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:: Spotlight :: Bruce Dickinson - Anthology

By: press interview

Bruce Dickinson has been one of the most charismatic rock vocalists in his role with Iron Maiden. The Worksop-born, adopted Londoner has played a significant role in around 50 million record sales and performed thousands of sold-out concerts across the globe during a career that began at the tail end of the 1970s and shows no sign of slowing down.

Dickinson is still the proverbial human whirlwind of activity, having made his mark with Iron Maiden and as a solo artist, with a catalogue that includes six studio albums of his own plus several concert releases. And away from being an artist, Bruce is also well known as a BBC DJ, broadcaster, airline pilot, sword-fencing expert, novelist, family man and voice of modern music.

Here, he speaks about his newly-released 3-DVD set ‘Anthology’.

Let’s begin by talking about ‘Dive Dive Live’, which was filmed at the Town And Country Club in California during your first solo tour. Was it a humbling experience to be back in the clubs when you’d become so accustomed to arenas, or a refreshing change?

The entire tour was really refreshing. We had a great time. It’s a shame in a way that we didn’t film ‘Dive Dive Live’ in Europe, because some of those shows were cool. It was an odd video to make, frankly. I thought we’d have lots of hand-held cameras, but what turned up were all these great big cranes and flying jibs. Half the audience was excluded to make room for the camera tracks. It was really unsatisfactory. The budget was obscene and if I’d controlled it I could’ve made about three videos for the same price.

I believe the audience that night wasn’t even allowed to drink?

That’s right! They weren’t allowed to do anything. They were corralled in pens like cattle. It didn’t belong anywhere near a rock ‘n’ roll show.

Was it a typical arms-crossed, hard-to-impress LA audience?

Yeah. But the crowd was made miserable by being dry as a bone and bossed about by all these self-important video idiots, or vidiots as I like to call them.

Despite all these reservations, would you say ‘Dive Dive Live’ is a decent representation of your first solo tour?

No. It’s crap, but it’s the only documentation of the tour. At the end of the show, I went into the truck, got the 24-track master audiotapes and threw them in the river. The bloke who was with me, Merck Mercuriadis, was actually on his hands and knees recovering the tapes. I was like, ‘Let them drown you f**ker’. These video wankers had come in and ruined what should have been a great night.

While in California, did you experience much of the brain-dead rock star egomania that had inspired the song ‘Tattooed Millionaire’?

I don’t think you can avoid it. But fortunately MTV and VH1 televise it on a regular basis now. That Cribs show, I think, sums it all up.

The extra encore of ‘Black Night’ by Deep Purple was interesting, not to mention 1970s folk rockers Lindisfarne’s 1971 hit ‘Fog On The Tyne’…

We did that every night. With Janick he was familiar with them, and I knew ‘Fog On The Tyne’ when I was a kid. We thought that we were short of material for an encore, and it was a bit wacky, so why not?

And how did it go down with the LA crowd?

We didn’t care.

You’ve said many times since that becoming a full-time solo artist was not on your mind at that point. Did you lose count of the times that journalists asked you that question, and did it rile you?

I wasn’t counting, but I did expect it. How I reacted to it varied upon whether the journalist actually gave a s**t or not. Some of them manifestly thought of it as a way to wind me up, but others were genuinely concerned; those that might have been Maiden fans. So the red mist [of anger] didn’t always descend.

But was there a particular point on that first tour where you smiled to yourself and thought, ‘This is cool… I can do this on my own’?

It was probably when we were doing shows in Europe that there seemed to be a little bit less pressure. We were in Helsinki in the frozen North [of Scandinavia] and I recall thinking, ‘This is absolutely brilliant’. We were losing pounds of sweat and it was marvellous fun.

Were there any nights when it didn’t go to plan?

Yeah, the night that we recorded the video. There was also a night in Germany when I had a Ritchie Blackmore [tantrum] moment; a cup of water might have ended up in someone’s camera. They just got a bit too close.

