For any new (or new-ish) band based in Europe, the first tour of America is something that’s usually looked forward to with equal levels of anticipation and anguish. English hard rockers British Lion will probably experience those feelings, with nearly 20 gigs booked across the United States in January and February.
However, at least one member of the group has trod these shores many times, and for decades: Bassist/keyboardist Steve Harris. That’s because of his experience with his “main gig” group, an outfit he founded in 1975 called Iron Maiden. You may have heard of them.
With Maiden on a break, Harris can for now fully focus on British Lion, with whom he’s had a surprisingly long association. In the early 1990s, Harris was given a demo tape by vocalist Richard Taylor and guitarist Grahame Leslie’s band, called British Lion. Impressed, he would mentor, manage and eventually write with them until they broke up. Harris kept in touch with the pair and they – along with new guitarist David Hawkins – worked with Harris on his 2012 solo album called (are you following this?)…British Lion.
Now a full-fledged side project, the four have made the name of the whole group British Lion and added drummer Simon Dawson. It’s the tour to support their second album The Burning that brings them to the United States, including a January 22 gig at the Scout Bar.
“This band has evolved naturally because we did a lot of touring on the first album and I was with the lads a lot, so we became a real unit. They’re really good guys to work with, and this record has a very live feel to it and is really representative of where we’re at now,” Harris says.
He’s also fully aware that most of his U.S. gigs with that other group play to much, much bigger venues. But that doesn’t bother him in the least. “I love playing small clubs, even back to when I started with Maiden. It’s a lot of fun.”
As for Taylor, he’s much happier with The Burning than the first record and is ready to introduce the band to America. “I think we just wanted to show more about what we are,” he says. “The first album was done over awhile and recorded in bits and pieces. This one is much more cohesive, and we played live. And we’ve evolved a lot since the first record.”
As for the new songs like “Lightning,” “Legend,” “Bible Black,” “Spit Fire,” and “Father Lucifer,” the British Lion sound is definitely more melodic mainstream hard rock than Iron Maiden’s unrelenting heavy metal attack. Taylor – the band’s principal lyricist – says that some of his words on The Burning go pretty far back.
“All the songs mean something to me. Like ‘Land of the Perfect People.’ It’s a very personal song, and I started writing the words when I was a teenager. I don’t know if I’d write words like that today,” he says. And while Harris has the overall say on what songs get recorded, the bassist/keyboardist is very involved in each tune’s evolution from idea to final take.
“All the interviews I’ve been doing, the writers have different favorite songs, and that’s great because it shows the depth of the record,” Harris says. While Taylor adds “I personally think we’re a pretty serious live band that kicks ass. We believe in what we’re doing and we don’t mess about. It’s just loud and edgy. But I know we’ve also got a lot to prove.”
Each ticket bought for a British Lion show on the tour will also include a digital download of The Burning – something which sort of upends the traditional way of doing business when the purpose of a tour was to support and encourage sales of the record.
“The whole music scene has changed that way,” Harris says. “I’ve never done anything like this before, so we’ll see how it goes.” And while some of the new songs have been road tested overseas for years, many from The Burning will make their live debut on these shores.
Of course, it’s expected that a good chunk of British Lion audiences will probably include Iron Maiden fans interested in either seeing Steve Harris up close or curious about this band. But don’t expect them to pull out any cover tunes. Like Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell’s side band Last in Line, Harris is keeping his two musical words very separate.
That doesn’t mean that Taylor won’t be compared to Maiden’s wailing vocalist Bruce Dickinson, one of heavy metal’s best and most distinctive voices. When asked if he was initially intimidated to work with Harris in a singing capacity, he says no.
“I wouldn’t say I was intimidated. My influence is a bit different. I wouldn’t say I’m a metal fan at all, but since I’ve known Steve I’ve gotten into Maiden and seen Bruce perform many times,” Taylor says. “It’s natural that I would get compared with Bruce since I’m working with Steve, and I get that. But Bruce is the best in the world at what he does, but it’s a long way from what I do. People do compare us, but we’re so far away from each other.”
For his part, Harris is also raring to play in the United States And he knows it’s the closest he’ll be physically to his audience in many, many years. Some lucky headbanger may even get to buy him a round.
“We’ll just go out and give 110 percent at every gig, smile, and have a good time!” he says. “And in a club venue, maybe go have a beer at the bar later!”
British Lion plays at 7:30 p.m., January 22, at the Scout Bar, 18307 Egret. For information, call 281-335-0002 or visit ScoutBar.com. $26.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.