Iron Maiden have almost completed their first major indoor tour of the UK and Ireland for six years, a 13-date outing that winds up with two sold-out nights at London’s O2 Arena. Having topped the bill at Download 2016 and Sonisphere 2014, a full-on tour by one of Britain’s greatest music exports was long overdue.
To be fair, it’s not like Maiden just decided to put their feet up. Due to Bruce Dickinson’s cancer diagnosis in late 2014, the album release and subsequent world tour were delayed. And what a world tour it has been. With their sixteenth studio album The Book Of Souls under their arm the mighty Maiden proved they remain the kings of all things heavy and metal. Starting in Florida back in February of last year, Ed Force One has transported the Maiden machine to five continents, where the band played to hundreds of thousands of fans. But that’s still not enough for some people.
“To be honest, it bugs me that we can’t tour everywhere more, not just the UK,” Steve Harris told our sister magazine Metal Hammer earlier this year. “So these days it’s quality rather than quantity. But we’re very excited about these UK dates. Playing at home is always special.”
And, having caught the tour’s opening night at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham, Classic Rock concurs with that sentiment.
Taking place just down the road from Bruce Dickinson’s childhood home of Worksop, the air is abuzz with speculation and the smell of beer. An ocean of Iron Maiden T-shirts (this is the one band you’re allowed to wear their own merch for) waits with excitement and anticipation for their heroes to take the stage, until UFO’s Doctor Doctor blasts over the PA and finally it’s showtime.
A steaming cauldron sits atop the stage, as a hooded Dickinson peers over it and out into the braying audience, as the band launching into If Eternity Should Fail – one of six songs they play from the latest album.
It’s an interesting set-list tonight (from a band who can play at least 50 songs without complaint from the audience), and the variation from their other Book Of Souls dates leaves a slight disappointment with The Great Unknown in place of Tears Of A Clown. However, it’s the exclusion of Hallowed Be Thy Name (instead opting for Wrathchild) that leads to rather peeved comments from some fans later in the evening. But this minor quibble doesn’t prevent the hard-core Maiden Army down the front from losing their minds. Yes, most people here probably hung up their moshing boots long ago, but fists and pints in the air is more than enough to show appreciation. And besides, that’s the way we do things.
“British people don’t have that Latin blood, but we still get a great reaction, it’s just in a different way,” Harris told Metal Hammer on the subject of their fanatic South American following. “If I go to a gig, I’m an Englishman and I’m not going to go completely berserk either, you know? But that’s the British way. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s always fantastic to see the British fans.”
And to be fair, how can you not react when a towering undead Mayan monster is wandering across the stage, trying its best to bonk guitarist Janick Gers on the head? And what about the giant inflatable minotaur that rears its horned head during The Number Of The Beast? Or maybe Bruce’s enigmatic portrayal of The Trooper? It’s theatrical, but that’s what Iron Maiden are all about.
A stage littered with ancient Mexican iconography and a revolving backdrop really lends itself to a show rather than a gig; a spectacle, an experience. After 42 years playing and touring together, it has become second nature for these old boys to put on an event, although it’s the last we’ll see of this one – Dickinson announces that following Maiden’s US tour the Book Of Souls will be packed away.
Maiden really look after their fans, and an innovative paperless ticketing system ensures that those precious seats are allocated to the band’s real fans and not to secondary sellers or counterfeiters looking to line their own pockets.
“We’ve calculated that around one million pounds’ worth of mark-up is not sitting in the hands of touts,” says the band’s manager, Rod Smallwood, “and instead those tickets are with the fans at the correct price. That’s a great result and makes all our additional efforts worthwhile.”
Smallwood believes that Maiden will be around for at least one more album and tour, telling The Sun: “Everyone takes care of themselves a lot more, so who knows? Even Nicko [McBrain, drums] has been off the booze for eighteen months to stay in top shape – he is the oldest [at 64]. As long as he is on form – and drumming for Maiden is very physically demanding – we will go on. I am sure we have at least another album in us.”
Meanwhile, the Book Of Souls tour rolls onwards to the USA, where its final lap concludes in New York City on July 22.
Hopefully the band will slot a few more of their big guns back into the set next time around, though. The Evil That Men Do, anyone?