By the time you started work on the ‘Skunkworks’ album, was an element of doubt registering in your mind? It had taken three attempts to record the previous album, ‘Balls To Picasso’, and its experimental feel had been greeted by an air of bemusement?

Yeah, the strange thing about ‘Balls To Picasso’ was that we got talked into making the album less heavy than it should have been. With hindsight, Roy [Z, guitarist] and I both feel it should have been produced differently. In fact, Roy should have produced it himself. But at the time he was relatively unproven. So we went with the received wisdom of others.

After the reception to ‘Balls To Picasso’, I threw the baby out with the bathwater with ‘Skunkworks’. I was trying to wipe the slate clean with a little artistic self-destruction. I was sure that one or two tracks on that album would wind up the purists, and they did. One guy in New York issued death threats, saying he’d stamped on the record and burned it with branding irons. That was a little extreme; it was only a record. But if people were reacting that strongly then I knew I had to be doing something right.

You’ve said that Skunkworks was an attempt to “take a flamethrower” to your life. It was certainly brave to sever just about all ties with the past, hire Nirvana producer Jack Endino of all people and begin anew.

You see I love Jack’s stuff. His secret life is that he’s a massive Rainbow and AC/DC fan. He used to say, ‘You mustn’t tell anyone I have these records in my collection or my credibility’s completely blown’. That’s what annoyed me about that era. So many quote unquote grunge bands were simply trying something different to the LA, cocaine-up-the-nose cock rock thing. The bands they really wanted to pay homage to were the same ones that I grew up idolising; Deep Purple, Sabbath and AC/DC with Bon Scott.

Did you almost feel parental towards the young musos you’d pulled together as Skunkworks?

Er, in a strange way, yeah. If being parental is closing the bedroom door and looking the other way. On occasions I’d visit the back of the bus and think, ‘Don’t go there. Or if you do, make sure you take a Kleenex’.

Whilst acknowledging the validity of this time in your career, do you now look back at it as some kind of mid-life crisis?

Um, not really. I’d already had my mid-life crisis a bit earlier than that. I’d realised that if we didn’t get some kind of life after I’d left Maiden, then there was no future as a singer or a musician. Where I didn’t want to end up was on the metal or rock cabaret circuit. Plenty of bands do end up there, and I’m sure they have a laugh, but music’s too much of a cathartic experience for me. It’s too life changing.

What do you recall of the two Skunkworks shows included here, filmed in Pamplona and Gerona in 1996?

We were intercepted by a French Mirage jet fighter as I flew us into Spain, which was a little concerning. I’m staring out of the cockpit window at this jet, which is just hanging there. I was tempted to slow down, as the thing would’ve just fallen out of the sky, but that would have been like annoying a wasp. I called the flight controller who said:

The Spanish footage was shot for a Japanese video EP, but what we get here is pretty much a full concert from the era. How did it make you feel to see it again?

I thought it was pretty darned good, actually. The Skunkworks video was what ‘Dive Dive Live’ should have been. It also reminded me that there was a crisis at the second show when somebody stole my trousers.

Er… stole your trousers?

Yeah. And being on a bit of a budget I only had one pair. They were black fake leather snakeskin. Where in Pamplona am I supposed to find a pair of those on a Sunday morning? We finally found some women’s disco diva shop that had a pair of stretchy PVC ones that I could just about get into. I noticed during the show that everyone down in the pit was staring anxiously up at me with a look of awe on their faces. I thought, ‘Well, we’re going down well tonight’. Then I realised that my pair of hairy bollocks had released themselves and were swinging around. The trousers had split! So I walked manfully off the stage. We were only about three songs in, so we used black Gaffer tape to cover me up. You’ve heard of the Brazilian wax, afterwards I had the Pamplona version. I suffer for my art!

The DVD’s third live segment was shot in South America during the tour that that 1999’s ‘Scream For Me Brazil’ would later document. By that point you’d been back together with Adrian Smith for two albums, and agreed to return to Iron Maiden after an absence of six years for you – longer still for Adrian. A dip in album sales had also been converted to a steady rise. How would you describe the mood on those dates?

