VIC FIRTH SIGNATURE ARTIST
More famous than any drummer has a right to be, Nicko McBrain enjoys the rare distinction of being both the jester in the Iron Maiden pack and the ace.
"I can't think of any other drummer that would have fitted in so perfectly," says Steve Harris. "Nick plays the drums the way most guitarists play their guitars - he's riffing right along with you, note for note, I've never known anything like it! He doesn't just hold the beat, he drives the whole thing along, and as the bass player having to keep up with him every night, that's great for me. It means none of us is ever allowed to give less than 100 per cent."
Ask the great man himself, of course, and you get a more modest assessment. "Every drummer worth his salt has his own unique way of doing things," he says. "I just do what I do and, luckily for me, what I do sounds great in Iron Maiden."
It certainly does. Joining the band in 1983, in time to record the 'Piece Of Mind' album - still regarded by many, not least Steve Harris, as one of the greatest Maiden albums ever - it's impossible to imagine now what Maiden masterpieces like 'Where Eagles Dare', '2 Minutes To Midnight', 'Can I Play With Madness', 'Be Quick Or Be Dead' or ' Man On The Edge' would or could have sounded like without Nicko's full-spectrum drums thundering along behind them.
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Michael Henry McBrain was born in Hackney, East London, on June 5, 1952. Don't laugh but he was, he cheerfully confesses, nicknamed 'Nicky' as a child, because that was the name of his favourite teddy bear - Nicholas The Bear. "I used to take him everywhere with me, and so my family just started calling me 'Nicky' for fun. Unless I was in trouble, then it was 'Michael!'"
His first experience in music came via his father's love of jazz. Little Nicky's hero was Joe Morello, the great drummer with the legendary Dave Brubeck jazz band.
"I used to pretend I was Joe Morello hitting the tubs. I'd go into the kitchen and pick up a pair of knives and start hitting the gas cooker." Fed up with him bashing up the kitchen utensils, his parents finally bought him a proper drum-kit when he was 12.
"Most kids wanted a bicycle or something like that, but all I wanted was drums. When my mum and dad finally got me one it was like all my birthdays and Christmases rolled into one!"
He says he seemed to be able to play "almost straight away - I don't know how, I just could." By the time he left school at 15, he was already a veteran of several part-time pub groups. Musically, however, his tastes had broadened to include more contemporary Sixties sounds and suddenly his dad's jazz collection was infiltrated by records from The Shadows, The Animals, The Beatles and the Stones. On the recommendation of another drummer he knew, he began to take on session work, playing on countless different recordings.
"I'd do anything - pop albums, folk albums, religious albums, or more rock type stuff, I didn't mind. It was all good practice."
Of course, nobody - not even Nicko - is perfect, and he admits he has his "funny moods", as he calls them. "One minute I'm up and I'm Mr Party All Night! Then the next minute I'm down and I'm Mr Grumpy. But that's just the way it is. Maybe I need to do that sometimes to get myself psyched up for a gig. 'Cos believe me, the way I play - the way this whole band plays - you better be psyched up for it! Or you'll get left behind!"
And that's a promise...
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