Monday, September 6, 2010

Talkin' Eds: In the Days of Blaze

For years I wasn’t aware that Iron Maiden had a third vocalist. In fact, it was only on properly inspecting the booklet of The Best of the Beast that I saw him – a (then) young man with sculpted sideburns and long black hair, named Blaze Bayley.
Blaze Bayley was born Bayley Cooke in 1963 and made his name in music as the lead singer in Brummie (well, Tamworth) act Wolfsbane. Like Bruce Dickinson’s Samson the band had a bumpy history and a few stabs at the big time – a handful of albums, some music videos and promise of US exposure, but their profile wasn’t high, and it’s probable that after Dickinson’s departure Bayley might not have become the new Maiden frontman but for the good fortune of Wolfsbane supporting Maiden on the No Prayer on the Road tour. Here’s what they might have sounded like, a little more polished for international release:

I think I can see why Steve Harris might have encouraged Bayley to audition. Audition he did, and the rest is history, albeit a diminishing part of Maiden’s growing story. Nevertheless, despite his brief time with the band he leaves as his legacy two albums, a handful of original B-sides and a tenure that lasted a good six years; he outlasted Di’Anno and was nearly in the band as long as Adrian Smith’s first term. Granted, his voice doesn’t compare well to Dickinson’s – it’s deeper; deeper than DiAnno’s in fact. But that doesn’t matter if you consider the direction Maiden were taking at the time – longer, more ponderous songs, less of the spitfire Eighties composition. To that end, Blaze was a pretty good fit.

Unfortunately it seems now that the fans simply wanted Bruce Mk II, and more to the point, they wanted an unchanged Maiden. The band’s development continued, but took faltering steps in doing this, with the ultimate effect of giving Bayley one good album for his voice, and one where his vocal limitations could not save struggling compositions. Furthermore both album tours were hampered by an apparent on-stage allergy Blaze suffered from (oddly not to manifest in his later acts), which compromised his vocals and, combined with a pretty static presence unlike Dickinson’s hyper one, gave mixed performances. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. For what it’s worth, I like Blaze Bayley, and I think at least half of his material with Maiden not only has legs but is well suited for the band at the time. Bruce’s return may have saved Maiden’s reputation with the headlines it garnered, but the band’s fall from grace isn’t just down to this one man, at all.

As a final taste, here’s Bayley with the band gamely struggling through The Trooper, a song that few vocalists could do justice to, and which was plainly unsuited to a touring baritone. Performance-wise it’s a near disaster, with a member of the crowd spitting at the singer while he gets more and more worked up by the insult directed at him. Keep watching to the end and you’ll see that bandleader Harris doesn’t leave his frontman to wear it alone but stands alongside him, ready to unleash some serious aggro on the audience himself. Amidst a pretty ugly scene, there’s a solidarity that wasn’t as evident in Maiden’s fanbase at the time.

Bayley’s Wikipedia entry reads as you’d expect it might – a real rollercoaster of fortunes peppered with mismanagement and personal tragedy. His solo career went well enough, and recently he’s toured with a reformed Wolfsbane, seemingly happier and in a better place for it. Good on him, and godspeed, Blaze.

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