Mission From ’Arry: How Iron Maiden turned a sweary argument into the funniest metal “song” ever

Steve Harris, Nicko McBrain and Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden in 1985
(Image credit: Ross Marino/Getty Images)

September 3, 2024, will mark 40 years since Iron Maiden released their seminal Powerslave album. Doubtlessly, the anniversary will bring with it discussions of multiple Maiden classics, from the all-guns-blazing excitement of Aces High to the poetic grandeur of 13-minute odyssey Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. However, one brilliant track of the era that won’t get quite as much attention (despite deserving it) is Mission From ’Arry: the 2 Minutes To Midnight b-side that remains one of the funniest things in heavy metal history.

Mission From ’Arry is not a song. Instead, it’s an expletive-laden argument between bassist Steve “’Arry” Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain, with frontman Bruce Dickinson occasionally piping up to stir the pot. The seven-minute recording documents the most cockney argument ever committed to tape, an incensed Nicko spewing one-liners as ridiculous as “Fuck my old boots!” and “He made me fuck!” The fury and confusion reach their glorious punchline when Steve grabs the tape recorder and, before shutting it off, declares, “Some cunt’s recording this.” It’s an unquestionable masterpiece of schadenfreude.

Mission From ’Arry was recorded after a Maiden gig on August 18, 1983, at the Fairgrounds in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The band were on the American leg of the World Piece tour, promoting that year’s Piece Of Mind, and, during the show, Steve’s bass gear broke. The band needed time to fix it, so the Maiden founder asked a stagehand to relay a message to Nicko mid-drum solo, wanting him to play longer.

“I’m [playing] and giving it the big’un, and I get this prod on my back halfway through this real dynamic bit of my drum solo,” Nicko remembered in 2008 documentary The History Of Iron Maiden: Part 2. “I went, ‘WHAT?!’, and this guy goes, [incoherent mumbling]. I can’t stop and talk to him, and I didn’t have a clue what he was saying!”

The poor stagehand repeatedly tried to share Steve’s message and repeatedly got drowned out by Nicko’s playing, each time infuriating the drummer more and more. Eventually, Nicko states, “I asked him, ‘What the eff do you… fuck off!’”

“He ended up messing his solo up,” Steve added. “Or so he said, it didn’t sound like it to me.”

“I stood up and both drum sticks went flying in the air,” continued Nicko. “I stood up and swore at the top of my lungs. And the audience were going, ‘Yeeeeeeah!’ They thought it was really cool!”

The tension spilled over backstage after the concert. Nicko started laying into the stagehand, only for Steve to walk past and come to his defence, saying the interruption was at his request. Steve’s command for Nicko to apologise sparked a shouting match between the two, which unsurprisingly caught the ear of Bruce.

“I thought, ‘This is so absurd,’ because the stuff that was coming out was just funny,” the singer reasoned in 2008. “So, I got my little Walkman, put in a tape, switched it on and snuck it in there.”

Clearly entertained by the war of words between Steve and Nicko, Bruce eggs the pair on throughout the recording. One of its greatest moments comes when the frontman throws the drummer the hypothetical, “What happens if the lighting rig’s about to fall on your head?”, receiving the uber-macho reply: “Well then someone drags me out the fucking way, else I’m dead, right!”

Steve’s discovery of the Walkman ends Mission To ’Arry, but not the debacle. According to a 2007 Metal Hammer interview with Bruce, Steve and Nicko, the drummer proceeded to steal the tape recorder, only releasing it when the singer punched him in the stomach.

“I dropped the tape, Bruce picked it up and I steamed down the corridor after him,” Nicko remembered. “I was going to have him. I was going to have a fight with him. I thought: ‘That’s it, I’m leaving the band.’ But then Bruce said: ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got the lyrics to a song called Powerslave on that tape.’ After that it all deflated.”

Not long afterwards, the band saw the funny side of the whole fiasco. “We sat in the studio [while recording Powerslave in 1984] playing it and we couldn’t stop laughing!” said Nicko in 2008. “’Arry said, ‘It’d make a great b-side, wouldn’t it? It’d be dangerous!’ So that’s how [Mission From ’Arry] came about.”

On August 6, 1984, with the release of the 2 Minutes To Midnight single, Mission From ’Arry became available for public consumption. And thank fuck it did. Three decades on, it’s nonstop accidental comedy, rightly treasured by the most ardent completists amid Iron Maiden’s legions of fans.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.