By David E. Gehlke
"I must have done a hundred selfies that night. I had to sign my way in and out of the bathroom, but that's when somebody took a picture of the back of my head. It got eight thousand likes on social media. I've been doing it wrong all these years!"
So begins ex-IRON MAIDEN singer Blaze Bayley when discussing a recent appearance at his former band's June 30 gig in Manchester. It was Bayley's first trip into public after having quadruple bypass surgery following a March heart attack that postponed his March and April solo dates. While Bayley should be ready for live dates this fall, the singer sounds quite aware that he'll need to change his diet to stay out of the hospital to continue doing what he loves most: Singing for his fans.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more grateful musician than Bayley, who has remained on good terms with the MAIDEN organization after his 1998 departure. Bayley is the everyman, blue-collar frontman that is easy to like and root for, which is why news of his heart attack hit so close to home for many. With a recent rehearsal with his pre-MAIDEN band, WOLFSBANE, in the books, BLABBERMOUTH.NET caught up with the affable Bayley to get the scoop on his health and future plans.
Blabbermouth: The obvious place to start: How are you feeling?
Blaze: "I'm feeling very positive. I start my monitored physiotherapy tomorrow. I've been walking and doing as much as I can. They advised me to stay active. I had a quadruple bypass, so they want me to keep moving, but I must not lift heavy things or put my chest under strain. For seven weeks, I haven't used my arms. I couldn't lift anything heavier than a carton of milk and sometimes that was a struggle in the beginning. Now, I'm getting back my strength. A few aches and pains, nothing to do with my heart. It's good. I'm looking forward to having more rehearsals with the guys in WOLFSBANE. We have some dates booked. Fingers crossed, they'll go ahead. It felt good. I stood up for all the singing. I had my full voice but felt a bit tired afterward but no other problems. It's what I expected for a first rehearsal for a long time. I'm feeling good. I'm feeling very positive. I suppose the overall feeling is I'm incredibly lucky. I had a heart attack, not heart failure.
"This is amazing: It was a Saturday afternoon. I'm sitting down at home. I'm getting ready to take my fiancee out for dinner. I sit down and I feel like I've got indigestion. I won't bore you with all the details, but in the end, it felt like an invisible Blackie Lawless [W.A.S.P. ] sitting on my chest and won't move. I live five minutes from the ambulance station where all the ambulances in the area go. The paramedics were going on their break. They heard the call and said, 'We'll take that call before our break.' They were at my house within two minutes. I live near Birmingham. There are four hospitals within 15 minutes. Within 15 minutes, I was treated for a heart attack in the hospital's heart ward. That was on a Saturday! On the coming Monday, I was booked to start my tour of Europe. Who knows? I could have been alone in the hotel. I could have been in the Eurotunnel. I could have been on the Autobahn — anything. If there was a place where it was best to have a heart attack, I had it there. Right at home. It was incredible. I'm so lucky. They said to my fiancee, 'He's going to make it. He's going to be fine, but if we'd been ten minutes later, I don't think we'd be here now.' It was very close.
"The thing I feel most lucky about is the incredible support I've had from my fans. All over the world. My WOLFSBANE, Blaze Bayley, the MAIDEN fans. Everybody bought a t-shirt for a tour that was postponed. They still bought it to support me. I'm just incredibly lucky. And the letters people wrote to me! Hundreds of cards from all over the place. It's very humbling. I've always put my whole life into music. It is my life. When people get in touch with you and say, 'I wish you well because your music has gotten me through tough times.' 'Your music meant this to me.' 'I first saw you way back when and it's been the soundtrack to my life.' It's incredible."
Blabbermouth: Did you hear from the MAIDEN organization?
Blaze: "I got a massive card from the MAIDEN fan club. The [MAIDEN] guys all sent me a message. I'm always in touch with Steve Harris [MAIDEN bassist] anyway, but everyone sent messages of support."
Blabbermouth: That's great to hear.
Blaze: "I live in a country where healthcare is provided. That's another thing. I've been at the bottom, at the top, back to the bottom and halfway back up. I'm very lucky. I can look forward to it if everything goes well and there are no big problems and if I don't have to load the van, then I'll be on tour."
Blabbermouth: Singers aren't supposed to load the van, right?
Blaze: [Laughs] "I can now get away with it! We had a chair at WOLFSBANE rehearsal and it was fine, but my mic stand felt four times heavier. I thought, 'What have they done to my mic stand?' All your strength goes. You're wasting away to nothing over seven weeks. Your muscles just go. Then you have to start again from nothing. I'm aching a bit, but it's a good ache. It feels like I'm starting to come back."
Blabbermouth: Will you need to change your diet?
Blaze: "They said, 'If you want to keep having heart attacks, keep eating the same crap and sitting on the couch as you did before.' I looked at the standard tour diet that I've been using for years, that's in all the foods that give you a heart attack. The foods that make you well and keep you away from the hospital are things I haven't been having over the last 25 years. I'm thinking, 'I do not want to return to this hospital. I have too much to do.' The lockdown was bad enough. I missed my fans so much then. I missed performing. That was terrible. I thought, 'I don't want to come back to this place.' I've stopped eating bread. I'm trying to have green leaves and salad every day. I've stopped sugar. I cut down on carbs. I'm trying to get my weight down. I've lost some weight, but I'm only about halfway there. I'm still in danger. I've got to slim down to get out of danger of any more heart attacks or a stroke. That's on my mind. I keep thinking: 'I do not want to come back here.' If they say, 'Lifestyle changes,' I've got to change. I don't want to leave without singing, writing songs and getting the incredible energy that my fans give me. And I don't want to be without my fiancé. My friends. I don't want to be banged up in a hospital and people come and say, 'Oh. You've had another heart attack that could have been avoided.' I don't want to be that. You can stop me if you see me eating hot dogs or jamming the candy. Smack my bald head and say, 'Stop!' [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: Another thing: Do you envision yourself being more stationary onstage?
