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The (Original) Iron Maiden

Congratulations to us! Finally, for the first time in our webzine, established since 2000, we had the honour doing an interview with the one and only Iron Maiden. Yeah, up the irons! Well, I write here one and only, but that's not completely the truth. As a matter of fact, there isn't one Iron Maiden. Everybody knows the multinational Steve Harris & Company Incorporated, but several years before Steve started his slightly well known little band, there has been another band around with the same name. Even in the same city: London. This thing is normally too trivial to mention, but the thing is that this Iron Maiden, founded in 1970, also made pretty exciting music. Barry Skeels (bass), Steve Drewett (vocals, harmonies), Paul Reynolds (drums), Trevor Thoms (guitar) made an interesting blend of blues rock, heavy psych, hard rock and proto metal, which made them a typical, but excellent exponent of the musical climate in the British underground in those years. They were already playing as Bum in the years before and released an acetate single of 'God Of Darkness' in 1969, which is considered by connoisseurs as the conception of doom metal (even before Black Sabbath!), and changed their name into The Iron Maiden in 1970. Although you can consider the year 1970 as the definitive birth year of heavy metal ('Black Sabbath', 'Paranoid', 'In Rock', and Black Widow's 'Sacrifice'), it became a disastrous year for The Iron Maiden. Everything that could go wrong went wrong, and it took the band 42 years (!) to give their debut album 'Maiden Voyage' an official release. Forty-two f*cking years, that must be Guinness Book Of Records worthy… Barry Skeels tells you all about those years, and even more. So sit back, grab a beer and take your time for a story of 42 years in five-thousand words.

By: Evil Dr. Smith | Archive under hardrock / aor

Finally! After 42 years people are able to hear the first album of Iron Maiden, officially. Congratulations! What took you so long? (Well, actually: I mean it. Why took it so long to give your recordings the chance they deserve?)
Unfortunately for us, our record company at the time, Gemini Records, were not very good, to be polite, they were crap. The band had to fight with them all the time even to get studio time, although we were contracted for two singles and an album. We did manage to get into Regent B studios in Denmark St , London to produce these pre-production tracks and lucky we did, but never got to record them properly or master them. Although to be fair, other than these tracks being better produced, balanced and the odd mistake removed, we liked to record in one off takes as if we were playing live, to get all that energy, experimentation and groove. The songs had some structure, verses, chorus, mid 8, but basically they would be different every time we played them, so the final version may have been different to the ones on the album, especially the instrumental parts of the song. Ned Kelly & Falling were recorded in the better quality studio Regent A, with a producer, as it was released as a single and you can hear the difference. At the end though Gemini went bust before we could record our first album with a producer or get it released. As luck would have it we had copies those original tapes although not the master tape, so remastering from our copies had been a challenge but I think the outcome has been worth it.

How did Rise Above got on contact with you. What's the story behind the realization of this release?
I first had an email form Lee Dorian at Rise Above about the possibility of releasing the album about eighteen months or so ago. I'm not sure how he found out about us but he had heard the Audio Archive copy and as he was looking for bands from that period (late 60s early 70s) to either re-release or as in our case a first release, on his new label, we fitted the bill. From the hundreds of bands around at that time I'd like to think that he chose us because we stood out in some way but you'd need to ask him that question. Obviously I was extremely excited by the idea and I contacted the rest of the band (we are still good friends after all these years) who were also very enthusiastic. Unfortunately, Trevor Thoms (guitar) had died six months earlier from pancreatic cancer so I had to track down his relations to get their permission to release the tracks, as Trevor had been part composer on most of them. As it happened, other than Ned Kelly / Falling, none of the other tracks had been published but after a call to Kassner Music the original publishers of the single they, not surprising, immediately signed the rest of the tracks to the company, meaning that Trevor's rights were protected, in case we make any money.

Actually, I have the album already, since it was released on CD before. In 1998 some label called Audio Archives released it as “archetypal doom-metal” on CD. I suppose you have never seen one single penny by this release and it was a one hundred per cent bootleg?
It wasn't exactly a bootleg as such. Audio Archives did contact me before it was released. They had purchased the original single tapes from President Records (Gemini's parent company) and had contact me for more info. I think they got my contact from President as I'm still in contact with them. At that time I only had a cassette copy (remember them) of the Maiden tracks and not a great copy at that but I sent it to them so that they could put together an album. I believe they did try to improve the sound but not to the extent that Rise Above have achieved. I also sent a few press cutting and photos I had but at that time I couldn't find the artwork for the cover that we had designed for use if Gemini had released the album. Luckily I keep ever piece of paper, cutting, photos, recordings etc of every band I've ever played in, even though my mum then later wife constant moaning about me collecting junk and scraps of paper. My wife moans even more as I've filled the house with speakers, amps and guitars, LOL. You are right on one score we never saw any money from Audio Archive sales and never knew how many they had sold. They did say that they were going to produce about 200 CDs.

