ADRIAN SMITH (IRON MAIDEN): “The SCORPIONS Were Standing Behind Us On The River Bank In Their Leather Trousers During A Blazing Heatwave Wondering What We Were Doing”

IRON MAIDEN (Live at The Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle, U.K., July 31, 2018)
Photo: Mick Burgess

While there are many, many Rock biographies telling tales of life on the road, the making of albums and inter-band conflicts there’s few if any looking at the tranquil life as a fisherman. Mick Burgess called up Iron Maiden lead guitarist Adrian Smith to talk about his first book, Monsters Of River and Rock, a biography of his life in a Rock band and his lifelong love of angling and how touring with Iron Maiden opened up a whole new world of opportunities to indulge in his first love.

We’re living in rather strange times at the moment. How has Covid 19 impacted on you?

If you’re in a touring band you become an expert at killing time so when I’m at home I’m pottering around, going fishing, up in my studio so that’s what I’m pretty much doing at the moment. The only thing is that we’ve planned a tour for next year but no one knows what’s going to happen there at this time.

You have a new book out called Monsters of River and Rock. Has the current situation given you the time to finally get your book finished or was it already done when all of this broke out?

I’d done the bulk of the book before the lockdown. I’d started it a couple of years ago. I’d talked about doing a book and a few friends said that I should do one. I’d written a few chapters when we were recording Brave New World in Paris around 2000. When I was away from my family, I spent my time fishing at the lakes in Boulogne and I wrote about it. I was going to send it in to one of the Carp magazines but I didn’t get round to it and put it away in a draw. A while later when I decided to do a book, I thought that I could use that and write a book about how and why I started fishing and there’s a lot about my Dad who I went fishing with a lot when I was young. Then it’s about me giving up fishing when I discovered music and then there’s a lot of music content in there as well.

There’s a lot of music biographies around at the moment and a fair few about angling but none that that covers both until now. What made you decide to do one that covered both?

They are my two main passions. It actually started off as just a fishing book but I thought that I’d try to make it a little broader and it just seemed to go hand in hand. I thought I’d do it in a timeline from my younger days growing up, getting into music and joining Maiden. It was ironic that I’d actually given up fishing for 10 years but when I joined Maiden I started again because Clive Burr, the drummer, was another angler so we used to talk about it. We ended up getting a couple of rods and when we had time off, we’d go fishing while we were on tour around America and all these places.

What did people say to you when you said that this was something you wanted to do?

Most people thought that it was a great idea but there were times where I wondered if I’d compromised the music side for the fishing side. Once I’d stepped back from it and had a look I think it reads really well and I think I’ve achieved what I wanted to do. A lot of music fans are going to be curious but might be put off because they think it’s about fishing but there is enough about the music to keep their interest and the fishing stuff is anecdotal with some good stories. There’s enough hard-core fishing, for want of a better word, for the real passionate anglers too, so there’s something for everyone, I hope. I really hope that my passion for fishing comes across in the book.

The book is well balanced in a way that a music fan can enjoy it and an angler can enjoy it too and they may well both enjoy the other side of the book they may not be familiar with?

It’s not all about fishing. I don’t think it’s heavy going and it doesn’t get bogged down in technical stuff. There is a couple of chapters where it is more technical because I’m so passionate about it. Having distanced myself from the book since I finished writing it and then I got the book in my hand, I was surprised about how much content and non-fishing stuff is in there. I think those who just know me for my music will enjoy it and hopefully anglers will enjoy it and enjoy the music stories too.

It’s written in a very easy to read, chatty sort of way where you can almost imagine you sitting there telling the story. Is this self-written in your own words or did you work alongside another writer?

They are 100% my own words. I’m the sort of person who won’t dominate a conversation at a gathering as I’m thinking all the time. If you’re the sort of person who gets home and thinks that you wish you’d said something then you’ll probably make a half decent writer. It gives you motivation. One of the few things that I enjoyed at school other than sports were the English classes.

Have you ever attempted anything like this in the past or is the last time you’ve written a long piece or a project back in your school days?

I never did my homework at school. I once had to do a project on The Crusades and I did it the night before it was due to be handed in. I bluffed my way to a fairly good mark. I’ve never done anything like this book though. I do love books and I do a lot of reading. I think I recognise good writing so I try to emulate them.

How long did it all take from when you started to finishing the final draft and sending it off to your publisher?

It probably happened over the period of a year and a half. I started it in a blaze of glory and started knocking out reams of chapters and then I had a break. When I got back on tour, I found it was a great way to kill some time in hotels, on aeroplanes and before I was going on stage. I did quite a lot of it while out on the road.

Were any of your bandmates looking over your shoulder to see what you were doing?

No, not really. I thought I’d wait until I’d finished it. Dave Murray is in the book quite a bit as we grew up together. There is quite a bit about us as kids in the book so I think he might be interested to read about that.

How did you feel when you held it in your hand for the first time?

I thought, oh no, what have I done? I thought I’d laid it out quite a bit as there’s some fairly private stuff in there. I talk about life on the road in the ’80’s and the excesses that I indulged in. I had to mention that as I had to be realistic about it. Being on the road for the best part of a year can get you down a bit so I do go into that a little bit but overall I’ve been very lucky. There’s personal stuff interlaced with the happy go lucky side of it.

