In Conversation with Iron Maiden’s Nicko McBrain…
Originally published in X-Press Magazine.
FLIGHT 666 – Iron Made In Transit
BYLINE: Sabian Wilde.
Few bands have achieved the ‘living legend’ status of Iron Maiden, with a career spanning 14 studio albums, 19 tours and inspiring legions of life-long fans. In 2009, Iron Maiden prove their mettle and metal once again with the release of Flight 666, an access-all-areas tour rockumentary that literally reaches new heights in ‘Ed Force One’.
Nicko McBrain has been drumming for Iron Maiden since 1983, and even at the age of 56 his trademark energy, enthusiasm and hilarity is still in high gear when it comes to talking about the band’s fans. It’s a two-way relationship that inspired Iron Maiden to break the conventional tours of touring to get out and play to as many of them as possible.
“Bruce [Dickinson, singer] came up with the idea during the Dance of Death tour ,” says McBrain. “We were flying to Europe from London and we talking about playing places we hadn’t been before, or places like Oz which we hadn’t been to in 11 years.”
Although bean counters said it was simply too expensive to tour a fully-fledged Maiden concert for any length of time, Iron Maiden’s hidden talents made everything possible for the 2008/09 Somewhere In Time tour.
There are few world firsts left for bands these days; first band is space is still up for grabs, as is first rock star to die from choking on someone else’s vomit. But thanks to Iron Maiden, ‘first band to undertake a world tour in a converted passenger/cargo jet’ is off the table.
Incredibly, customising a Boeing 757 into ‘Ed Force One’ was the cheaper way to tour the world, perhaps because Dickinson is a licensed commercial pilot who flies for British airline Astraeus in his ‘downtime’.
According to McBrain, Dickinson’s dual careers can sometimes cause anxiety for unwary passengers: “Sometimes a passenger will realise Bruce is the pilot and think, ‘He’s from Iron Maiden, oh my god, what’s going on?’… but nine times out of ten they’ll ask him to sing a verse from Run To The Hills as they take off,” he says, breaking off into gales of laughter.
With Ed Force One kitted out and almost ready for take off, McBrain says the band had originally planned to take friends and family along with the crew and equipment, until they realised the scale of what they were about to attempt.
“Rod [Smallwood, manager] said, ‘We need to document this – this is history. This is the first time any band in the world has ever done this’,” recalls McBrain.
The band selected Toronto-based documentary makers Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen, who had impressed with 2005’s Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal (2007). Shot in high-def digital and 5.1 Dolby surround sound, Flight 666 mixes snippets of live footage (with scenes from over 20 songs) and the day-to-day life of the tour, on and off the jet, providing greater access to the band than has ever been possible before.
McBrain has played an important role in documenting previous tours, writing online tour diaries to give fans an insight into the workings of the band. However, Flight 666 gave him a little less to do, and a little more to worry about.
“I’ve got to tell you mate, it’s a great piece of film,” he says, “it’s totally Iron Maiden. You can be a fly on the wall. It’s a very true representation of what we’re about as a band.”
But the journey wasn’t without turbulence: “It was an agony and ecstasy experience. Ecstasy in that I’ve seen the film and I know it’s been worthwhile, and the tears and agony of having these guys out with you for six weeks with you, trying to share every moment they could… and some of those moments weren’t appropriate.
“You’d be going, ‘Look, I’m just gonna sit on the toilet and have a dump, can you leave the camera outside and shut the door as you go out?’. It wasn’t that exactly, but you do get to a stage when you feel like you can’t fart without a camera being there and someone having a laugh on film,” he says, and for once, he’s not laughing himself.
Although McBrain clearly loves and respects his fans, he says all the members of the band have an uncomfortable relationship with celebrity and employ methods as diverse as tennis, fencing and golf to unwind.
“Sometimes you just want to be left alone in you down time and have as close to a normal life as you can, if possible. This film portrays the moments when you can, and those moments when you can’t because you’re being chased, or there’s a throng of fans out the front and getting out of the hotel is a covert operation,” he laughs.
And as for the live performances, it should be noted that Iron Maiden was recently awarded Best Live Act at the 2009 BRIT awards, so they clearly still pack a heavyweight punch, which the filmmakers were careful to avoid.
“They’d talk us through it and didn’t take liberties with respect to the live show,” says McBrain. “Sam Dunn is a lifelong fan of the band, so that was a big help as well. Most of all, this film is a testament to our fans, because they really are the stars.”
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