Nicko McBrain: loves snooker
Is the Number of the Beast actually 147? Nicko McBrain, the drummer in legendary band Iron Maiden, has a lifelong passion for snooker and was at the Crucible for the final of the Dafabet World Championship.
With 90 million records sold and over 2,000 live gigs behind them, Iron Maiden have been the pioneering force of heavy metal since 1975, their most famous tracks including Number of the Beast, Run to the Hills and Fear of The Dark. Nicko has been with the band since 1982 and is widely recognised as one of the most gifted and innovative drummers of his generation.
But his love of snooker has run alongside his love of music. And a chance meeting in a London chippy with two green baize legends earlier this year helped rock star Nicko fulfil two of his snooker ambitions: to own a full size table and attend the final of the sport’s biggest tournament.
“This is a cool story,” laughs the 61-year-old, who was born and bred in London but now lives in Florida. “Before last Christmas, my wife and I were talking about snooker. She’s an American lass but she’s pretty good on the table herself. We decided that we would build a snooker room in our house.
“In January I needed to make a trip home from the US to see my mate who was in a hospice. It was at the time of the Masters being played at Ally Pally in north London. So it was a Monday evening and my son and I went out to my favourite fish and chip shop in the whole world, Toffs in Muswell Hill.
“We’re sitting there, and over in the corner is Ken Doherty and John Virgo. So I said to my boy ‘cor blimey Nick, that’s two snooker legends sitting over there, I must go have a word with them about getting a table for my snooker room.’ Nick tried to talk me out of it because fans sometimes come up to me in restaurants while I’m eating. But I decided once they had finished their dinner I would go and introduce myself.
“Straight off, Ken burst in to a rendition of Run to the Hills, and his voice wasn’t too shabby. It was the beginning of a firm friendship. Ken helped me find a table for a snooker room, which is fantastic. The only problem is the pockets are too small! And I decided to come to the final at the Crucible for the first time this year, to see Ken and watch the match I had always dreamed of seeing live.”
At the age of ten, Nicko was creating rhythms in his parents’ kitchen, hitting pots and pans with a large wooden spoon. He had his first drum kit by the age of 12, and had soon joined is school band to play Rolling Stones and Beatles covers. Within two years he was playing in pubs and at weddings across London.
His parents were determined that he should finish his education, and Nicko obliged, gaining a degree in engineering. But his passion for music was insurmountable. He played with bands including Streetwalkers, Pat Travers, and Trust, and during a 1981 tour with the last of that trio he met Iron Maiden. Guitarist Adrian Smith recognised what he later described as Nicko’s “tremendous technique” and persuaded him to join the band, replacing previous drummer Clive Burr. “A lot of stuff we did after Nicko joined was founded on his playing,” said Smith. Bass player Steve Harris paid Nicko a further compliment when he said: “Drummers from other bands sit round the back of him to see what he’s doing.” His skills are laid bare in an instructional drum video he released in 1991, called Rhythms of the Beast.
Iron Maiden went from strength to strength throughout the 1980s, enjoying a long series of gold and platinum selling albums. Singer Bruce Dickinson left the band for several years during the 1990s, but since his return they have reached new levels of global popularity. In 2010 they released The Final Frontier, their 15th and most recent studio album, which topped their charts in 28 countries and received critical acclaim. They are touring Europe this summer, starting in Barcelona in May and finishing at Knebworth in July.
Nicko has been an integral part of Iron Maiden’s success throughout, enjoying worldwide celebrity and success.
But he has never lost touch with his roots, nor his love of snooker which dates back to the 1960s.
“I first got into it when I was a young boy, my dad and uncle used to play at Wood Green Snooker Club,” he said. “I loved the vibe there. My dad would take me in on a Saturday afternoon and the manager was ok to let me in even though there was an age restriction. I loved the immensity of this big dark room, with 14 tables lit from above, a bar and fruit machine in one corner. I thought that was so cool.
“That was 50 years ago and I have been into snooker ever since. What I like about the game is the effort that it takes, the concentration and then the feeling you get when you make a solid connection and your object ball disappears off the table leaving you in that perfect position for the next shot. Then the fun begins as you try to repeat it,” said Nicko, whose top break is 39.
“When I’m in London or on tour in Europe and snooker is on the TV I’ll always try to watch as much as I can. My favourite players down the ages are Steve Davis, Hurricane Higgins, Jimmy White, Ken Doherty, Stephen Hendry, Cliff Thorburn and the most amazing Ronnie O Sullivan. In the USA, snooker is not popular so I can’t watch it on TV, but maybe that will change one day.
“I know Ronnie Wood loves snooker and is often at tournaments watching Jimmy White or Ronnie O’Sullivan. The Rolling Stones take a table on tour with them, but we’ve never done that. Adrian Smith is a wonderful player and he would like that. Bruce Dickinson and the other guys all like to play pool, so you never know!”
Nicko’s main hobby aside from snooker is golf and he is a regular figure on the fairways around the Sunshine State. The father-of-two also owns a renowned restaurant in Coral Springs called Rock n Roll Ribs.
In his professional life, he spends much of his time touring from one country to another playing concerts, so he can empathise with snooker players who travel the globe with cue in hand.
“That can be very trying and it takes a strong mindset to deal with all the pressure that comes from getting to the gig,” he said. “There’s the travel, dealing with jet lag, sleeping in a different city and a different bed, missing the family and our loved ones that we leave behind.
“But you can’t beat the thrill of playing live. The top players must get very similar nerves before walking out into the arena. You know you are going out there to perform to your best. There are six of us on a big stage with a lot of room and a lot of noise, whereas the lonely snooker player is in a much smaller space going head to head with just one other guy, and it is usually very quiet. Unless you’re at a Ronnie O’Sullivan match when the crowd get a bit rowdy.”