Can you also tell the differences between that bootleg and the new official one on Rise Above? What did you do to improve the sound?
You can most definitely hear the difference between Audio Archives and Rise Above's offerings. Luckily Steve Drewett had saved the 1/4 inch reel to reel tape, a mixed copy of the tracks, which had a much better quality of sound over the cassette but unfortunately not the master tape. Lee booked a remastering studio, FX in London and with the help of Richard Whittaker at the studio, Lee, Steve & Paul Reynolds (I couldn't get down from Newcastle because I was playing) they went through all the tracks, adding back the lost frequencies (lost due to age of the tape), removing the glitches and a little bit of editing to tidy up the tracks. All in all giving a great improvement.

The artwork is also very different. Did you have any saying in the new artwork, or is this the original artwork when it supposed to be released in 1970?
The cover is as close to the original artwork as it could be, I found the sketch we drew at the time (more junk) with an idea for the artwork (included in the booklet) and artist Ben Willsher turned it into reality and a fantastic job he did. I've already blown it up to poster size for my wall, lovely and moody.

Back in the days, there was only one acetate single released with the songs 'Falling' and 'Ned Kelly', which is sold now on eBay between 40 and 75 British pounds. Well, if there's anyone who sells this rarity anyway. I read it was the longest single at the time, clocking over six minutes. What happened that the album never saw the light of day?
It's great that fans of doom find the single so attractive to collect and I thank them. It was a six minute plus single and we could of had the first ever single that played at 33.3 rpm, long before Mungo Jerry's single, but at that time Juke Boxes could only play singles at 45 rpm, so the company managed to just get it on a standard single vinyl disc, I think with a bit of editing. The album never followed basically it was, again down to Gemini, despite all their promises, we never got to go into the studio to produce the album for real, so to speak and before we could take any sort of action legal or otherwise the company went bust.

band imageYou are promoted by Rise Above as “The (Original) Iron Maiden”, but are you the original ones? I mean, are you also befriended with the third Iron Maiden band from the UK, the one from Bolton, which was also founded in 1970? Any idea who came up first with the name Iron Maiden by the way: you or the guys from Bolton?
Depending on which site you Google, I've found out that us & the Bolton Iron Maiden are one in the same. However, I've since found out that a band called the Bolton Iron Maiden did exist from 1970 - 76 however we predate them by at least a year. Also we were signed and released our first record in 1970 when the Bolton guys formed. At one point we were on Wikipedia (since removed) and they even stated that we were renamed the Bolton Iron Maiden. It is confusing, I think a few people who put these things together don't quite get it right, I've not had any contact with those guys.

Steve Harris, in his biography, says that someone with a different accent of English called him in 1976 and threatens to sue him for he is using this name. What's your side of this story? Or is it exactly the same (or is this a story featuring the Iron Maiden guys from Bolton)? And how did you get up to use this torture device as a band name anyway?
I have no idea who called Steve Harris, it wasn't any of us so I'd assume it was the Bolton guys, (bloody cheek), we should of sued them LOL. We were originally called BUM but in those days considered too risky and the name may offend people, how times have changed. It was the record company wanted us to change our name, although I resisted for a long time, eventually it was Paul & Pete our roadie who came up with Iron Maiden and it was after the torture device, as it seem to fit in with the dark side of our songs. I believe that Rise Above Records had already sorted out any legal problems, with Steve Harris's Maiden hence the title 'ORIGINAL IRON MAIDEN', however I have been told that they had no objection to us using the name as we did have it first. Obviously had we formed today and tried to call ourselves Iron Maiden they would certainly have sued us

What do you think of the music of the “other” Iron Maiden? Do you like it, do you love it, do you hate, or.. don't you give a damn? And who is their best singer: Paul, Bruce or Blaze?
I think the famous Maiden are doing a brilliant job and wish I was in them (money, fame, girls). They have some great classic songs and I even have a few of their albums. I don't know how we would of progressed had we still been playing today. I have always been a heavy metal fan and would of definitely tried to pull the band in that direction, Trevor always liked to experiment with time signatures so we may of become the first Rush? I've worked with Paul when he had his band Killers. I was A&R for a while at Demolition Records and Paul's band was signed to us, also back in time I was guitar tech for Samson, when Bruce was their vocalist, so I've met both guys. Never met Blaze but given the choice Bruce wins it easily, he is classic Maiden.