Like the story of you wooing your wife with fish fingers, chips and peas?

How could she resist? I’ve upped my game since then. My cooking has improved after 30 years of marriage.

There’s a great story in there about bumping into Liam Gallagher and Janick Gers showing him round your studio. What was he like beneath his public image and did he show a genuine interest in Maiden’s music?

There was a time when we were recording in London and Liam Gallagher was in the studio recording next door. He came over and we chatted for a while. I think he liked our music as he likes anything with attitude. He was a good bloke. His public persona is different to what he’s really like.

How did publishing the book compare to recording your first album?

I suppose it’s quite similar. The first record I had out was around 1920 – Ha!! before I was in Maiden, when I was in a band called Urchin. I’ll never forget that feeling and having a royalty check drop on my door mat for about four quid was just great. I spent it straight away. I should have framed it. When I first saw the book, they were filming it and I was conscious about that but when I sit back and look through it, it feels great. It feels like a real achievement. I just hope people enjoy it. I still wake up in the middle of the night worrying about it but hey, publish and be damned as they say.

The music side of your life developed due to your older sister’s record collection. Do you ever wonder what might have happened if you gravitated more towards The Temptations rather than the Deep Purple side of her collection?

I’d probably be in Vegas now. I loved all of the old R&B artists back then. I grew up with all of that and the Beatles too. I was about 9 or 10 when I first heard them and wanted to imitate them with my ukulele and Beatles wig but it wasn’t until I heard Deep Purple that things changed for me. It was also around that time when you had to start thinking about what you were going to do with your life. It was the meeting of the two that made my mind up for me and it was the walking into my sisters’ room and looking at her records that sparked that off.

Your Iron Maiden bandmate Dave Murray appears early in the book and you go way, way back. When did you two first meet?

He went to school locally but I got shipped out to a Catholic school about 10 miles from where I lived. Dave and I were two of the few kids in the neighbourhood who were into Rock music. Another one was Dave McLaughlin who I also talk about in my book. We stood out and were different to everyone else. It was the tail end of the Hippy era, Afghans, longhair, loons, platforms. I got right into that through the love of music. Dave could play really well back then too.

You were in bands together in the early days and then Dave left to join Maiden and you stayed with your band Urchin initially but joined a couple of years later after you bumped into Dave and Steve Harris and they invited you to join. Do you ever think what could have happened if you hadn’t met them that day?

My band Urchin was breaking up when the Punk thing was going on. There was an explosion of a new wave of Metal but Urchin wasn’t really Metal, it was more Hard Rock or good time Rock. We played some Thin Lizzy and UFO. It wasn’t real hard-edged stuff. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t joined Maiden at that point. I’d probably still have done something with music.

Did you take your fishing gear out on tour with you?

Yes, there were some great opportunities to go fishing over the years when out on tour. It’s great to get out and expose yourself to new experiences in so many different places rather than sitting in a hotel room drinking or watching the telly.

Before you went out on tour did you plan ahead to find good spots in the cities and regions where you were playing?

I do that now. Way back then it was all new and a big adventure and we didn’t know where to go when we first went on tour but we eventually knew the best spots over the years and we could put together a little fishing itinerary next to the music commitments. In fact, I caught my first carp in Wisconsin when we were on the road on the Number Of The Beast tour supporting the Scorpions. I remember one day while we were fishing, the guys from the Scorpions were standing behind us with their leather trousers on during a blazing heatwave wondering what we were doing. I thought that was so funny.

You also take time to explain about the conservation and environmental side of fishing. Is that an important aspect of it for you?

My Dad and Uncle Stan were very experienced and taught me from a very early age to respect the fish and to look after the countryside, not to leave litter or line lying about. They taught me how to handle the fish properly and to return them to the water safely, without causing them harm or damage. I used to love going down to the club in the close season and the guys would go down to the river and take out the fallen trees, clear the path and clear the spawning areas so the fish could spawn. Angling clubs do a lot of good work. We were doing a lot of conservation work before it became fashionable.

You went fishing in the Everglades in Florida and in the forest areas of Canada. Did you come across any dangers while you’re out fishing?

They have alligators down there so there are dangers. I have had times where I’ve been desperate to go fishing and driving out around Texas when it was so hot and all the lakes and rivers had dried out and I went into this shop and pushed the door open. It was like this old Western and there were a few old men in there who looked at me hungrily. That was quite creepy.

You mention Newcastle in your book after you had a car accident in Canada where the car had slid down a slope into a tree and described the scene as looking like “a horizontal Northern lass worse for wear after a night out on the town in Newcastle”. That’s such a vivid description. Have you had a night out or two in Newcastle over the years?

I had a walk around there a few years ago and was shocked. I was there just as an observer not as a participant. We were staying at a hotel nearby that’s owned by the guy out of Simply Red and I decided to go for a walk and it was absolute mayhem. It was absolutely incredible. The actual crash itself was terrifying and we were only saved by a tree. That was as a result of my haste to go out fishing.

It’s been 5 years since your last studio album, Book Of Souls. Have you been using the downtime in touring to start writing new material?

What we have lined up for next year is a tour but we’ll have to see if that can go ahead. We are always writing new songs though but a new album is still some way away.

Adrian Smith’s book Monsters Of River and Rock: My Life as Iron Maiden’s Compulsive Angler is out now.

Interview and Live Photos By Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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