Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris is playing a Tampa metal club. Here’s why.

The metal legends’ founding bassist and main songwriter brings his side project, British Lion, to the Brass Mug.
British Lion, featuring Iron Maiden founder and bassist Steve Harris, will perform at the Brass Mug in Tampa on Jan. 19.
British Lion, featuring Iron Maiden founder and bassist Steve Harris, will perform at the Brass Mug in Tampa on Jan. 19. [ Courtesy of John McMurtrie ]
Published Jan. 14, 2020

British Lion’s new album could debut at No. 1, spawn a couple of hit singles and become a global sensation. And it still wouldn’t make bassist and bandleader Steve Harris quit his day job.

“We’re not going to try and conquer the world at all,” laughed Harris, 63, who also happens to be the founder, bassist and primary songwriter of British metal icons Iron Maiden. “We’re just trying to go out and play. Iron Maiden started off, really, with same sort of thing: We just wanted to go out and play live gigs and put an album out. That’s basically what we’re doing with this. Anything else is a bonus.”

It’s a back-to-basics mindset, and it isn’t just lip service. This week, Harris and British Lion are in Florida celebrating Friday’s release of British Lion’s second album, The Burning, and kicking off their first-ever U.S. tour. These are much smaller shows, including one Sunday at Tampa’s tiny metal haven Brass Mug — a far cry from the arenas and stadiums Harris is used to playing with Iron Maiden.

Sonically, there is some overlap between the two bands, although Harris sees British Lion as more of a rock outfit, heavily inspired by UFO and Thin Lizzy. Still, chances to see a member of Iron Maiden in a club like the Mug don’t come along every day, so count on seeing plenty of skull-logo T-shirts in the crowd.

“Over the years, where we’ve played, we’ve picked up more and more fans, and people have been turning up in British Lion shirts,” he said. “There’s still some Maiden shirts, too. At the end of the day, you’ve just got to get people in there, and then we can do what we do, and they either like it or they don’t.”

Before the show, Harris talked about scaling down to build a side project. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ll be in Florida when The Burning comes out on Friday. Will you do anything to celebrate?

Yeah, I think we will. Probably going to have a couple of beers. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s just fantastic to finally get the album out, and get out and play the songs from the album. It means we don’t need to play any covers anymore.

You never did any Maiden songs, I’m guessing?

Oh, no. It’s a completely different band, so there’s no need. It’s a completely separate entity.

How far back do these songs go?

Some of the songs on the first album, and one of the songs on this album, go back a really long way, to the ’90s. Well, the first versions of them. It all imploded, as these things do, but I said to (singer) Richard (Taylor) that one day, I’m going to do something with this, because the songs are too good not to see the light of day. It’s rolled into a real band unit now, and it’s really fun. They’re great guys; good fun guys.

Do you sense more eyes watching you and your playing during British Lion shows? As opposed to an arena, where you’ve got Bruce running all over the place, and Janick flinging his guitar everywhere?

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Maybe to start with, but not so much now. I think everyone knows it’s a band. Everyone comes to British Lion for different reasons. Because the band’s been going a while, people have had the chance to check it out online. I think the reputation is a little different now.

What are your highest hopes for what you can accomplish on this tour?

There’s not enough years left in me to try and do some long-term project, to try to make sure something can be successful. That’s not what we’re doing it for. We’re just going out and having fun. It’s a good live band. People should come and check it out, and have a good night out.

What’s the itch it scratches that you don’t get in your other job?

I suppose playing small clubs and being close and personal with the audience. I love playing big places as well. I enjoy them all, and I’m very lucky that I can do them all. But also, it’s clubs that I never played with Maiden, even in Europe. There’s a famous club called the Milky Way in Amsterdam, which I managed to play with British Lion, but I never did that with Maiden. There’s places now that I’m going to be playing on this tour that I’ve never played before. So it’s all new ground. It’s a challenge. It’s nice. I like a challenge.


British Lion

Picture Books, Jetter and Level the Planet open. $28.50 and up. 6 p.m. Sunday. Brass Mug, 1450 Skipper Road, Tampa. (813) 972-8152.