“A look at how a short, spotty kid from a town nobody’s heard of ends up wearing ridiculous trousers in the world’s biggest rock band.”
When it comes to heavy metal frontmen who people refer to as “rock gods” or “metal icons,” Bruce Dickinson belongs in that group. He may even be the front man.
As the vocalist for Iron Maiden, his wide-ranging operatic delivery stands on its own and is instantly recognizable to the listener from the first lyric. On stage, his presence is magnificent, with movement from start to finish while commanding his audience like a rock general leading an army.
These days, Dickinson is relaying stories, quips, and tales from a music career that has lasted nearly 50 years for a one-man show called An Evening With Bruce Dickinson. The experience will make its New England stop at the Shubert Theatre at the Boch Center in Boston on Feb. 5.
Dickinson and I spoke about how the idea for the show came to be, not knowing what a hot tub party was during his 20s, Iron Maiden’s latest album, and being on the road a ton this year.
An Evening With Bruce Dickinson seems like it’s going to be a bit more subdued than what you usually do while performing with Iron Maiden. What inspired the concept?
I started with the autobiography. I don’t know how many years ago, it must have been four or five years, something like that. They wanted me to go and read some stories from the autobiography and I said, Well, okay, but that’s kind of boring. Anybody can read these stories, but why don’t I tell some stories around the stories? That’s equally okay, but there’s got to be a bit more to it, there’s a bit more structure you can add to make it a bit more like a Q&A, but maybe not a Q&A.
I saw this guy whose name is Quentin Crisp. He was an early LGBTQ activist and for his day he was outrageous. Now he would be like a regular guy, but back in the day he had a one-man show. My girlfriend at the time took me to see it and it was amazing. He was really funny, really witty, and he did a Q&A at the end where he used cue cards from the audience basically to write his material for him. That was the last part of the show and it was brilliantly done and I thought, I wonder if … I could have a go at that, so I did. I was just winging it, frankly, and it worked so that became the bones of what is now this kind of one-man show, effectively. It’s a sideways look at my life from birth right the way through getting cancer, going fishing with mercenaries in Sierra Leone, getting lost and arrested for this, that or the other, first experiences with drugs, being at an English boarding school, learning to sing for the first time, and all stuff like that. There’s also musical content, but it’s basically a look at how a short, spotty kid from a town nobody’s heard of ends up wearing ridiculous trousers in the world’s biggest rock band.
Do you view this as an opportunity to have a deeper connection with Iron Maiden’s fan base along with it being a way of showcasing your talents as a raconteur?
I view it more as an entertainment that my life has ended up having some moments I think people can respond to. Obviously being in Iron Maiden is one of them, but actually when you come to the show it’s not all about the band, it’s not a great long list of where we’ve played or what we’ve made on a particular record. It’s not the minutiae type stuff, which is deadly boring, but it is at times almost a satirical look at my life through that lens. How do you end up in Iron Maiden and what happens when you do end up in Iron Maiden? What happens during the first time you go to North America? I hadn’t been there before in my life before I joined the band, I didn’t know what a hot tub party was.
Seriously, I thought it was apple bobbing and then I found out it wasn’t, so there’s some risque humor. What I hope people get out of this, people who bring their partner along, and they may or may not have a clue who Iron Maiden is, they might not be fans or something else like that but the litmus test for me is that person who walks in who might not know what it’s all about come away feeling better afterwards. That’s what I want people to feel after the show.
Outside of music, you’re also a pilot and airline captain, aviation entrepreneur, beer brewer, motivational speaker, podcaster, film scriptwriter, twice-published novelist and New York Times bestselling author, radio presenter, TV actor, sports commentator and international fencer just to name a few. Which one of these accomplishments are you most proud of? What are the ones you hang your hat on?
Well, you know, the thing is with all this is that I’ve done some of these things because I wanted to see if I could actually do them. I’ve always wanted to fly airplanes but I figured I couldn’t because I was rubbish at mathematics when I was in school so I never bothered applying myself to it for a while. I literally started in the spirit of “what does this button do?” and I wondered if I could do it, which turned out that I could do it better than I thought I could, so you continue and at which point do you stop? It was kind of the same with fencing, it was really the only sport at school that I ended up being consistently good at but everybody else just got way bigger than me and if I did rugby I was going to get sat on so fencing was something I could do. Everybody could be fencers and everybody can be airline pilots within reason; there are thousands of them, but the difficult thing is none of them are actually the lead singer of Iron Maiden.
That’s what makes it interesting and for me it provides me with an interesting take on those particular avenues, professions, and things of that nature. The only proper job I’ve ever had in my life was being an airline pilot. I had to turn up, look smart, do tests, checks and everything else over a period of 17 years so it was a big learning curve for part of my personality. It doesn’t come naturally to me and I’m a big believer in that kind of stuff. Whatever it is you think you can’t do is a really good reason for doing it.
Going back to being the lead singer of Iron Maiden, last September the band released their 17th album, Senjutsu. From the design of it, the album cover and the marketing of Eddie as a samurai there’s a major feudal Japan influence within the album. What made you guys want to embrace that aesthetic?
It was very simple. Steve [Harris] came along with this idea for an album to have Eddie as a samurai, a pagoda and the whole thing and we were all cool with it. Then he said that we were going to call it Senjutsu, which we thought was a cool title. We asked what it meant and we’ve actually been through several iterations of what it means—some which are completely wrong, some which might approximate what it actually means. Essentially, it’s the philosophy of combat, not the art of war which is a different book.
You have a bunch of touring happening this year, with both this one-man show and with Iron Maiden. How do you plan on handling the grind of being on the road for nearly the entire 12 months?
I’m currently in the middle of 42 shows that run through both the United States and Canada for the one-man show. When I get to March 31, I’m going to lie down in a darkened room for a week or so to decompress and then I’m going to do a little bit of songwriting hopefully for the next couple of weeks to start tweaking my solo album which is going to happen at some point. Then I’m straight over the water to start rehearsing with Maiden; we start in Zagreb on May 22 and that’ll go all the way to July 31. We have a bit of a break and then we come up to the United States in mid-September after two or three shows in South America.
Bruce Dickinson at the Wang Theatre. Sat, 2.5 @ 7:30pm. ticketsales.com.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.