You'd never know it from the way he throws himself around on stage, or from the way he makes his Gibson SG scream and bend to his will, but Dave Murray is actually the quietest, most unassuming rock star you could ever hope to meet. Indeed, the mile-wide smile apart, off stage, he is almost unrecognisable from the blonde-haired rock god we get to see on stage with Iron Maiden.
"Oh, well, you can't walk down the street throwing shapes like you do on stage," he says with one those dazzling and frequent smiles. "I mean, you'd just look silly!"
But it goes deeper than that. Along with the warmth and generosity and the general down-to-earth-ness, not to mention the musical talent, Dave Murray possesses a quality so rare in rock star circles as to be almost non-existent: humbleness.
"It's my upbringing," he shrugs, not wanting to make a big thing of it. "When you start out with nothing, you don't expect much from life. For all this to happen to me - well, it's like a dream, really," he says, pausing to gaze, as if for the first time, at the gold records that adorn every wall in the office where we sit.
David Michael Murray was born, of mixed Scots and Irish descent, in Edmunton, London, on December 23, 1956. Like Steve Harris, who had been born the same year just a few miles up the road, as a boy Dave was a fanatical football player and fan, as well as a keen cricketer. But his family was poor - his father was disabled and his mother worked part- time as a cleaner - and the family never settled anywhere long enough for Dave to establish himself in any of the schools' teams he could have played for. By his reckoning, he had been to a dozen different schools by the time he left for good at the age of 15.
"It was tough but it was only looking back on it years later that I realised just how tough," he says now. "But then, maybe I wouldn't appreciate what I've got now so much, if it hadn't been for then."
These days, when he's not touring and recording with Maiden, Dave lives on the exotic Hawaiian island of Maui with his Californian-born wife, Tamar, and their beautiful eight-year-old daughter, Tasha. But, he says, "Not a day goes by that I don't think, 'When is this going to end?' It's like it's all too good to be true."
The first thing he did when he made some money was buy his folks a house. His father has since passed away but his mother still lives there to this day. The only surviving member of the band - along with Steve Harris - who first signed to EMI Records back in 1979, Dave's hard upbringing also helped him ride the highs and lows of his career in Maiden without ever losing his head. As he says, "I grew a protective shell around me and just got on with things. And I think that held me in good stead later with Maiden, especially in the early days."
Dave first got interested in rock music when he was 15. He'd heard 'Voodoo Chile (Part 2)' by Jimi Hendrix on the radio and "everything changed - just like that." He had been a skinhead up until then. "But I just ditched the Doc Martens and I got myself an old Afghan coat and became a hippy - man!" he chortles.
He also got himself a guitar and started practising every night in his bedroom. "I didn't read music, I just used to sit and play along to records." His first band - a school trio called Stone Free - was actually with future fellow Maiden guitarist, Adrian Smith, who lived a few streets away. "Dave was a little bit further down the road than I was, in terms of playing," remembers Adrian. "I was a bit jealous, actually."
From there, Dave had played with a number of different bands before meeting Steve Harris and joining Iron Maiden for the first time in 1976. As long-time Maiden scholars will know, he was actually sacked just a few months later - after a spat with then vocalist Dennis Wilcock - and that, for a while, Dave rejoined Adrian in Urchin, who recorded one single, 'Black Leather Jacket', before Dave upped sticks again and returned to a now thankfully Wilcock-free Maiden.
"I never wanted Davey to leave in the first place," says Steve today. "I always thought he was the best guitarist I'd ever worked with. He was one of those guys who really could play the guitar with his teeth, you know?"
Musically, Dave's contributions to Maiden over the years have mainly been of the 'scintillating guitar solo' variety - witness any of his sublime work from early Blackmore-esque outbursts like the solo on 'Phantom of The Opera' (from 1980's 'Iron Maiden') to more recent peaks of performance like the eye-watering solo on 'Lightning Strikes Twice' (from last year's 'Virtual XI').
That said, despite a strike rate that works out to about one song per album - a trait he puts down to his own "laidback" nature more than anything - Davey is a talented songwriter, too. From the witty and wonderfully ludicrous 'Charlotte The Harlot' (from 'Iron Maiden'), to more thought-provoking stuff like the stiflingly atmospheric 'The Prophecy' (from 1988's 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son'), more than any other member of Maiden, apart from Steve himself, Dave Murray is the living embodiment of the heart and soul of Iron Maiden.
"I'm just lucky," he says typically modestly. "Lucky that I found such a great band to play in, and lucky to have such great fans that are into what we're doing."
But then, that's Dave Murray - modest, humble, down-to-earth and about as great a rock guitarist as you're going to get.
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