By Patrick Prince
Steve Harris' name is practically synonymous with Heavy Metal, He is, after all, the founder, bassist and lead songwriter of one of the most popular metal bands on the planet, Iron Maiden. With Maiden on hiatus, Harris puts much of his energy behind his solo project, British Lion. Except it's not so much a solo project anymore. It might have started out as one but British Lion is now more of a functioning band; a group of dedicated musicians whose music would be more accurately categorized as classic rock than heavy metal. British Lion does not sound like Iron Maiden at all. But Maiden fans should take a liking to the band's hard rock style. After all, it is akin to the music Steve Harris grew up listening to: UFO, Thin Lizzy, Montrose and so on.
With the release of a new album, The Burning on January 17 (and a U.S. tour starting the next day), British Lion are well on their way showcasing all the right elements that make up a standout hard rock band. Not only does the music have a solid bass line to its backbone but the pipes of Richard Taylor demand attention, while the music thrives with the melodic guitar work of both David Hawkins and Grahame Leslie.
Recently, Steve Harris took some time with Goldmine to express his excitement about the new album by British Lion.
GOLDMINE:How do you feel the songwriting has evolved since the first British Lion album?
STEVE HARRIS: I think it's definitely evolved, and not only that, I think the band has evolved as a live thing, really, because before the first album we never really had done any live shows together. It was kind of a strange situation when we went out and played with that album, we just didn't know if we had an audience for it or not. Since then we've played every year as much as possible, with what time allows — obviously I have Maiden and all that — but we've done European tours and Canada and South America for the first time. So we've evolved as a band and that reflected in the songs, I think, and even in the songs from the first album as well. We're going to put out a live album as soon as we get the chance, to show what the band's doing with those songs and (how) they've become a little different than how we recorded them. It's much more representative now if you come see the band live, even the songs from the first album sound different. It's still the same essence of the actual song itself but the way we play 'em and execute the songs, it's more how we are now.
GM:Sometimes that's where a band finds itself — while performing live.
SH: Yeah, it evolves naturally, without pushing anything one way or the other. It just evolves when you're playing live together.
GM:You were involved with all the songwriting on the last album. Is it the same situation here with the new album?
SH: Yeah, it's pretty much the same between me, Richie Taylor and Dave Hawkins, and Grahame (Leslie) doing a little bit as well. This album is maybe more led by the other guys, really, coming with ideas first of all and then kind of taking it from there. But it's the same nucleus, really.
GM:Did you trade digital files back and forth during the course of the songwriting?
SH: We have done in the past. Not so much with this album. This album was more in the studio, more together as you're used to recording. The first album was a little bit different. But this album was much more like I prefer to record as a band, and I think that also shows.
GM:You've always taken lyrical influence from literary works or film. Did that also happen here on this album?
SH: Not as much, because lyrics on this album were more driven by Richie, the singer, really. A lot of the topics are driven by more personal experiences. It's a little different.
GM:You did emphasize that the first album stand by its name and be British or British-sounding.
SH: Yeah, well, also the first album was down as me and called British Lion. It developed into a band so now it's called British Lion. It moved across a few years ago fairly quickly into a band where it's about the rest of the guys as much as me.
GM:Some state it as your solo albums even though it's really now a band project.
SH: Yeah, I don't know why they're saying that. It was kind of put down like that for the first album. It wasn't really a solo album anyway — it was a side project. There is a difference, I think, This is not that at all. This is a band now. It's been a band for some time.
GM:Do the other members keep busy when you shift back to Maiden? Do they continue writing?
SH: They do in bits and pieces. A couple of them have different jobs and stuff they do so it's a part time thing for them. Obviously, the more we can do, the more they can do less of the other stuff. It's very difficult with Maiden (commitments). Maiden will have to come first and always will. They know that. It is what it is. So that's why I always try to grab opportunity whenever it's possible. I mean, we were gonna do a live album but my commitment to Maiden changed and that comes first as it always does. We'll wait 'til later now but that's okay. We'll put a live album out in the future,
GM:Maiden's your baby but it's got to be refreshing creatively to do something new or do something different. It always is for artists.
SH: Yeah, that's right. I'll never get tired of playing, writing or doing stuff with Maiden — it's what I've always done — but with British Lion, working with different guys, playing smaller places, I really enjoy doing that. It's a lot of fun. And I have a lot of fun with Maiden so I'm lucky I get to do everything. I'm in a very good position.
GM:You've always enjoyed playing the clubs. I remember in the '80s, Maiden sometimes played surprise gigs in the clubs.
SH: (Maiden) did a couple warmup gigs here and there under a different name and I really enjoyed playing those places. Obviously Maiden's got so big it's impossible to do that now. Playing right in front of the fans is a different thing. and it is different (with British Lion). It's more rock than metal — some people might have a problem with that but that is what it is — and I think it's a really good live band.
GM:Back to the songs and songwriting: "Bible Black" and the title track "The Burning" — great dual guitar melodies in these songs. And those are both David Hawkins and Grahame Leslie together? I only ask that because the last album had other guitarist contributions, right?
SH: Yeah. Actually all the songs on this album are split three ways between Richie Taylor, Dave Hawkins and myself — "Last Chance" coming from Grahame and me, and "Land of Perfect People" is just Richie and myself. But the twin guitar thing — they got two very different styles and it just sounds very nice when they're playing those melodies together.
GM:And the guitar solos... "Native Son" has an exceptional guitar solo.
SH: That's David Hawkins. He's a really good player. They're both really good players with very different styles. David is a little bit more ... he's a younger guy, so his style is influenced by slightly different things, and Grahame's got an old school style of playing, really, but I love that style. When you mix the both together it's really nice. They complement each other really well.
