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Hoisting an Ale with Nicko: Gnarly Charlie's Exclusive Interview with Nicko McBrain of IRON MAIDEN

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Monday, September 9, 2013 @ 9:33 AM

"I like it any way, as long as I don't have to pay for it."

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All Photos By John McMurtrie except Nicko (By Charlie Steffens)

IRON MAIDEN is on the last leg of its Maiden England World Tour, which began in June of 2012, and has returned to the U.S.A. to play select cities before embarking to Latin America to headline the Rock in Rio Festival.

Before the band hit the stage in Nashville, Tennessee on September, KNAC.COM checked in with drummer Nicko McBrain to discuss the tour, the upcoming Battle of San Bernardino show, and TROOPER beer. TROOPER was designed by IRON MAIDEN singer and veteran ale-hoister Bruce Dickinson, who obtained feedback in the research and development process, of course, from his band mates.

MCBRAIN: Charlie, dear boy, dear boy, dear boy.

KNAC.COM: Nicko, how are you, man?

MCBRAIN: How the devil are you doing? Actually mate, I'm feeling great. I've got a little bit of this sinusitis, summer hay fever come allergy shit and that's been going on. But other than that, I'm feeling great, rocking the band along and thoroughly enjoying me time out on the road again, you know. It's only the bloody second show, but I tell you, I feel like I've been on the road for a year (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Nashville, huh?

MCBRAIN: Yeah. Nashville, mate. We ain't played here, I think it's 23, 24 years or something like that. It's great to come back because I don't remember playing here in the first place. It's good to be playing somewhere we haven't visited in a while and just getting the vibe of the place. As you know, Nashville is primarily country and western--born on the boots of country and western. It certainly seems the amount of people that are coming tonight it's a good rock and roll city as well, so I'm looking forward to tonight.

KNAC.COM: You just played the first time ever in Raleigh, North Carolina, right?

MCBRAIN: We played Raleigh two nights ago. Yeah, we've never played there before. We've played North Carolina. We actually started there last year in Charlotte when we kicked off this tour--our North American tour last year. We played Charlotte. We've been there a few times, but Raleigh was a phenomenal show. I mean, the amount of people that came out to see us--it was wonderful. A good amount of folks turned up. We had a great time. It was fucking blazing hot, but it was really hot and humid onstage (laughs). We all came off and I got two whacking great blisters on me hands, Steve (Harris) had blisters on his forefinger. "Hey, look at that. I haven't had a blister in years!" You sort of look at each other and you know you've had a good show. So it was a fantastic night. Raleigh was great.

KNAC.COM: On this tour you're playing the quintessential IRON MAIDEN songs, right?

MCBRAIN: Yeah, we dusted off the cobwebs off of a few that haven't had a showing for a while. Well, it's been twenty five years since we've played "Seventh Son (of a Seventh Son"), so you could say there's that one song and that's it. We pulled out "Trooper". The last airing of that, I think, was eight, nine years ago. "Phantom of the Opera". Classic. We did "Can I Play with Madness" not so long ago. Yeah, those classics right there. We've got "Afraid to Shoot Strangers", that's always a great crowd pleaser. "The Prisoner". I love that track. It's just a wild song to play. It's got a great groove to it. It's the third song in the set. It's so lovely to be revisiting some of the older stuff as well as that mid-80s period. People think, "Yeah, you're doing the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son tour," if you like. But it's a retrospective look at Maiden. You still get the classics: "Number of the Beast" and "Iron Maiden" always closes the show. We've left out "Hallowed (be Thy Name") just because we've always played "Hallowed" every tour, although, it's one of my favorite songs, ever, to play with Maiden. So we're doing a fair chunk of Seventh Son but we've got before and after. "Fear of the Dark", for instance. "Afraid To Shoot Strangers". Yeah, we're really having a good time, mate. It went well for last year in Europe. It most definitely was received so very well in Raleigh the other night. People loved it, and we all came offstage with a smile on our face. You can't not come off with a smile when you see how many people enjoyed themselves, you know.

KNAC.COM: I heard for the upcoming Rock in Rio show you sold 70,000 tickets in just a few hours?

MCBRAIN: Yeah. As you know, Rock in Rio, I think, is a five- or seven-day festival, I'm not sure exactly how many days, so it might even be longer than that. But it's a massive music festival. All kinds of headlining acts. It's not all just heavy rock. But they sell tickets for the event through the week and our quota was 70,000 and it went out, as you said, in a matter of hours. That, coupled with the other folks buying tickets for the whole week is amazing, really. We're expecting to play for over 300,000 kids.

KNAC.COM: Are you cruising around in the jet for this tour?

MCBRAIN: No. In a way it would have been nice, but because this leg is just a couple months, or, actually, it's only four weeks really--it was too cost-prohibitive to a 757 just to do a month out on the tour. That's kind of the world jet, when we do around the world in a couple of months. You're self-contained on it. You've got all the gear. You've got 12 tons of gear and all the crew. Mind you, we got a lot of beer now (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Well, let's talk about the most important thing. Beer. TROOPER.

