SanktuariuM - Polski Fan Klub Iron Maiden

Janick Gers

iron Maiden - Janick gersHe's that blur of hair and white Stratocaster that you first see buzzing round the top right hand corner of the stage. That madly whirling dervish who can't possibly be doing that and turning out those finely wrought guitar lines - can he?

Yes, welcome to the totally wired world of Janick Gers - Iron Maiden's most over the top guitarist ever. Some accomplishment, given the contenders - not least Dave Murray himself, who became re-energised when Janick first joined the band as Adrian Smith's replacement, back in 1990.

"Adrian and Janick are two completely different kinds of players," explains Dave, who's been there since day one. "Adrian would have everything worked out before he went on, while Janick never prepares anything, he just goes with the flow. And he never stops moving. That's something else that was different to Adrian, who used to stand fairly still by comparison. But then, almost everybody looks like they're standing still next to Janick!"

Janick Robert Gers was born in Hartlepool on January 27, 1957. His father had been in the Polish Navy, but settled in England after meeting his mother. (He later joined the British Royal Navy.) Swimming, football and music - "in that order" - were Janick's chief interests as a kid. It wasn't until he was in his teens that he began to take a serious interest in the guitar.

"I started out wanting be John Lennon, then, once I got into the guitar properly, I decided Id rather be Ritchie Blackmore," he smiles. He was 18 when he bought his first white Gibson Fender Stratocaster, a guitar he still uses now. "I got it second-hand from a guy in Darlington for two hundred quid and I remember thinking, 'Wow, this is fucking it!'"

It was 1970 and his favourite bands were Deep Purple, Rory Gallagher, and T-Rex. Later he "became transfixed" by Led Zeppelin, but it was always Ritchie Blackmore's playing that "really did it for me. I thought, if I could be just a tenth as good as that, I could die happy."

His first serious band was a local Hartlepool outfit called White Spirit, who he joined in 1975. Steeped in the music of Purple, Zeppelin and Rush, a single, 'Back To The Grind', was released on the independent label, Neat Records, in 1978.

"It was a big deal for us up in the North East, but it meant nothing anywhere else. I was just happy to have a record out with my playing on it. But we were all still on the dole."

Later signed to a major deal by MCA, their debut album, 'White Spirit', was released, ironically, the same year, 1980, that Maiden released their self-titled debut. But while Maiden - at the forefront of the then burgeoning New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene - watched their album soar into the UK charts at No.4, White Spirit was not nearly so well known, and their album fared considerably less well.

"That whole NWOBHM thing passed us by, really" Janick admits. "We all used to moan that we didn't get enough attention from the media. But the truth is, Maiden simply made the better record. I can see that now." But it wasn't all gloom. When White Spirit supported Gillan on tour that year, Janick got to meet one of his life-long heroes, former Purple singer, Ian Gillan.

"It was like getting to meet Father Christmas when you're a kid!" he laughs. When, just a few months later, he was invited to actually join Gillan, he was, he says, "absolutely gobsmacked!" A short-lived but highly productive period, in which Janick played on two of Gillan's finest albums, the live 'Double Trouble', a Top 10 hit in the UK, in 1981, and 'Magic', another Top 10 entry in 1982, when Gillan decided after that to break up the band, Janick was philosophical.

"I was disappointed but I thought, well, this gives me the chance to do something different." Having played in bands all his adult life, he took the unusual step of enrolling in college, where he took a course in Humanities. "While I was waiting for something else to come along, I thought I might as well do something useful," he explains simply. There had been talk, in 1986, of joining forces with former Twisted Sister singer Dee Snider, then some discussion about forming a band with ex-Maiden members, vocalist Paul Di'Anno and drummer Clive Burr, in the ludicrously named Gog Magog, which was also to have included ex-Def Leppard guitarist Pete Willis and former Whitesnake bassist Neil Murray. But nothing came of it and it was a guest appearance with Marillion at Wembley Arena, for the Prince's Trust, in 1988, that proved to be the catalyst that would finally seal his fate.

Also on the bill that night was vocalist Bruce Dickinson, then still in Maiden. And when Bruce began work on his first solo album, 'Tattooed Millionaire', in 1990, it was to Janick he turned for help after being blown away by Marillion singer Fish's first solo album, 'Vigil In The Wilderness Of Mirrors', on which Janick co-wrote 'View From The Hill', one of the album's most affecting tracks.

"I'd known Bruce since he was in Samson," Janick recalls. "He wanted to do something outside Maiden and I fitted the bill. Then when he called me up one day and asked if I'd rehearse some Maiden numbers, I was surprised. I said, 'What for?' He said, 'Adrian's left the band and we need somebody to fill in. Are you interested?' I was so flabbergasted, I didn't know what to say!"

Although Janick joined too late to take part in much of the writing for the 'No Prayer For The Dying' album, he did have one song on there that would become one of their most notorious songs ever, the delightfully disrespectful, 'Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter'.

"Bruce had this song that sounded a bit AC/DC-ish," Janick recalls. "And I said, 'Nah, it wants to be more like this...' So I put the chords in and then we re-did the chorus. It was great, so simple. And that was 'Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter'."

Originally conceived for the soundtrack of the movie, Nightmare On Elm Street - Part Five, the first time Steve Harris heard it, he says, "I said to Bruce, 'Look, this is too good to be lost on some movie soundtrack, let's do it in Maiden!" Which they duly did. Released as the second single from the 'No Prayer...' album, in January 1991, 'Bring Your Daughter...' rocketed straight to the top of the UK charts, where it stayed for three gloriously non-PC weeks, becoming Maiden first ever UK No.1 single.

Quite a start to his career. And he's been going from strength to strength ever since, as anyone will know who has witnessed more recent Janick-derived works like 'Lord Of The Flies' and 'The Unbeliever' - which he co-wrote with Steve on 1994's 'The X Factor' - or the beautifully poignant 'Como Estais Amigos' (rough translation: 'How Are You My Friends') - which he co-wrote with vocalist Blaze on last year's 'Virtual XI'.

The secret, he says, is not to have any secrets. "Just be yourself, that's my only advice." It's certainly worked for Janick.

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