British Lion’s Richard Taylor talks to Paul Monkhouse from MPM on their latest tour
Richard Taylor – The Lion Roars
From the most easterly part of Britain, the Suffolk Coast has seen a real revival of some of the best rock music in the country and, following on hard on the heels of the Darkness, British Lion have emerged in recent years as a real force to be reckoned with. Featuring genuine rock superstar, Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, the quintet has been making larger and larger ripples and are just on the edge of releasing their second album ‘The Burning’. I caught up with Lowestoft based Richard Taylor, lead singer of British Lion, at Norwich Waterfront just before the start of the opening night on their current UK tour.
Someone I first met in the late 1980’s, Taylor’s great voice, writing skills, quiet charisma and thoughtfulness fit perfectly into the band whose take on hard rock is a mix of traditional grit and the melody so typical of some of the giants of the 70’s and 80’s like UFO and Wishbone Ash. Very few people in the music business are as hard working or have as much integrity or gained so much respect as Harris so for him to pull together these particular musicians highlights just how special this band is. Having interviewed Richard four years previously it was nice to catch up with him again and, as we sat down backstage in the bowels of the venue, he elaborated on the genesis of the band.
For those who are a little late to the party, how did British Lion come about?
It all started back in the early 90’s when I was in a band from Lowestoft and we used to go down to London and play all those great old places like the Marquee. I wanted to spend a lot more time down there and the other guys didn’t. I ended up meeting a guy called Graham Lesley and a friend got a tape to Steve (Harris) who loved the music and we got together. He helped us get a band together with someone called Ian Roberts who was a drummer and a big part of that early start and we were up and running.
Steve had some time off from Maiden at that point, was really into what we were doing and before we knew it had booked us some gigs and this was before we even had a name! He suggested British Lion and we thought about all the imagery that went with that and it stuck. We didn’t have a record deal or a manager but Steve offered to be our manager and it grew from there and we became great friends. Sadly though it was the time when grunge, with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, was taking over the world and what we were doing just didn’t fit in and the band imploded.
I kept on working as a singer songwriter and eventually met a guy called David Hawkins, also from Lowestoft, who I was really compatible with and had the same ideas, with him being a wiz in the studio we sent some material over to Steve. He absolutely loved the new songs, saying it was even better than what the band had been doing before and wanted to get involved. This led to David and I sending across tracks and him replying with his thoughts. This then ended up with us writing as a team. Due to his workload with Iron Maiden it was quite a long process but we built up a big catalogue of strong songs and in 2010, 2011 he said ‘’Right, we’re going to release some of this stuff, reform the band and I’m going to be the bass player!’’ That was how it started again and it was a dream come true really.
About to release album Number 2; ‘The Burning’. How did that come about and how did the songwriting work?
We’ve really progressed as a band and it’s all very natural to us now as we’ve been touring for six or seven years, in between things with Maiden. We’ve definitely found our own thing and the songs are very personal, coming from real stories. I’m the main lyricist and send ideas over to Steve or David, we get together and then work on them. It’s a great album and a lot of the stories behind the songs are from this area, with it not being too difficult to figure out where I’m coming from. We’re all very excited about it.
The first album took a while in coming and this new album was due out initially last year?
Yes, it was going to be released in 2018 but schedules were tricky and Steve was flying back to record between dates with Maiden. This one though is a lot more organic, with us all getting in the studio and performing the songs live and me being in separate booth to sing. It’s very much a live album even though it was done in the studio and is a more cohesive than the first.
Songs like ‘Bible Black’ went down so well on the previous live shows…
Yes, that’s on the album along with some others that have been played on the last couple of tours. We put them in the set to see how they went down and there’s some new material in there as well.
It was about thirty years ago when I first met you when you were singing with Bash Street Kids. Does it feel funny now that you’re looking at playing at the huge Download Festival again and working with Steve? If I had told you all this would happen then would you have believed it?
I don’t know…back then I was so ambitious, young and naïve. It’s taken a lot of years to realise how the music business works and that it’s just a small few who can get actually get through there and are vastly more talented than I am. It’s a tough world and there’s a lot of luck involved. Having said that, I’ve worked incredibly hard and never stopped believing. I worked and worked and worked and if I hadn’t kept at Steve so long it wouldn’t have happened. It’s funny…you don’t realise how quickly it goes past. It’s better now than it was then, you grow with it and I’m a far better songwriter, there’s no doubt about it. He pauses to consider this more…You’re just at a different level of how you think about and appreciate it. There’s a connection with the audience and the fact that the songs connect with them is, for me, something else, the fact that they know what I’m talking about and understand the words.
How does having Steve in the band effect the touring compared to past experiences?
Well, obviously, it’s on another level and, no doubt about it, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing without him. The great thing about it though is that, whilst Steve is in Iron Maiden, known all over the world, he believes in British Lion so much. I always have so much respect and, on a day like today, we’re on the same level as to how we think. It’s only when I went to see him in America this year and I travelled in a chauffeured limousine with him and people were rocking the car that you realise just what it’s really like. All credit to Steve, he gets down here and we’re in Gorleston shooting a video for ‘The Burning’ today and it’s absolutely freezing. We’re out there for hours with the director and he could be somewhere in the sun! (laughing) But…he believes in us.’
It does seem very much more than just a side project to him.
Yes, of course when the first album came out it was Steve that got it where it was but it’s been a natural progression and we all know our part now. People seem to have come to realise that it’s a band now and not just a solo project, as was initially thought.
I brought a friend in California a copy of the first album from a record store near Coachella when I was last over there and it must be great to think that songs you’ve written have been heard all over the world.
Yes…I don’t read much online but just last week a Polish guy from Gdansk who had seen the band a few years back messaged us to say ‘’remember, every hundred miles starts with a single footstep’’ which is what I say at the start of one of the songs. It was a real ‘wow!’ moment as he’d only seen the band once and remembered that quote! How fantastic is that?
So, what does the future hold for you personally and the band?
Well, we’re off to America in January and February touring over there for the first time and I’m really looking forward to that. The new album and we’ve already got material for the next one. It’s already at least halfway through and we have a title and a theme which is why it’s easier. We had a song originally for this record and it stood out, but it stood out more than just a song, with the title and imagery it seemed more of a concept for a new album. It’s a really big theme and kind of what’s going on with this country now and how I see things. We hope that’s not going to take as long as this one and, in the meantime, I’m still writing my solo stuff. I still go jogging on the beach and cycling everywhere which I love to do.
He then gets called away for the soundcheck and we say our goodbyes. The evening’s show is not just a triumphant homecoming for the band in front of a sold-out audience but proof positive that British Lion are the real deal and genuine contenders. They really are a ferocious and passionate live act and to see Harris so obviously loving what he does with them, as much as he does with Iron Maiden, is both a genuine treat and a humbling truth to anyone who would consider that he would put any less than 100% into anything he’s involved with. The energy that comes off of the stage is rewarded in the reflection of it back from the crowd as the band do what they do best, providing a modern rock sound that will see them stepping up another league or two. With a set of songs full of positivity in these difficult times, British Lion may well be the true saviours of rock ‘n’ roll.
Interview by Paul Monkhouse