Dave Lights – August 2000
Interviewed by Grégory Dabin
Photos: Dave Lights
Source: Rock Hard Magazine (France) – Hors Série Nº1, Novembre 2002
We were lucky enough to meet up with Dave Lights at a Praying Mantis concert in August 2000 in London. He is one of Steve Harris's closest friends and a privileged witness to the very first steps of Iron Maiden, as he was responsible for the band's lighting from the beginnings until 1986. This man has largely contributed to the success of the band by perfecting the visual quality of their shows. Not only did he tell us his story, but Mister Lights has also had the kindness to lend us some of his private photographs, real exclusive documents to be treated like a war treasure hat will bring tears to the eyes of the die-hard fans. We just can't be grateful enough.
Dave, when did you meet Steve Harris for the first time?
I was in the Church Of England, an association that was organising all sorts of events, like theatrical plays such as "Sleeping Beauty", 'cause I used to do a bit of acting. One year, we organised a Rock contest and that's when I met Steve, who was with his first band, Gypsy's Kiss. So I promoted Steve Harris's first concert. The band came second and separated soon after. Then I met Steve about a year later when he started going out with Lorraine, who was to become his wife.
What did you think of the first band?
It was a good band. I wouldn't say that it was as good as Maiden 'cause it was different. Steve was learning to play bass and Gypsy's Kiss were very influenced by bands like AC/DC and UFO. At the time, Steve was trying to find his style. He founded Iron Maiden a year later.
So you basically witnessed the birth of Iron Maiden?
Yes, 'cause Lorraine was going to the same school as my first wife, Kim. I used to live in Poplar in some sort of big church and Lorraine asked me if her new boyfriend, Steve, could come over for rehearsals with his new band, Iron Maiden. I agreed and they came over to rehearse regularly at my place for about a year and a half. I must admit that I was getting pissed off with Maiden's music, even much before I started to help them out and take over the lights and the stage effects. 'Cause every other day, they'd be about 15 feet away from me going, "Come on, Iron Maiden! Let's go for it!", ten, twelve times a day, before they even got their first gig. That how I came to learn their songs by heart, by hearing them all the time. At that time, bands playing pub gigs didn't have any lights, no pyrotechnics. So I made all these things. I was myself singing in a Punk band, but I wasn't up to it, I was too shy. I preferred to stay on the side and run the lights instead of being a performer.
How did the first Maiden gigs go?
It was crazy. We were excited. 'Cause at that time, we were in the middle of the Punk wave. Britain only had eyes for that and there wasn't much room left for Rock music. The fact that we could play Heavy Metal and have huge gigs down the pubs was also exciting. We simply wanted to be the best band and conquer the world, and this even we even got a deal with EMI. We knew exactly where we wanted to go. At the time, we were the only ones to offer such a show, no other band had their own van, no other band had their own lights, or stage effects, or Eddie's head spitting blood. No one had anything like that. Mind you, I'm not saying that the music wasn't good, 'cause it was, but it was the whole thing that made the difference, the show and the music together. That's why people were coming to the shows. It wasn't just a band playing on stage. There where flashes of light, smoke, blood, it was a visual feast and mostly something no one had seen before.
Who came up with the idea to make all these things?
I did. But what's worse is that I did it just like that, without really thinking about it. I was using standard switches that I'd nail to a wooden plank. For the explosions, I used to use those cigar boxes 'cause they were rectangular and made of metal. I made up my first pyros with two of these boxes and a wire plugged into an electrical socket. The first time, the wire that was supposed to burn was bigger than the fuse of the wall socket and it literally blew it off the wall, leaving the pyro untouched. In order to get Eddie's head to spit out blood, I got a fishtank pump and I fixed a little piece of tubing behind the mouth so it would have the same shape. When you'd switch on the pump, it'd take fake blood in a tin can on one side and would expel it on the other side. It was working fine, but it was really dangerous 'cause the backdrop was fitted with light bulbs that exploded when the blood touched them.
How did you work with Steve Harris? Did you submit ideas that he'd approve or not?
