2015 – The Burning Questions: Will Iron Maiden top The Book Of Souls?
The heavy metal warhorses have made the biggest album of the year.
Their secret? According to Bruce Dickinson, it’s writing new songs, golf and... underpants.
So, The Book Of Souls. Did you have any interest in Mayan culture before you came up with the title?
No, no. Not me! Nothing to do with me. It’s Steve’s [Harris, bass] song. He’s totally developed an interest in Mayan culture. Not sure why. But he has, so hence he thought: “Call it The Book Of Souls.” “Yeah, okay,” you know? Book Of Souls sounds like a pretty good Iron Maiden title, doesn’t it?
The idea of ‘souls’ pops up in quite a few lyrics on the album.
Yeah, it does. But then on the other hand, you could call an Iron Maiden album The Book Of Dark and you’d say, “Oh, every song has ‘dark’ in it somewhere.” Everybody thinks that everything on an album is planned, and it’s not. It looks that way afterwards, of course. It makes you think about the Bible. You go, “Of course it’s not planned, it’s just a bloody accident. They’re making it all up as they go along.” And at the end of it, somebody says: “Aah, it was all prophecy!” My arse.
It also features horns and strings, which you haven’t done before. What made you go down that route?
Well, I wrote Empire Of The Clouds on piano. And when you write on piano it just suggests things. I could hear harpsichords, tubular bells, timpani, all this stuff. And I thought, “Wow.” So yeah: French horns – tick. Cellos – tick. Oboe – tick.
How will you recreate that live? Will the band swap their instruments for horns and strings?
No. I doubt we will ever do that song live.
Is it true you’re building the largest aircraft in history? A mix of airplane and airship?
Yes. In the same hangar where they built the R101 [the airship that inspired Empire Of The Clouds]. It’s still there. In fact there are two hangars. One they built the R101 in. Next door, they built the sister ship, the R100. The R100 flew across the Atlantic and came back. But that was built by a private enterprise. The R101 was built by the government, and they made some compromises. The airship was so heavy it couldn’t take any passengers, so they had to make it even bigger, which made it structurally weaker. Oh, it’s just an incredible story. I could go on all night.
When are you launching that plane?
We’ve already flown it in America. We can cruise at about 120kph, but we can do it for five days. So crossing the Atlantic: not a problem. And the whole vehicle is heavier than air, so it lands vertically and takes off vertically. Doesn’t use a runway.
Would you use it to transport Maiden around on tour?
Listen, if we could get from A to B in one of our airships then we would. But it’ll be two or three years before that’s possible.
You’ve also got an aircraft repair business, Cardiff Aviation, and you’re also helping to relaunch the African airline, Air Djibouti. How did you find time to record an Iron Maiden album?
Oh, doing a Maiden album is brilliant. I just say: “Look guys, sorry, I’m busy.” Delegate!
Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
I am an entrepreneur, no question about that. I must confess: I’d like to be an entrepreneur with other people’s money, but doesn’t everybody?
With everything you’ve got going on, how much of a wake-up call was being diagnosed with cancer?
That was a full stop. That’s when the car hits the brick wall and the airbag comes out and you go: “Okay…” When I got the diagnosis, the doc said: “What are your plans?” I said, “Plans? As of right now, I’m starting getting rid of this. That’s my full-time job. Nothing else matters.” I researched everything. I researched the drugs, I researched the toxicology, I researched the cancer. My oncologist was fantastic because he explained to me the way the whole process works. I kept going back to him with questions, saying: “So, why do you do this then? And why is this important?” He said: “Oh! That’s because the cancer works like this, and we need to do this to it to get it to work.” And I said: “Okay, understood.” I really wanted to understand exactly what was happening to my body. I wanted to be able to… not control it, because you can’t control it…