Maiden have always been a special band to their fans. Despite numerous line up changes - 1980 (two), 1981, 1984, 1989 & 1993 - the intent of the band never wavered. The dedication and imagination surrounding a new Maiden album always delights the fans, and it’s the fans, who have kept the band in the forefront of heavy rock since the eighties. During a glittering career spanning twenty two years, around forty five million albums sold, massive world tours with production to match, the band has never lost sight of this fact.
And, despite the huge success over the years, the character and characters of the band has changed little. Say’s Steve Harris, “None of us have really changed very much. Our financial circumstances may have, but we all still basically are into the same things we always were. For me that’s music and football - and, of course my family. I still play for the same local football team I played for when I was fifteen. It’s always been a passion. Especially West Ham of course.
Blaze on the other hand spends most of his spare time - when not on his motor bike - playing computer games. He say’s “I’m always at the front of the queue when a new game comes out.”
Say’s Harris “We figure our fans are pretty much the same as we are, with pretty much the same interests, so around march of last year, we thought “it’s world cup year in 98, let’s get football involved in the new album.” we were already working on a computer game at that time, so we figured to bring that in too.”
The title of the new album, VIRTUAL XI, reflects both, as does the artwork for the cover featuring Eddie, Virtual Reality and football. And in true Maiden fashion, they set about the project with great determination and imagination.
Say’s Harris, We thought we’d try to get some great players to join us in a shot as the Virtual XI.....The Virtual Team. We approached some of our favourites, and fortunately, they were into the idea. Due to everyone’s different schedules, we couldn’t get them all together in one place, so Ross Halfin went around the country taking individual shots against a green background. Synthetic Dimensions who are making our game, then used computers to assemble the players with us as a virtual football team....a Virtual XI. We brought in some of the best overseas players to give it an international flavor. The result was brilliant and we were delighted to have a “team” that included such great players as Paul Gasgoine (Glassgow Rangers & England), Faustino Asprilla (Parma & Columbia), Ian Wright (Arsenal & England), Stuart Pearce (Newcastle Utd & ex England Captain), Patrick Viera (Arsenal & France) and Marc Overmars (Arsenal & Holland).
“We always have football matches on tour and tend to hire road crew who can play for the team. Normally, before an album, Record Companies have a couple of band members going around the territories talking to the press, doing promotion. This is standard for any band, but it’s a bit boring. So we decided to have a football tour instead. So the European promo tour is actually a football tour with matches in Spain, Italy, Sweden and France. EMI agreed to support this as long as we didn’t have one of our massive album launch parties, which cost them a fortune! So we’re taking out a squad of fifteen and to strengthen the side we are taking a number of ex-international players like Tony Woodcock, Terry Butcher, Archie Gemmill, Paul Mariner, Paul Walsh and Neill Webb. Each country we play will have some of it’s own ex-internationals along with other bands and the media. This is going to be serious though, real games. I can’t wait!”
So with football dominating the album promotion, the band turned to the computer game. Blaze takes up the story. “We’ve been working with Synthetic Dimensions - this amazingly advanced computer game and design company near me in Wolverhampton - for some time on a game. The game is called Ed Hunter . It is about Eddie, and has Maiden backing tracks. It’s a shoot’em up. Eddie himself has more detail than the T-Rex in Jurassic Park (and is much more frightening) and has eighteen movement points in his face alone. He can even sing along to the songs! Syndime is really doing an unbelievable job. Unfortunately, due to the approval stages, we won’t be able to release simultaneously with the album, so it will come out in September. It’s likely to be on CD-Rom and Playstation.
“But, although the game’s not ready just yet. We’ve used a lot of the graphics for the CD booklet and single cover and all that. It all looks amazing.”
We are also using the game for the video for the first single of the Album, “The Angel And The Gambler”. We were told that if we had to start the video from scratch it would cost over 1.2 million pounds! but, as we have through the virtual world and loads of great characters already there, we can put the band live into this virtual world. So were going to be playing live at a huge gig on an asteroid near Alpha Centauri. For the pyros we blow up a neighboring planet. And the gig is simulcast to a space bar filled with incredible creature from the game. And Steve is playing cards in the corner with Eddie! It’s really fucking outrageous.
“Eddie, Computer Games, Football Tours - and this is supposed to be work!”
Say’s Harris, “We started writing early last year, and went into my Barnyard Studio around July. We finished mixing in late January. We were very proud of this album.....although, I suppose we’re proud of all of ‘em. But this ones a bit special. There are only eight songs on it., so they’re all long, which gives us the opportunity to really stretch out musically. The songs are a variety of topics from the Virtual Reality in the opening track through to a sad but powerful closing track written by Blaze and Janick about the Faulklands war. There is also a track inspired by the Braveheart and Rob Roy films, which is about the Scottish clans struggle for freedom. When I wrote the music, it had a Celtic flavour, which is why I wrote the lyrics about the clans.”
“The single, “The Angel And The Gambler” was written while driving down the M4 to Wales using a small cassette recorder I had with me. It has a real 70’s rhythm feel to it similar to the Who and UFO which I like a lot”
The first single, “The Angel And The Gambler” will be released on March 9th, followed by Virtual XI on march 23. During this period the European Football Tour takes place at the start of - as usual - a very hectic year for Maiden. Touring starts in Europe an the late April and during the rest of 98, the band will tour extensively all over North and South America, Europe, Japan, Australasia........and a few more places besides.
April 1998 will also see the publication of “Run To The Hills: The Official Biography”by Mick Wall. Written with full co-operation of band, ex-members, management, agents and the other involved parties. A close and honest look at the band and it’s history.
Another quiet year in the life of Iron Maiden.