Basically, someone would come up with an idea that I'd then submit to the band. At first, no one said anything and I was doing everything by myself. At that time, Steve was still learning and I suppose that he was just happy that someone was taking care of it. He came over once and said to me, "Dave, we have a few gigs at the Cart & Horses and at the Bridge House. Would you like to be our roadie?". So I told him that I'd like to take care of the sound, lights and pyros. And I made all my light-cases where I used to live, in that big church. In the garden, we had these wooden flower beds where we'd put flower pots. I painted them, made a few holes to fit the bulbs in and added some wires... Those where my first light rigs!
You're also Eddie's "father". How did you work with Derek Riggs?
When Maiden got the deal with EMI, Rod [Smallwood] received a portfolio with various drawings and he accidentally found this kind of punk that was to end up on the cover of Iron Maiden's first album. In fact, the band cracked up and thought he looked like me, "Hey, look! That's Dave Lights!" When Derek painted this first cover, we started working together on a few ideas. Sometimes, the management would only give us the album's name, or ideas, or even drafts. We used to start working on these. So, for instance, the Powerslave and Somewhere In Time album concepts came from my own imagination. Then I designed the stage layout for both tours. I'd usually say to Derek, "Can you make me a draft of the album cover so I can have an idea of what it's about?" I'd then go home with a pencil draft and I'd get back to him, saying, "Can you do that?" That's how we ended up with space shuttles on the Somewhere In Time tour, they all come from Derek.
If you compare the Metal bands of that time...
We were the best. We wanted to conquer the world, and that's what we did. Until my last year with the band , we didn't stop touring. Twelve years without a break: ten months on the road, three months rest, fourteen months on the road, three months resting, etc. At the end of the day, that's no life. My biggest problem was that, as I was married and I'd had my first daughter, Helena who's eighteen now, it was for me very difficult to cope with all that. You can't be both at home and out there conquering the world!
Live in Oxford, 1979 (opening for Samson).
It's true that, when you started touring, the number of shows you played was quite amazing...
Yeah, we could play up to six gigs a week and rest for only one day. After two years on tour, we started getting bank loans and we were then able to purchase all our equipment. Iron Maiden eventually became the owners of our own lights and stage gear, which was much better than having to rent the stuff from various companies. This later allowed us to design and organise the stage as we wanted. We could afford to offer the same gig every time. No one had a better gig than anyone else, except maybe the States where we could set up the complete stage and the infrastructure that goes with it, and this all over the country. I've alway been annoyed that the States would have different shows than the ones given in Europe. I felt awkward 'cause, at the end of the day, all the fans would pay the same amount of money for their tickets.
Killer World Tour 1981.
The last time you toured with Maiden was on the Somewhere On Tour...
That's right. I stopped working with the band at the end of that tour 'cause I fell ill. I had a nervous breakdown, my marriage was falling apart. I used to drink a lot and do drugs, and I wasn't aware of what that was doing to me. So I had to leave Maiden or things could have taken a nasty turn for me. Life with Maiden isn't real, you constantly live inside a bubble. I was protected there 'cause I was one of those who'd been with the band since the beginning. In the end, it was difficult, 'cause when I left, it came as a big blow. It was very difficult for me to work with new people, to discover a whole new organisation. My biggest concern was, like, "Can I do something else outside of Maiden, can I just flick a switch and do the design for someone else?" I stopped working with Iron Maiden at the end of the Somewhere On Tour. Then, I stayed unemployed for two weeks before I went on to work for Prince on his Sign O' The Time tour, which is quite ironic! Prince's lighting engineer, Roy Benett, just called me and offered me to work with them. I agreed and I set up the forty neon lights that you can see on the "Sign O' The Time" video. Then I went on to do many things: rave parties for some time, long before they became legal. At the time, people told me, "Why do you do raves? That's crap!" Today, in 2000 A.D., raves and Dance Music are at the top. The good side of these shows is that you have the freedom to do what you like. It's not like a gig where you have to follow a timing. In raves, what matters is spontaneity.
