The beginning of my solo career was a very enjoyable accident.
It's strange to look back at the various reincarnations of bands, albums and musical changes, comparing the perceptions I had at the time with those of the press, audience, and even my management. 'Success' is a very subjective term although in the brutal world of the music industry it is easily, and sometimes mistakenly, equated with record sales.
So let's return to a request for a song to go on a 'Nightmare on Elm Street' movie. An enjoyable accident produced a number 1 hit for Iron Maiden and in the process the original recording was suppressed. It now appears at the head of CD 2. So much enthusiasm was generated by the people who heard the original version, however, that I was offered a studio deal to do an album - as long as I had the songs� I did have the songs didn't I?� well not exactly, not immediately. Janick Gers and I wrote 'Tattooed Millionaire' in the front room of his house in Hounslow, under the final approach path of jumbo jets. It took us two weeks, with the title track being the last one to arrive. The album was a commercial success but received only qualified critical support. Many saw it as a challenge to Iron Maiden, which it was never intended to be. It was, in truth, a fun album which a few mates put together because� well� we could.
When it came time to write a second album I started out in much the same vein, i.e. fairly light-hearted, and it was written with Myke Gray of the band Skin a.k.a Jagged Edge. The results were ---mixed, which was not necessarily any reflection on my collaborators.
Rod Smallwood advised me to go and talk to Keith Olsen, who had reassembled a David Coverdale record and produced a huge hit in America. I went off to Los Angeles clutching a truckload of two-inch tapes. It was obvious that simply re-editing the tapes was not going to work. I proposed recording the entire album again, and rewriting everything from scratch, and taking a radical new direction, away from 'big hair metal' and 80's clich�s towards something dark, scary, joyful, intense�except�.I wasn't quite sure how to do it.
This was a terrifying moment. I had always thought of myself, despite my taste for ludicrous trousers and mickey taking, as having some shred of creativity. Yet here I was swimming in glue of my own choosing. I find it hard to resist a challenge, so I embarked on the second album written that year stubbornly determined to root out the roadblocks to creativity.
In retrospect I was locked into a cycle of self-mutilation that nobody else really understood at the time. I was very uncomfortable with the automatic respect accorded to me because of being in Iron Maiden. I felt I didn't deserve respect automatically. It had to be earned. I did two things. First, I learned to fly airplanes, second I quit Iron Maiden.
I finished the Keith Olsen album at vast expense, especially considering I had already recorded one that year. Frankly, even at the time I was still not satisfied. Deep down I know it wasn't right and bits of it were downright embarrassing, but nevertheless it had the seeds of something good, and they were contained in a track called 'Tears of the Dragon.'
The most positive thing about that album however, was going to see a band called The Tribe of Gypsies and spending a Sunday afternoon with their guitarist Roy Z. When I heard the Tribes first record, it knocked me sideways and when I started writing songs with Roy I knew that there was a third album on the way.
It was initially proposed to do four songs with Roy and replace some of the questionable material on the Keith Olsen album. Some of the tracks were OK and actually quite interesting, but emotionally I was already making a whole new album with Roy. The only song we kept was 'Tears of the Dragon.' I borrowed the Tribe of Gypsies in their entirety and we moved back to London.
'Balls to Picasso' was released with 'Tears of the Dragon' as the single, which became a huge hit in South America and had a fair amount of success in Europe. It took some time to get a US deal which was eventually sorted out by recording an extra track, 'Shoot All the Clowns' at the US labels' behest. I had three days to write a song to satisfy Mercury Records. All I had to go on was a cassette of the Aerosmith 'Rocks' album shoved under my hotel door. A post-it sticker was attached from Mercury's A&R department reading "something like this would be good..."
I recorded the track and took the red eye to New York, smiled sweetly and checked my fly zipper wasn't undone�. I was signed for two months and then dropped when the label needed to sack half its roster on instructions from their accountants. Ouch!
Feeling a bit better about life I decided to start a band. The Tribe of Gypsies now had a record deal in their own right, which was thoroughly deserved so I couldn't borrow them anymore. With any luck they would be off touring by themselves in any case.
I found a guitarist called Alex Dixon, a fiery Scotsman with passion and ideas and I hit the road doing acoustic shows.
'Alive in Studio 'A' and 'Skunkworks' go together because they were recorded by the same band and were part of the same conception. My idea was to submerge myself in a band identity called 'Skunkworks.' David Bowie tried the same thing with 'Tin Machine.' It didn't work for him either. "
In case you think that 'Skunkworks' was therefore a waste of time let me assure you that it wasn't. I learned a huge amount about myself on that album. I had a lot of fun, I also almost gave up music as a career.
'Skunkworks' was a low point in terms of career, commercial success and yet I remember it very fondly, and I still like the record a lot. When 'Skunkworks' producer Jack Endino remarked to me that "making that record was like stitching Frankenstein's monster together" he was referring to the vastly disparate musical visions of the four of us.
Frankenstein's stitching unraveled shortly afterwards and I am relieved to say that I am still good friends with all of his limbs.
Roy Z had now been released from his record deal. He asked if I wanted to make a metal record. I said I didn't think anyone was interested in anything I did anymore. He played me a backing track down the phone, and suddenly I decided.
I went to LA the next day and we wrote half an album in five days. Nobody really gave a shit about what I was doing musically at this point. I rediscovered the pure joy of doing what I understood, and doing it very directly. I asked Adrian Smith to play on a couple of tracks. He did the whole album. As far as I was concerned, 'Accident of Birth' might be the last record I ever made, so I might as well do what I was good at. The follow up, 'Chemical Wedding' saw critical success and accelerating sales in the wake of 'Accident of Birth.'
Which brings us up to the present day, and a Best Of Album with two new tracks on CD one, and fair few unreleased or rare tracks on CD two.
'May it be your fate to live in interesting times' Old Chinese proverb.