After sitting in the back of the venue with the most boring portion of the crowd at Earl's Court back on June 16th, I was
blown away by what was my first Iron Maiden gig. Coming in as a fan quite late in the band's life (Maiden is 25 years old this Christmas), I felt honoured and privileged to be witness to what was, at the time, their one-off British gig on the Brave New World world tour.
There was, however, a change of plan. Just before they left the stage, singer and frontman Bruce Dickinson promised us all that Maiden would be 'back before Christmas'. That
must mean extra dates on the tour. Would I be going? Of course! What's more, this new opportunity also threw up another, the chance to endure my first mosh pit. My friends at Earl's Court had told me that it was the only way to see the band. So it shall be written, so it shall be done...
As it was, myself and three friends all bought coach tickets from HMV, so we would all enjoy a twice-in-a-lifetime trip up to see the undisputed gods of metal in action together. It wasn't until two
days before Saturday 4th November, the day of the gig, that the realisation set in. I was so near to being god knows how close
to my idols, my gods. Up on the coach, the awe of the situation was lost, and replaced with a numb 'this is it lads'.
Hear me out! To begin following a huge band at the tender age of 15 is not something to be taken lightly. The opportunities to see your heroes in action are becoming less and less, especially when you treat them with such awe and respect.But if I was treating the trip to Birmingham like a pilgrimage to Mecca, you wouldn't think it on the coach. Inbetween listening to The Nearly Complete Works Of Iron Maiden1 (I got up to 1988's epic Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son on the way up) we were either perusing the latest issue of Classic Rock, stuffing our faces with food, or exchanging light-hearted banter/abuse. All plain fun.
After arriving in Birmingham, we got into the NIA in a matter of minutes, compared to the hour or two I had spent queueing outside Earl's Court. The place was busy, but not packed. Not until you got
to the area around the seating. But to get there, you had to navigate around the well-stocked merchandise stalls (where I saw the Iron Maiden football shirt I wanted so much, before I saw it's £50 price tag) and bars, and join a queue that stretched around the hall like a giant snake. Thankfully, it was a fast moving one so we were in the packed area around the seating quite quickly, looking for a way into the pit and into the toilet.
After a short while, we found our way in and sat down near the front, ahead of the amps on the right-hand side. After half an hour spent sitting listening to Jethro Tull (Steve Harris and Bruce
Dickinson are big JT fans) movement onstage from the roadies caused everyone to stand up. Moving more towards the middle of the area, we spent another half an hour standing being entertained by a roadie with a guitar, playing Black Sabbath riffs. I needed the toilet. After queueing (queueing!!!) I went back, to find the intro music for the support band playing and the lights dimmed. My mate and I politely made our way back to our places, eager not to miss anything.
The intro music faded out. The support band, Halford, were onstage...
Ex-Judas Priest singer Rob Halford has been supporting Iron Maiden with his new band Halford for a good part of the Brave New World tour. Tonight they played an hour long set, taking material from the debut album Resurrection and some old Priest classics. I myself am not a Priest fan: after listening to the so-called classic British Steel album I was very unimpressed. It is amazing, however, how any band can suddenly sound mindblowing live onstage. Halford kicked off the set with Resurrection, from the album. Rob started singing and I had to set aside any doubts I'd had of the mind. Because what he sang onstage blew me away. Expecting the growling British Steel voice, I was caught off-guard by the demonic wailing screeches that came from the man, crouched over the mike he held tightly in two hands. A unique voice, a unique singing talent. The growling guitar accompaniment was the other thing that took my breath away (bass and drums not registering in my gobsmacked mind). Guitarist Mike Cccccccccc was the main protagonist who kept our side of the pit entertained. He would crouch whilst playing, and point into the crowd, giving us the signal to go berserk. Well, as berserk as a support band could make you.I did not know any songs off the new album, and the only Priest songs that I knew were Stained Class and Breaking The Law, both classics being played. The majority of the crowd must have also been unfamiliar with the material... the lack of action in the pit barring a few dedicated headbangers headbanging made it clear.
The fans were here for Maiden. Myself? Mindblown all the way throughout, but waiting for Maiden. My attention wavered and I
checked my watch a few times, but Halford's set was
flawless. You could not have asked the man for more.
With hindsight, the lack of action in the Happy Hour was, for me, a blessing. I knew that my first mosh would not be something to be taken lightly, but I was unprepared for the extremity of it. After a half hour wait, Maiden's intro music was played, with Nicko giving
hand signals to us from behind the drumkit. The music stopped. Then it started again with the opening riff of The Wicker Man2. Now,any thoughts about anything were blown away. You simply could not think about anything other than what was happening that very second. The other five members of the band seemingly appeared from nowhere, thought I could only really see Janick Gers and Steve Harris (guitar and bass respectively) most of the time, only a few feet in front of me. That was a sharp shock. Suddenly seeing guitar hero Janick Gers that close to me, and my hero Steve Harris so close too....