Sound and light check on the Killer World Tour, 1981.
Aren't you in Metal anymore?
I still am, I now work for U.F.O. They're long-time friends. I like all kinds of music. I think that everybody can tell good music from bad. Those Pop things in the charts are just crap for the kids. For the rest, there really good music everywhere. I've worked with people like Cliff Richards, Prince, I've done raves, gay clubs in London, the most famous being the London Astoria. I also worked with Black Sabbath, Dio, Girlschool... 'Cause, to get back to tours, I've done so many of them that it became like taking drugs: sleeping on a bench and moving on every day... But I'm not twenty anymore. So I had to stop and concentrate on smaller projects. I do architectural lighting, I light up buildings, the Queen's monuments where you get open air concerts. I've been part every Summer for the past six or seven years of the Hampton Court festival where, for about ten days, top-notch artists like Pavarotti and Shirley Bassey come to give a show. Lighting gargoyles, trees, chimneys, and of course the Palace itself, all that is part of my job. When you make productions for Maiden, that's already quite a lot of work, but a castle and its park, that's massive. I've done many things, I try not to tour too much, or only in good company. I prefer to get into projects that are relatively short, like six weeks or so, then move on to something else.
Live debut, 1980.
What do you think of Maiden's last album, Brave New World?
I only heard an extract. It's still a great band and the music is pretty good. The problem with Maiden is that they don't take enough time between an album and the next. If they took more time, they'd probably write better songs. But it's a personal opinion, I ain't the boss [laughs].
What's your favourite album of the band?
Iron Maiden... But I like them all. I'd say that Iron Maiden and Somewhere In Time are those I personally prefer. The Number Of The Beast is also very good. But I really like Somewhere In Time because it contains many songs written by Adrian Smith.
In conclusion, can you tell us what are your best and worst memories?
I've been delighted to have been part of the big Maiden family, to have started in the East End pubs of London to go all the way to play on the other side of the world. We have been extremely lucky to have been able to fulfil our dream. My worst memory? To have slept too little! [laughs]
Paul Samson – August 2000
Interviewed by xxx
Photos: Andrei Kobakhidze
Source: Rock Hard Magazine (France) – Hors Série Nº1, Novembre 2002
Paul Samson passed away on 9th August 2002 at the age of 49,
after a long struggle against cancer. His career as a musician was closely linked
to that of Maiden: he founded Samson in 1979 with Clive Burr on drums before he
swapped him for an ex-Maiden, Thunderstick [Barry Purkis] and hired a singer
called Bruce Bruce [a.k.a. Bruce Dickinson]. In 1979, Iron Maiden opened for Samson
during the Metal Crusade Tour. Later, it was the turn of Samson and the
Paul Samson's Empire to open for Maiden. Samson's single, Mr Rock'n'Roll,
released in 1978, is considered the first NWOBHM single, and the story of this band
represents that of the movement itself: after very promising beginnings and a few
commercial successes, line-up, management and label problems forced them to
disband. Since then, various solo projects, countless compilations and re-release
came out until the band decided to re-unite the original line-up. Paul Samson never
gave up and never betrayed his original motivation: music. This interview, one of the last
given by the British guitar player and made during the Wacken Open Air where
the band was playing two years ago, attests of these facts.
There are talks of a Samson "reunion", but the current
line-up never actually played as such before...
Paul Samson: That's true, we simply tried to gather up
the best from the two major Samson line-ups. And we succeeded. We had talks with
Bruce [Dickinson] 'cause he's the one who had the idea of a "reunion."
