Here at At The Barrier, we are proud of our Boltonian heritage, and when news reaches us that things are afoot with any of the great Bolton musical acts, our ears prick up immediately. So, it was with great interest that we received the news of a forthcoming album from The Bolton Iron Maiden.
The Bolton Iron Maiden (let’s call them BIM for the purpose of this bulletin) are NOT a tribute band. Originally called Birth, the band formed in Bolton in 1969 and changed their name to Iron Maiden, long before anyone was aware that a band of the same name was, at the same time, starting to make waves on the London club scene.
History records that it was the London based band that had the success, hit the headlines and travelled the world in their own customised Boeing 757 jet, but perhaps it could easily have been the other way round…
Anyway… when rumours and rumblings of new activity from the Bolton band’s camp started to emerge in the early noughties, it was decided that the addition of “Bolton” to the band’s name would be a wise precaution.
BIM existed as a gigging band from 1970 to 1976. For most of its life the band’s line-up was Ian Boulton Smith (better known as “Beak”) on lead guitar, Derek Austin on bass and backing vocals and Paul O’Neill on drums and lead vocals.
Through hard work, a wealth of talent, an uncanny ability to interpret and enhance the popular songs of the “underground” (as we called it then) and outstanding compositional talents, they quickly established themselves as Bolton’s top rock attraction, before going on to establish an enviable reputation across the north of England, with particular pockets of support in such rock bastions as Wigan, Carlisle, Heywood, Middleton and Hebden Bridge as well as in lesser spots like Manchester and Liverpool.
Their music was straight-ahead rock, played with an irresistible competence and swagger. A typical setlist comprised eclectic covers of songs such as The Groundhogs’ Cherry Red, Glass Menagerie’s Do You Ever Think (the usual set opener), Mountain’s Mississippi Queen, Spirit’s Fresh Garbage and Mott’s Thunderbuck Ram.
These were all interspersed with original band compositions including Cracked Path (which, arguably, became the band’s signature tune,) Crawl Crawl Night-time (a fascinating song about Paul’s insomnia,) Cell debris, Red sky, I’m to Blame and the epic The Naughtiest Girl is Alive and Well – an Enid Blyton-inspired ditty during which Derek and Paul left the stage and allowed Beak to take a deep dive into his guitar gymnastics.
In 1974, following a suggestion from Derek, BIM launched a side project, a rock and roll revival act that they named Teenagers in Love. They found that there was a huge market for such a band, particularly in the social and working men’s’ clubs of Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands and, slowly but surely, Teenagers started to take priority over BIM.
Later in 1974, Derek took the decision to leave the band and was replaced on bass by Noel Pemberton-Billing and, for a while, both BIM and Teenagers continued to develop. Tragically, in 1975, Beak was diagnosed with testicular cancer and shortly after his diagnosis, BIM played its last gig at the Seven Stars Inn in Heywood, Lancashire. In 1975, treatment of any kind of cancer was a hit-and-miss affair and, devastatingly, Beak passed away in June 1976.
And there The Bolton Iron Maiden story might have ended but for the determination of Paul O’Neill.
Beak’s death was a tremendous shock to all who had the privilege of knowing him. He was a shy and gentle character, a fantastic, creative guitarist and possessed of an infectious sense of humour and a cart-horse’s capacity for beer. His passing was the first encounter that most of us had had with mortality and Paul and Derek, as his closest friends, were particularly affected.
It was Beak’s memory that motivated Paul in 2005 not only to set up a website dedicated to BIM (and the successful Iron Maiden have generously provided a link to the BIM site on their own website) but to collate the 1972 demo tapes, along with a number of live recordings and to release them on two CDs – Maiden Flight and Boulton Rides Again via Perfect Pitch Recording Services.
Both albums are available from The Bolton Iron Maiden (here) as is the band’s single, Cracked Path b/w Red Sky. Proceeds from the sale of the albums and the single go to Cancer Research and Macmillan Cancer Support, in memory of Beak.
Incidentally, the “live” recordings that form most of Maiden Flight and all of Boulton Rides Again were recorded by the band’s Superfan, Sag (he was Bez whilst Bez was still in nappies!).
Sadly, Sag too was to succumb to the scourge of cancer and he passed away, at home, in August 2017. He’ll never be forgotten.
But The Bolton Iron Maiden Wagon continues to roll…
During April and May 2018, Paul got together with whizz-kid engineer Toby Hulbert to put together an all-new BIM album, to be titled Puppet Master – The Rise and Fall of Slick Dandy.
Actually, as neither Derek nor Noel were available to contribute during the recording, Paul has taken the decision to credit the album to Paul TJ O’Neill of the Bolton Iron Maiden (quite a mouthful!) but, if the rest of the album’s tracks match up to Gone Are The Days, a song that Paul previewed on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire in January of this year, expect a BIM-laced treat!
Mixing of the album took place at the infamous Abbey Road Studios (where Paul just happened to “bump into” a guy called Nile Rodgers (you might have heard of him…) Completion of the finishing touches has suffered some delay, not least because of the COVID pandemic, but, happily, things are now almost complete and Paul tells us that he is targeting a release date during October 2020.
Stay tuned for an interview with Paul O’Neill coming later this week, and check out Cracked Path below. You can connect with the band through their website and social links, below.