I was a little sad. We’d put together a great band with Roy [Z] and the Tribe Of Gypsies guys, and we’d found a sound that was unique. The ‘Accident Of Birth’ album [in 1997] had made a big start, but I can look back on ‘The Chemical Wedding’ [1998] and say that it was a really groundbreaking and influential album – not just for me, but metal in general. I’m still immensely proud of it. We had such a blast touring it – even some of the acoustic jams we did at radio stations, which we’ve been unable to release – but I’m so glad we were able to liberate all these tapes.

What do you recall of the Sao Paolo show that was filmed?

The concert was part of the Skull Rock series, and with us on the bill were the Scorpions and Jason Bonham, I think. On that particular night we went down an absolute storm, which the Scorpions were very gracious about actually, because a lot of the audience left after we finished.

The footage presented here was originally a bootleg. What’s the story of how you came to use it for your own purposes?

It was a bootleg from the TV screens, but it was also filmed for TV. So we approached the TV company. The quality of some of the show wasn’t good enough to be used, but the sound is untouched – it comes straight off the mixing desk.

The devotion of the Brazilian fans is well known. Would you say that it’s unique?

Well, it’s not just Brazil. Argentina and Chile, Mexico, the whole South American continent has always been big on metal. It’s not just my solo stuff, it’s the same with Iron Maiden. We were one of the first bands to go there for the very first Rock In Rio Brazil has a unique musical culture because it’s such a melting pot, and it has more people under the age of 21 than anywhere else in the world, so the potential is enormous. They’re not stubborn about that they’ll listen to, and they do so with great attention, so they’re a joy to play for.

Unless you happen to be a particular student of Bruce Dickinson’s career, the role of guitarist/producer Roy Z might go unnoticed by some. Have you ever sat down and contemplated where you might be, for instance, had he not played you the riff to ‘Accident Of Birth’ down the phone? And you’d not flown to LA the very next day to make that album together?

I don’t tend to dwell on things like that, but on such strange coincides empires have been known to fall and rise. Small pebbles dropped in large ponds make big ripples.

Roy Z has certainly been in a big rock in your life.

Yes he has indeed. And I think he believes to be in the lives of many others, if there’s any justice in the world. As a producer and mentor, Roy is second to none.

Let’s talk now about the range of promotional videos that are also included here. Many of these you have either storyboarded or been involved in the production of. So you are a believer in the hands-on approach?

Yeah, well I quite enjoying mucking around and having fun with them So I’ve directed a few and co-produced a few of the others, and had a hand in storyboarding virtually all of them.

Are there any of your videos that you’re especially proud of, or perhaps even some that you now have reservations about?

There are no reservations about them, no. They are what they are. ‘Inertia’ and ‘Back From The Edge’ [both from ‘Skunkworks’] are two of my favourites. I directed both of those, so that’s probably why. I’m particularly proud of the underwater stuff in the swimming pool. To this day, people still think that’s trick photography, but we didn’t have the budget for that.

Is the directing of videos something you’d like to become more involved with further down the line?

It’s pretty unlikely because I’d want to do everything my own way.

One thing that very few fans will actually have seen is the Biceps Of Steel movie, filmed at the Rainbow Theatre in London during your time with the band Samson…

Yes, it’s classic stuff.

What was it like to work with Julien Temple, the old Sex Pistols director?

Believe it or not, it was Julien’s first feature film. So I’ve no idea what he made of it. I don’t think we even spoke to him. We just turned up, slapped on a load of make-up and did our thing with these great polystyrene Marshall cabinets. With belching bouncers in orange boiler suits, it’s a fantastic piece of nonsense, it really is.

Did Julien come up with the concept, or the members of Samson?

