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Posted by RG on 8th Sep 2020

​Q&A with Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith, author of Monsters of River and Rock

Monsters of River and RockYou’ve been part of a huge rock phenomenon for many years. Has angling always been your way to get away from the stresses of performing?
My dad used to take me fishing from I was very, very young so I was into fishing before I was into music. I loved going out with my dad, I grew up in East London, it was pretty rough, so it was great to be able to get out to the countryside, fresh air plus the excitement of fishing. So as far as getting away from the stress of my job, I think it probably has. I didn’t realise it at first, I mean - I’ve always fished, just because I love it but as you get older you realise how important it is to have a balance in your life. Obviously, music is my other passion but what I missed during the 1980s was a balance; it was all full-on working - touring, recording, so during the late 80s I managed to start fishing again. I’d given it up when I was 15yrs old, for 10 years to concentrate on the band, so it was great to have that love of fishing still there and when I started going again it really was a great way to balance the stresses and strains of touring with a great bit of relaxation.

Did you always want to be a musician? Who inspired you when you were younger? Who inspires you now?
I used to love The Beatles when I was very young, 10 or 11 maybe. Growing up in the 1960s you couldn’t help be affected by them and I used to imitate them with my Beatles wig and my dad’s ukulele miming to their songs, but I never thought seriously about playing until I heard the rock bands of the early 70s like Deep Purple and Free. Ritchie Blackmore, Paul Kossoff, they were massive inspirations and they got me into playing. And to be quite honest, I still get a lot of my inspiration from that. But inspiration can come from anywhere and I think as you get more experience and you get older, you tend to be more prolific; writing songs, coming up with ideas, you open up your mind to it really.

The Covid situation has affected us all in different ways. Have you been able to get out and about to fish?
I think when Covid first appeared it freaked everybody out. You think, what are we going to do? We were literally all banged up at home, you couldn’t even go fishing. You couldn’t do anything; you took a risk even going down to the shops. But as things relaxed, it’s amazing how adaptable human beings are. We sort of learn to get on with life and luckily, they changed the laws on fishing, and you could go out again and start to get a bit more freedom. Being in a touring band you get to be an expert at killing dead time on the road, filling your time trying to do something useful because you’re only playing for two hours on stage every night, so we’re all pretty good at finding things to do. I’ve been completely occupied during lockdown: finishing my book, working on new song ideas, trying to work on my singing voice, and of course I have been doing a lot of fishing. The trouble is, so has everyone else! Which is great for the sport because people are taking up fishing for the first time, other people are dusting off their rods if they haven’t fished for a while, looking for something to occupy themselves and get out in the fresh air. I’ve been fishing a lovely bit of the Thames, it’s nice and quiet down there so I’ve been doing a lot of fishing even though summer is not the best time to fish for me. I prefer the Autumn and Winter and Spring, but it’s still nice to be out there.

How important do you think fishing is to mental health?
I think fishing is good for your mental health. As I said in the book, it’s like meditation with a punchline, which is a phrase Billy Connolly came up with, which is perfect. When I’m out there, the hours pass, and I’m completely absorbed in the river or the lake. Sometimes I take a book with me but end up not reading it! Even if I’m camping out on the bank for a couple of days, I’m so occupied in just watching the nature – if you get up early in the morning you see badgers going back to their setts or foxes. All this amazing wildlife that you probably wouldn’t see if you were tucked up in bed at home so yes – it’s good for your mental health, and as I said before it’s great to have a balance in your life. If you have a high-stress job, or as most people have, you’ve got to put food on the table, it’s great to get out on a Sunday afternoon and just wet a line and set your mind free.

How else do you like to unwind?
I’m a really keen tennis player. I like to play two or three times a week. That’s for the exercise and also for mental health, as again, you’re out on the court and you’re thinking about just keeping that ball in those white lines! Time flies and I think its very healthy for both mind and body. Other than that, I still love being up in the studio just creating music. I find that very relaxing, and very rewarding as well.

Do you have any other creative outlets as well as your music? If not, what would you like to try?
As far as other creative outlets, I’ve really enjoyed writing the book and it’s something I’d like to get into some more, hopefully - if this one is well-received, which it seems to be, so far. I’d like to explore writing a little bit more. Apart from music, creatively, not really…well my wife’s trying to get me into painting. She’s a very good painter so I might try that, but to be honest, between the music, the fishing and working on the book I really haven’t had much time to do anything else creative, that’s quite enough for me.