He got in touch with us at least ten times to tell us, "Let's do it!" A Japanese
tour was even planned, and many other things. Thunderstick, Chris and myself started
rehearsing together in order to get back to the original feel and make everything ready for
when Bruce was going to join us. Then Iron Maiden "re-united" and all hopes
to work with Bruce again vanished all of the sudden. But we nevertheless didn't give up
and performed a show in Japan. Just the three of us. We played songs from the Survivors
album and other songs in the same vein. When we got back, I paid Nicky Moore a visit
[Note: Samson singer from 1982 to 84 after Bruce left] shortly before Christmas
and I asked him to join. I'd worked recently with Nicky on other projects and it appeared quite
natural that I should ask him. We performed in Japan, then we played at the Wacken festival
and did a few gigs in Britain, one of them being at the Astoria in London. We also
wrote three or four songs, the three of us. Then Nicky arrived with new ideas and we now all
work together. We just released Live In London 2000, which contains about an hour
of music and a four-track video-CD. Let's hope that it'll allow us to get a deal for a studio album.
Once we've done that, we'll be able to really tour in earnest.
Nicky Moore: We think that the new songs are really strong.
So we're quite likely to record them anyway, even if we don't have a deal. Record companies
are a thing of the past. I can't see why we couldn't sell our album through our website.
Is it easier now than ten years ago?
Paul Samson: Yes, because people know us. We could play
in twenty different countries and people will know who we are – we have this
Nicky Moore: The problem is that we're constantly going against
the mainstream: the music industry is built around fashions and crazes for the young and
teen-agers. Some labels will not even bother seeing us 'cause we're all over forty. It doesn't
matter if you've sold four or five million records in the past. In the States, Grand Funk Railroad,
who sold almost 80 million records, cannot get any new deals. It reminds me of the
start of the NWOBHM: record companies are careful and just wait. No one wants to take
a risk. Then someone decides to try something out and it works. And it becomes a rush.
Well, that's what we're hoping for anyway. In the meantime, most bands like us get deals with
smaller label, more basically Metal-oriented. They do that more because they love the music
than for commercial reasons.
Lately, many "products" bearing the Samson label
have been released: BBC Tapes, compilations, and re-releases on Air Raid Records,
Bruce Dickinson's label...
Paul Samson: We have no control whatsoever over these things.
Bruce's label, for example, never asked us anything. And we never complained. In fact,
I heard about those re-releases while reading reviews in a magazine. So I wrote to the
people of the label to tell them, "Look here, we're the ones playing on these!
Could you at least send us some copies?" And soon after, they sent us a box
full of – and that's all we got. We really think that this is a ridiculous situation:
we never did anything to anger them, but they treat us like the enemy.
Nicky Moore: We promote their stuff for free, but they treat us
Paul Samson: In fact, I was the first one to give Bruce Dickinson
a chance for a breakthrough, and I never asked for anything in return. So, being treated like
that some twenty years down the line, I really wonder what I've done to deserve all this.
What do you think of Iron Maiden's biography,
Run To The Hills?
The one where Bruce says that we were a bunch of junkies? What I really didn't like is
that he said that we weren't serious, even musically. So can he tell me who was in the
studio at three in the morning, preparing all the stuff so he could record? Who wrote
all the songs he sung? Who organised the tours while he was down at the Marquee
getting legless? We all smoked a bit of grass at that time – it was something
you did – but he'd better stop saying that Maiden never touched coke... Of course,
this is only a personal opinion and I don't intend to get sued for that.
Thunderstick: After all, it was Bruce who wrote the lyrics of the song
'Bright Lights', whose original title was in fact 'White Lines'.
Paul Samson: I don't mind him saying all that, but he should stop
pretending that he wasn't involved – we were all in the same band and we all
did the same kind of shit together. We just want a bit of honesty on his part...
What happened when he left the band to join Maiden in 1981?
Thunderstick: He'd thrown my tape of Killers out of the window
during the tour 'cause he couldn't stand the sound of it. And two months later, there he is
joining the very same band!!! Well, it wasn't that bad, Clive Burr gave me another one.
Paul Samson: We had just played at the Reading festival.
A&M and RCA wanted both to sign a deal for 2.5 million
pounds each. Bruce had a better offer, he went on to join Maiden and the two record
companies withdrew. If he'd waited only two weeks, maybe things would have been different.
We eventually signed a contract with Polydor, but it was a six-month setback...
