The Bolton Iron Maiden: 1970-76 & Today

Paul O'Neill of The Bolton Iron Maiden: Interview – At The Barrier

As pointed out in a previous article, long before Steve Harris formed Iron Maiden in England, there were other bands who had used the name, most notably a band from Bolton, in northern England, who existed from 1970 to ’76. The trio featured Ian Boulton-Smith [guitar], Derek George Austin [bass, backing vocals] and Paul T.J. O’Neill [drums, lead vocals, keyboards…]. Noel Pemberton Billing would later replace Boulton-Smith, who would return later as well. Although the band would go through a few other changes those were the 4 members who would be captured on cassette live and on tape in the band’s lone studio recording of 4 tracks. Ian Bouton-Smith [aka Beak] passed away June 23rd, 1976 of testicular cancer, and thus this Iron Maiden came to an end. Ironically, Steve Harris’ band was just getting off the ground, and I believe I read that it was Beak who informed Harris that another band was already using the name! Fast forward 30 years, and Paul T.J. O’Neill wanted to honor Beak’s passing and decides to compile a CD of the band’s recording – 4 taken from their only studio venture and a number of live tracks salvaged from a fans’ cassettes at the time. Proceeds of this 12 track CD are also donated to Macmillan Cancer Relief and Cancer Research UK in the guitarist’s name.

Maiden Flight was released in 2005 under the name The Bolton Iron Maiden, as Paul O’Neill had reached out to the world famous band’s manager Rod Smallwood, who not only suggested adding the Bolton to the name [for clarification and legalities], but also threw his support behind the release by having it mentioned on the band’s website and in their news. The Iron Maiden Bolton were a good band back in the day, and judging from the 4 proper studio tracks alone, it’s a shame they never got signed and had some of these songs put out in the day. Citing the likes of Zeppelin, Cream, and Free as influences back then, it is pretty spot on as far where to put this band — a solid blues-based hard rock band. The first of the studio 4 is “Cracked Path”, a song about addiction, and it is a definite Zeppelin early type of rocker, would’ve made a neat single! “Crawl Crawl Night-time” is a longer rocker, lyrically penned about O’Neill’s insomnia. You may recognize the riff, as it is pretty much “Hocus Pocus” by Focus; the Dutch band had recorded their hit classic not too long before this, and the similarity caused the band a bit of stress [an interesting story at their website]. But aside from the Hocus Pocus riff, this is really a stand out track here, love the lead guitar and fills. “Cell Debris” is a tale of man who’s wife has passed and he stands at her grave, reflects on his past and awaits his own end. A pretty interesting and chilling tune, musically reminds me of Cream in places. “Red Sky” is the last of the studio tracks, and it’s a rocker about a time traveler. An interesting theme [time travel], as many of the band’s songs would be based around sci-fi topics, and the time traveler would idea would be the basis for the 2020 album Puppet Master : the Rise and Rise of Slick Dandy. The rest of the originals are well worth hearing, though the sound is not great, and Paul O’Neill would overdub the vocals.

There is plenty of good original songs here performed live and one can only imagine that the likes of “A New Place Of My Own” and “The Naughtiest Girl Is Alive And Well” – which features a lengthy guitar solo [and a nod to Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”] that this Iron Maiden could’ve delivered a pretty decent album in the early ’70s, perhaps one of those odd rarities we’d all be paying stupid prices for!? Last of the live tracks is the band’s signature song “Maiden Flight”, another based on time travel, and this containing a good bit of jamming, clocking in at over 12 minutes. *Gotta say also, great detail put in to the CD packaging, filled with stories and notes about the songs and times, and a few pics!

