Iron Maiden are the subject of a new set of postage stamps from the Royal Mail. On sale now, the dozen images of the band members come from the 1980s until 2018. Four of the new stamps are gathered in a miniature sheet featuring their mascot Eddie The ’Ead, one of which sees him portrayed as a samurai warrior from Maiden’s latest album, Senjutsu.
Maiden become just the fifth band to receive the honour, following The Beatles in 2007, Pink Floyd in 2016, Queen in 2020 and the Rolling Stones in 2022.
Royal Mail collaborated closely with the group and their management company Phantom Music. The stamps feature the head of the late regent, Queen Elizabeth II, rather than King Charles. The band’s manager Rod Smallwood says: “It’s incredible to think that Her Majesty, may she rest in peace, saw these and lent her iconic silhouette to them too.”
Acknowledging album sales in excess of 100 million and almost 2,500 live performances across 64 countries, this is a massive honour for Iron Maiden, who return to the road this summer for a string of indoor shows.
To celebrate the issue of the Maiden stamps, in his first interview for two years bassist and co-founder Steve Harris talks exclusively to Classic Rock.
How do you feel about this honour?
It makes me feel a bit weird. I didn’t start this to win awards. The slant I’ve put on it for myself is that when I was younger I was a stamp collector. I was really into the whole thing. So having us on stamps is quite a thing for me, really.
How seriously were you into philately?
As serious as you could be at ten or eleven, and with a lack of funds. In Leyton there was a stamp shop, and I’d go and look in the windows at the ones I couldn’t afford. My album became pretty full, but I never got a Penny Black. I used to take the mick out of Bruce [Dickinson] for being a train spotter, but collecting stamps is probably even worse – or better, depending on how you look at it. In the end I grew out of it and got into football and girls.
It makes things more personal to you.
Yeah. I don’t see this as an award anyway. They [the Royal Mail] contacted us because, I suppose, they thought they could sell a few stamps. It may not be an award, but it’s a great honour. I don’t know how I look at it, really, but from a geeky stamp collector’s point of view it’s great! [Laughs.]
When you consider that the only four previous bands to have been honoured in this way were The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Queen and the Rolling Stones. That’s not bad company, is it?
I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I’ve never done this for awards or mainstream recognition – anything but, really. I find the whole thing a bit strange.
Do you feel like Maiden are worthy of it?
Those bands are all very high up there in terms of stature. Being mentioned in the same sentence is amazing, but I can’t really answer that question. If someone saw this as Iron Maiden becoming a part of the establishment in some small way… …I’d just laugh.
But would it bother you?
I don’t care one way or the other. The fans know it’s not true. We’ve never, ever had any help with anything. But for them [the Royal Mail] to come to us is, I think, quite an achievement.
What a journey it’s been since you formed the band forty-eight years ago.
Christ. That’s more than a lifetime ago. It’s been incredible, really. To think that we have been making albums for as long as we have is just astonishing.
Have you ever wondered how different your life might have been without the band’s manager Rod Smallwood?
It’s weird that you ask that, because only yesterday I was up by Chancery Lane [in London], which is where I went for two interviews as an architect. I got offered them both but took the one in Bloomsbury Square, which is where I met Rod. Had I chosen the other one our paths would probably never have crossed. It made me think just how different things could have turned out.
It’s a fascinating partnership. What’s the dynamic of your relationship with Rod like?
[Does an amazingly accurate impression] He’s a bloody Northerner. And I’m a poncey Southerner, according to him. That’s about it, really.
Is he the voice of reason to your more artistic mind-set?
Both of us would like to believe we are the voice of reason. Actually, we don’t bump heads too often. But if we both think we’re right about something then we’ll fight. Not to the death… but not far off it.
Faithful band mascot Eddie The ’Ead is honoured in stamp form, too.
We didn’t realise just how important Eddie would become – especially as we get older because arguably Eddie’s better looking than we are these days.
You tour again soon with your ‘other band’, British Lion.
People think I’m crazy. But I still love playing, and I love small places where you can see the whites of their eyes. For example, British Lion haven’t played in Carlisle or Huddersfield before. I’ve not played there since the early days with Maiden.
These gigs are the polar opposite of Maiden’s plane Ed Force 1. The Crown in Hornchurch, where British Lion played in November 2021, is no bigger than the average Maiden dressing room.
I suppose so, but that gig [in Hornchurch] was great. We had to shoehorn [our production] into there. They’d never had anything like it. It was a great gig, the atmosphere was incredible. Someone said: “Oh, you’re just a pub band.” ButI don’t care about that. [At those smaller gigs] maybe we are.
Is it a response to how huge Iron Maiden have become?
