Metal legends Iron Maiden toured Australia in 2008, and I saw their monumental ‘greatest hits’ concert twice. Here’s an interview with frontman Bruce Dickinson conducted in late 2007 ahead of the tour.
WHEN it comes to reinventing the 1980s, there are some lines that simply shouldn’t be crossed. For Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, it’s Spandex.
Dickinson, 49, says the Somewhere Back in Time world tour revisits the heavy metal grandeur of their 1984-5 Powerslave tour. That production featured a stage set based around Ancient Egypt and the band’s iconographic mascot, Eddie, and was captured on a renowned double live album, Live After Death.
Dickinson says next year’s tour – the band’s fourth visit to Australia, and first since 1992 – should satisfy decades of badgering from fans wanting to hear Maiden’s hits live Down Under, but doesn’t seek to replicate the Powerslave tour’s past glory.
“We’re not trying to rewrite the tour. It won’t be Live After Death word for word. I won’t be wearing my jocks on the outside of my Spandex.
“We’ll be re-creating the cool bits, but the main thing is the music. We don’t want to look like our own version of an Iron Maiden cover band,” Dickinson says.
There’s not much chance of that, given the line-up in Maiden is almost the same as that which toured Australia on the back on their 1982 breakthrough album, Number of the Beast, which hit No.1 in Australia.
Beast was Dickinson’s first album with the British metal outfit and the band’s third.
Iron Maiden formed in 1975, with bass player Steve Harris the only member still in the band. The current line-up, stable since 1999, is rounded out by guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers, and drummer Nicko McBrain.
All except Gers and McBrain played Australia in 1982. They’ve put out three studio albums. The latest was last year’s acclaimed A Matter of Life and Death, and pulled massive crowds at gigs and festivals in Europe and North America.
The Somewhere Back in Time tour is one of Maiden’s most extravagant, playing 20 cities on five continents in seven weeks. More concerts are scheduled in North America and Europe later in the year. All up, the outfit expects to play to more than 1.5½ million punters.
The tour focuses on Maiden’s peak years in the 1980s, when Beast, Piece of Mind and Powerslave helped push it to the top of the metal ladder, further bolstered by hits from Somewhere in Time (1986) and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988). Maiden has remained an inspiration to bands and has enjoyed a resurgence of support in recent years thanks to solid studio albums and live performances.
Says Dickinson of the band’s enduring popularity: “Maiden is a unique band. You could say we’re one of the last of the originals.
“If anything, the fan base has regenerated. There’s a whole new generation – two new generations – of kids turning up.
“We played Sweden and filled 50,000-seat soccer stadiums. We never filled a soccer stadium in the mid ’80s. You look now and the first 50 rows are 16-year-olds.
“On our last tour we were able to play a new album (the 80-minute A Matter of Life and Death) in its entirety, and still sell out a worldwide tour of arenas. The fans are attracted to us because we are still an active musical force.”
The tour gives Dickinson a chance to combine his twin loves of music and flying – he flies passenger jets for Astraeus Airlines, and on this tour will be sharing the piloting as the band, crew and equipment pile on to a specially outfitted airliner decked out in Maiden logos.
The upcoming tour is possibly Maiden’s biggest, he says, and will feature some of the band’s greatest hits, primarily from the ’80s. But fans who have wanted to hear the 8½-minute Alexander the Great played live will have to keep waiting.
“There’s pretty much room for only one really epic song, and that’s the one about a bird (Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 13½ minutes)”.
For all the massiveness of the tour, Dickinson says Maiden – older and possibly wiser – is a more relaxed outfit than it used to be.
“Fifteen to 20 years ago we were under the gun, doing loads of touring. We were frazzled. People couldn’t give it their best. It was like a sports team, someone was always injured.
“Now we know it’s better to take three months off than to do a bad job. Our performance has improved, the reliability of the performance has improved as well.”
Dickinson left Maiden in 1993 to pursue a solo career and returned in 1999. Along the way, he has amassed an impressive CV of achievements in addition to flying commercially.
A skilled fencer, he has had two novels published, and a movie he scripted about the life of infamous British occultist Aleister Crowley, Chemical Wedding, is due to be released next year.
Ancient Egypt seems a natural backdrop for a tour from one of the most flamboyant of bands, but Dickinson warns about reading too much into the band’s stage dressing.
“As for Egypt, you could overrate the pudding on that one. We were interested in it in the mid ’80s, and (the songs) Revelations and Powerslave take imagery from that era, but it’s such a fabulous era to plunder.
“There’s an outrageousness about Egypt and there’s an outrageousness about heavy metal bands. Making these enormous stone pyramids for everyone to look at seems like heavy metal madness. They were over the top in monument construction – minimalists they were not. That strikes a chord – we’re hardly Bauhaus in our aspirations.”