Blaze: "I've always moved around. I've changed mics. I now use — and this is not advertising — I call it the Shure 'Elvis' mic [Shure 55SH]. The same one [James] Hetfield [METALLICA] uses. What you find is that that mic it's so great with its isolation. You can have that monitor really loud compared to a standard [Shure] SM58. I've always used a hand-held mic. But there's something about the hand-held Elvis mic, the 55. I get so much more out of it. The proximity of it is incredible. I used it for demos and my co-producer, Chris Appleton, said we should try it on the road. We tried it. That's made a difference. My posture — I've got to keep my shoulders relaxed. It's part of my posture as a singer. I have to breathe through down here [puffs out chest]. Don't let any tension come in. Not holding the mic and being hands-free has improved my singing. I'm using less energy holding a mic and tensing up around it. That energy is obviously going somewhere. It's going into the mic because I'm not holding gestures. I can express myself better because one hand isn't tied up. I've got two hands to find my gestures and how I want to get my fans and audience not to come and see me perform but, to come and be part of this performance. That's the idea of a Blaze Bayley show. I find it's been working much better. We'll see. I don't think I can stop being a passionate singer."
Blabbermouth: It sounds like you're not lacking in perspective, which you've always had.
Blaze: "Life is challenging. Life is full of difficulties. My story has ups and downs and adversity and so does everyone else. That's life. It's getting through. A lot of people go to work at a job they hate just for the money. I've done that as well. After MAIDEN, when I fell on tough times after [debut 2000 solo album] 'Silicon Messiah' didn't do well. 'Tenth Dimension' bombed. 'Blood & Belief' complete obscurity. I had to get a job. I had to give up metal and get a job to support my family. That's what people normally have to do. You're incredibly lucky if you have a job you don't dread. You're incredibly lucky if you don't dread going to work and have a job you like. It's like a lottery. If you're like me, you have a job that doesn't feel like work. It's what you want to do anyway. You've won the lottery of life. Forget everything else — I've won the lottery of life. I have that job. I knew from those early days of WOLFSBANE when we were in the van with no record deal, selling our tapes, t-shirts and demos, we still had unsigned, 300 people come to see us. Who keeps you going? It's the fans. They bought our demo tapes. We had no merch person back then — we were selling our demos, t-shirts and everything. It was incredible. For me, that hasn't changed. I never want it to change. I've been in the biggest band in the world. I've had the top job I could get in my profession. I loved every minute of it. Where I am now, I play venues that I want to play. If I don't like it, I don't go. Treat the fans badly? I don't go back. If they don't care about sound? I don't go back.
"I've had to do signings because I sign for every fan after every show. I've had to sign on the street outside of the venue where they kicked the fans out. I said, 'I must make sure there's time for me to do a signing. It's very important. I don't want to do the show if I can't do the signing.' They put me on late to keep the bar open. Then the fans are out. In one horrible venue in Spain, the security said, 'One item.' I said, 'I didn't say that.' Then they said it was the end of the queue. I never said that! So I went outside and signed for the fans outside. In a heatwave, there was one in Buenos Aires where they kicked everybody out after they promised me that I could sign for my fans. I was on the street in Buenos Aires with 300 fans surrounding me. I stayed there and signed, and security kept coming out, 'You want to come in?' They didn't stand with me outside of the club! I said, 'No! I'm staying here until I've signed for every fan.' People got their autographs and selfie and said thank you and went home. Then it was the last fan, he said 'Thank you' and went home. I had a bit of revenge on that one in Buenos Aires. It was a heat wave. I was standing on the street outside the club and a beautiful, cool breeze was coming up. Inside the club was like a microwave! I was breathing water when I walked onstage. I poured more water on myself than I drank!"
Blabbermouth: Have you started thinking about the follow-up to your last solo album, "War Within Me"?
Blaze: "The follow-up is the live album ['Damaged, Strange, Different And Live']! That's the follow-up and I'm very proud of it. There are no nerves in this. A lot of venues have recording facilities. They're really good recordings that you can get onto a stick. You've got 24 or 48 tracks. I go, 'What? Have we got all this? Why don't we mix it?' That's what we've been doing in different venues. What we've found with other live albums is we've put everything into it, but there's still red light fever. We recorded every night — no pressure at all. We had a lot of performances to choose from. I wanted to do a lot of MAIDEN songs."
Blabbermouth: I saw "Como estáis amigos" [from Bayley's last album with MAIDEN, 1998's "Virtual XI"] is on there.
Blaze: "We never did it in MAIDEN. It's my biggest song. People think it's 'The Clansman', 'Sign Of The Cross', 'Futureal' or 'Man On The Edge'. But that was the biggest song for me for where I was when writing it with Steve and Janick [Gers, guitar]. We never played it live, but I thought it could be a huge song for MAIDEN live. It's an emotional song for a lot of older fans. That's why I wanted to do my own thing on side two. My arrangements are slightly different on those songs. Nobody has said, 'You have destroyed that song for me. I could never listen to it again.' Maybe they do feel like that and are avoiding me. It's my arrangement of those songs. I do it in my style, with the ABSOLVA guys [Bayley's backing band] doing it in the Blaze Bayley style. I wanted to get it out there because I feel my strength is in my live performance."