GM:So you and Grahame share the same influences. You grew up on the same kind of music?
SH: Yeah, me and Grahame do, definitely. Richie and Dave got slightly different influences but that's a good thing, I think. They got different ideas to bring forward.
GM: Your bass guitar is not as dominant in the mix as it usually is.
SH: The songs are a bit more guitar-drive, really, rhythm guitar driven. You can hear me in the mix but not as up-front. I don't think it needed to be. I play what is needed for a song.
GM: And you play some keyboards on this album?
SH: Yeah, because at the time when we were doing stuff and it needed to get done, and David Hawkins did stuff on the first album. It was just a time thing, really. It wasn't me trying to take over or anything like that. I would rather not do it. (laughs) I don't mind doing them at all but it was just the time factor, needed to get stuff done and I just did it. And Dave was quite happy with that. It's just to flavor stuff anyway... background, mood-type stuff, really, and in the studio, that's fine. If it's fairly simple I'll just do it. It's just quicker and easier for me to do it.
GM:You've never written any song on keyboards, right?
SH: No, I've never really write on the piano. I've written a couple songs on acoustic guitar but that was a long time ago. The main idea, anyway, not all of it.
GM: Well, a lot of the bands you were influenced by had keys.
SH: Yeah, that's right. Bands like Genesis, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Jethro Tull; they all had keys. But I think the songs were written — take Tull, for instance — were written usually on acoustic guitar.
GM: You have good branding, too, for British Lion. The album covers, the logo, the name... everything is right on point.
SH: I always thought that stuff is very important. I (even) try to instill that stuff in my son's band. Maiden always has really good artwork and that stuff. It's important to have all of that. I won't mention any names but there are bands that I absolutely love and would love to wear a T-shirt of but I can't wear it because the artwork is so awful. (laughs) It's odd because I love the band and I want to support them and wear it but the stuff is so bad. I can't wear that, you know. (laughs)
GM: And you mastered branding with Maiden, and it's important and becoming increasingly important.
SH: I think it's always been important — the way you perceive a band, you know. People bought (Maiden's) first album — I remember, we came to the States for the first time in '81 — people said they bought our first album and buying it just cause of (the cover artwork), without even knowing what it was like. So it is important, I think.
GM: The Monsters of Rock Cruise... British Lion played it before and you're playing it again (in February 2020). What's been your take on rock cruises — what do you think of the experience?
SH: We played it two years ago and it was great fun. At that time i had never been on a cruise — I never been on a big boat like that before. It was all new to me. I thought I'd do it and see what happens. Well, I didn't get sea sick and I really enjoyed it. They asked us to go back straight away but we couldn't do it the following year because of commitments. We said we'd do it the year after and we're looking forward to it again. It is really different and unusual, seeing all these bands as well, it's great. Great fun and they went a couple places I've not been before — another tick off the bucket list.
GM:You have very ardent fans and one of the things fans like is that they get to kind of mingle with the musicians on a music cruise. I mean, you're trapped on a boat so...(laughs)
SH: They're also respectful. I don't know what's gonna happen this time around but last time it was fine. Had a few photos with people whenever possible and a lot of the time watching other bands as well.
GM:And you begin the British Lion tour now, for the first time in the U.S.
SH: We played Canada and South America for the first time last November, and playing the States for the first time, we don't really know what to expect. Same as we didn't know what to expect when we played Canada and stuff. You don't really know ... it looks scary in some ways but hopefully it will be good.
GM:Fist time in the States should be interesting. And, of course, you're gonna get Maiden fans coming to the shows. I'm sure you've already heard feedback from Maiden fans. They generally seem to like British Lion.
SH: Yeah, there are those that like it. I mean, some people don't like it. But that's the thing. Even back in the day with Maiden, it was always about just getting people in (the show) in the first place to prove to them what you could do. We just go out and play. We enjoy what we do and we give it everything. If people aren't impressed with that then they're never gonna be impressed. It is what it is but you got to get people there in the first place. Hopefully, we'll get people in and I'm sure most of the people will like it. If they don't, then they don't come again, do they? It's as simple as that.
GM:Well, the music's certainly got the energy.
SH: Yeah, it's definitely got the energy and we got some really strong songs. If we go out and play like we mean it — and enjoy it, which we do — then it's a good, honest performance. I think some people will be surprised. Definitely surprised. And playing up close to people (in the clubs) is really fantastic, for me. This is a step up from the last album in a lot of ways. It's actually more representative of who we are and where we've been as a band for the last five years, at least, so hopefully people will like it.
British Lion U.S. Tour 2020
Sat 18 Orlando, FL Ace Café
Sun 19 Tampa, FL Brass Mug
Mon 20 Pensacola, FL Vinyl Music Hall
Wed 22 Houston, TX Scout Bar
Fri 24 San Antonio, TX The Rock Box
Sat 25 Dallas, TX Trees
Sun 26 Memphis, TN Growlers
Tue 28 Nashville, TN The Cowan
Wed 29 Joilet, IL The Forge
Fri 31 Cleveland, OH The Odeon
Sat 01 Lexington, KY Manchester Music Hall
Tue 04 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade
Wed 05 Jacksonville, FL Jack Rabbits
Sat 08- Thur 13 Monsters Of Rock Cruise
Sat 15 Fort Lauderdale Revolution Live
Mon 17 Savannah, GA Victory North
Tue 18 Greensboro, NC The Cone Denim
Wed 19 Lancaster, PA Chameleon Club
Thu 20 New York NY Gramercy Theatre