Who’s your angling hero?
When I was a kid, of course my dad was my angling hero. He always seemed to catch the big fish and I was intrigued how he did it. I looked up to him. Also, my uncle Stan was a real character and a very good angler. He always used to catch big tench and bream whenever we went out. John Wilson - not being a hero as such - but he was very much an inspiration because after I’d had the break from fishing for 10 years then got back into it, it coincided with his Go Fishing series on TV and it certainly updated me on the modern fishing scene. I was completely out of touch and it inspired me to get out on the river fishing, mainly, for chub. I love chub and programmes about chub fishing, quiver-tipping and so on, so they were my inspirations and heroes.

Do you prefer river, lake or sea fishing, and what appeals to you about each?
Well I love them all, what can I say! I go through periods, I’m going through a river phase at the moment; barbel fascinate me, they’re kind of mysterious and you can never quite predict what they’re going to do. They take some catching and tracking down, so I’m fishing that beautiful part of the Thames and loving it. I love little intimate rivers like the river Colne. I can find myself just walking along the bank, not even fishing, just looking into the water or the mysterious pools, gravel runs underneath overhanging bushes looking for fish, tell-tale signs like tails sticking out. But you can’t beat camping by a lakeside, tench fishing or carp fishing, getting up early in the morning and seeing that mist rise off the lake and watching the world come to life. Watching your tench rolling over as they prepare to feed, and carp crashing up in the mirror-calm surface - it just makes it worthwhile for me. And then you have sea-fishing and the type of sea-fishing I like to do is quite unusual, you go out to the Tropics and there’s vast areas of what you call “flats” (shallow water) and fishing for bone-fish, incredibly powerful fish a bit like a sea version of a barbel. It will come up on the shallows to feed and you try to catch them using a fly-tackle, and it’s very difficult and challenging – very physical, and I really enjoy that too.

Who do you think is your typical reader, if such a person exists? Who would you love to read your book?
Well, obviously fishermen (laughs). I know a lot of carp fishermen and guys of my generation like heavy rock music as well, so I thought they’d probably like it. There’s a lot of fishing stories and anecdotes - stuff that happens around fishing as well as the actual fishing itself. There’s a lot of stuff about music: being in a band, writing songs, touring with Iron Maiden and situations you find yourself in. I’d describe it as a fishing book set against a backdrop of touring and recording with Maiden. So Maiden fans might be interested and I think most people might be curious to find out what it’d be like to be in a band, touring – getting paid for it and having a great time….well, most of the time, there are a few downs in the book as well, which I do go into. There are also some straightforward fishing chapters, there’s two or three going into the captures of exceptionally large fish, especially in the UK which hopefully might appeal to those anglers of a similar mind who like to pursue big fish. Between the writing and the publishing, I’d distanced myself from the book. Now I’ve picked it up again and looked at it, its quite general you know, its not really heavy going as some fishing books are, its not technical, its anecdotal and I like to think its quite funny, an insight into being in a band and an insight into my passion for fishing as well.

Do you often meet Iron Maiden fans when you’re fishing?
Yes, I have met a few Maiden fans over the years when fishing. I remember one time I was in Ireland, going back to where my mother was born, Ballinrobe in County Mayo. There’s a little river there, the river Robe and my dad and I were trout fishing there. It was in the 1980s and a group of kids were following me, they were sort of hiding, they were very shy, but they had The Number of the Beast album and they wanted me to sign it. Eventually they got the courage up to approach me on the river bank and I put my rod down and was signing this album and just at that moment, a couple of nuns appeared, arm in arm, walking up the river bank, and stopped to see what the fuss was about. And one of these nuns picked up The Number of the Beast album – and for people who aren’t familiar with this album cover its Eddie our mascot being puppet-master to the devil, sort of controlling the devil set against a backdrop of fire and brimstone – so when the nun picked this album up I was fully expecting to get told off, but she was a really good sport about it, she thought it was funny and she thought it was really amusing the way these kids were following me around! Stuff like that happens all the time. In fact, I should have put that one in the book, but there’s lots more stories like that in there.

