BRUCE DICKINSON On NICKO MCBRAIN's Post-Stroke Recovery: 'How He Coped With That, It Was Just Amazing'

February 26, 2024

During a February 25 question-and-answer session at Bio Roy in Gothenburg, Sweden to promote his upcoming solo album, "The Mandrake Project", IRON MAIDEN singer Bruce Dickinson spoke about the stroke his bandmate Nicko McBrain suffered in early 2023 and the drummer's ongoing recovery. Bruce said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "I mean, Nick, honestly, what he did on the last [MAIDEN] tour was nothing short of amazing.

"At the risk of going more into my medical history than you really [need to know], in February [of 2023]… Both of my hips are worn out from jumping around on stage and fencing and doing stupid shit. So, I've got like metal ones. I'm properly heavy metal now. [They're made of] titanium, so it's not so heavy. And they work great, and I'm running around and doing everything and doing all the stuff that I did before. It's exactly the same [as it was before] — no difference at all. So I had new one, a new right hip [put in] in February [2023]. And so all of that tour that I just did was all two months, three months after that. Nicko had a stroke almost at the same time. And I'm wandering around going, 'Hey, look at me. I got rid of my walking stick and I've stopped taking paracetamol. Everything's fine.' And Nick just sent us a little e-mail going, 'Chaps, just so you know, I had a little bit of a stroke the other day.' I was, like, 'What the fuck?' And it wasn't a little bit of a stroke; it was a proper full-on [stroke]. And luckily, his wife got him to hospital, because it happened in his house. And they knew exactly what to do, and they gave him this fairly new drug, which kind of, it's kind of like Control-Alt-Delete for strokes — it reboots your system and hopefully it comes back. And the answer is most of his left side all came back within a matter of hours, except his left hand. And Nick, that's his snare drum hand. So how he coped with that, it was just amazing."

Bruce continued: "[Nicko] started learning to drum again 'cause he couldn't hold a stick. He couldn't hold a fork. In fact, when we were mixing [my new solo] album in April in Florida, I invited him up to the studio. I thought he probably needed cheering up a bit, 'cause we didn't start rehearsing [with MAIDEN] until May, so he still had a month to go. So he came up to the studio, and the first thing I thought when I saw him was, 'Wow, you look sensational!' He was tanned and he was skinny; he lost a bit of weight. He goes, 'Yeah, I couldn't hold a fucking fork. I couldn't get out of bed last [couple of] months.' So, he had not lost his sense of humor there. But, honestly, he explained to me everything he was doing to get his drumming chops back. And he acknowledged he won't be able to do everything that he did — not within a year or two years — but it will come back. 'Cause his friend, Ian Paice from DEEP PURPLE, the same thing happened to him; he had a stroke. And you can't tell now with Ian at all. And they've been talking. So he's working every day. He's got a little band and he's made them learn the IRON MAIDEN set. So, they go out and they do little jams in Florida playing the whole IRON MAIDEN set. And so, yeah, he's really, really determined, 'cause drumming's his life."

Last fall, Nicko told Metal Hammer magazine about his stroke: "Well, it was very, very difficult. When it first happened, I thought, 'This is it. I'm not going to be able to play. I've got a tour coming up in three months' time.' I had a lot of time for reflection in the hospital. My wife was really my bastion of strength and encouragement and she was with me throughout. I did a lot of strength exercises, a lot of stretches with weird weights that they have and I got my stamina back."

McBrain told Metal Hammer that his MAIDEN bandmates, especially bassist Steve Harris, were very supportive during his recovery.

"Through all this period of time I was in touch with Steve, obviously all the guys, and I'd have a bit of a chat with them on the phone and they were all very, very encouraging, and none more so than Steve," Nicko said. "He said, 'Look, the most important thing is that you get well and work on getting yourself together.'"

Last October, Nicko spoke about his latest health scare during an appearance on SiriusXM's "Trunk Nation Power Trip Special". Asked how the shows on MAIDEN's "The Future Past Tour" have been, Nicko said: "It's going great. It started off a little shaky for me, but as the time [went on] and the more shows we performed, I started to get a little bit more strength and they'd been really rocking out well. And the last couple of months have been fantastic."

