Blaze Bayley - Metal Hall Of Fame Inductee - Winter 2021
The Metal Hall of Fame is a non-profit organisation dedicated to enshrining forever those iconic musicians and music industry executives who are responsible for making rock and metal music what is today. Their contribution to the genre is invaluable, and they keep inspiring fans throughout the world from generation to generation. 2021 inductees include Bruce Kulick, Eric Carr, Marty Friedman and Doc McGee. However, today we are celebrating the induction of one of Britain’s most loved artists: Blaze Bayley. Blaze may be best known for fronting Tamworth rockers Wolfsbane and for being the vocalist for Iron Maiden from 1995-2000, but he also has an outstanding solo career, evident from his latest release War Within Me. We catch up with the man himself at Blaze Towers to get the full story. As the champagne cork pops, our conversation begins…
Huge congratulations on being inducted into the Metal Hall of Fame, Blaze! First of all, tell me about how you got the news.
They phoned me, my manager did, and said you’ve been inducted and then there was a little thing that we did on the video. The weird thing was, there was this thing about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducting Iron Maiden at around the same time and there was a bit of controversy about it and then it came out that I was being inducted into the Heavy Metal Hall of Fame which is, of course, more appropriate for me and the style of music that I do. So it was a big surprise; you know something really, really nice. I don’t do anything for awards, I don’t chase things like that, but it was very nice that somebody recognised me.
As part of the ceremony, reference is made to how you stepped in to impossibly large shoes to front the biggest band in the world, Iron Maiden, for 5 years. Is that how it felt?
Not really, no because I’d known Bruce (Dickenson) before Maiden when I was in Wolfsbane. Bruce wished me all the best with the Maiden job and I was a big fan of his so, for me, I loved those songs, I was a fan of Iron Maiden and it was a great joy to me. I didn’t really think too much about filling anybody else’s shoes. I’d been doing things with Wolfsbane - making videos, and touring and making albums - so it was the same thing really, but a different level, a level of intensity which was difficult to imagine. I imagine, in soccer terms, it was like going from the Sunday League to the premiership – the same game but a level of intensity that you would never imagine. So that was it. So many interviews, talking about things that really caught me by surprise. We didn’t really do that many interviews in Wolfsbane compared to when I joined Maiden, and everyone wants to talk about everything. For me the only important thing was the music, making the best music and performing the best I could and doing, for me, the best I could for the fans. I felt an obligation because I was an Iron Maiden fan. I really wanted to do a great job or do the best job I could possibly do for fans like me that still love Iron Maiden. There weren’t too many nerves on that side – it was just the intensity of it that really shocked me.
You were inducted into the Metal Hall Of Fame by the wonderful Tim Ripper Owens who said that nobody deserves this more than you. He talked about your close friendship and how are you one of the hardest working artists, and to see Ripper’s overwhelming delight that you had ‘made it’ was something really special. He was celebrating your success as much as if it was his own. How did it feel to hear such heartfelt words?
Well, we’ve worked together a few times, on different tours and in different places and we went through similar experiences like with Priest and me and Maiden, and we’ve talked about these experiences together and we have become good friends. He is someone I respect a great deal. He’s got a wonderful voice and he works really hard, and those words really meant a lot.
And just to talk a little bit more about that very close friendship that you have with Ripper, like you said, he had a similar experience to you in that he too had a huge spotlight placed upon him when he stepped into the shoes of a metal icon to front metal band Judas Priest. He more than anyone perhaps understood the position that you were in when fronting Iron Maiden. Was it this shared experience that enabled you to have quite a special bond with Ripper?
I don’t know, I think its just a thing where he is a terrific singer, he did great work with Iced Earth, his own solo albums are really, really good and the work he did with Judas Priest, I feel, is of absolutely top notch quality. So I think it comes to that, we are different people with different ways to approach things but we did have a quite a few really nice gigs where we were on the same bill and we would kind of swap: I’d do 3 songs, he’d do 3 songs and we’d keep swapping. It was so much fun! He’s one of the funniest people – he’s got razor sharp wit so he’s a really, really funny guy.
As an inductee of the Metal Hall Of Fame, you are now in the company of Metallica, Anthrax, Geoff Tate, Judas Priest, Bruce Kulick and your personal inspiration Ronnie James Dio. How does it make you feel to be recognised alongside such artists, and also how do you think a young Bayley Cooke growing up in the Midlands would have responded if somebody had told him he would one day be inducted into the Metal Hall Of Fame?
Well, I don’t think I would have believed it as a young man at all, but I was very, very ambitious and very competitive – I think that’s one of the things that set us aside in Wolfsbane from other local bands in that we were so single minded in what we wanted to do. I met Ronnie James Dio several times over my career and he was an amazing, amazing man and very, very supportive of me and new bands. He told me some great stories as well. That was the most important part of it, that if I’m considered - I don’t think I’m in the same league as Ronnie James Dio - but if I’m considered at the same time as Ronnie James Dio and there he is with all the fame and there I am, for me that is the biggest achievement. That I am considered even in the same universe as him! So that is the real achievement for me: that people would put Blaze Bayley and Ronnie James Dio in the same breath is just unbelievable to me.
In your acceptance speech, it was touching to hear you take the time to thank some special people who have provided some real support you over the years including your Blaze Bayley team Mark Appleton and Chris Appleton, Steve Harris and the guys from Iron Maiden and your Wolfsbane bandmates. But most touching was you thanking your fans who have stuck by you and believed in you at times when you may not have even believed in yourself. As a fan, and as someone who has been to many of your shows, I’ve seen first-hand how fiercely supportive and loyal your fans are, possibly more than any other artist I’ve seen. There is something of a real family quality to a Blaze Bayley show, and it’s something very special indeed. How do you think you’ve managed to achieve something so special?