The songs on the album is recorded somewhere in the misty days of 1969-1970, but two songs are recorded already in 1968, if I am not mistaken. These songs, 'God Of Darkness' and Jethro Tull-ish 'Ballad Of Martha Kent' (adoptive mother of Clark 'Superman' Kent), were recorded under the name Bum. Especially the (great!) song 'God Of Darkness' has a remarkable heavy structure and sound for that time. Can you tell something about that song in particular? What can you remember of composing that song?
We loved guitar and bass riffs in unison. I in particular love and still do heavy bass / guitar riffed songs, bands like Mountain, Kings X, AC/DC. Trevor in particular loved to play with time signatures, hence 5/4 time as on RITUAL, and 8/6 time, I think in PLAGUE. However, I was just playing around on bass in my bedroom when I first hit the God of Darkness riff, that was the easy part the harder part was what comes next. I tried to play an alternate riff but that never worked as it become messy, so settled on the stop chord (this bit was nicked from Dazed & Confused, Led Zep). The instrumental part was just jammed as it came and would be slightly different every time we played it live, which made it (and all our songs very organic and not boring to play repeatedly at gigs). The lyrics are a different matter, we had found that writing towards a darker side very exciting, like you doing something wrong but right. We could never write a love song or protest song it just wasn't our thing and in those days it just wasn't the done - to write almost demonical lyrics. Trevor came up with the God of Darkness vocal line but Steve & I, soon had the verses together, we wrote them like we were like chanting a spell to conjure up the devil and I think it works well.

What kind of bands, besides obvious bands like Cream and Jethro Tull, were you influenced by, since acid rock, heavy psych and heavy blues were just…well, born. Just curious if the scene was back then very close and that you're familiar or even played together with bands like Atomic Rooster, Bakerloo, Edgar Broughton, Black Cat Bones, Black Widow, Iron Claw, Raw Material, Arthur Brown, Pink Fairies, the almighty and awesome Gun and High Tide, and so on…?
Interesting since we'd support High Tide on a number of occasions, Jethro Tull twice and was asked by them to support them on their first UK tour (unfortunately I was still in college doing my exams) Pink Fairies, David Bowie, Rory Gallagher, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac (fifteen times) and a host of others. Plus I actually saw all the others in various London pubs before some became stadium bands including Led Zepplin's 2nd UK gig ever. I can honestly say I was influenced by all of them. In the early 70s it was very easy to be or sound different from any other band, as all that we know now had yet to be discovered. Everything from having a violinist, flutist, organist or twin guitars in harmony, it was all new and exciting, never done before. The first time I saw Wishbone Ash it was amazing, never heard anyone like them, harmonized guitar playing, wow. At the other end was Pink Floyd or a bit more bizarre Egg. Then there was Deep Purple, King Crimson, Ground Hogs, The Nice etc all playing in bars some only holding 200 or 300 people, close up and personal and only costing around 50p or half a Euro to get in to see them. Absolutely great times to be in or see a band. I was living on London, sharing a flat with friends at the time and every night we would be out. It was hard not to take something from every band I saw back to my band, whether it was something they played, stage craft or stage look, it all made for our live appearances to be more and more spectacular. By the end we used to appear on a candle lit stage wearing monks habits, with the cowls down over our faces so we looked threatening and hopefully scary. We were always more about playing live than recording.

The song 'Ned Kelly' was intended to be on the soundtrack of the movie with the same name, featuring Mick Jagger. Since you already played Rolling Stones material in Growth, a band prior to The Iron Maiden, I suppose this was a dream (never) came true. Did you ever met Mick Jagger and is he familiar with your music?
We did start out, as many young bands then, playing covers (which I've done a full circle and playing the same now in my current classic rock band Road Runners). We did record 'Ned Kelly', a bit of a difference from our usual material, in hope that the record company could sell it to the film company as a title track, at least that was what we were told. However, as with all the plans of mice & men, we were again let down by the company. We never got around to meeting Mr. Jagger and I'm positive he's never heard of us.

