To all but the most hardcore Iron Maiden fans — and admittedly, there are many — Clive Burr is a name that probably hasn’t been heard a lot in the past few decades. Burr, who died yesterday at age 56, departed Iron Maiden at the end of their 1982 supporting tour for The Number of the Beast.
Fans know well what happened to the band after that. They quickly replaced Burr with Nicko McBrain and proceeded to claim their spot as one of the most successful heavy metal bands of the 1980s and beyond.
Burr, meanwhile, bounced in and out of several bands in the ensuing years. Some tours, and album here and there, but not much else. Just staying in the business, another face in the crowd of musicians doing what they love most for little money and even less public attention.
And then in the late ’80s, the symptoms started. Tingling in his hands at first developed into an inability to hold his drumsticks, the tools of his trade. The diagnosis came in 1994: primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). It’s the disease that ended Burr’s career and eventually confined him to a wheelchair until his death.
In the face of crushing medical debt, Burr’s old bandmates stepped up and established the Clive Burr Multiple Sclerosis Trust Fund in early 2002. The fund allowed Clive to keep his house, travel to receive medical attention, and maintain as good a quality of life as possible.
Of course, a biography is not really a person’s life is it? It can tell you the facts of a person’s time in the world but not really convey the truth. And the truth is that Burr is a key piece of heavy metal history. His playing on those first three Iron Maiden records (but Killers and The Number of the Beast in particular) is required listening for metal fans. While he may not have had the thunderous power of Nicko McBrain, he had a rhythmic sense and subtlety to his drumming that I sorely miss in the group’s records from 1983 on.
I have a hard enough time putting music into words; drumming doubly so. All I can say is that if you listen to those early Maiden records, there’s a certain groove in those songs. They’re metal, no doubt, but there’s an extra rhythmic element that has to be Burr entirely. It’s the type of sound heard much more in great ’70s bands like Thin Lizzy than in more commercially successful metal/hard rock outfits of the ’80s.
What I’m trying to say is this — Burr deserves a huge amount of credit for the sound and success of those first three Iron Maiden records. He is, to me, the best drummer the band has ever had and now that he’s gone, I miss him even more.
But maybe the music should do the talking. Check out any of those LPs or the wealth of live material available on YouTube. Here’s a great show from 1981 that shows what I mean. Thanks for the great music and great memories, Clive. Up the Irons, mate!