Throughout the mosh, I had my arms fully outstretched most of the time, partly because of the energy and vibe coursing through
me, partly to stop myself from falling beneath the crowd, and mostly because I wanted to grab the attention of those people I worshipped who were standing only a few feet from me. Embarrassing as it may
seem, I must have looked like a dumb girl at a pop concert. My inane grin must have looked equally dumb too.
By halfway through the two hour set, I was wasted. Hot, sweaty, dehydrated, tired, deaf, and after The Wicker Man I could barely speak, let alone respond to Bruce's 'Scream for me... '. But I was so happy to be there, to be a part of what was happening. I had to make it all the way through. Some people find solace and spiritual fufilment through religeon and gods. Mine comes through Iron Maiden. The only way I would put up with two hours of that endurance.
I knew all the songs from the Earl's Court setlist, and the albums I'd listened to countless times. But down there, in the pit, they could have been playing more Jethro Tull at 2000 decibels and I
wouldn't have noticed. Because the sound simply merged into one big blur, Bruce's voice bleeding through the wall of sound made up of three guitars and thousands of throats shouting. Forget the bass, I could only hear that at the start of The Clansman (a near 10-minute Celtic style number), where Steve's acoustic bass only had to battle with another guitar at the start. After that intro it merged into chaos again. Of our three guitarists, only Janick Gers' playing was heard by me. Because he was right in front of us almost all the time.
Janick, who replaced Adrian Smith in 1988, is easily the most unpopular member of Maiden, which is unfortunate. Barring a few
solos, he does play anything really complicated, but sadly that is not the reasons some 'fans' shouted abuse at him. They still
find it hard to understand that he replaced Adrian all that time ago. Maybe they'd have preferred Maiden to carry on as a four-piece, I dunno. It's a pity for them, because despite his lack of chords to play, Janick makes up for it with sheer boundless energy. Running and jumping around his spot, swinging his guitar around like a madman (I have a vivid memory of this... I was expecting the neck to get caught and smashed on the stage floor!).
When famed Iron Maiden mascot Eddie (the zombie who appears on all album and single covers... well, nearly all) walked out on stage (and delivered his own abuse to Jan), I got a first-hand account of something Janick is famous for doing. Fighting with Eddie. After comical knocking knees, Janick ran up and smacked Eddie in the teeth with the neck of his Stratocaster. After exchanging blows (posh talk ;-)) Jan ran rings around the giant zombie, before crouching between his legs to continue playing. Eddie gave up fighting and took up mimicing before inspiring a few screams from the audience, and walking offstage. Any Maiden fan might scoff at my detailed analysis of Eddie and Janick's antics, but you have to see it for yourself.
If there was anything I would complain about during the set, it would be the fans. Three songs into the set, Bruce delivers us
a rant. It's expected, he does it at every concert/gig, and not
surprisingly, it was almost the same as last time. A plastic beer
bottle thrown onstage.
'If this gets onstage, we can run around and break our arm, and some *bleep* has a good time.'
'And on top of that it hasn't even been finished, which at about ten quid a bottle makes that person even more of a *beep*.
The end of the rant is lost amongst cheers and crys of admiration. Bruce puts anyone who needs it back in their place, such as the
reporter from Q magazine he tells us about later.
I wish he could have done the same with that beefy guy who sure had no respect for anyone else down there. We know that this is a rough place, but it's because we love the music. It shouldn't be rough because some prat needs to throw people around to get near his mates. The same goes to that punk who tried molesting my friend...
There are plenty of kind souls in this unforgiving arena though. From the guy who tried helping my aforementioned friend onto another's shoulders for a better view, to the guy who shouts 'Come on big boy!' at me when I start wavering. People are generally friendly, you gotta help each other a bit in there, but you've also got to stick up for yourself. A bit of common sense never goes amiss.
There was a lot of material from the new album, and well-picked material from the extensive back-catalogue. Maiden put on a fantastic show, one that I will not be forgotting for a long time. A few days afterwards, I found out that Maiden are playing two dates at the
Shepherds Bush in London, on 6th and 7th of January. The next tour isn't until 2002 at the earliest. Anyone would agree that Iron Maiden still have a lot of life left in them. They're not going to be snuffed out any time soon. That means there'll be a few more moshes and great times to be had.
I hope to see you in there someday.
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