Mind you, we can't really hold it against him That's business, that's life.
By the way, Paul, have you been in Maiden?
There are many rumours about this.
No, never. But it was close, back in 1978. Dave Murray called me and asked me to join the band,
but Samson were just about to release their first single, Telephone. At the time, Samson
and Maiden were the two major bands of the Soundhouse, DJ Neal Kay's club. And Dave
said that if we merged together, we could really do something great. Maybe he was right,
I don't know... But I was doing fine on my own and I didn't need them. My single was about
to be released so I told Dave, "Not now". But I'm still in good terms with the members
of the band. They are really nice on a personal point-of-view, it's just the business side of things
that sucks: managers, accountants, people like that. If I met Steve or Dave now, we'd go for a beer
together, there's never been any problem between us. And I don't understand why they treat us
like shit. We've never done anything wrong to them. On the contrary, I've given them a couple
fucking great musicians. And also two or three songs: I have the tape with two songs from
The Number Of The Beast in their Samson version. Maybe I'll release them one day.
The riff of 'Children Of The Damned', for instance, is borrowed from one of my songs,
'Last Times In The World'. There's also 'Thunderburst', that became 'The Ides Of March'.
Thunderstick: I wrote 'Thunderburst' while I was in Iron Maiden.
When I wanted to release it on a Samson album, I had to go to EMI –
it was as if I'd stolen something. We had to find some sort of arrangement because
Maiden's management was much more powerful than ours: all of the royalties on
'The Ides Of March' were to go to Steve Harris, whereas those of 'Thunderburst'
were split in two.
Thunderstick, how long did you stay with Maiden?
A very short time. We played a few gigs and recorded a few demos together: stuff like
'Phantom Of The Opera' and 'Sanctuary'. That was just before they recorded the
Soundhouse Tapes. They were still looking for an image and they didn't have a deal
at the time. Eddie didn't exist either. And it's quite funny that, when I played on the
Metal Crusade Tour with Samson, I was already wearing my mask and Maiden
had just created Eddie. It was like, "You've got an image on stage, well so have we..."
At that time, Bruce was the first one to say that they'd nicked our idea.
Paul Samson: It was somehow normal to steal good ideas here or
there and to exploit them. We've all done that at one point or another of our careers.
Where did you get the idea of a mask?
Thunderstick: I thought about it because drummers in Rock bands never
have a face: on posters, you always see the singers and/or the guitar players. I just decided to
give a personality to the faceless drummer. It wasn't easy to play with this mask on, but I got
used to it with time. I went through this experience for a while, then I started going bonkers.
When you try to sell this anonymous image, the person behind the mask starts to feel very lonely.
During the tour, I wasn't even able to go for a bite with the rest of the band after the sound check
because of this bloody character that I'd created.
Why did you leave Samson?
I'd become a bit too theatrical with this masked character. Samson was going towards
a more bluesy style and this image didn't quite correspond. I have kept my Punk influences
and I wanted a style ressembling more that of Alice Cooper and Kiss, with a great show
on stage. So we split amicably. I recorded two albums with my band, but one of them was
How do you feel now that you're back with Samson?
It's like putting back on an old pair of slippers! I think it's even more exciting now.
Paul Samson: We already have twelve new songs and we want to go forward.
PS: Due to Paul's illness, many projects couldn't be completed. The new
Samson album, Brand New Day, is ready and will probably be released
posthumously. In the meantime, the four albums featuring Bruce Dickinson
– Survivors, Head On, Shock Tactics and
Live At Reading '81 – have been re-released at the beginning of the year
by Sanctuary as re-mastered versions with real previously unreleased bonus tracks.
Unlike the previous re-releases, these ones are really worth it!
Paul Day – September 2001
Contributor: The Ancient Mariner
How much singing did you do before joining Maiden?
I did some singing with a few bands but only bedroom singing really.
Just rehearsing and doing covers.
Why did you start singing?