I don’t know – just luck I suppose. I really don’t know! I just think I’m very, very lucky to have that loyal support. I’ve always tried to do what it is in my heart. Follow the music where it was leading me, where ideas came from and where songs came from. Trying to not get in the way of those ideas but nurture them and find out how they should be realised. And I’ve tried to be honest with my song writing and with my performance. Maybe I am a bit stubborn and obstinate as well. I’ve done a free meet and great at every single show up until covid, where other artists are charging for that because they need the income as other income streams are gone. For me, I don’t have the kind of lifestyle with the big cars or anything like that or the fancy house. For me music is the more important thing, and it is more important to say thank you to the people that have supported me. One of the things that I haven’t enjoyed in my musical career is being apart of a big label and organisation and several different ones where the fans have been called ‘punters’ as if its luck that they support you and not because they identify with the things you say or the hours that you spend on your music makes you any good at all – that it’s just luck and they’re fooling fans into buying music that’s really not worthy and that always used to frustrate me. So when I had the chance to become fully independent and have my own label, being the producer and be able to put music out myself, I also wanted to make sure I could say thank you to my fans as well. I don’t think people give the fans any respect or any real regard and they treat them like idiots for liking this kind of music whereas all of us who are fans take particular pride in listening to the music properly and judging it ourselves on the musicianship and the song writing. So that’s what I wanted to do when I was able to be independent and I have just been able to keep that up now. The most honest time in my career before this was when I was in Wolfsbane in a transit van, unsigned, doing small gigs around the UK, selling demo tapes and our t-shirts. Years later, its much the same. I’m in a van most of the time – we don’t have a big expensive tour bus, its important for us to keep costs down and play more gigs in more places so that we can reach more fans and, for me, I think that’s the important thing and really I just think I’m lucky. I’m very, very lucky that fans listen to the music, that fans find out about me. I don’t have big press campaigns, I hardly spend any money on advertising at all. People just find out about me and tell people about me.
Just deviating from the Metal Hall Of Fame for a moment, I would like to talk about the title track of your latest album War Within Me. It’s always a particular highlight of the show when you play this track. It’s an incredibly positive and empowering song about never giving up and never backing down, but it’s so much more than this in that it genuinely connects with fans, allowing them to reflect on their own struggles, insecurities and barriers and perhaps allows them to take the next step of their journey to self belief. People actually go home stronger and believing that they might just be able to cope with whatever tomorrow throws at them. That’s the power of that song. Where did the inspiration for this song come from, and I wonder, even though you are a hugely successful artist, do you have doubts and insecurities?
Well, I suffer from depression and sometimes its very debilitating and I’ve had anxiety issues as well during the covid situation, so it’s been a challenge but it’s been a challenge for everyone. I leave little notes for myself to keep myself going. I try to keep myself positive. There are a few of the quotes and post-its where I have written positive messages to myself and a couple of them started to make sense with the music. I then started to go down a rabbit hole and find these things that I’d been using to keep myself going and it turned into the lyrics for War Within me. I have self-doubt and I have a self-destructive side which has caused me a lot of problems in different situations. Who knows where I would be if I didn’t have that side and or I was able to master it completely. For me, a lot of people like me, it is a struggle to not give into that self-destructive side and as impossible as it may seem to actually go, ‘you know what? I can control my own thoughts if I just try’. Somethings you can’t – its biological – but somethings you can. And it will make, maybe it’s not a big difference, but it’s a little difference and maybe that little difference is just enough to keep you going, to keep you moving.
Finally, how do you think being part of the Metal Hall Of Fame will change things for you?
I don’t think it will change anything really. I’ll still be doing the same gigs, I’ll still be writing the same songs, I’ll still be working with the same team so I don’t expect any big change to come of it. It’s just a really, really lovely thing to happen. It won’t change the direction of my music or my values – it’s just a really lovely thing to happen. I don’t expect any jump in sales or any extra streams on Spotify. It’s just something really, really lovely. Nothing to do with business or corporate things. It’s just this guy has been around, has kept the quality of the work top notch and he’s made time for the fans and that’s it for me. So if I’m recognised for that then that’s absolutely wonderful. If someone’s famous it doesn’t make them a good person, if someone’s a celebrity it doesn’t make them more worthwhile than anyone else doing any regular job, in my opinion, it’s just different and I’m really, really lucky. I had to spend a lot of time working a regular job after Iron Maiden because I spent all my money-making albums that failed and that just didn’t work at all, didn’t sell and that was it. I had to work a regular job. Slowly, with the help of some wonderful, wonderful people that I’ve worked with and the support and loyalty of the fans, I’ve been able to become, again, a full-time professional heavy metal singer and even producer of my own albums and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. So I’m living my dream. It doesn’t matter if we are in a venue with one hundred people and it’s sold out or a venue of one thousand people and it’s sold out or if I’m on the stage at Sweden rock opening for Slayer – it doesn’t matter. I’m living my dream and it’s very simple - to be a professional heavy metal singer and write my songs, and produce my albums and perform my songs for my fans that believe in me.
As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what a truly magnificent artist Blaze Bayley really is. As he said himself, it’s all about the music. Listen to any of Blaze’s solo albums and you will hear the strongest metal tracks performed with absolute passion. It really does make for the most incredible experience. We invite you to check out Blaze’s latest album War Within Me and ask you to go just one step further: get to Blaze Bayley show and witness his passion and his fan’s loyalty first hand. Congratulations, Blaze!