March 12, 2013 – Clive Burr (Iron Maiden drummer) was born in London on March 8th 1957.
Previously a member of Samson, he joined Iron Maiden in ’79. An acquaintance of then-Iron Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton, he played on their first 3 records: Iron Maiden, Killers and their breakthrough release The Number of the Beast, but left the band in 1982 due to Iron Maiden’s tour schedule and his personal health problems. Clive co-wrote one song on The Number of the Beast, “Gangland”, and another song, “Total Eclipse”, that was cut from the album and showed up as the b-side of the “Run to the Hills” single, and later on the Number Of The Beast remastered CD re-release. He also appeared on “The Number of the Beast” and “Run To The Hills” videos.
After leaving Iron Maiden, he briefly played in the French group Trust, thus switching places with McBrain, and briefly with the American band Alcatrazz. He was featured in the short-lived NWOBHM supergroup Gogmagog which also included ex-Iron Maiden vocalist Paul Di’Anno and future Maiden guitarist Janick Gers.
He also had a band known as Clive Burr’s Escape. He then joined Dee Snider in his post-Twisted Sister outfit Desperado, and performed with British bands Elixir and Praying Mantis in the 1990s, but did not become a member of either.
Clive Burr died in his sleep, with complications from multiple sclerosis on March 12, 2013 at age 56.
‘Hit ’em Hard’, he used to have emblazoned on his custom-made drum sticks. “And I always did,” he says. “So I carried on. I shoved it to the back of my mind, tried not to think about it.” That was the end of the 80s, he thinks, 1988 or maybe ’89. A long time after he’d left Iron Maiden. He’d occupied half-a-dozen bands’ drum stools since Maiden.
By 1994, though, it was so bad that he couldn’t carry on ignoring it. “I kept dropping things,” he says. “I couldn’t grip properly. I could barely keep hold of my sticks.” When he could no longer twirl his sticks between his fingers – the kind of showboating little trick he was able to do with his eyes closed only a couple of years before – it was time to see a doctor.
The diagnosis took months. There were tests and examinations, more tests, until eventually it culminated in a consultant’s office, a stoney-faced man, a chair and some very bad news.
It was about as bad as it gets. The tests revealed multiple sclerosis, and a particularly virulent, aggressive strain of the condition at that, called primary progressive MS. Clive Burr’s life was about to change forever.
oday, the man who provided the frantic but always distinctive and highly original rhythmic backbone that ran through Iron Maiden’s first three albums is in a wheelchair. Sometimes, just getting out of bed to face another new day is a struggle. “I do get tired,” he says. “I can’t always do what I want to do.” His drums are in the garage at his specially adapted house in Wanstead, east London, which he shares with his partner Mimi, a former Sundayschool teacher who also has MS.
“Meeeeeeeemes,” he shouts, repeatedly, throughout our interview. “Where’s me Rosie?” [Rosie Lee = tea] “I only get the drums out when my nephews come round now,” he says. “They seem to like it.” For Clive, now 53 years of age, that’s as far it goes these days.
In another lock-up is a pile of damaged Paiste cymbals, broken at various gigs on the Beast On The Road tour back in 1982: a poignant reminder, if it were needed, of the powerhouse drummer he once was. His drumming days are now over.
On the rare occasion the MS does drag him down, he reaches for the DVD player and watches an old Maiden concert.
“I like that,” he laughs. “I’ll sit there with Meemes, with me feet up, and I’m right back there. I’m smiling all the way through it. We were a good band, you know.”
Before we get to how he started with Iron ➻
Maiden, and just how good they were with Clive powering them along, it’s perhaps more pertinent to address how it finished. This is something that has gnawed away at Clive for the best part of 30 years. Much has been written about his split from Maiden, during an exhaustive US tour in the summer of 1982. And most of it, he says dismissively, is hogwash.
“I’ve heard the stories – that it was because of drugs or too much drink,” he says. “It wasn’t anything like that.” The truth, as it often is in cases of heavy metal musical chairs, is a bit murkier, a bit more acrimonious. It started with a phone call. He doesn’t recall where he was when he got the call, he just remembers that he had to get home to London. His dad, Ronald, had died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was just 57 years old.
A US road map dotted with gigs lay in front of Maiden, but at that moment it didn’t matter, he says. “I had to get home.” Everyone seemed fine with that, he remembers. Go home, they said. Be with your family. Clive flew back to London on Concorde.
Maiden brought in former Trust drummer Nicko McBrain as a replacement so the tour could continue, the show could go on. Clive and Nicko were mates. No worries. Everything was cool.
“I knew Nicko,” Clive says. Nice bloke. Good drummer. At a number of earlier shows, Nicko had dressed up as Eddie to terrorise the crowd. “He loved the band, he loved being part of it all. And the rest of the band liked him.” Clive was about to find out just how much.
So Clive flew home, went to his father’s funeral, spent some time with his family, and two weeks later flew back to the States to join up with Maiden, who were criss-crossing America supporting Rainbow, Scorpions, .38 Special and Judas Priest.
“I got back and I could tell something wasn’t right,” Clive recalls.
There was a meeting. The atmosphere was tense. There was change in the air, and Clive, still numb from the loss of his dad, could smell it.
