes like that, but that would be a really good one on the back of a shirt! Oh well, never mind, maybe next year. I mean we've got another shirt that says, 'There's no DNA in urine', which is quite good. I think that can be popular. And the other one, 'Drumming. Tourette's For The Soul.'"

BraveWords: Do you think the actual branding of Bruce Dickinson might date back around The Tattooed Millionaire era, when it's like, "I'm getting my wings, I want to do stuff on my own?"

Dickinson: "Nah. You know, if there was ever a time for it to date from, I'd kind of date it from Accident Of Birth really. Because with Tattooed Millionaire, that one was an album of well-played cliches which Janick (Gers) and I assembled. We assembled the album in the space of about ten days, we wrote all the songs in ten days. The best song on it, for me, is 'Born In '58', that's the standout track. But there's loads of other ones, you know, they were all good but they were all - and not to do them down either, because there's some stuff that's catchy - but it's not groundbreaking. It's not moving the goalposts of anything, you know. If I made an album that's going to carve out a new niche for myself, I wouldn't have made that album. And of course, when I quit the band and walked away, I realized that I had to make that album that would redefine who I was. And I realized I was absolutely terrified. I was thinking, 'I don't know how to do that!'. And I thought, 'Is this because I've been in the same band for ten years?' I mean Maiden had a fairly well-established not exactly formula, but a style, and you could write within a style. I thought, 'Oh my god, have I become so lazy that I've forgotten how to be a musician?' Maybe not, I don't know. So Balls To Picasso, I made three albums for Balls To Picasso but only released one. And that one was a kind of amalgam. Of course the magic tipping point was when I met Roy Z, and that was halfway through the album, so the album should've been like ten tonnes heavier than it was, but we couldn't change the producer and I didn't know Roy well enough to have confidence in him to go produce it at the time. But then we carried on, and Accident Of Birth, and that for me was the beginning. And Accident Of Birth was a kind of return, like, 'The metal is back!' And then for me the real turning point was Chemical Wedding because Chemical Wedding, that was where I really did reach deep, deep down and I didn't know I could reach this far, and pulled out Chemical Wedding. In fact, there was quite a hiatus between that and Tyranny Of Souls, but Tyranny Of Souls continues the same vein if you like, and it's got some amazing tracks on it, I mean 'Navigate The Seas Of The Sun' is a thing of beauty, that song. So there's so much good stuff on those two albums. Accident as well has got some pretty good stuff. So now we're in the throes of, we've finally got some space and time, to put another album together. And we've already got 50-60% of the album, maybe more, already basically mapped out, we've got some demos and some things. So it's just a question now of sitting down and putting the pieces together."

BraveWords: I treasure Roy Z. He's worked with you, with Rob and Judas Priest, Helloween, Rob Rock and plenty more. He's this really quiet gentleman who makes big noises!

Dickinson: "He's an incredible musician. I don't know if he plays keyboards, he probably does, and obviously his guitar playing is outstanding and his compositional ability as well, but also he is an absolutely amazing, devastating bass player. So when we do all the demos and things like that, he plays bass, and it's like, 'Dude! That's awesome!'"

BraveWords: Is Adrian Smith going to be on the record? 

Dickinson: "There's no plans at the moment, we've got to get the thing written. I mean, Adrian, I've got to say, has done this great thing with Richie Kotzen. He seems really happy in that sort of area, certainly not as metal-y, doom-y, weird-y as my sort of stuff, but I've got nothing that I want to prove. I just want to do something that's good."

BraveWords: Do you and Steve Harris ever talk about your solo career at all?

Dickinson: "No, we don't really talk about it. I kind of poke some songs at him occasionally and say, 'There you go, there's half a dozen, what do you think?' And he'll go, "Don't like that, don't like that, oh I like that one!' And that was "If Eternity Should Fail" - that's how that ended up as the opening track to the Maiden album (The Book Of Souls), because it was going to be the opening track to my solo album (Tyranny Of Souls). And the same thing happened with ‘Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter’, where I recorded it with Janick (Gers). We did a complete version, and then Steve said, ‘I love that! Don't put it on the album, give that to Maiden.' And I thought, 'Oh alright, let's see what happens', and boing! It goes to number one. It was interesting, any time any song ever gets played, doesn't matter who wrote it, doesn't matter what it is, if Iron Maiden plays the song, it just sounds like Iron Maiden, there's no way of getting around it. We did ‘Cross-Eyed Mary’, and it sounded like Iron Maiden playing ‘Cross-Eyed Mary’.”

BraveWords: Iron Maiden did justice to that Jethro Tull classic. And it was kind of a moderate hit on US radio, right?

