“It was the biggest place I’d ever played and the first time anyone had ever seen me”: Watch Bruce Dickinson play his first-ever Iron Maiden show in 1981

Bruce Dickinson onstage in the 1980s
(Image credit: YouTube/A Metalhead’s Journey)

For metalheads of a certain generation, it’s hard to even picture Iron Maiden performing without Bruce Dickinson. The Air-Raid Siren is now well and truly the quintessential Maiden frontman, leading the band during their ’80s golden era and then again during their resurgence from 1999 to the present day. The idea that Brucey was ever an unknown entity, and that getting him in as the replacement Paul Di’Anno was perceived as a major risk, seems baffling nowadays.

However, back in 1981, Maiden’s music and Paul’s punk-edged snarl were synonymous sounds, and the band eyeing up even more theatrical music was a serious gamble. With Paul also being affected by substance problems at the time, a fresh, more flamboyant frontman was needed to carry the band onwards. Enter the man formerly known as “Bruce Bruce” in Samson.

Bruce made his live debut with Iron Maiden in Bologna, Italy, on October 26, 1981, footage of which can be viewed below. Although the video’s blurry at best, the audio telegraphs that Bruce – despite protests from Paul purists back in the day – really was the best man for the job. The throat-shredding snarl that he adds to Wrathchild preempts the similar scream he’d later bust out on The Number Of The Beast. His operatic pipes also sound perfectly at home during the climactic prog metal of Remember Tomorrow, to the point where it feels staggering he didn’t write it. Then, finally, those howls of “I’m running freeeeeee!” easily fill the entire Palazzo Dello Sport venue.

“It was a small basketball arena with about 4 or 5,000 [people],” Bruce later reflected on the show during an interview with Kerrang!. “It was the biggest place I’d ever played in the world.

“I was just conscious that I was on probation, not just with the audience but with the road crew,” the singer added. “It was the first time that they’d ever seen the sight of me, basically.”

Not even six months after Bruce first stepped onto a stage with Maiden, the band put out their first album with him, The Number Of The Beast. Its release was buoyed by the chart and TV success of single Run To The Hills, which helped buoy Beast to not just critical acclaim, but the very top of the charts in the UK. After that, Maiden were the heavy metal band of the day – and they’ve done pretty OK since, haven’t they?

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.