The concept, which is crass in extremis, wasn’t ours! Oh no! I’ve no idea who thought that one up. It was the typical concept dreamt up by someone who didn’t understand metal. They’d obviously sat back and thought, ‘Samson. And super-roadie. Yes, and we’ll have two huge Marshall stacks that kill everybody at the end’. Yeah, right! That video comes under the category of ‘What a wonderful piece of kitsch’. It also sums up pretty much the whole of Samson’s career, and also the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.

It’s more than a little tongue-in-cheek. You have no reservations about bringing it out of the closet after all these years?

Oh God, no. I’m not embarrassed by looking at things that might make other people cringe. I find it incredibly amusing. It’s like looking back at anyone’s family photographs; ‘Oh my God, did I really look like that?!’ If I felt a bit insecure about sharing stuff like that then I wouldn’t want to, but it’s great.

Does that ‘no regrets’ attitude apply to the rest of your career?

Yeah. You have to look at decisions you’ve made and learn from them. I don’t think you can go back revamping your past, or regretting it. Only if you’ve hurt others by what you’ve done. But as long as it’s your own career that’s been potentially damaged, it’s all a learning experience.

How do you feel about the release of ‘Bruce Dickinson, Anthology’?

It’s not before time. There’s so much stuff on it that people will either be unaware of, or would like to have but didn’t know where to get it. The Samson video, for example, has been changing hands for an absurd amount of money. Chopping it all together in one package, everyone’s got access to it. We spent loads of time making the promos, yet the people that bought ‘Skunkworks’, ‘Accident Of Birth’ and ‘The Chemical Wedding’ would’ve had no real access to them because MTV didn’t show them. Now everyone can see all the fun we had.

The DVD’s cover art looks fantastic…

William Blake comes to the rescue again! As the inspiration for ‘The Chemical Wedding’, he played a huge part in my life and the painting we’ve used here is called Whirlwind. I rather liked the irony of that because in some respects I’m a bit of a whirlwind myself.

You are indeed. With so many things going on in your life – making your own music and with Iron Maiden, plus deejaying for the BBC and working as an airline pilot – how do you fit it all in?

I just get on with stuff. There are still one or two things that continue to loom, like a movie project that’s almost been made, but they’re in a continual state of suspended animation. They have been gathering dust for 15 years so I don’t lose sleep about them anymore, I just get on with everything else.

2005’s ‘Tyranny Of Souls’ was your first solo album in seven years. Critically speaking and sales-wise, it received a great reaction. Schedule permitting, of course, is it safe to say that we will we be seeing plenty more solo action from you?

Yeah. Roy and I have a very tentative schedule for another solo album. Obviously, there’s a new Iron Maiden album and nothing will happen before the tour for that winds up next spring. There’s no hurry. It took me seven years between ‘The Chemical Wedding’ and ‘Tyranny Of Souls’, and there were only slight objections. People went, ‘Oh, at last. And about time, too’. ‘Chemical Wedding’ was such a good record, I actually did scare myself with it. So I was pretty relieved that ‘Tyranny Of Souls’ went down so well. Now might be time to move things along, and experiment a bit more. We shall see.


Bruce Dickinson, Anthology’ is a triple-DVD anthology summation of a rich, varied and fullsome solo career. It unites 1991’s ‘Dive Dive Live’ and 1997’s ‘Skunkworks Live’ live sets with ‘Scream For Me Brazil’, a previously unreleased hour-long film shot in Sao Paulo in 2000.

Also included are all 14 of the singer’s promotional videos (including ‘Tattooed Millionaire’, ‘Tears Of The Dragon’, ‘Shoot All The Clowns’, ‘Back From The Edge’, ‘Killing Floor’, ‘The Tower’, ‘Chemical Wedding’ and ‘The Road To Hell’), most of which the singer storyboarded or produced himself.

Other extras include the long-deleted and now extremely rare movie ‘Biceps Of Steel’, filmed with the band Samson in 1981 by Sex Pistols director Julien Temple, making this thorough and comprehensive visual collection nothing less than a treasure trove for Dickinson devotees everywhere.

The ‘Anthology’ 3-DVD package is out now through Riot Distributors.