To some, he is the Errol Flynn of rock - the swashbuckling, chandelier- swinging, irrepressible hero who swoops across the stage, slays the dragon, rescues the girl and delivers the killer lines. To others, he is simply one of the greatest white male singers to strut his stuff with a British rock band since the Seventies heyday of British vocal legends like Robert Plant, Paul Rodgers, Roger Daltrey, and, of course, his own personal favourite, Ian Gillan. Who else could I being talking about than Bruce Dickinson? The singer whose name and face, whose voice and songs, have all been synonymous with great Maiden music since his titanic debut album with the band, 'Number Of The Beast', back in 1982. 'The Air Raid Siren', Maiden fans dubbed him early on, and it was an apt description. With his soaring, almost operatic vocals and romping, over-the-top stage personality, musically, Bruce and Maiden have always seemed made for each other. As Bruce now recalls: "The first time I saw Maiden play, I knew they were the band for me. They were playing second fiddle at a club show in London, back in 1979, which my previous band Samson, were actually headlining. But they had so many fans and they were just so tight and together, they blew us all away really. "I'd always been a massive Deep Purple fan," he continues, "and that's what Maiden seemed to me to be back then - a modern Deep Purple. And I just knew I had to sing with them!" And so it came to be. Maiden had already released two Top 10 albums in the UK - 'Iron Maiden' in 1980, and 'Killers' the following year - when Bruce replaced original singer Paul Di'Anno in the line-up, and many long-time Maiden observers wondered, at the time, if the band had done the right thing in allowing the more theatrical former Samson singer to take over from the streetwise Di'Anno. They needn't have worried. Far from signifying a decline in their fortunes, Bruce's appointment to the band was the beginning of the most successful and era in Maiden's career to date. Kicking off with their biggest-selling single up 'til then, 'Run To The Hills' (one of the very first songs Bruce wrote with the band), and culminating over a decade later with 'Fear Of The Dark', his last studio album with the band (and Maiden's last to go to No.1 in the UK, in 1993), Bruce is now rightly regarded as the definitive Iron Maiden vocalist. Also known these days for his parallel talents as a novelist, RockRadio Network DJ, aeroplane pilot, video director, radio and MTV presenter, and occasional solo artist, Paul Bruce Dickinson was born on August 7, 1958, in the small mining town of Worksop, Nottinghamshire. Why he chose to be called by his second name - Bruce - rather than his real first name - Paul - he says he can no longer remember, except that he insisted everybody call him 'Bruce' from "as early as I can remember. Only my parents were allowed to call me Paul. Maybe I thought it sounded a bit unusual or something," he grins. Mum, who worked in a shoe shop, and dad, who was a mechanic in the army, were still in their teens when baby Bruce was born, and to begin with he was brought up by his maternal grandparents. "I was very much an accident," he reflects. "I think that's partly why I grew up feeling like such an outsider. I didn't have an unhappy childhood, but it was unconventional, to say the least." Sent away to boarding school from an early age, the young Bruce grew up "very independent and self-sufficient." Qualities which would hold him in good stead later when it came to dealing with the perils of a 20-year career in the notoriously fickle music business. The first record he managed to persuade his folks to buy him was the single, 'She Loves You', by The Beatles. "I was still only four or five but I really loved that whole Mersey scene. I loved The Beatles and Gerry & The Pacemakers, and used to try and collect all their singles. Then I noticed they had B-sides, and that sometimes I liked them even more than the A-sides. And that was when I first began noticing the difference between 'good' music and 'bad'. I didn't know it at the time, but that was the first time I began to think like a musician." It was at boarding school as a teenager that he first began to get seriously into albums. "I was 13 when I first heard Deep Purple's 'In Rock' album, and it just blew me away!" Soon his burgeoning record collection boasted albums by artists like Van Der Graaf Generator, Arthur Brown, Jethro Tull, and Emerson Lake & Palmer. "I had everything. My favourite was always Deep Purple, though. I just thought 'In Rock' was the greatest thing ever! And after that, everything else went out the window and I started getting into bands and buying the music papers. And then, of course, thinking about starting my own band..." Starting off as a would-be drummer - "I'd 'borrowed' these bongos from the music room!" - it wasn't long before Bruce became bold enough to push his way to the microphone. "I don't know why, I just sort of knew I could sing," he shrugs. School bands and a couple of short-lived college outfits like Styx, Speed, and Shots all gave Bruce the on stage experience he would need before taking his first crack at the big time with Samson. Formed around the songs of Sidcup-born guitarist Paul Samson, the band had already been singled out in the press, along with Maiden, Saxon, and Def Leppard, as one of the leading lights of the then burgeoning New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Writing most of the songs with Paul, Bruce - billed, bizarrely, as 'Bruce Bruce' (from the old Monty Python sketch) - would make two albums with Samson: 'Head On', released in 1980, and 'Shock Tactics', in 1981.
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