By Keith Sharp
The life of a rock superstar musician can be a little tedious at times. All your tours are pre-planned with military precision, shows sell out six months in advance, luxury private planes transport you to far-off continents (sometimes piloted by your own lead singer!) with masses of adoring fans attending every performance. There has to be times when even the most pampered ego reflects back on the day when playing in a sweaty club to a handful of faithful followers was the pinnacle of success at that time.
Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris can relate to these feelings. As the driving force behind one of rock music’s most acclaimed heavy metal outfits, Harris knows first hand what it’s like to play before crowds in excess of 200,000, to hedge hop from one continent to the next in the band’s own private plane, Ed Force One, and yes that is lead vocalist Bruce Dickinson in control of the cockpit stick, a fully qualified commercial airline pilot.
But when Harris received a demo tape in the mail from two young musicians; Richard Taylor and Graham Leslie, there was something about the material which peaked his interest. Impressed by the quality of the material, Harris encouraged the duo to record the tracks and found himself getting personally involved in the project.
The result being British Lion, a side project for Harris and the name of this band’s debut album which was released in Europe In September 2012. Now, taking advantage of a lull in Iron Maiden’s on-going activities, Harris is about to execute the band’s first Canadian tour, a selection of club dates in Ontario and Quebec before heading to Central and South America for further tour dates in Brazil, Argentina and Chile before concluding their itinerary in Japan.
Calling in from the band’s rehearsal retreat in Nassau, the Bahamas, Harris reports that British Lion have gone down well in Europe and that he and band members; Richard Taylor (vocals), double guitarists Graham Leslie and David Hawkins and drummer Simon Dawson are eagerly anticipating their first Canadian dates which kick off Thursday November 1st at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto before moving to Maxwell’s Kitchener Friday Nov. 2nd, Ottawa’s Brass Monkey Saturday Nov. 3rd. Sunday Nov.4 at L’imperial Quebec City before concluding their Northern trek with a date at Montreal’s Corona Theatre on Monday Nov.5th.
“Everything’s brilliant, we’re all really excited about playing in Canada,” bubbled Harris in his thick Cockney accent. “We played on a cruise ship last year and did some European dates in 2013 but other than that, this is our first major tour.”
Considering the heavy scheduling constraints imposed by Iron Maiden, Harris and his British Lion cohorts have had to take their time, utilizing down-time from their other obligations to develop this project but their debut album is a classy effort, engineered by Maiden’s tech whiz Kevin Shirley in Los Angeles and Harris reports the band has just completed a second album which will be released in early 2019.
Initially cited as a Steve Harris solo project, he concedes that British Lion is a legitimate side project. “People think it started out as a side project because my name is associated with it but it has evolved into a band project because we have been touring in support of it,” Harris allows. “Maybe some promoters want to use my name to draw attention to the band which is fine with me. We’ve just got to try to get people in to see us and show them what we can do”.
Harris warns that the band’s sound is rooted in classic British 70’s rock like The Who and UFO and is definitely not heavy metal like Iron Maiden but he notes that Maiden fans who have checked out the new project have been largely impressed and British Lion have won over many new fans.
“It depends on who you speak to as to whether they like us or not,” Harris explained. “Some people think it’s really different and others don’t think it’s different at all. But to my mind it’s not drastically different. It’s not like I’ve recorded a Country and Western album!”
So what’s it been like, playing in these sweaty clubs after years of mega festival and arena dates with Maiden? “Maybe I was missing that element of playing to small crowds, but really, back in the day, Maiden used to play to small crowds also, that’s how we started so it’s not that big of a challenge for me. I am lucky that I’ve had the best of both worlds. It’s brilliant what has happened to Maiden but this represents a change for me and I’m loving this new challenge.”
“As soon as the punters have been to some of our shows and picked up the words to a couple of songs, they have become real fans and are enjoying it for what it is,” Harris continued.
Yet even he will admit that being associated with Maiden has also helped pull strings in setting up European and South American dates for Harris’s bus man’s project and his name attached to the lineup certainly gives the band credibility.
“True, but at the end of the day, British Lion has to stand on it’s own merits,” Harris allows. “If these promoters are going to offer us dates in Europe, South America and Japan, how can we turn them down? But by the same token, we’ve got to live up to their expectations and deliver a great gig.