During the recordings, the term 'heavy metal' was just a phrase from Steppenwolf's 'Born To Be Wild' and Black Sabbath was called Earth playing heavy blues. Heavy metal wasn't a music genre for years. You guys have a background from the blues rock (Cream is obviously a big influence), but you were a lot heavier on a couple of tracks. How did people look upon your music, and did you play live as well?
That's right heavy metal never existed in name but I think was there in spirit. We could of originally been called heavy blues I suppose but as we never always followed the 12 bar pattern or even always a 4/4 tempo. I think we had probably moved away from that genre. For Steve & myself, we were at school together, we started playing Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley etc songs, gradually covering the Stones, Kinks, Them, Pretty Things, Cream & Zep numbers until finally writing our own songs as we became more confident in our music abilities. I wish we had computer recording in those days. Playing live was our thing, it was real buzz. We were lucky in the fact that audiences love to hear original music and more so when we supported a bigger band. Songs like 'God of Darkness' or 'Falling' were so much more powerful when we played them live than on the CD, something we would of tried to get across had we gone into a high spec studio. Bands like Purple, Blind Faith etc had gone before so the concept of heavy metal was already known, we just put a darker side to it.

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You also play live back in these days, even in Australia of all places. What can you remember of those gigs: what kind of shows were they? Did people already “headbang” for instance, or were people just standing or even sitting during your gigs? And did you play other material besides the songs of this album?
Unfortunately we never made it to Australia, a few weeks before we were due to leave the Muscian's Union in the UK and Australia's PRS were in some sort of disagreement and all live acts were stopped from playing there. Audiences, as today were very mixed, not all long haired and again some would shake their heads (not quite 'head banging') but most would just be watching as I'd like to think our stage show was worth watching. I was always a believer in plenty of stage movement, Trevor & myself would often change sides on stage or come together aka Status Quo. After we recorded the songs on the CD we nearly always only ever performed those songs plus a couple never recorded and when most lasted around 7+ minutes, it doesn't take many to fill an hour's slot.

The band didn't exist for a long time. I read different years when you folded. Mostly already in 1970, sometimes also in 1972. Why did you split up? What happened?
We never really split as such more like drifted apart doing different projects and most likely late 1970 early 1971, it was down to earning a living. Gemini, despite all their promises had gone bust so any help with promotion, tours or merchandise had disappeared, Steve Drewett had been a model maker for a car company and was offered a job via a friend at the BBC, special effects department. He worked on the Monty Python shows, Dr Who, Blakes Seven and loads more. We thought of finding a replacement but then Trevor saw an ad for a guitarist with an upcoming band called Spirit of John Morgan and got the job. Paul Hugget our then drummer (not recorded) went for an audition with Supertramp and I had a phone call from a working band called Zior with whom I was with for two years making three albums and several singles. Paul Reynolds our first drummer left some time before (he got married) to become a commercial artist and Steve Chapman (on Ned Kelly & Falling) joined a band called Moon and the Poco.

If I am writing this to Steve, then I can say that you have a remarkable “band name connection”, since you are the answer of the question “which person is the connection between Iron Maiden and Venom?”. Can you tell me something about your time with Cronos & Company?
It wasn't Steve, it was me that worked with Venom. After my time with Zior, I started a stage lighting company but later I moved from Essex to Newcastle uUpon Tyne, bringing my lights with me, this was 1983. After a year I missed playing so auditioned for a blues band here in Newcastle which I got then in 1985 I was in a bar in the city centre when I started talking to Eric Cook who turned out to be Venom's manager. He was telling me about the band and an upcoming tour and he needed a bass tech. The money sound good so I offered my services and away I went. I did several tours with them around Europe and USA. It was an amazing experience visiting places I've only seen on TV plus getting paid, feed & watered, hotels and meeting top bands. Venom only ever headlined any gig they played so we also got to use the whole stage area not just a bit, bands will know what I mean. Eventually Cronos left to be replaced by Tony (Demolition Man) Dolan. Over this period we even had Metallica as a support band. I stayed with Venom's management company for twelve years, working alongside some of their other acts like Skyclad and when they formed a record label Bleeding Hearts other signed acts. Later Eric and his brother Jed formed, Demolition Records, I joined in A&R.

At the same time when Venom started, one Steve Drewett started a punk band called The Newtown Neurotics. Is that you, or another Steve?
You'll have to ask Steve, but I don't think it's this Steve, as far as I know he carried on to become a director, working for the ad industry and with David Puttnam as second director on the film Memphis Belle and still makes films till this day.

You are, or at least were, also very active in the music scene. I read that you were manager of Skyclad and you played until recently funk, soul and r&b in a band called Ambiance UK and blues in Black River Band. What do you do nowadays and how do look back upon your career so far. Is The Iron Maiden just a minor detail in your life, or has it some special place in your heart?
Demolition Records got the offer from Atlantic Records to take over some of their acts, like Twisted Sister, Dave Lee Roth etc, so at that time the A&R department was really defunct. I decided to use my contacts and experience to move into management. I began with a local band called Undergroove, a rock/rap band and managed to get them signed to President, I had ads in various music guides and eventually took on a rock singer/ songwriter from Belfast, Lee Rogers and again got him signed up to Zenith. Sadly in 2010 Therapy's & Skyclad's (ex drummer) Keith Baxter died and we all met up again at his funeral, we caught up on old times and they told me that they were looking for a new record company but no time to look, so I offered my services as manager, we got a deal from Scarlet Records.

