British Lion: Return of the Mane Man

British Lion is a strange beast. One moment roaring and wild, the next purring and tame.

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A band conceived to free founder member Steve Harris from the confines of his day job, British Lion live are neither balls-to-the-wall heavy metal nor polished hard rock, yet elements of both exist within a surprisingly eclectic set. At times it’s like watching two different shows.

The Maiden fans wearing their favourite tees and their hearts on their sleeves bang their heads and punch their fists as if it’s business as usual. It’s not. But it’s clear this is an exercise in blind devotion for some: more about the man than the music.

Then there are the fully paid up members of the bass players’ union. The keen musicians who fix their gaze on Harris’s famous digits, play along on their imaginary Fenders and revel in this rare opportunity to stand in such close proximity to a true master of his craft.

One wide-eyed Italian – with more than 40 Maiden shows under his belt – has travelled to Tyneside from Bergamo to get up close and personal with an individual more often seen pacing the world’s biggest stages, flanked by voluminous backdrops. “I’ve never seen Steve in a place like this,” he beams. “It’s special.”

But strip away the Maiden fans and the musos and it’s possible to get to the root of the problem where British Lion is concerned. It seems there are only a handful of punters here to see the band, rather than the brand. Which, on this evidence, is a crying shame.

New songs The Burning and Bible Black are bristling with passionate intent, offering compelling proof that there’s a future for this often overlooked side project. Harris, sporting his favourite Hammers’ sweatbands and matching guitar strap cover, rolls out the trademark moves and pin-sharp rhythms but never entirely steals the show.

Assured frontman Richard Taylor has the pipes and the confidence to detract attention, albeit briefly, from his famous band mate, and uses this show to blow any preconceptions out of the water.

On British Lion’s self-titled debut, released in 2012, the vocalist struggled to impose himself on a muddy mix but Newcastle is treated to the real deal. Taylor triumphs on challenging anthem The Chosen Ones and treats set closer Eyes Of The Young like it’s the last song he’ll ever sing.

Right now British Lion are at the mercy of a double-edged sword: the mane man is a massive draw and yet the shadow of Maiden looms large over a band desperately seeking its own identity and a dedicated fan base. Live and unleashed, Harris’s pet project is, at the very least, in a position to make up for lost time.