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A conversation with Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain

“Eddie” the zombie is the band’s biggest star. Nicko McBrain is second from left.

Photo by John McMurtrie

“Eddie” the zombie is the band’s biggest star. Nicko McBrain is second from left.

By SEAN DALY

Times Pop Music Critic

American pop oddity Lady Gaga and British metal grunts Iron Maiden may seem like strange bedfellows — okay, really strange bedfellows — but they're actually big fans of each other. And when they share the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa this weekend (Gaga on Saturday, Maiden on Sunday), the rock band's drummer is hoping they can meet up. Or, ahem, hook up.

"She's absolutely adorable!" gushes Nicko McBrain, the 56-year-old tub-thumper for the progenitors of the famed "New Wave" metal movement. "I threw out an invite. If she wants to learn to play drums, she could sit on my knee and we could talk about the first thing — "

Ummm, yeah, hold that last bit: Let's just say Nicko has more than chitchat on his McBrain.

The constantly cackling musician grew up in London. But calling in last week from the band's swing through Brazil — they're touring behind relatively proggy new album The Final Frontier — he told me he longed to return to his current home: Boca Raton. He laughs at all the rockers residing in the Sunshine State: "I went down there 21 years ago and everyone followed suit!"

In a short but zany interview, Maiden's Mad Hatter talked about being a Christian in a metal group, getting zero love from FM radio and how a zombie is the real star of a band that has now been together for 36 years.

Cheap Trick's Robin Zander lives in Safety Harbor. AC/DC's Brian Johnson is in Sarasota. You Florida dudes should form a supergroup.

It's been mentioned! It has been mentioned. We should start an expatriates band. We can call ourselves the Expats! Hahaha!

You're a dedicated Christian in a Satan-referencing band whose biggest album is called The Number of the Beast. I sense conflict, Nicko.

Absolutely not. I believe in the Governor and that's fair, you know? He'll take care of you. We're a rock 'n' roll band. We play music. We don't talk about glorifying the devil. We don't condone that. There's no conflict at all.

Maiden is one of the bestselling bands of all time — and yet, you get no love from radio and the media. Why is that?

I don't know, probably the f------ idiot radio programmers! There's always been a cult status with Iron Maiden. We don't hunt out the paparazzi; as a band, we're private about our lives. As individuals, we might be crazy. But as a band, we do what we want to do the way we want do it. We don't court fame.

Is that why the most recognizable face in the band is "Eddie," your emblematic zombie pal? Heck, he's even on the band's private Boeing 757, Ed Force One.

Without a doubt he's the biggest star in the band. If we don't get Eddie on the stage, there's a riot! Eddie's really the marketing tool of the band, the mascot of Iron Maiden. We're okay with that. Eddie is really all right. We've had one or two T-shirts with our faces on the cover, and let's just say they ain't sold as well as the ones with Eddie.

It must be a heck of a workout drumming in a face-melting band like Maiden.

Oh, it's a challenge, every time. It's a job, but it also isn't, you know? I'm an entertainer, a guy in the band. But also, these men depend on me. I've got five guys I'm not going to let down. And that's how we all feel together.

You and lead singer Bruce Dickinson both have your pilot's licenses. So tell me: Who's the better flyboy?

Definitely Bruce . . . but I do better landings! Hahaha!

Times staff writer Steve Spears contributed to this report. Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.

Iron Maiden

The show is at 8 p.m. Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $32.25-$55. Tickets are available at the Times Forum's box office, ticketmaster.com or by calling toll-free 1-800-745-3000.

A conversation with Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain 04/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 5:30am]
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