The 71-year-old McBrain also talked about his recovery in more detail and touched upon how his health setback affected his drumming. He said: "[I'm] doing good [right now]. I'm still probably — I'd say I'm 85 to 90 percent back to strength, but I still have a little less dexterity with speed in my fingers. My fingers are the ones that — this is the last thing to strengthen up. But I had to change certain drum fills. Some fills that everybody knows me for on certain songs, I've had to improvise those at rehearsals to be able to actually play the songs. So now I'm starting to actually be able to kind of embrace it a bit more. And I can't do that live. I have to wait until we start doing some rehearsals again or whatever it is. But I'm definitely getting stronger. And I've had great support from [MAIDEN manager] Rod [Smallwood], the band, and all of the fans out there. They've been absolutely — they've shown me so much love, it's amazing."

When Nicko first went public with his stroke in August 2023, the drummer said in a statement that the episode left him "paralyzed" down one side of his body and "worried" that his career with the band was over.

McBrain's statement read as follows: "I hope this message finds you all well!

"The reason I'm writing to you all today is to let you know of a very serious health problem that I have been through. In January I had a stroke, thank the Lord it was a minor one referred to as a TIA. It left me paralyzed on my right side from my shoulder on down, of course I was very worried that my career was over but with the love and support from my wife, Rebecca and family, my doctors, especially Julie my OT (Occupational Therapist),and my MAIDEN family I was able to bounce back to somewhere near 70% recovered. After 10 weeks of intense therapy it was almost time to start rehearsals for our tour.

"I feel it's important to let you know about this now instead of earlier as I was mainly concerned with doing my job and concentrating on getting back to 100% fitness. I'm not there yet but by the grace of God I'm getting better and stronger as the weeks go by.

"Thank you all for a most wonderful and magical tour so far, you have all been so amazing.

"Well that's it from me. God bless you all, stay safe and well and I look forward to seeing you all somewhere in time. "

Manager Rod Smallwood added: "The rest of the band and l think that what Nicko has been able to achieve since his stroke shows incredible belief and willpower and we are all very proud of him. With this new and musically very complex set to learn ahead of him, he just got his head down and concentrated on recovery. We honestly did not know if he would be able to play a whole show until band rehearsals started in May and there was just so much support for him from the band and then genuine relief for all when we saw he was going to be able to do it!

"Nicko being Nicko he did not want to make a fuss and cause any distraction to the tour at the time but, now that he is sure he will soon get there, he thought you fans should know straight from him rather than by any rumours! We are all of course delighted he battled through this so well and look forward to many more tours together!"

Four years ago, McBrain was diagnosed with stage 1 laryngeal cancer and opened up about it in a single interview in 2021 but otherwise kept it mostly under wraps. The musician received his cancer diagnosis after undergoing an endoscopy at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University Of Miami Health System and the Miller School of Medicine. Within a week, McBrain's cancer was surgically removed and he now gets check-ups every few months to make sure the cancer hasn't returned.

McBrain, who had the cancer in a part of his vocal cords, isn't the first member of MAIDEN to beat cancer. Back in late 2014, Dickinson was diagnosed with throat cancer. The singer, who had a golf gall-size tumor on his tongue and another in the lymph node on the right side of his neck, got the all-clear in May 2015 after radiation and nine weeks of chemotherapy.

In a 2015 interview with Overdrive, McBrain admitted that he thought MAIDEN was over when it was discovered that Dickinson had a cancerous tumor. "Well, I'd be a liar if I didn't think for a minute that IRON MAIDEN [was] finished," he said. "[But] I thought more about the possibility of losing my friend than anything else, to be honest. Then later, I was thinking, 'God forbid if the worst ever happened, the legacy would be the last 16 albums.'"

McBrain, who is a dedicated Christian, continued: "I've got to be honest, I did question his mortality at one point and thankfully that didn't last long. Honestly, I got down on my knees and said a prayer, picked my thoughts up and got positive about it all, thinking to myself, 'If anyone can beat this, it's Bruce.' He's so positive about everything he's ever done in his life, or whatever he is about to do. Basically, I prayed for him and my prayers were answered, as well as everybody else that knows and cares for him."

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