What If: The Rise of Iron Maiden, Neal Kay and Urchin
We look at the impact DJ Neal Kay and Urchin, a band once home to Dave Murray and Adrian Smith had on Iron Maiden's ascent to legendary status
There are people out there in the big wide world that follow the belief that, for the universe to run smoothly, certain events and people have to be in the right place at the right time. Then there are those who believe that fate is the key and what will be will be. And lest we forget the masses of folk who just take life as it comes and don’t give a rats ass about the why, where and when...
Still, we'd like to look at some 'what ifs' of the world of rock and metal, like Pan Dimensional piss heads sat in the great pub of life setting the world to rights. This brings us to today’s topic: The mighty Maiden. Now no one is even coming close to casting any doubt on the well earned success that has come with years of dedication and hard work by the Maiden lads or the obvious talent they have shown and is evident in the multitude of awards and accolades accrued over the years. In this piece the aim is to simply ask a few what ifs and hopefully open up a line of thought and discussion to analyse just what had to happen to make Iron Maiden the rock and metal monolith it has become.
To do this I suppose we have to head way back into the dark depths of the late 70’s when rock music on a whole was basically dying on it’s arse, all the stalwarts of the genre had either shrunk down to a dedicated fan base or just wandered off into the great white yonder to learn Yoga and drink herbal tea or some other past time that seems to appeal to a musician after a lifetime of sex, drugs and booze.
This is all very well and good but the main problem to arise from this was that the youth of that time had discovered music and decided it was getting very boring, on one hand there was the punk revolution which didn’t appeal to everyone’s ears and on the other there was Disco, and lets be honest if you are reading this then you are most probably in the same frame of mind as me and would rather use your eardrums as knitting needle holders than listen to some shite going on about how well you can boogie in a pair of nylon flairs and a head of hair that would be more at home between the legs of an adult film star of the time - both sexes included in that comparison. So, as was inevitable the disillusioned youth of that period decided that if you can’t buy and listen to what you desire then the only way is to get off your arse and do it yourself, and one such lad was Steve ‘Bomber’ Harris.
The first major ‘what if’ actually comes in the form of somebody outside the band, Mr Neal Kay. Kay at the time was quite an influential DJ and often promoted local and new acts on his rock night. If there wasn’t the platform for that initial output of the band's material, would the band have lifted off the ground at all?
Well, the band had already built a decent sized fan base of local, hairy nutters and so the Maiden lads, under Harris’s whip of perfection, made and sent a demo tape over to the DJ and this with the hope of scoring some all important airplay. Due to the ever growing amount of guitar wielding lads determined to show the world how rock should be done it would have been very easy for the demo tape to be overlooked, or even worse just ignored completely. I’m sure all you striving musicians out there would have had this happen on more than one occasion, irrespective of the talent shown on the demo this is possibly the first cog - you could argue that luck comes into play more than anything here.
Now before I go any further I don’t want anyone to think that I have taken the view that Iron Maiden wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for Kay, that’s not the point of this - and I sure as hell don’t want to come down in the morning and open the door to a meaty fist to the face from a very pissed off Steve Harris. None of this is to detract from what was and is Iron Maiden it is simply to look at what happens around a band that contributes to it’s success. I have always been of the opinion that if Maiden hadn’t been played at that time on the rock nights then they soon would have, due to the growing need by the public for music of this type, found success in some form. But the public are well known for being fickle and if this had happened then would Maiden have slipped down the public view from being one of the main fore runners of the NWOBHM movement to a band that just kept the short-lived fad alive and would this have hurt the future accomplishments? Did Kay's seal of approval lift them higher up the food chain?
Then there's the matter of band members, as with most, if not all bands, finding the perfect mix of talent in the members is key to survival in the fey world of music and Harris knows this all too well. In so many bands members come and go until the band as a whole either settles into a well oiled routine or just falls apart like a well thumbed razz mag. I don't mean this to detract from the previous members that had brought Maiden to this point, but I simply want to highlight what would seem to be a vital change in the band's history.
At the time of the NWOBHM, rock and metal bands seemed to spring up from all over the place, some good and some destined for the great book of “Who?”. One such band was Urchin (who?), around at the same time as Maiden and having some limited success on the pub and club circuit as well as being signed to a label, Urchin had one thing (or two people) that made it closer to the Maiden lads than all the other bands at the time. Two good school mates in the form of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith had decided to form a band, Evil Ways, and set out on the road to rock stardom, picking up a few other members along the way. After a while in ’74 Murray decided that it wasn’t working and decided to leave and join a “proper band”. With a few other alterations to the line up and a name change, Urchin came to fruition and here comes the ‘what if?’. After a brief foray in Maiden, Murray got rapt up in an argument with his bandmates which would result in Murray's return to the Urchin camp alongside Adrian Smith. And this seemed to coincide with the steady rise of Maiden. Now both these lads have over the years proved to be an integral part of what we now know as Iron Maiden but what if they had decided to stick with Urchin, with Murray using his knowledge gained with Maiden and the both of them showing the incredible talent that has made them famous over the years? All this, coupled with the fact that Urchin was signed at the time, may well have proved to be the band's making and propelled them on the road later taken by Harris and the lads. Would this have hampered Maidens chances? would fans now more than twenty years down the line have been chanting 'URCHIN!, URCHIN!' over and over at places like the Long Beach Arena and Rock in Rio? And if so, would the local youth population of Rio think that thousands of people had turned up just to chant upper middle class jibes at them?
It is of course, impossible to say. But if Murray and Smith had never left Urchin to form, alongside Harris, what is now thee vital strands of the band's DNA, would Maiden have found success and if so in what form? Would their punk influences have remained most prominent, was the band always destined for the big time or did the stars align for Murray and Smith to be two crucial stepping stones on the band's road to success - later cemented with the edition of the mighty Bruce Dickinson? It's sure as hell food for thought?
Words: Neil 'Muff' Mclean
Please note, Manchester Rocks does not own the cover image. What If logo design by Steph Hodges Design.