Nicko McBrain

Michael Henry “Nicko” McBrain (born 5 June 1952) is an English musician, best known as the drummer for Iron Maiden, which he joined in 1982. Prior to joining Iron Maiden, McBrain drummed for Pat Travers from 1976 to 1978, as well as the French political punk band Trust. His first formal band was The Streetwalkers, a blues band. The nickname ‘Nicko’ originated from when the keyboard player Billy Day introduced him as “My Italian drummer, his name’s ‘Nicko'”. McBrain himself states that as a child he had a stuffed animal (bear) named “Nicholas” that he always carried with him so much so that his parents began calling him Nicky also.[1]

McBrain is frequently included in top drummer league tables and rankings as a result of his very influential and skillful performances in studio and on stage. Recently, he has been ranked at No. 18 in Rhythm Magazine’s 50 Greatest Drummers Of All Time.[2]

McBrain is known for his affable joking personality, eagerness for interviews and public appearances.

NICKO MCBRAIN as known by Steve Harris

 With a character like Nicko, you never forget the first time you meet him! We were playing our first ever show abroad in Belgium and he was playing in a band called McKitty when I first saw him. He was sitting outside a café, dressed in a white suit, panama hat and winklepicker shoes. I thought he was a pimp or something from the way he was dressed! Larger than life, as he always has been and always will be, he had obviously had a couple of drinks and was chatting off, and I thought, ‘Wow, who is this character?’ It was quite an amazing experience to meet him and it still is really, he’s just a whirlwind. I suppose he’s calmed down a little bit over the years, but not a lot – but you wouldn’t really want him to.

He was with Trust when they supported us in ‘82 and we thought he was a fantastic drummer, so when Clive left the band, we approached Nick and asked if he’d like to try out and it worked fantastically.

It’s hard to describe what he’s like if you haven’t met him. I know people see him on the videos and that, and they think he’s crazy – and he is! But there’s a lot more to him than that. He flies planes and does all sorts of other things. He’s a more complex guy than you might think. He’s just really good fun to have around. I’m a bit on the shy side, so when we go out to meet people, I usually take him with me, because he’s a laugh and he’s got so much verbal, he takes the pressure off me. I just have to stand smiling in the background!

He is without a doubt the entertainer of the band. I really do think he could be a stand-up comedian if he wanted to. He half does that when he does his drum clinics. He tells these little stories and comes out with all these jokes. Often they’re in Spain or Italy or somewhere like that, and half the time, I’m sure the audience don’t really understand him, but he’s laughing at his own jokes anyway, so they laugh along with him! It really is a sight to behold, so I would recommend anyone to see his drum clinics, whether they’re into drums or not.

Technically, he’s a great drummer and he can play all kinds of music. Drummers from other bands sit round the back of him to see what he’s doing, but he’s got his kit set so he doesn’t even look at what he’s hitting half the time. He just puts his head down and plays.

He’s got his first songwriting credit with Maiden on ‘Dance Of Death’ with ‘New Frontier’. About time – he’s only been in the band 20 years! But the first one is probably the hardest to bring in to the other band members, especially when you’ve been in the band so long, and he’s up and running now, so I think it will give him the confidence to write stuff in future. Any variation in writing is a good thing and everyone is encouraged to write in this band; the only criteria is that it’s got to be bloody good!

Biography

In response to questions from Maiden fans, McBrain highlighted that it was ‘not a coincidence’ that Piece of Mind had many references to brains and minds, after he, with the surname McBrain, had recently joined the band.

McBrain has stated on recordings for the Paiste website while promoting his signature drum sticks, that he first wanted to learn drums at a young age after watching a performance of Joe Morello, which immediately led him to play drums with kitchen utensils and pots, to the dislike of his father. He then got his first drumkit and started taking drum lessons from John Ghanem. After studying engineering at City & Guilds (which his father had wanted him to complete), he was able to pursue drumming at a professional level.

Drumming style

McBrain’s drumming is an important element of the Iron Maiden sound from 1983’s Piece of Mind on. As described in detail on the band’s 2008 ‘Live After Death DVD’, the opening track of “Where Eagles Dare” famously displays McBrain’s ability to use the single drum pedal very quickly, plus his rapid tom fills. This song has since been explained in the drummer’s numerous clinics, and is considered very complex and masterful. Nicko is often considered among the best and most influential heavy metal drummers.

On this same video documentary, McBrain’s drum technician notes that, on the World Slavery Tour, drummers such as Tommy Lee called McBrain an ‘octopus’ after witnessing the way in which the drummer’s stamina gives him the ability to use all of his signature large drum kit in shows.

McBrain often employs the back end of his left hand drum stick to get more aggressive sound of the snare drum. He is able to play a variety of styles, with time signatures such as the 7/8 riff which follows the second chorus of “Alexander the Great”. The 7/4 riff on the song “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns” and the 14/8 riff that follows the second chorus on the song “The Longest Day” are other examples of his versatility. He is known not to use a double bass pedal (in 2008’s Live After Death DVD, Bruce Dickinson says that Nicko considered double pedals as ‘undrummerish’). Instead, he prefers to employ a fast, bare foot technique using a single pedal, as seen in the Flight 666 video on “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (Part 1)” at the 5:18 mark, and emphasized in the song “The Evil That Men Do”.It is for these reasons that Steve Harris remarked that “…he can play all kinds of music. Drummers from other bands sit round the back of him to see what he’s doing, but he’s got his kit set so he doesn’t even look at what he’s hitting half the time” After McBrain joined the band in 1982, Harris also noted how much easier playing with McBrain was for a songwriter.

His drum kit’s array is notoriously high, almost completely concealing him when playing live. This display allows bigger drums and cymbals to be placed within reach; he also places the snare drum higher and closer to the rest of the drumset, facing towards him; this allows him to have the bass drum closer to the hi-hat, giving him a more relaxed sitting posture.

Equipment

McBrain currently uses Premier drums and Paiste cymbals. Previously he had been endorsed by Sonor drums and switched to Premier in the early 1990s when Sonor were sold. For A Matter of Life and Death he used his Ludwig metal shell LM 402 snare drum which was purchased in 1975, making it the oldest drum in his kit. Nicko has been a long-time user of the Ludwig Speed King pedal, but since the middle of the ’90s he uses a 1993 DW 5000 Turbo Single Chain and a newer DW 5000 Hi-hat stand. He endorses Vic Firth signature drum sticks, also using them for his own drumming.

Nicko McBrain
Background information
Birth name Michael Henry McBrain
Born 5 June 1952 (age 59)
Hackney, London, England
Genres Heavy metal, blues rock, progressive rock, hard rock
Occupations Musician
Instruments Drums, percussion
Years active 1975–present
Associated acts Iron Maiden, Pat Travers, Streetwalkers, Trust, The Entire Population of Hackney

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