When you’re touring and travelling, how do you find the best places to fish? Do you plan ahead, or do you just hope for the best?
As far as touring, travelling and fishing goes, obviously my music is the priority. But I do take fishing tackle on the road with me and I either store it in the truck with all the guitars and the amps or sometimes I take stuff in my suitcase mixed up with my stage gear. I’ve got rods and reels, telescopic rods in there. You can get a lot of fishing opportunities particularly in America as there’s such a lot of water there. I’ve got friends all over the world that I’ll call in advance and arrange to meet up with them or sometimes I’ll just book a guide for the day like I did in Calgary when I went trout fishing in Canada on the Bow river. I made a short film about that actually, it’s on my Instagram. I made a lot of films on the last tour covering fishing actually on tour. I fish in the Mississippi for carp, in Minneapolis, in California, carping in Chicago, it’s great to get to fish at all these different places. Its quite a challenge, sometimes you don’t know the water very well and you have to work it out on the day, so its quite challenging, and quite fun.

Do you enjoy touring and performing, or do you prefer recording?
I enjoy both. I go through phases, but I think in the 1980s I used to quite enjoy recording because it gave you more control over what you were doing. Our live shows in those days were quite wild and spontaneous, you never knew what was going to happen. But these days, I enjoy both equally, I really do. Having been out of the band then getting the chance to re-join the band I just enjoy every minute, so touring and recording, I love both.

What’s the Iron Maiden performance you will always remember as a stand-out event?
There are shows that you remember for different reasons. I remember going down to Rio to do the first Rock in Rio Festival, and this story is in the book, because it was quite an unusual situation. We were touring up in North America on the East Coast in the winter and then we went down to Rio to the hot sun and back and we all got the flu, we had to cancel shows at Radio City in New York but the actual festival in Rio was just insane. It was chaotic. There were far more people there than there were supposed to be, or they thought were going to turn up, it was a bit of a free-for-all. We managed to do the show and we managed to win the fans over but it was chaos, we couldn’t hear what we were playing, the monitor system was terrible, Bruce kicked all the monitors off the stage (laughs) and he actually injured himself in the process, he was bleeding….the rest of us just got on with it and kept our heads down and did our best. We were opening for Queen on that occasion. I remember coming backstage after doing our show and hearing Queen rehearsing Bohemian Rhapsody in their dressing room, just with the voices so that was amazing. So, things like that, although that wasn’t one of our best shows by any means, but you remember shows for different reasons. Some of the best shows that we’ve done have been at some out of the way places, and some of the shows that have been least satisfying have been really high profile ones where you’re headlining some massive gig and you’ve got all this pressure on you, or your family and friends are there or the record company and its really hard to play in those situations but you do your best. But when the pressure’s off and you’re touring in the provinces and you just go out and everyone’s on form, then you have a great show. It makes it all worthwhile.

Do your family share your love of fishing? Do you like them to join you or are you a solo angler?
My son comes fishing with me sometimes, although I don’t think he’s got a passion for it like I have. My wife will pick up a rod now and again, but she likes to eat the fish she catches. I go into that in the book as well, about the ethics of fishing. The culture in England in coarse fishing is to return the fish to fight another day. You’re catching the fish, but you do – well I do - respect the fish, especially fish like barbel and carp, you try and care for them as best you can. You use barbless hooks, carefully return them back to the water. But when I’m out with the Missus I have a job putting them back! She wants to cook them, which is fair enough, she’s got a different attitude towards it, and that’s why fishing started in the first place – as food. In the Second World War, for working class people food was very scarce and people would eat coarse fish – bream, roach, perch, pike - whatever they could get.

To an outside observer, you’re living the dream! Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
I’ve been very lucky in my life, like I’ve said it’s had incredible ups but there’s been a few downs as well. The 1980s typified that – the real highs and real lows - which I go into in the book, but overall I think I’ve had a very lucky life. I hope it goes on for a bit longer. There’s a few more things I’d like to do. I still go down to the canal fishing, and I plan to go to the Cook Islands to go fishing and to go back to New Zealand. I visited New Zealand a few times on tour and had a little dabble on the side, but I want to go back there and fish it properly as it is an amazing country, very beautiful and the trout fishing is fantastic. My ultimate dream is to live on the water, either on a river or a lake but that’s easier said than done, those places are pretty rare but I’d like to end up there, definitely.

What would your perfect day look like?
Write a hit song in the morning, tennis in the afternoon and barbel fishing in the evening.

What are you reading at the moment?
It’s a Lee Child, Jack Reacher book.

What was your favourite book as a child?
Without a doubt that would be, Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing.

Thank you very much for speaking to us, we wish you every success with the book. 

To find out more about the book, click here.

You can find Adrian on Instagram @misteradriansmith