Belfast Telegraph

Fronting Iron Maiden was the biggest job in the world

Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden
Blaze and Debbie

Blaze Bayley defied the critics to steer Iron Maiden through choppy waters before going on to launch a successful solo career. Edwin McFee spoke to him about how his wife — who was critically ill at the time of this interview — was the catalyst for him turning things around after a dark period in his life

Blaze Bayley defied the critics to steer Iron Maiden through choppy waters before going on to launch a successful solo career. Edwin McFee spoke to him about how his wife — who was critically ill at the time of this interview — was the catalyst for him turning things around after a dark period in his lifeTwo-fingered salute ... Blaze Bayley takes on the world

Mean ‘n’ moody ... Blaze Bayley and his bandmatesEarlier this year, Blaze Bayley, the former frontman for both Iron Maiden and Wolfsbane, released his fourth solo album The Man Who Would Not Die. As titles go, it’s a pretty straightforward statement of intent that is about as subtle as a sledge-hammer to the unmentionables and sonically is pretty much the strongest material he’s ever produced during his 24 year career.

The rock press may have tried their best to break the singer in two ever since he joined Maiden in late 1993 after Bruce Dickinson departed to “find himself,” but over the course of the 12 tracks on The Man Who Would Not Die, Blaze has proved without a shadow of a doubt that the fires of ambition are still burning strong.

“This is such an important record for me,” offers the 45-year-old rock legend. “A few years ago I was broke, depressed, without a record contract and I didn’t have a band. It was a dark time for me. I was considering giving it up and throwing in the towel. But then I met Debbie, who is now my wife and manager. I’ve known her nearly all my life. We grew up together in Tamworth and fate seemed to bring us together again. She’s been instrumental in the making of this album and getting my head together.”

Tragically for the Bayley family, earlier this summer, on July 6, Debbie was rushed to hospital where it was revealed that she suffered a brain haemorrhage. At the time of our interview, the singer (whose real name is Bayley Cook) is by her bedside, as she lies in a coma. The day before, she suffered her second stroke.

“Things are difficult right now,” explains Blaze. “However I’m adamant that everything Debbie has planned will still go ahead. She’s worked so hard booking the tour and getting the album out that I want to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.”

This strength of character has always been something that marked Blaze out for the history books. While growing up in Tamworth he was often told by his father and those around him that his career in punk/metal upstarts Wolfsbane would never amount to anything. In fact this would later be immortalised on the ’91 classic single Broken Doll and despite the nay-sayers, the Wolfies made three studio albums (1989’s Live Fast, Die Fast, 1991’s Down Fall the Good Guys and 1994’s self-titled

swan-song) as well as a thunderous live album Massive Noise Injection and an EP called All Hell is Breaking Loose Down At Little Kathy Wilson’s Place which was produced by none other than current Bruce Springsteen knob-twiddler, Brendan O’Brien in 1990. Not bad going for a band that was once so broke they considered robbing their local post office, eh?

“I’m immensely proud of the Wolfsbane days,” Blaze smiles. “You know the way our fan-club was called the Howling Mad S**t-Heads? Well, we were even worse. When I left the band to join Maiden it caused a bit of bad blood between me and the guys, but that’s all water under the bridge now and we’ve played a few reunion shows together which were great fun and just like the old days.”

Back in the early Nineties, it wasn’t just his former bandmates’ noses that were put out of joint when he was recruited to join the biggest heavy metal band in the world — it was also the mainstream press and Bruce Dickinson acolytes.

Despite making the best two Maiden albums of the decade (1995’s X Factor and 1998’s Virtual XI) the journalists were intent on sharpening their paper knives and stabbing Bayley in the back. Rock was dead, apparently, and Blaze became one of the scapegoats.

“The mid-Nineties were a horrible time to be in a rock band,” confesses the singer. “Grunge and Brtipop bands were everywhere and we [Maiden] felt like we weren’t getting a fair crack of the whip as far as the UK and American press was concerned.

“If you had long hair and your songs lasted more than four minutes you were old-fashioned. Thankfully those days are long gone. Metal never goes out of fashion because it was never in fashion in the first place.”

In 1999, Blaze was finally shown the door to make way for a returning Dickinson. For many fans (including this writer) it initially left a bad taste as there were still millions of people who believed in a Bayley-fronted Iron Maiden and it seemed someone, somewhere was cashing in.

Of course history has since proved otherwise as Bruce and Co have gone on to release three more studio albums with a fourth on the way, but Blaze was left to take the blame for the slump in sales that bands such as Nirvana and Oasis inevitably caused.

“Fronting Iron Maiden was and still is the biggest job in the world,” considers Blaze. “For five years I was that man and I had to shoulder the burden. Do I have any regrets about it? Of course not. It was a brilliant way to see the world and make a living. The only thing I didn’t like was not being able to see the fans after a show.

“In the Wolfsbane days I would head out on the town with them as I don’t see a difference between someone who comes to a show and someone who sings in a band. We all love music and that’s what bonds us together, but Maiden is such a huge machine that there’s no room to meet fans after the gigs as everything was scheduled and set in motion days in advance.”

Here’s an example just to give you an idea of how devoted Blaze is to his fans and vice versa. Four

years ago, the singer played a gig in the Rosetta in south Belfast. During the high-energy performance he ended up cracking his head off a cymbal and blood spilled down his face.

The people in the front row (including your truly) ended up covered, but it didn’t seem to matter. Blaze continued the show and continued to love it. After all, what’s a bit of spilt blood between friends?

“I remember that gig so well,” laughs the singer. “I love coming to Belfast. You’re all f**king mad over there! You really are. I’ve never met as many insane lunatics at gigs as I have in Belfast and I love you for that.

“The connection between myself and my audience is hugely important to me. It kept me going through the bad times and is one of the reasons why there is such a change in my lyrics from Silicon Messiah and Tenth Dimension to Blood and Belief and The Man Who Would Not Die.

“A few years ago I decided to stop singing about sci-fi situations and fantasy stuff and drop that persona altogether in favour of being completely honest about my thoughts. I think listeners appreciate it more.”

As our time with Blaze draws to a close, we ask the singer (who was once nick-named Genghis Khan by Iron Maiden founder Steve Harris due to his “unpredictable” nature after a few bevvies) what words of advice would he give to the young Bayley of 1984 when he was just starting out.

“When I was younger I was guilty of pushing myself too much,” concludes Blaze. “I never took time to appreciate anything that I ever achieved because I was always looking at what I could do next. If I could give myself some advice when I first started I’d say — just try to enjoy it more and live in the moment. Sometimes life can be too short.”

Blaze’s wife Debbie passed away the day after this interview took place. 24/7 would like to offer its deepest condolences to the Bayley family during this |difficult time.

At the time of going to press, Blaze Bayley was still intending to play the Rosetta in Belfast on October 9. Tickets, £15, and available from Ticketmaster outlets. Check for updates.

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