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Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith: “When we hit America things kicked in with booze and drugs, using it as a crutch”

Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden
(Image credit: Martin Philbey/Redferns)

Since joining Iron Maiden in 1980, Adrian Smith has contributed more than a few chapters (and hits) to the band’s four-decade-plus career. With their 2020 tour plans scuppered, the guitarist has found time to publish his own book on fishing, Monsters of River & Rock: My Life as Iron Maiden’s Compulsive Angler, with a few Maiden stories thrown in for good measure, of course. Hammer caught up with him for the angle. 

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I never planned on writing a book

“Somebody approached me to do it. They said, ‘We know you’re a keen fisherman and have lots of stories’, so they set up meetings with publishers. But I really enjoy writing and it was all done over a year and a half, mostly written on the road. It was a great project: diving into my past, my fishing experiences and things that had happened with the band.”

I don’t really want to come across as ‘poor me’, but depression was a feature of the 80s for me,

Adriian Smith

Being successful requires some sacrifice

“When I was about 15 I stopped going fishing for a while. I was having these conversations about what I was going to do with the rest of my life, around the same time as I got into music. I thought, ‘If I’m going to make it as a musician I need to be dedicated’, so stopped fishing and stopped following football; I’d also been a Man United fanatic. I remember saving up to get a Les Paul and thinking as soon as I’d got it I was going to sound like Gary Moore. But you’ve got to learn to play it first! I’ve still got that guitar, but I play it a bit better these days. Ironically, it wasn’t until I joined Iron Maiden in the early 80s that I came back to fishing, mostly because that’s one of the first things [ex-Maiden drummer] Clive Burr and I would talk about. We’d go out with [Maiden guitarist] Dave Murray while on tour, because by that point I figured I was on the way with music, it was time to revisit things I loved!”

Iron Maiden in 2015

(Image credit: John McMurtrie)

Sometimes parents just don’t understand

“My parents weren’t enthusiastic when I said I wanted to become a musician; they wanted me to stay on at school and get a good job. I can sympathise with it now, but back then my heroes had gone from being George Best and Bobby Charlton to Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Free. I was knocked out when I heard those bands; I knew this was what I wanted to do. Like a lot of teenagers I had no idea what I wanted to do until it hit me between the eyes – I’d been a bit lost because I wasn’t interested in the academic sides of school and not sports other than football. Even once I’d made my mind up, my parents were a bit concerned – ‘It’s all a bit pie in the sky mate, you’ll never make a living out of it.’ And, you know, for 98% of people they would be right. But things worked out, luckily.”

Being a rock fan in the 70s wasn’t fashionable

“One of the stories in my book is about meeting Dave Murray; even back then he could play really well and had this distinctive sound. He was further along the road with playing guitar, so I told him I was a singer as I couldn’t play anything at the time! I blagged my way into jamming with him and his mate, then we were growing our hair and donning the look, which was very strange back then because word hadn’t really got around, so we just looked like this little cult!”

Depression hit me in Maiden

“There aren’t many angling books that deal with depression, so I felt a bit strange about including that. But we’re all human and a lot of it comes down to how you deal with stress. I don’t really want to come across as ‘poor me’, but it was a feature of the 80s for me. The last gig I did before joining Iron Maiden was at a pub in London; I remember getting on the bus with my wah-wah pedal in a Tesco bag, playing that show then the next thing was a massive gig with Iron Maiden. Quite the jump! I managed with sheer bravado to get through the first tour, then it started to hit me a bit – people pay a lot of money to see us and there’s a lot of great musicians out there, meaning it’s very competitive. It got on top of me a few times and when we hit America things really kicked in with booze and drugs, using it as a crutch. But you need to deal with those things, and knowing that now means I don’t have the same struggles. It’s all part of the process of growing up.”

Having a hobby is a godsend

“On the road, you find you’ve got a lot of time to kill and have to be ready at a moment’s notice, so I usually keep a lot of stuff ready in my suitcase. It’s something to do. Let’s face it, touring can be really, really boring and I think that’s why a lot of older bands get fed up with it. Don’t get me wrong: the time spent onstage is great, but the other 22 hours a day you need to live your life. For me that means going out to do something I enjoy. It’s good for your mind – as Billy Connolly said, ‘Fishing is meditation with a punchline.’”

There’s nothing like escaping to the country

“Growing up in Clapton, East London, a lot of the waterways were so polluted you could smell them miles off. Going somewhere like Hertfordshire on a fishing trip was like being on holiday, and I loved that. The cocoon of plane-to-van-to-hotel is a bit much at times, so it’s great to just go out into the country and free your mind, get that space.”

…So we have to look after our countrysde

“I’ve been all round the world, but New Zealand is particularly amazing. It’s incredibly beautiful and unspoiled, a bit like England back in the 40s or whatever, with crystal rivers and no litter. That’s one of the things that really annoys me about this country, much as I love it: the rubbish people dump and the lack of respect for countryside really gets under my skin. Having said that, the rivers are a lot cleaner now than when I was a kid because they’ve tightened laws around industrial pollution and a lot of angling clubs organise work parties – groups of people giving their time to unblock rivers and the like. Some people get this idea of fishing as take-take-take, but most anglers with a soul will put something back. If everybody did a little bit of that, then the world would be a better place.”

It’s amazing to see Maiden fans all over the world

“No matter where we go, we always see our merchandise around. A great thing about this band is that we go out and take the music to people, wherever that may take us. Doing that also means people stick with you. Having said that, I’ve walked by people in those shirts who had no idea who I was! I think our merchandise works a little too well like that. But one time I was out fishing in Ireland with my dad. Word had got out in the local village and these kids started turning up, all wearing Eddie shirts, watching us from the banks for a while. I went over and they asked if we could sign their things and, just as I did, two nuns walked up! They looked at the album, looked at me and thought it was hilarious.

Motorcades aren’t as glamorous as they seem

“In places like Italy and Mexico, I’ve found the police escorts can be a little… enthusiastic. Too much so, you might say! People think it’s glamorous getting this escort, but it can be very stressful, especially when you get a bit carsick and your driver thinks he’s in an action movie, speeding through the night at 100mph with his sunglasses on!”

You never know who’s gong to blow up

“Years ago we had bands like Saxon out with us – I never understood why they weren’t massive as they were great. Ghost are a very interesting and different band. I appreciate if a band opens for us these days because it means they’ve worked very hard to get to that point – and Ghost have definitely got something going on.”

There are always bigger fish to fry

“Even now, there’s still a little bit of insecurity and wanting to prove things to people, do things we haven’t before. It’s like fishing – there’s always bigger fish and new places to explore, always something to look forward to; it’s what keeps me going. That and things like playing tennis with Steve Harris to keep me fit. I don’t think any of us feel like slowing down – we still want to get out there!”