Again I was missing playing so I formed Ambience UK, with a totally different direction. We were playing original soul / funk / R&B which I actually found refreshing after playing or dealing with rock for most of my life. I think our MySpace site is still running, we never played very much live so when I saw an ad for a blues band Black River, I went along and got the position on bass. At the time the vocalist run the band, got the gigs etc but she left about four months after I joined and as none of the other members had any idea of how to manage the band I was asked to take over, we recruited a new vocalist and away we went. Because we were basically a blues band I was finding gigs more and more difficult to find as most of the bars in the Newcastle area wanted rock. Except the new singer, Rufus and myself, the rest of the band wanted to carry on playing pure blues so, Rufus and myself left to form my current band the Road Runners. I've now retired from management and concentrate on the Road Runners, we have gigs until the end of the year and I've started booking for next year.

As I've said before I've come full circle playing classic rock from AC/DC to ZZ Top in bars and clubs and enjoying every minute of it and earning a living. I do still love my Iron Maiden, love the songs, still feel the excitement, wish I knew then what I know now of course with my management experience, I think it would of been a very different story and we would of been one of the best. But no regrets I've kept in the music industry most of my life, had a good living from it, seen the world, done a host of different jobs and I'm still playing, what more can I say.

Come to think of this: you were with The Iron Maiden at the foundations of (proto) metal and doom metal, with Venom at the primal stage of black metal, with Skyclad at the birth of folk metal and also having a band name that was stolen by a band that became together with Metallica the most popular metal band ever. Man, you have to be the most unknown visionary genius in the history of metal! :D
I can only say YES to all that. I never really thought about it but now you have pointed that out, it is amazing to be at the birth of so many genres of music, if only I knew at the time. I can see a book coming on LOL

I have another question. Since Rise Above released The Iron Maiden, are they also interested to release the second album by Zior, 'Every Inch A Man'?
I'd love for Rise Above to do something with Zior. I'm not sure if Lee is interested in them yet, I did an internet search of Zior and it seems to be available in so many places from Japan to Brazil. I've also spoken to Keith Bonsor, the main man and he doesn't know about 99% of these releases, so unless it's record companies licensing other record companies, they must all be bootlegs, that said none of us has seen any money from these releases and Keith wrote all the songs on both Zior albums.

Unfortunately, guitarist Trev Thoms (who became a tour manager for Black Sabbath (!), Saxon, Manowar and Yngwie Malmsteen, and played with ex-Hawkwind Nik Turner among others) died on 8 December 2010 from pancreatic cancer. Were you still befriended with him?
I think you're getting mixed up with me again. I never 'tour managed' Sabbath, Saxon, Manowar or Yngwie but did tour and work with them when Skyclad supported them on their European tours. Yes, I was friends with Trevor on Facebook and had spoken to him on the phone before all this with Rise Above. He was also playing right up until the end. We did get together when he lived in London late 80s and had a jam, playing the old Maiden songs and the magic was still there, liked we had never split up. He will be sadly missed.

Do you have any ambitions to get on stage again or writing new material, with another guitarist?
I'm not opposed to putting the band together for maybe a few shows. Obviously, with Trevor dying we would need to find a replacement guitarist but Paul Reynolds still plays with his band the Heaters, Steve hasn't played in a long time but I'm sure, with practice, he'd pick it up again and I've never stopped playing, but I'm sure we could reproduce all our original material with ease and perhaps a couple of new ones, so I'm up for it.

Any last thoughts?
We were very unfortunate, but such are the fates of life. One last fact our Maiden & Steve Harris's Maiden come from roughly the same area of London, so he may of seen our name on local bar posters and in the music press, I don't think he used it as a result of us, but it may of been in his subconscious but you'd have to ask him that one. Thank you for asking us to contribute to your magazine.

Thanks for your time, and it would be a blast if you guys want to perform these songs live again!
Thanks, I'll have to have a word with the rest of the band, not sure if the others are up to it but maybe for 2014. I'll keep it noted though.

After the interview, I got an e-mail from Barry that he actually is busy getting the band together, and that he got some interesting (well known) guitarists as an option to replace the late Trevor. I love it when a plan comes together!

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