The legendary heavy metal group, more of an institution than a band at this point, has weathered much since releasing its debut album 36 years ago, including the changing of band members, evolving music industry tastes, even singer Bruce Dickinson’s cancer scare last year.
So when Iron Maiden’s customized 747 jumbo jet, Ed Force One, was knocked out of commission while the band was knee-deep in a South American tour, the response was typical Maiden: the band and its crew rolled up their sleeves and plotted alternate ways to get the massive stage show around the continent, refusing to let any concerts be canceled or even postponed.
On March 12, while at the airport in Santiago, Chile, getting prepped for its flight to Argentina, Ed Force One became dislodged from its tow cable and collided with a truck. The collision injured two airport workers and severely damaged the plane, forcing a mad scramble for new travel arrangements so the band could make its upcoming shows.
Maiden is on the road supporting The Book of Souls, released last September, the first studio double album of the group’s career. The ambitious, 92-minute set features the longest song Maiden has ever recorded, “Empire of the Clouds,” clocking in at more than 18 minutes.
Both the album and tour were delayed last year as Dickinson went through seven weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment for a cancerous tumor found at the back of his tongue. Dickinson is now recuperated, and the band has hit the road with a sprawling, Mayan-themed stage set and its longtime mascot, Eddie.
For The Book of Souls tour, Maiden is supported by The Raven Age, an up-and-coming metal act featuring George Harris, the son of Maiden bassist Steve Harris, on guitar. On the recent South American dates, Maiden was also joined by fellow metal icons Anthrax.
Despite the travel turmoil of the previous day, Steve Harris still made time to keep a scheduled phone interview with The Aquarian, calling in from Argentina moments before taking the stage for Maiden’s Cordoba concert on March 13. Harris discussed the plane accident, choosing a set list, touring with his son, and Dickinson’s return to the stage.
You had an unusual incident with your airplane, which was severely damaged on the ground. What exactly happened?
From what I’m told, the ground staff was bringing the plane toward a refueling station, and they didn’t hook it up properly, then the pin came out and the aircraft collided with the tow truck. It was a bit of a freak accident, really. Thank God the two injured guys are OK now. They’re not in any danger. That’s good news and the main thing, really. The other issue is that it’s probably going to take a couple of weeks to fix the plane. It’s a logistical nightmare. We’ve got a lot of people involved trying to arrange everything.
It’s not expected to affect any of the shows?
No. We’re playing Cordoba tonight. We’re actually going onstage on time, and I can’t believe it. The guys have done a fantastic job sorting out all of the arrangements, the travel, the trucks. Luckily enough, we could truck our stuff here from Chile. It was a little too far that we couldn’t truck it in overnight. But we’re here and we’re doing the show. And it’s absolutely unbelievable, and a credit to all our crew and everybody else who’s helped get us here, that the show is actually on. It’s amazing.
Do you think your plane will be fixed by the time you need to go to the United States?
I bloody hope so! I’m told there’s every chance it will be, but we’ll have to wait and see. I hope it won’t be gone for too long.
This tour is a triumphant return to the road for Iron Maiden, especially after Bruce Dickinson’s cancer treatment last year. From all reports, he’s sounding great right now.
Yeah. Right from the first show, and even in rehearsals, he was singing really well. He’s really happy where he’s at with his voice, and so are we. Obviously, there was no guarantee he was going to get back in tip-top form, but he really has. He’s singing as good as or better than ever.
When Bruce was dealing with cancer, were you guys concerned for a bit that he wouldn’t be able to tour again?
Yeah, a year ago we didn’t know if we had a future, to be honest. It was very serious. The main thing was whether Bruce was going to be OK—that was first and foremost. Once you get on from there, you think, “Wow, have we still got a future or not?” It affects everybody, not just us but people who work for us and everything else. It’s a big responsibility weighing on you. At the end of the day, we’re just really happy to be here. You never know how long you can carry on for.
Your shows for this tour feature a heavy dose of songs from The Book of Souls. How did you decide on the newer tracks you were going to play?
It’s always challenging to a certain degree. But having said that, some of the songs tend to choose themselves. It’s pretty obvious we’ll do the opening song on a new album, and the title track is usually automatic. Then it gets difficult, as a couple of the new songs are really long. It’s not easy picking a set, really. Some set lists almost pick themselves, but not necessarily this tour.
How have The Book of Souls songs been going over with the fans?
Whenever we play new material, eventually some of the songs become classics themselves. They can’t become that unless you play them. Any new song is not going to go down as well as some of the old stuff, because obviously the old stuff the fans know inside out. But we’ve never been scared to play new material. I think it keeps us fresh and the audience fresh. In between album tours, we might do a retro tour and we’ll pick a couple of songs that we haven’t played in 20 years or more. But it’s always a challenge to play new material. There are people out there who want to hear a jukebox, but we’re not that. We do what we feel is right.
Not many bands would have the ambition to make a double album nearly 40 years into their career.
We had 11 songs, and we didn’t expect them to be that long, to be honest. It had to be a double album to fit more on. It is what it is. We didn’t plan to write a double album in the first place. But we’ve got loads of ideas, which is great. Personally, I’ve got too many ideas to use in my lifetime, probably. But that’s a nice problem to have, I think. It’s just a question of trying to put everything together and work them out.
Right now, you have the unique opportunity to tour with your son George, as his band The Raven Age is opening up for Maiden. What’s it been like touring with your son?
It’s fantastic. It’s not just that he’s my son and they weren’t good enough to take out on tour; they certainly are. They’ve got some great songs. I paid him a compliment and said to him, “I wish I’d written some of those songs,” and I think Bruce said the same thing to him as well. He’s just getting known. It’s not easy to get a new band going and get out to people, and obviously it was a great opportunity for them to play to so many people. They’re going in a fantastic direction. You don’t get there if you’re not good.
Iron Maiden has accomplished so much in its career. Is there anything you feel that you’d still like to achieve at this point?
We’re always looking for new things to do, new places to play. On this tour, it’s the first time we’re playing El Salvador, we’re playing China, we’re playing Lithuania. We’re always looking for new challenges. If you’ve done well in a country or city before, it’s a challenge to go back while touring a new album and do better than before.
I’m looking forward to seeing the band at Madison Square Garden. What are some of the things you enjoy most about visiting New York?
New York is a great place to play and always has been. We’ve been playing there since probably 1981. I always enjoy my time there. There’s plenty to do. These days, I’m more likely to go out sightseeing than go to the pubs, but it’s a lot of fun.
What’s next on the horizon for Maiden after the The Book of Souls tour is finished? Have you been discussing another album?
I’d like to do another record. I think everybody, when we finished the last one, said straight afterwards that they wanted to do another one. I’m sure we will at some point. Maybe we’ll carry on and do some more touring first, we’ll have to see. But I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t do another album at some point.
Iron Maiden will perform at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 30. For more information, go to ironmaiden.com.