35 Years Ago: Iron Maiden Release Backstage Argument as B-Side
In August 1984, Iron Maiden released the single “2 Minutes to Midnight” from their fifth album, Powerslave. The B-side contained a cover version, as Maiden singles often did, in the form of Beckett song “Rainbow’s Gold,” but it also carried a third track, “Mission From ‘Arry,” which has become a celebrated moment in the band’s history.
Recorded on a portable tape machine by singer Bruce Dickinson, the track is an angry exchange between band leader Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain, who'd only recently joined the band when the incident that inspired the argument took place. In Allentown, Penn., on Aug. 18, 1983, Harris encountered a technical issue with his bass rig, and dispatched a roadie to tell McBrain to extend the drum solo he was playing. Instead of passing the message to someone who might know how to communicate effectively with a drummer during a performance, it was given to someone with no such experience.
As McBrain explained in the 1990 singles reissue collection The First Ten Years, things didn’t go well. “You know, new boy in the band, do a drum solo, Nick, get on with it,” he said. “[Harris] sent sent this guy around to tell Mike, my drum tech. But he didn’t tell my drum tech … he told this guy who was sitting at the back of the gig who was one of the riggers, a guy called Paul who’s no longer with the band – I wonder why? Anyway, he said to him, ‘Tell Nicko to extend his drum solo.’”
He recounted the exchange with Paul: "I’m playing and all that shit, and I gets a tap on the back and this guy says, ‘Oy!’ I go, ‘What?’ ‘Oy! Blah-hah-hey!’ I go, ‘What?’ He’s going, ‘Hoi-oi-oi-oi!’ I said, ‘Fuck off!’ … He made me fuck!”
After the show, a furious McBrain gave Paul a piece of his mind, only to be told by Harris to apologize, which he refused to do. That led to an exchange of views that fizzled out after 15 or 20 minutes.
“It all calmed down," McBrain said, "and Bruce came in and he’d got a bloody cassette [recorder] in his back pocket, and he said, ‘Oi, Nick! What would happen if he tried to tell you the lighting truss was going to fall on your head?’ And I said, ‘Don’t you fucking well start,’ and ‘Arry said, ‘Yeah, he’s got a good point, ain’t he?’ So we started the argument again and Bruce recorded it.”
Listen to Iron Maiden's ‘Mission From 'Arry'
It appears the taped discussion is a repeat of the one that wasn't recorded – though Dickinson can be heard possibly steering the disagreement away from any conclusion. What’s agreed on is that Paul “went the wrong way about it” in trying to fulfill his mission from ‘Arry. It’s also agreed that McBrain’s drum solo was compromised. “He fucked me right up, and I knew there was a problem," McBrain says. "I still didn’t know what it was even after I fucked!”
Asked by Dickinson about the lighting-truss point, the drummer replies, “Somebody drags me out of the fucking way, or else I’m dead, right?” Harris accuses him of being “totally out of order,” while McBrain insists, “I am not out of order! … Now I’m the fucking cunt all of a sudden!” The recording stops shortly after that.
“Still, to this day, some of you think that this was a choreographed piece of entertainment for all you guys and girls,” McBrain said in 1990. “Well, I can tell you it fucking well was not. It was, in fact, the very fucking only argument I’ve ever had with Steve Harris. … After this extravaganza, we thought it was so funny we had to let you guys hear it.”
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