For most long-standing Iron Maiden fans, the band as we remember them best really began to take shape with the arrival, in 1981, of guitarist Adrian Smith.

Joining the band in time to record their second album, 'Killers', Adrian would prove to be not only a more than capable replacement for the exiting Dennis Stratton, but also, in fellow guitarist Dave Murray's words, "the best partner I'd ever had in Maiden, up to that point." - But then, not only was Adrian an excellent guitarist, he and Dave had known each other since they were at school together. Which perhaps explains why, as Adrian says, "there's almost a telepathy that exists between me and Dave, it's so spot on, it's uncanny. We just always know what the other one is about to do when we're playing."

In short, Adrian and Dave would become the perfect foil with which to make the trademark twin-lead guitar sound of Maiden back then work to its utmost potential. Then, as the years passed and each new Maiden album somehow managed to surpass the last, Adrian began revealing his talents as a songwriter, too, co-authoring, most often with singer Bruce Dickinson, but also with bassist Steve Harris and Dave, too, and eventually on his own, some of the best-remembered Maiden hits from the '80s. '2 Minutes To Midnight', 'Wasted Years', 'Stranger In A Strange Land', 'Can I Play With Madness', 'The Evil That Men Do'...the list of songs that began life as what Adrian calls "these little bits and pieces I come up with" is long and impressive. - As Steve says: "There's no doubting Adrian's talent, he even sings pretty well! And to have someone like him in the band really helped us come up with some interesting new ideas. He's so versatile, we were able to do things with Adrian we'd never been able to do before.

Or as Adrian himself says: "The great thing about writing for Maiden is that the band has such a strong musical identity, you're always starting from a really good place. Like, if you fancy writing a fast one - well, there's no better band in the world for playing fast numbers!

"Same with the slower, or more progressive type of things - again, there's no better band to take you into some strange musical places than Maiden. It's such an inspirational band to write for because it can do anything. And Steve would always encourage you to use your imagination and come up with something different from the usual 4/4 beat thing most rock bands do all the time."

And yet, strange to relate, it so nearly didn't happen. Adrian had actually been offered the job in Maiden prior to the band going in to record their first eponymously-titled album, in January 1980, but had politely declined. A decision he quickly came to regret as the first Maiden album rocketed into the UK charts at No.4 just a few months later.

But then, as Adrian says: "I've never done anything just for the money. So I didn't regret it, really. I had my own band, Urchin, that I was still trying to get off the ground, and I think Steve respected that."

"I suppose it was a bit like me with Maiden," says Steve, "Adrian had had Urchin going since he was at school and he rightly wanted to stick with it. I thought, fair enough, good luck to ya, mate! Then when we came back to him a year later, he was tempted I think 'cos he liked the band, he was a big mate of Davey's and Urchin was over by then anyway. And when he finally made up his mind to go for it with Maiden, he slotted in really quick."

Adrian was born in Hackney, east London, on February 27, 1957. The son of a painter and decorator, and the youngest child of three, he had what he describes now as "a typically happy, pretty boring upbringing, I suppose."

A Manchester United football fan who later replaced the pictures on his bedroom wall of Georgie Best and Bobby Charlton with posters of Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore, Adrian was 15 when he bought his first album: Deep Purple's 'Machine Head'. There was no looking back after that.

"My sister used to go out with this guy and she used to borrow his records and leave them lying round the house. Stuff like Purple, Free, Black Sabbath...Then she stopped going out with him, so I started buying the records myself."

Dave Murray was the only other person he knew, he says, "that was into the same sort of thing as me." It was Dave who first encouraged Adrian to take up the guitar. "I noticed that whenever Dave brought his guitar to school he used to be surrounded by girls!" he chuckles. Soon the two were playing regularly together and had decided to form a band. So convinced was he of his destiny that Adrian left school at 16 without even bothering to take his O-level exams.

"I thought, I'm going to be a rock star - I don't need all this!" he guffaws, before adding with a sad shake of his head: "It all seems so simple when you're still at school." - He was in for a rude awakening and while he was "waiting for something to happen" the would-be rock star worked a series of dead-end jobs: trainee spot-welder, apprentice cabinet maker, milkman..."I used to just lurk about until they got rid of me or I'd had enough and left - usually when there was a gig coming up."

The band he and Dave formed - Evil Ways - had now metamorphosed into Urchin. "Dave used to come and go," Adrian recalls. "Playing with me and then Maiden and then me again, then back to Maiden..."

Looking back, he says "it was probably only a matter of time before I hooked up with Dave again." Fortunately for Adrian - and for his many fans - the band he did finally hook up with Dave again in was Iron Maiden.

The rest, as they say, is history. The six studio albums Adrian recorded with Maiden in the '80s are still regarded as one of the most fertile - not to mention, successful - periods in the band's career.

When he left the band, in 1990, to pursue a solo career, despite some excellent recordings, he admits now that, "it felt strange not being in the band any more. It had become a way of life for me and I realised how much Maiden will always be a part of me, and how much I missed it."

The feeling, one suspected and knows now, was entirely mutual...