I suppose it’s a bit of that. But also that I love the challenge of playing small places, and trying to build something up. I’m not saying I want to build British Lion to that type of scale, I haven’t got enough years left, but there’s a thrill that comes from fighting your corner again at that level.
This summer Iron Maiden are playing arena dates as part of a tour called The Future Past, on which you’ll be playing songs from current album Senjutsu as well as golden oldies from 1986’s Somewhere In Time and other catalogue gems.
We have neglected Somewhere In Time a bit over the years, so it was about time to revisit that era again.
It was an interesting point in Iron Maiden history, with you and Bruce disagreeing over direction.
So what’s new? [Laughs.] But look, what we did to him [Maiden’s longest tour, for the album Powerslave] before that wasn’t fair on anyone, but especially for Bruce. Playing for thirteen months, five or six nights a week is pushing things to the absolute limit for a singer. But at the time we thought we were invincible. Though we very quickly realised that we weren’t.
The Somewhere In Time album saw the integration of guitar synths and even bass synths to the Maiden sound.
It’s a really good transitional album. It’s also important because it saw Adrian [Smith, guitar] evolve into more of a writer.
On the summer shows will you do a deep dive and revisit something like The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner?
That’s something I would love to play. I’m not sure we will, we will have to get to rehearsals and see, but it’s one I think we should do.
Were you happy with the way latest album Senjutsu was received?
Yeah. There will always be people that think the band died in 1988, and much as it puzzles me, it’s fine that someone could think that. Maybe they’re hoping we will go back and do something like we did in eighty-eight, but we’ll never do that. Now is now. Why would anyone want part two of something from the past?
With four tracks in just over 40 minutes, Disc Two was a master class in Maiden’s current, prog-conscious direction.
That’s just the way it worked out in trying to format the album when vinyl became popular again. Had that not been a factor, the running order might have been different.
Could Maiden write another short, snappy song like Run To The Hills?
We never know until we start a new album, so I wouldn’t rule it out. You might get a shorter song… but probably not from me. I tend to meander off. But part of the direction of Senjutsu was me thinking: “If this is to be our last album, then I want to use some of the bigger ideas that I’ve got.”
Many of our musical heroes died over the past couple of years. Pete Way from UFO certainly resonated with you.
Pete was such a larger-than-life character. It’s not nice to say, but because of Pete’s lifestyle he lived for longer than most of us expected him to. I loved the guy to bits. A lot of great musicians have died. We’re all getting older, that’s what happens. All you can do is smile, drink a beer and remember the good times. There’s no point in getting depressed. Life is to be celebrated.
Does the passing of friends and others make you think about your own mortality?
It makes me think: “Let’s get out there and do stuff while I still can.” People ask me how I still do what I do. The truth is that I don’t even think about that. The time will come when I will no longer be able to. I don’t even want to consider that. I’m just going to get as much done while I still can. You just cram it in. So on the next Maiden tour I will be playing on my days off with British Lion, and I will be playing football once a week as well. At my age [Harris turns 67 in March] that sounds ridiculous, but if I can still do it then I’m going to.
Using a footie analogy, when it comes to playing music you’ve often said that there’s no harm in dropping down a league or two in order to stay in the game.
People ask me why I would want to play in the second or third division with British Lion, and my answer is simple: because I love it.
How do you think Maiden became so huge?
You’d need to ask the fans. All I can say is that we love what we do, and we refuse to just regurgitate the music from our past.
A few months ago you met Paul Di’Anno, the band’s former frontman, for the first time in three decades.
It was lovely to see Paul, but obviously also sad to see him in that situation [Di’Anno had spent several months in Croatia undergoing a series of operations]. Whatever we can do to help him, that’s what we’re doing.
It’s fantastic that Maiden are paying for the rest of his medical treatment. It’s the right thing to do.
If you can’t help one of your own when they need it, then there’s something wrong.
Did it feel like bridges had been mended?
I didn’t think any bridges needed mending. Paul had said a few things about his time in Maiden, but that’s Paul. It’s how he is and how he’ll always be. And I’ve no problem with that. He once called me Hitler, which some people were offended by, but I thought it was funny.
Could there be another Iron Maiden album?
Who knows for sure? At the moment we want to tour as much as we can. But even if we did semi-retire [from playing live], we could still make albums. I don’t know. We’ll see.
I always thought that it would be nice to make fifteen albums, which we’ve surpassed. It’s all downhill from here, isn’t it? [Laughs.] But each of us is still enjoying it – possibly more than ever – maybe because we know that we’re coming towards the end. We try not to think too much about that, but so long as everyone still enjoys what we do we’ll keep on going as long as we can.
To order the stamps go to www.royalmail.com/ironmaiden. Iron Maiden and British Lion tour Europe this summer.