Dickinson: "Right, and the crazy thing about that is that a lot of the time people think that we sit down and we plan things out, and sometimes we do, but sometimes we don't. That was one of the ones where, because me and Steve are both Tull fans, and he said, ‘Why don’t we do ‘Cross-Eyed Mary?' And I went, 'Yeah, alright, why not?'. I didn't think anymore about it, and we didn't rehearse it or do anything until they went into the studio, and they did the backing track. I went in, and I went, 'Oh, wow. Yeah.' Ian Anderson's voice is kind of a low baritone, and I'm like a high tenor. So I can't get down to a low baritone without it sounding a bit weak. But if I want to sing it as a high tenor, I've got to sing it a whole octave above where it was, you know? I was just like, 'Let's find a dominatrix that had a vice attached to both of my testicles' and away I went! I read an interview recently because I did some work with Ian. It was brilliant, I did two songs with him in a cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral it's on YouTube, you know just fan footage and such, and some of it's beautiful. I did ‘Revelations’ and ‘Jerusalem’. He was interviewed about it and he said, 'Yeah, I was aware they were big fans of Tull, but I was puzzled when I heard that cover of ‘Cross-Eyed Mary’ because it sounds like the singer was in pain.' And I was!"

BraveWords: Since BraveWords is one of your tasting partners, please give us an update on the future of Trooper beer?

Dickinson. "We had our best year this last year in the middle of the pandemic. We had our best year for Trooper in about three or four years, which is really cool. We're branching out a little bit, doing some signature beers, with other breweries, in different countries. Though, one of the world's most difficult things to do is to import and export beer across international boundaries. Apart from whatever it is to do with the fact that it's alcohol, it's just a huge amount of heavy liquid that costs a load of money to transport. We do export, and we export to the US and Canada, and we do as good as we can get. We don't have the big hitting power of an Anheuser-Busch to say 'You will take x million crates of Trooper', but we had a very good year last year. Fear Of The Dark just won a gold medal at a bog beer awards fair, which is fantastic. We've got this deal with BrewDog, we're brewing Hellcat, and I love it. It's kind of like a nice hazy IPA, and that should be rolling out, in fact when I’m in Columbus, I'm going to go see the brewery there and say hello to everybody. We've got a great beer down in Australia with Nomad Brewery, it's a lovely slightly raspberry-tinged beer, we've got a chocolate mango IPA with Trooper in Brazil. So we've got specialist ones, and we're just about to launch a couple of beers this week as well. I'm looking for a German collaborator, and looking for somebody in France at the moment. These are not knockoff versions of Trooper, these are individually crafted beers for those individual territories, which are part of the Trooper family. What we hope is that for people who are curious about beer, it will pull on that curiosity factor and it will knock on to other sales and people will discover some of the other beers in the range, of which Sun And Steel is one of my favourites, which is the sake infused crystal pils lager. It takes 13 days to brew it, so from that perspective it's a bit of a tall order for the brewery, but I am immensely proud of that, it's a really great achievement."

BraveWords: Last question, because I'm sure you're bouncing off of walls. Everyone talks about some topic being the “worst kept secret”, but when it came to Iron Maiden releasing their 17th studio album, Senjutsu, last September, it was quite the opposite. It was the “best kept secret”, as fans around the world were literally in shock while they were hearing the first single, “The Writing On The Wall”, last June. Unlike any other album roll-out in their long and treasured history, you couldn’t embark on the usual jaw-dropping world tour. 

Dickinson: "That was the reason why I had a really long chat with (manager) Rod (Smallwood) during the lockdown. And I said ‘Look, it’s not going to happen this summer (2021) is it? Anywhere. It’s going to have to happen next year. But we have to do something. Why don’t we just do an amazing video, something that really knocks peoples socks off. Because we haven’t done one for ages like that. Let’s do something.’ That’s when the idea of the animation came up. I scripted the video out. Then we found Andrew Gordon and Mark Andrews, the ex-Pixar guys who then found us the animators from BlinkInk and then we were into the process of making it. Which was fascinating. And we just got such a great result out of that in every single way. There were no negatives from that video at all. And what I love about it, it’s exceeded beyond my wildest imagination, because what I had hoped for was the video to be enough to be everything to everybody. And it kind of is. And if you are a conspiracy theorist, you’ll love the video. If you think that we are all being oppressed and it’s the end of the world, global warming, then it’s for you. There’s something in that video that appeals to absolutely everybody without taking a position. It’s a weird reality we create and it kind of has an ironic happy ending. The ending is a complete nod to the ending of Dr. Strangelove from Stanley Kubrick, with all the bombs going off.”

BraveWords: Fans around the planet are looking at this new artwork and imaginations are running wild as to what it will look like in a live setting. Where are you at with all the designing and building?

Dickinson: “I’ve seen the drawings, I’ve seen the pictures. I haven’t seen it actually up yet, but it’s actually going to happen! My guess is sometime in April or something that we will start dragging the set out and putting it back together. And obviously we still have all the Legacy things that we are going to be doing on the tour as well. It’s all going to happen. The Spitfire is going to be there and Eddie’s going to be there, the sword fight will be there, the flamethrowers, Icarus, it’s all there.”

(Photo credits: John McMurtrie + Nidhal Marzouk)

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