The history of Iron Maiden as told in 10 groundbreaking gigs

Paul Di'Anno, Bruce Dickinson and Blaze Bayley performing live
(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty (Paul Di'Anno) / Gie Knaeps/Getty (Bruce Dickinson) / Ullstein Bild/Getty (Blaze Bayley))

Steve Harris formed Iron Maiden on Christmas Day, 1975 – presumably while bored during the Queen’s speech. Five decades, 17 albums and one Satanic Panic later, The Beast have become the measuring stick of British heavy metal. They’re also one of the wildest live bands you will ever see.

Backed by their zombified mascot, Eddie – not to mention enough pyro to scorch your retinas – Maiden have always put on a staggering show, no matter their age or where they’re playing. So, let’s have a butcher’s at these icons’ history, conveniently distilled into 10 significant gigs.

Metal Hammer line break

1. The first show

St Nicholas Hall, London, UK: May 1, 1976

London pub The Cart & Horses may be the venue most commonly associated with classic Maiden, but the band actually first clambered onto a stage at the East End’s St Nicholas Hall. Mother Time has swallowed the setlist – there’s chatter about nuns being present, given the show was in a 180-capacity church hall – but one thing is certain: this is where Iron Maiden’s live career began. Steve Harris is the only member to play this show and still be in the band.

2. Crossing the continent with Kiss

Mainland Europe: August 29–October 13, 1980

In 1980, Maiden’s self-titled debut came out, slapped listeners silly and nabbed the band a support slot on Kiss’s Unmasked European tour. By this point, Steve had recruited Dave Murray on guitar alongside Dennis Stratton, with Paul Di’Anno on the mic and Clive Burr behind the drums. Watching Paul’s ravenous, punkish delivery across this tour (making Kiss seem wet by comparison), you can see why so many are still attached to his days as the band’s frontman. 

Iron Maiden performing with Paul Di'Anno in 1980

(Image credit: Pete Still/Getty)

3. Bruce makes his debut

Palazzo Dello Sport, Bologna, Italy: October 26, 1981

Paul was out; Bruce Dickinson was in. This Italian basketball arena marked Bruce’s first show with Maiden – and his first time playing outside the UK full-stop. Eager to impress the audience and crew, he was already earning his ‘Air-Raid Siren’ nickname, screaming through Wrathchild like he’d dropped a bollock. This show and tour established Bruce as the Maiden singer, nailing the Killers material while lubing the wheels for The Number Of The Beast.

4. Selling out Madison Square Garden

Madison Square Garden, New York City, USA: October 8, 1983

By 1983, Maiden’s status across the pond couldn’t be understated: they’d already infuriated conservatives with their Satanic imagery and influenced the world’s soon-to-be-biggest metal band, Metallica. Album number four, Piece Of Mind, consolidated their gains. Headlining Billy Joel’s favourite enormodome before 20,000 fans, the band started shaving away Paul-era tracks to represent the classic ’80s lineup: Steve, Bruce, Dave, co-guitarist Adrian Smith and sticksman Nicko McBrain. 

5. The World Slavery Tour makes history time and time again

Everywhere: August 9, 1984–July 5, 1985

The World Slavery run saw The Beast conquer five continents in just 331 days. It nearly shattered the band, but music history was redefined along the way. Maiden became the first rock act to play the Eastern Bloc, did their biggest-ever show at the 1985 Rock In Rio (300,000 bloody people!), then… “Scream for me, Long Beach!” What better way to end metal’s biggest tour than by recording metal’s best live album, Live After Death?

6. Headlining Monsters Of Rock

Castle Donington, Derbyshire, UK: August 20, 1988

Maiden finally played Castle Donington’s Monsters Of Rock in 1988, fresh off a UK chart-topper with Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. The lineup was nuts: The Beast headlining, with Kiss, Megadeth, Guns ’N’ Roses, David Lee Roth and Helloween as support. And the set was spellbinding. Tragically though, Maiden’s biggest-ever UK show was darkened by the deaths of two fans, Landon Siggers and Alan Dick, who were crushed in the crowd as GNR played. The band only found out afterwards.

Iron Maiden performing in 1988

(Image credit: Jim Steinfeldt/Getty)

7. Bye bye Brucey!

Pinewood Studios, London, England: August 28, 1993

Bruce had started a solo career and wanted a clean break from Maiden. He’d agreed to one final run supporting 1992’s Fear Of The Dark – and, during that trek, word got out that he was leaving. Inter-band relations were not rosy, either. All the more shocking, then, that their last show together was a blinder. Shot in London’s Pinewood Studios for the concert video Raising Hell, the performance smashed bit-between-the-teeth aggression and the usual singalongs against, uh, magic. It ended with Bruce in an iron maiden and his head impaled on a spike. Subtle.

8. Blaze Bayley bows out in style

Estadio Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires, Argentina: December 12, 1998

Maiden’s decline during the 1990s was noticeable, to be polite. They took a commercial bullet and sailed perilously close to club-level in the UK… but they were still Iron Fucking Maiden. Ex-Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley helped steer the ship with The X Factor and Virtual XI, bowing out after headlining the Argentinian Monsters Of Rock. He could never fill Bruce’s boots (nor die with them on), but his final gig was genuinely great. 

9. Ruling at Rock In Rio ’01

Cidade Do Rock, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: January 19, 2001

Bruce and Adrian returned in 1999, making Maiden a six-piece. Brave New World followed in 2000 and, shortly after, those songs wriggled into Maiden lore while headlining Rock In Rio. Playing to the second-largest crowd of their career (250,000 ain’t bad) and running around as if dodging paintballs, the band walked the tightrope of being indebted to their past but not shackled to it. 

10. The stadium show on home turf

Twickenham Stadium, London, UK: July 5, 2008

Twas a majestic sight: Bruce striding onstage and booting a rugby ball into the 50,000-capacity Twickenham crowd, Aces High blaring behind him. Maiden’s 2008 retrospective tour, Somewhere Back In Time, brought the World Slavery stage show and songs to a younger audience. And what better way to slurp up Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’s first UK outing in 21 years than at Maiden’s first stadium headliner on home turf? Beautiful.