Iron Maiden singer, Bruce Dickinson is well known for his powerful voice and operatic tenor. Lesser known is his decades-long career as an airline pilot (and aviation company owner), brewer, author, champion fencer, TV and radio personality, and now, public speaker. Bruce released his autobiography in October and as a companion to the book, is on a speaking tour dubbed What Does This Button Do, An Evening With Bruce Dickinson. While most stops on the tour are in Europe, Toronto was lucky enough to have the lone planned chat on Nov. 23 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
To a packed house that resembled any Maiden show (reduced to about 10% the usual capacity), Dickinson spoke and bantered for nearly three hours in two sets. The first set was biographical, while the second was a Q & A. He took the stage with some funny asides that jumped around and included a semi-personal call-out as he said (to paraphrase), “Tonight, there are four photographers here who don’t even have any film in their cameras, it’s all pixels and they’re shooting like this (mimicking machine-gun fire).” Overall, Dickinson’s humour, dad-based and scattershot at times, was what stood out most, evidenced by finding myself often laughing as I shot photos. Something I didn’t even do when covering Cheech and Chong.
The main portion of the biography chat focused on his childhood in boarding school in Northamptonshire. He spoke of being a prankster who questioned authority. He focused on the abuse he suffered from the masters. While it was an interesting subject, I’m sure the audience would’ve appreciated hearing more about his rock career than education. He did mention his early somewhat drug and drink addled days as the singer of Samson. Of course, he spoke of his time in Iron Maiden. I found the most interesting point he made being that he fell into a depression after his first year in the band because, in that span, he lived every rock and roll fantasy he’d ever had, leaving him with the question, what next? As a speaker, one thing was obvious, that Dickinson is a verbal rambler who loves to leap off on tangents and comment on his own commentary in asides. Case in point, answering a fan question regarding his scariest aviation experience, he took a long 20-minute detour describing getting his first driver’s license at the age of 24 and the deep details of a car accident he had in Florida before circuitously veering back to eventually answer the question. The good news was his rambling path was lined with lots of laughs. This being said, there were many serious moments, including a long discussion about his treatment and recovery from throat cancer in 2015. In a touching moment, he spoke of the relief he felt when his doctor told him that his cancer was just ‘bad luck’ and had nothing to do with any karmic reasons. Back to the laughs, he humorously took himself to task regarding his previous wardrobe choices, which he called his “moments of sartorial elegance.”
After a short break, Dickinson returned for the Q & A portion of the show. Questions had been asked by audience members prior to the show and presumably chosen for content. Some, he gave short, single-word answers. Others took him off into the woods. One, in particular, stood out as demonstrating the degree of wokeness possessed by the 61-year-old. He was asked about how he felt when former tourmate, Judas Priest singer Rob Halford came out in 1998. With a chuckle, he said it was the worst-kept secret in rock and roll and shrugged it off with “It didn’t matter for a second”. However, he stated early in the evening that in order to not confuse any genders and offend, he would be calling everyone ‘blobs’. Take that as you choose.
As an artist and a musician, I was looking for a takeaway to help inform my own ideas and decisions, so a quick story he told made an impact. He was discussing his vocal style, saying that it has always been harder for him to sing the softer parts of songs than the loud high powerful ones. He said that during the recording of the title track of Iron Maiden’s first album, Number of the Beast, producer Martin Birch hammered him over and over again on his delivery of the opening lines. To paraphrase, Dickinson said Birch told him he had to make him believe that he was actually afraid in the woods. The singer said something to the effect of the hardest thing to sing is honesty. He backed this up by finishing the show, with profound thanks to the audience with a solo rendition of the beginning of the Iron Maiden song Revelations, the English hymnal, O God of Earth and Altar. Just prior to singing the night out, Bruce Dickinson summed up his life, actions and choices by citing his love of the works of William Blake with his quote “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.”
What Does This Button Do? An Evening with Bruce Dickinson pops up here and there into next year in Europe. More info here.