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Up Close with Musician and Beer Man Bruce Dickinson

In the world of beer, it’s not uncommon to find folks from all backgrounds who are on their second or third careers. But few people can lay claim to as many titles as Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson: singer, songwriter, musician, author, broadcaster, fencer, entrepreneur and airline pilot, among others.

Though The Beer Connoisseur has covered Dickinson before, we’ve primarily focused on his foray into the craft beverage market with TROOPER, a brand of Iron Maiden-approved beers that Dickinson has personally helped craft alongside the team at Robinsons Brewery in the U.K.

This time, we will focus more on the man himself, and how his earlier days (which also include beer) shaped him into the hybrid rock star, business mogul and all-around polymath he has become.

For Dickinson, born Aug. 7, 1958, to working-class parents and initially raised by his grandparents, musical interest fomented in toddlerdom. An early memory consists of dancing to Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” in his grandparents’ foyer. His first record came not too much later courtesy of The Beatles “She Loves You," which Dickinson credits with furthering his interest in music.

At age 13, Dickinson was enrolled in Oundle, a public boarding school, where he felt like an outsider. During this time, he focused his energies on military endeavors – co-founding a student war games society and rising to an elevated rank in the school's cadet force. These martial interests would later make themselves evident in Iron Maiden’s lyrical content and musical stylings.

It was during this period of his life that Dickinson first became acquainted with quality beer. In his words: “I was brought up on beer because I went to school in the countryside. We had loads of great beers in Northamptonshire, back when they still made it in wooden casks ‒ gravity fed, low carbonation, but the flavor was aromatic. It tasted of flowers, or nuts, but it was a subtle mix of flavors.” Today, in contrast, “There are some people doing some undrinkable beers because they're just trying to overamp the flavors in beers by squirting flavor in there,” he says. “Beer is an organic, living entity. You've gotta keep it happy.”

Dickinson was also a commercial pilot for former airline Astraeus, and he also pilots Iron Maiden's tour plane "Ed Force One."

While Dickinson was building a palate for subtle ales during his time at Oundle, he also had his first taste of hard rock: Deep Purple’s “Child in Time.” He purchased their album, which in turn led him to Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Dickinson’s rock preferences were further shaped by end-of-term performances at the school, the first of which was a band called Wild Turkey, featuring former Jethro Tull bassist Glenn Cornick.

After trying guitar at a young age, Dickinson experimented with bongos, performing “Let It Be” with his friend Mike Jordan at Oundle, where he discovered his operatic singing voice while encouraging Jordan to belt the high notes.

In true rock fashion, Dickinson’s time at the school ended in expulsion for a delightful prank involving his headmaster’s dinner. He next landed at King Edward VII School, where he joined his first band, “Paradox” and performed his first show at a tavern. The band made headlines when a steel worker ‒ who was not a fan of the sound ‒ groggily tried to smash the band's drum kit.

Upon graduation, Dickinson entered a period familiar to many of us: "I didn't really know what I wanted to do," he said of that period of his life. After six months in the Territorial Army, he applied to study history at Queen Mary College in London. Almost immediately upon enrolling, Dickinson found himself immersed in the arts and entertainment.

He joined the school's Entertainments Committee, where "one day you'd be a roadie for The Jam, the next you'd be putting up the Stonehenge backdrop for Hawkwind or whatever."

Dickinson founded or joined multiple bands during this time, each of which brought him one step closer to Iron Maiden. With his band Speed (named for their preferred tempo), he began writing his own material. Then followed Shots, with which Dickinson recorded his first studio track, and gave him valuable experience learning the art of crowd interaction as a frontman.

Portentously, the next step in his music career came in a pub called The Prince of Wales in Gravesend, Kent. Impressed with Dickinson's act, members of the band Samson invited him to join, which he agreed to upon his graduation, requiring him to finish six month of school essays in a fortnight.

Dickinson would perform with Samson from 1979 to 1981, a period during which he first saw Iron Maiden play – funnily enough – in support of Samson.

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