I started singing really because I was too slack to learn the guitar. Like, I wanted
to play the guitar but I wanted to do it today, straight away. I always sung at school,
too, like in front of the class and stuff like that. My favourite singers were Ian Gillan,
Paul Rodgers and Rob Halford and I guess that it was really always a fantasy to be
a singer in a band.
How long had you known Steve Harris before you joined Maiden?
I saw Steve play in Gypsy's Kiss and thought that they weren't too bad apart from
the singer. One day he was walking past this bike shop I used to work at and
I asked him if there was any chance of having a sing with him, but at that stage
he said no as they already had someone. A week later he came into the shop
to see me and told me to come down and have a go. So I didn't really know him
before Maiden, but I knew of him.
What were the early rehearsals like?
Just normal really, going through the paces. The earlier songs that we did were
'I've Got The Fire' and 'Jailbreak' among others. Steve used to come into rehearsals
with an idea and some lyrics usually and I had to come up with my own melody lines.
I was actually responsible for writing some of the lyrics on 'Strange World'. But Steve
generally came up with the ideas. I pushed to do more covers but Steve always wanted
to stick to his guns and write original stuff. He was amazing like that really and he deserves
all the success that he's got.
What do you remember of the first gig?
I don't really remember that much except that my mum had sewn me up in this cape
that I wore. All of the gigs back then have blurred into each other.
What are your best memories of Iron Maiden?
It would have to be when my family and I had gone on holidays somewhere
and Steve and the boys drove up to get me as we had a gig on the next day!
How did Steve actually tell you that he wanted a new singer?
How did you take it?
It was after a gig at the Cart & Horses. Steve had previously told me to
get my act together, but I had limited experience and was doing the best I could.
I also thought at this point that it was much better to sound good than anything else
and that was what I concentrated on. I think if Maiden hadn't been my first band,
things would have been very different, because after this incident I really started
to wake up and I became a lot more focused.
What did you think of your replacement, Dennis Wilcock?
Fucked to be honest! But he had a look at the time that I just couldn't do. In hindsight,
I think Steve did the right thing.
What bands did you sing with between Maiden and More?
I went for a fair few auditions and I played in a few cover bands of stuff like Kiss,
Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy. I didn't join More until '78/79 and at that stage it was
just a pub gig. I was really reluctant at first because I didn't like what they were doing.
But I was pushed into it and eventually I started to move into the direction I wanted it
to go anyway.
What was the tour like that More did with Maiden in Europe in 1981?
It was about an eight-week tour that basically went everywhere. It was a lot of fun,
really, and I was over the Maiden thing by then because I had my own band and
when I left Maiden they were only a small pub band anyway. I was actually doing
Harry's spotlight for the tour as this meant that I was getting paid double, ten pounds!
I didn't mind though 'cause the money was good and I enjoyed watching their show.
What happened after More?
I finished with More in about '82 and I was singing for a band called Wildfire.
I was really happy in this band and really believed in what we were doing.
We recorded two albums but it was a real struggle, pushing shit up a hill
we were! We were touring around Britain and record shops weren't actually
stocking the album and stuff like that. The band eventually became State Trooper
with Gary Barden from MSG on vocals.
How did you come to be singing for The Sweet?
I just answered an ad in the paper. I didn't actually know it was for The Sweet.
I am not even a fan really. I got the job and had two weeks to learn all the material
and I didn't even have any of their albums. I toured with them for about a year
but it was just like being in a covers band for me as I was singing someone
else's songs. We toured Australia and I really liked it out here so I decided to stay
and tried to get my career moving over here. I did a stint in a Deep Purple covers band
and we toured all over Australia and New Zealand. I also did some duo work for a while
but I got sick of it. If I couldn't do what I really wanted to do, I didn't want to do it any more.
Basically it just became so hard to get a band together who wanted to do their own material
and get on with it.
Have you followed Maiden's career at all?
What is your favourite song?
No, I haven't really followed them that much. I think that Bruce is a great singer.
I've liked him since Samson, really. He has got a powerful voice and a real presence.
My favourite song would have to be 'Phantom Of The Opera'.