MCBRAIN: Exactly. It's funny, you know. When we were in rehearsals last week, we got to "The Trooper" in the set and before I kicked it off I started out, "All right lads, I think it's time for a beer." And they all looked at me and went, "What?" And I said, "It's TROOPER time, isn't it?" We don't drink while we play and we don't drink before. At the very end of a night we've been known to take a pint of Guinness, if we're in Ireland, and toast the audience with it. But that's at the end of the night. But yes, this TROOPER beer, my lord, it's so, so delicious. It's wonderful. For any ale drinkers out there that love to drink a drop of beer. It's not a lager. It's like a bitter, extra special bitter, like an ESB. It was designed with Robinsons Brewery and Bruce (Dickinson) actually had a big hand in the design of the beer. When I first joined Maiden in 1982, I went out on tour with the band before Bruce. I was supporting the band when I was in TRUST, I went out on the Killers tour. All of us then drank ale across the British tour and we all loved our real ale beer in England. So Bruce knew what we wanted to taste in a beer, basically. So with that in the back of his mind, he went in and designed this beer. If you took IRON MAIDEN's logo and Eddie off the bottle and had a blindfold test--if you like beer--it's really, really good. It's not just IRON MAIDEN selling this beer with our names on it, although a lot of our fans are going to want to buy it because it's a fantastic bottle. It's a good souvenir, isn't it? But it's a great drop of beer, mate. My preference, by the way, Charlie, is I like it warm. When I say warm, I mean room temperature, not Florida room temperature because that would be 90-odd degrees (laughs). But it's funny, because Bruce and Steve--out of the bottle--they like it cold. But when you have it out of the cask, you know, the way it's really brewed to be drank, it should be at room temperature or cellar temperature, which can be anywhere from 57 to 62, 65 degrees. When it's warmer it has a more firmer taste. It really opens up. There's a plus and a minus. Some people say, "I prefer it cold and not warm," and vice versa.

KNAC.COM: I like it however it comes.

MCBRAIN: You know what my mate said, Charlie? He said, (laughs) I tell you what, though. When I see you in San Bernardino, we'll have some, because we got our TROOPER reps, they're coming out to every one of our shows and we are TROOPER'ed up. We do have our own little stash of TROOPER beer, so it would be my delight to turn you on to one, if you have not had it already. Even if you have, we'll pop a top off.

KNAC.COM: It will be hotter than hell there, so you might prefer it cold.

MCBRAIN: No, I'll still have it warm. You know the thing, I've got to be honest with you--I live in Florida--I like ice cold Corona beers, you know. When you go from the hot--outdoors hot--you say, "Oh, I could murder a cold beer." You do. You'll have some and you'll kind of chug it. TROOPER beer--you can't really chug it, even when it's cold. But the thing is, if you sit down and you kind of take a minute, and you go, "I really want a really tasty beer. I don't want something to quench me thirst. I'll take it warm." And I love my customers in me restaurant in Florida. I actually introduced it there two weeks ago. I was fortunate to actually open the first commercial bottle of beer in America on the Monday. I forget the date of it now. I figure it was the 10th or 12th, oh, anyway. On the next day we had this big launch for the beer and all these folks who came in were having it cold, first of all. Then I passed bottles around and gave them tastes of the room temperature or warm beer. And a lot of the folks said to me, "You know what? We're American. We don't like warm beer." I said, "Just try this. Just for me. Try it and let me know what you think." Ninety-six percent of the people turned around and said, "The next bottle of beer I'm going to buy in this place is going to be the one that is room temperature. It's got much more of a fuller taste and I never would have thought I would have liked a warm beer." So you know, horses for courses, Charlie, end of the day, mate.

KNAC.COM: That's right.

MCBRAIN: And talking of horses, it's got a horse on the fuckin' label (laughs). With Eddie on it. I don't know if he's got the horse between his legs, like the original "The Trooper" artwork. But again, we can have a cold one and I'll have a room temperature.

KNAC.COM: That will be great. You have a fantastic lineup for the Battle of San Bernardino show. You've got MEGADETH, you've got ANTHRAX. You have OVERKILL, one of my favorite bands from back East. You're surrounded by greatness. It should be a killer show out in San Bernardino.

MCBRAIN: Exactly. Basically, I'm in the presence of champions. Every one of those guys in those bands, to me, are brilliant players. Great mates. I don't really know OVERKILL as well as I probably should. Dave Mustaineand the boys, we go back forever, and they're wonderful. I got to meet Shawn (Drover), the new drummer. Of course, you've got all the ANTHRAX guys, and they just did a couple shows with us in Europe, and TESTAMENT. We haven't seen those guys for a while. I think we did a couple shows, but they were on earlier than we were. And sometimes that's the hardest thing to do on the road. You know, you come in later in the late afternoon and you've missed your mates' band (laughs). Somebody's got to go on earlier. But it's a fantastic lineup. I think we're going to try to get out of Vegas earlier, after the show. We're going to stay the night there and then we're going to leave early go straight up to San Bernardino and hopefully get to the show and watch some of the boys, you know. It promises to be an amazing event. It's going to be well-attended, I think, just for the lineup alone.

KNAC.COM: Everybody's talking about this show being the biggest and the best of the summer. We all go way back with you guys. KNAC.COM loves you since we were on air as a radio station in Los Angeles on up to the dot com we are now.

MCBRAIN: Before we go, Charlie, I thank you for all those words you just said, and I've got to give a good shout out to you guys at KNAC. I know it's dot com now. You guys have supported IRON MAIDEN from day one, since I was in the band, anyway. I've always had very fond memories of doing live radio with you guys and simulcasts and stuff all over the place in the '80s and '90s. KNAC are still true blue and I thank you for this time we've spent tonight. I look forward to seeing you in San Bernardino in, what is it, a week?

KNAC.COM: Friday the 13th.

MCBRAIN: The 13th? It is a Friday (laughs). It'll be great. You know what, Charlie, don't be a stranger when you get to the gig. I'll come out and bring you a cold one.

KNAC.COM: That'll be great, Nicko.

MCBRAIN: You are a hero, mate. You rock. I look forward to seeing you in just over a week.

KNAC.COM: Alright. God bless you, mate.

MCBRAIN: You too, mate. Loads of love. Bye.

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