A 2nd CD of live tracks was issued in 2007 titled Boulton Flies Again : The Covers [the spelling of Boulton after the band’s guitarist Ian Boulton Smith]. It consists of 11 songs featured in the band’s set, and were [again] saved from a fan’s cassette recordings at the time. The sound is not great, but again – very good for an audience recording of the time, and you can get a good listen and feel for how the band was then. It’s an interesting blast back to the early 70s pub scene, with a band that was still trying to make it, playing plenty of others’ material. Funny thing is Bolton Iron Maiden didn’t play a predictable batch of hits, but some pretty cool gems from other bands who weren’t too far in to their careers, notably they played “Black Cloud” by Trapeze, Spirit’s “Fresh Garbage”, Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen”, Free’s “All Right Now”, The Groundhogs’ “Cherry Red”, and the early Mott The Hoople classic “Thunderbuck Ram”, in which Beak does a fine job covering brilliant Mick Ralph’s guitar work . Heck, I am glad to hear this CD being a fan of ’70s rock [and born too late to be there then], so I am finding a few gems I want to hear more of.

In 2018 Paul O’Neill decided to resurrect the Bolton Iron Maiden name again with a concept album about – time travel, as it was the basis for the band’s “Maiden Flight”. The album and story included within the CD titled Puppet Master: The Rise And Rise Of Slick Dandy tell the tale of a 50 year old musician named Norman Normal who’s wishes are answered when the Time Traveler takes him back 30 years, introducing him to an agent, who then introduces him to the ‘Sven Gali to the stars’ who has Norman change his name, becomes a huge star, but in time falls in love, loses the girl, and wants another chance to go back and not lose her. It is quite a unique and detailed stories, with a number of characters and great ending. But it is the story one will enjoy along with the music and the booklet [detailing the characters and tales]. As such, this album is quite varied in musical styles, and theatrical. There are 17 tracks, though some of them are short pieces relevant to telling the story. So you get some excellent rockin’ tracks [closer to the old Iron Maiden sound], and you get more theatrical pieces / ballads, as well as a bit of spoken word where required. Among favorite cuts are the upbeat rocker “Menamong Men”, “Rock n Roll Star” and “Gone Are The Days”. There’s also the excellent “Slick Dandy” [the main character], it’s a pop rock song that builds up heavier – it reminds me of The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads To Another”, and it features Don Airey [this guy is everywhere] on Moog synthesizer, There’s a few fine ballads in “Time Traveler” [the opener], “Old Sad Clown”, and “Who Pulls The Strings” – which has a very David Gilmour feel to it musically, and in Paul’s vocal.

The Rise And Rise Of Slick Dandy is a very detailed album, and once you sit down to ‘get’ the story, it is quite unique, and the music suits it so well. As mentioned there are some excellent individual pieces, but it’s more worth hearing the whole thing. O’Neill unfortunately could use a few former bandmates due to travel issues, but all are mentioned in some way in the detailed liner notes. He does use guitarists Rob Harris and Martin Low, as well as bass players Garry Cutress and Brian Ralph, his daughters on backing vox, and guests Nick Hill [trumpet] and Brian Sage [sax]. All mixed at the legendary Abbey Road Studios!

*Aside from this latest project Paul O’Neill also released a solo album in 2009 titled Totally Swept Away, which features 10 tracks – which are all stories based on Sea adventures / legends, with titles like “Pirates”, “The Mayflower – Hearts Of Oak”, “The Loss Of The Birkenhead”, and “The Captain Is Mad”. Musically more adult contemporary, progressive, pop, well produced… if I dare say this reminds me a bit of Phil Lanzon’s [Uriah Heep] solo albums and even Jethro Tull on occasion. Love the cover art!

*And just to be clear this Iron Maiden [from Bolton] existed before Steve Harris’ band, but there was no connection, though it would be interesting to hear the world famous metal band covering “Cracked Path” or “Maiden Flight”. Nor is this band to be confused with the Iron Maiden from Basildon, UK, who existed from the mid ’60s til mid 1970 and released a single that year. They too released a CD of recordings several years later titled Maiden Voyage.

*all images borrowed from CD cover and the band’s website. + CD promo poster courtesy of PO!

Links / Ordering / More info:

The Bolton Iron Maiden

(20+) The Bolton Iron Maiden | Facebook

Paul TJ O’Neill of The Bolton Iron Maiden – Puppet Master: The Rise And Rise Of Slick Dandy: Album Review – At The Barrier

One to Watch: The Bolton Iron Maiden | The Bolton News

KJ, 07 / ’21

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