“We think it’s time for a break,” they told Clive. And that was that. After the best part of four years, three albums – not just any old albums, either, but the three albums that many Iron Maiden fan will tell you remain the band’s best work – and suddenly the dream was over, just as it was all coming true.
Everybody knows what happened next for Maiden.
What happened next for Clive Burr was a case of dusting himself down and starting all over again. He was grieving for his dad. Now he was also grieving for his band and the job he’d dreamt of since he first saw Ian Paice playing Highway Star with Deep Purple.
Back home in the UK the rumours were rife: it was the drugs that were to blame for his dismissal; it was the drink; that Clive liked the beer, sex and rock’n’roll just a little bit more than the others; that sometimes he had to play shows with a bucket by the side of his drum stool for when those hangovers became just a little bit too much… The rock’n’roll high jinks were getting in the way of the band, everyone agreed. Everyone except Clive.
Thirty years on, he says it still smarts to hear it. He was never a big drinker. Sure, he’d have a brandy and Coke – a Courvoisier and Coke, “my roadie used to get it for me before we went on,” he laughs – but nothing too debauched. No more or less than anyone else in the band.
“We were like schoolkids in America,” he says. “We’d never been there before and it opened our eyes. There was a lot of parties, and girls were throwing themselves at us. We’d never experienced anything like it.” Clive – the lad who had been voted teen
magazine Oh Boy ’s Hunk Of The Month in July 1980 – lapped it up. “Of course I did. We all did.” And then it was gone.
Clive flew back to London again, then on to Germany with his mum, and laid low.
“I was too upset to feel angry about it,” he says. “There was a grieving period – I grieved for my dad and I grieved for my band – and then I brushed myself down and got on with it.” Just like that?
“Pretty much, yeah. There was no real bitterness. Life’s too short.
“It’s good to set the record straight, to tell my side of the story,” he says, “because it’s not widely known. I think if you’re going to sack someone, sacking them after they’ve just lost their father is not the best time to do it… I guess they had their reasons. So that was that.” fter Maiden, Clive played with a number of bands in fairly quick succession: Graham Bonnet’s Alcatrazz (that lasted a week), Trust (Nicko’s old band), Stratus, so-called NWOBHM supergroup Gogmagog, Elxir, Dee Snider’s Desperados. None of them would come close to matching what he achieved with Maiden. And yet for Clive it didn’t matter.
“I just wanted to play. When I came home from Germany after Maiden, I used to put my hair in a hat, put some dark glasses on and play with anyone who’d have me, in the pubs around London,” he laughs. “I just wanted to drum.” It was what he was like as a kid. The Burrs lived in a council flat in Manor Park, the heart of London’s East End. While at school Clive built himself a makeshift drum kit. “Everything we had around the house, he was hitting it with sticks,” his mum Klara remembers.
When he discovered Ian Paice and Deep Purple, his obsession seemed to take on a new dimension. Klara’s family bought Clive his first drum kit when he was 15. It was both a blessing and a curse. “It was okay for them, they didn’t have to hear it,” says Klara. “I used to go out of the flat afraid to look the neighbours in the eye because of the noise he used to make.” Even to Klara’s untrained ears, she could tell he was good. Really good. He never had a formal lesson, he learned by watching other drummers and practising constantly.
Clive joined Maiden from Samson in 1979, replacing Doug Sampson, just as Maiden were about to sign to the giant EMI Records. It was a huge step up in class, he remembers, from Samson’s more traditional blues-based rock. Maiden rehearsals were serious, and they had to be. The songs were faster and trickier, with lots of time changes. Playing drums with this band was no job for a novice.
More – and better – gigs started to come along, and so did interest in the band from record companies. As EMI wooed Maiden, Clive jacked in his day job as a runner in the City.
The band’s success was nearly all down to bass player Steve Harris, Clive says. “Steve was the leader, definitely. He wrote the songs, he booked the gigs, he sorted out rehearsals. He was very single-minded. He knew where he wanted it all to go. And we all followed.” The rhythm section on those first three albums was as tight as the band’s spandex.
“It wasn’t always like that, though,” Clive remembers. “Steve used to say I played the songs too fast, he was always telling me to slow down. My abiding memory of recording The Number Of The Beast album is Steve telling me to slow down.”
There were odd spats, he says, but nothing major, nothing serious. “We got on well, and there was a lot of camaraderie.” Even after the split, Clive would meet up with Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith and go fishing.
When the band found out about Clive’s multiple sclerosis they stepped in and helped they best way they knew how – by playing for him. Their help has transformed his life.
“They bought me a vehicle…” He pauses. “Meeeeeeeemes, what car is it again?” he shouts. “We call it the Clivemobile. It’s a Volkswagen Caddy with blacked-out windows. It’s like an American gangster’s car. They’ve put concerts on to raise money, not just for me but for other people with MS. They put a stair-lift in our house. Sometimes I’ll go up and down the stairs, looking at the gold and platinum records on the stairwell. Ha ha.” Better than that, and what he appreciates most of all, Mimi says when Clive is out of earshot, is that they involve him. “They say if ever you need anything, just ring, just call,” she says. “Whenever they play in London, Clive knows that he’s only got to pick up the phone and he’s got two of the best tickets in the house. It might not sound like much, but it is to Clive. Finally, to him, it’s like his achievements – who he is and what he did – are being recognised.”