It has always been an ambition of mine to travel abroad to catch an Iron maiden show and as their only scheduled UK show this year is at the download festival, the time was right to see if we could get tickets to another show elsewhere in Europe. Paris was the obvious choice as it’s just a short flight away, and having previously done a day trip there just 18 months ago, we figured that we would be able find our way around easily enough. So armed with a pair of tickets, a change of clothes and a toothbrush each, we set off for Luton airport at stupidoclock in the morning on Wednesday for the first flight out of the day. When we arrived at the departure lounge there were already about 20 or so fans there at the bar, all wearing their maiden t-shirts and waiting impatiently to board the same plane.Before travelling I had noticed on the website that there was due to be a planned meet up at the Trocadero on the day of the show, so after arriving and having had breakfast al fresco on the champs élysées, we made our way up there to join them for a photo shoot. When we got there, we were greeted with the sight of about 40 people already gathered with their flags and banners,many of which had come from the UK, but there were also fans that had travelled from Poland, Canada, Brazil and even New Zealand. Many of them were also going on to other shows after Paris, with one having taken a few weeks off work to go to their shows in Switzerland, Poland and Sweeden. I’d been aware of how dedicated some people are about this band, but when you see it in action like this it’s pretty incredible. But after the photos were taken we had a hotel to find and many pre gig beers to drink, so it was time to head to head off and do what we came here for.
The tickets we had were for unreserved seating meaning that nobody had an allocated seat which in turn meant that when we finally got in to the arena, thousands of people ran straight past the bars and merchandising stalls in order to get the best vantage point possible. Then only after the best possible seats had been found were we able to reserve them and go off and get the beers in before sitting back down to watch the support band Voodoo six. It must be a tall order supporting maiden. Imagine the situation, you’re an established band with many albums and some good songs in your back catalogue, but you know that virtually all of the 20,000 people watching you are here for someone else.This is something that must have been picked up by singer Luke Purdie when he asked the crowd who they were here to see and 20,000 voices screamed back “Maiden” to which he rather crestfallingly replied “ay, well your in the right place”. Don’t get me wrong, they were ok but nothing special. They have a new album out called ‘Songs to invade countries to’ but decided to play just 2songs from this album and 4 from their past, including my personal favourite ‘Long way from home’. The one good thing about not having allocated seating is that the venue was full when voodoo six played as opposed to in the UK where most support bands play to a less than half full arena as most of the crowd are still in the bar. After voodoo six finished the usual set change took place and the crowd amused themselves with a succession of Mexican waves around the arena and prolonged chants of “maiden..maiden” and before long the unmistakeable opening chords of UFO’s ‘Doctor doctor’ rang out signalling the start of the main event. The atmosphere was now definitely at fever pitch and finally, at long last, and after months of planning, the house lights go off, the video screens spring to life and the intro to ‘Moonchild’ plays out.
With the full pyro display letting go in one glorious moment, there they are, charging to the front of the stage and working the crowd from the very first second.This band never EVER puts in just a ‘standard’ shift and never fails to deliver, and in return the crowd never fails to become delirious and this crowd is certainly no different.Take lead singer Bruce Dickinson for example; before the first song has finished he has already ran across the gangways at the back of the stage and covered every bit of the main stage too and bearing in mind that at the age of 55 he is the youngest member of the band, his athleticism virtually defies belief. ‘Moonchild’ gives way to ‘Can I play with Madness’ and it’s clear that this is going to be a set full of sing-a-long maiden classics, maidenoke if you like. ‘The prisoner’,One of my personal favourites followed next and i’ve already sung myself hoarse but this is just non stop now and the pace hardly drops when Janick Gers leads us straight from that into ‘2minutes to midnight’ which over the years has become a great live song, much better than it ever sounded on ‘Powerslave’. And finally a short break while Bruce, in fluent French, talks to the crowd and gets everyone to sing Happy Birthday to drummer and lunatic Nicko Mcbrain who’s 61st it is today. 61?really? This guys spends 3 nights a week for 6 months of a year keeping time for one of quickest metal bands around. Unbelievable. Many of maidens songs have either a fantasy or a war theme behind them and the song ‘Afraid to seek strangers’ comes next with its haunting melody,telling the story of a soldier during the first gulf war conflict who spends the night before going over the top, questioning the morality of what he is going to have to do. I absolutely adore this song. Lyrically thought provoking and musically stunning,it’s a real highlight of the night for me and its one of 3 songs being played that I have only had the pleasure of seeing live once before. Then with all the house lights down, the stage backdrops change and probably the most noticeable metal image ever appears, and within a few seconds as does one of metals finest tunes, ‘The trooper’. Maybe it’s just my imagination but it always seems to get one of the best receptions of the night, even on a night when the hits keep coming. Of course when I say hits I do of course mean hits within the metal scene and not actually chart hits. The strange thing with British radio is that despite being happy to play all sorts of crap and nonsense, there’s very little airplay given over to maiden in any way, but despite that,8 of the songs played tonight have been top 10 singles and the album that this tour is based around was a UK number 1. Their last studio album debuted at number 1 in 28 different counties, and taking into account live albums and dvd’s, Wikipedia puts their global sales at upto 100million. Imagine how many that could have been if radio had of got behind them.
Still, back to the show. ‘number of the beast’ marks the halfway point before the highlight of the show arrived in the shape of ‘phantom of the opera’. I’ve only managed to see this song played once and that was at my very first show and I’ve waited since 1986 to hear it again. If I was ever on desert island discs and was told to bring only 1 maiden song it would be a hard choice between this, ‘The clansman’ or ‘Hallowed be they name’ but I would choose phantom on every occasion. It’s everything that heavy metal is, should be,and what iron maiden stand for: fast, powerful and melodic. The trip to Paris cost a fortune but was worth it for just this song alone. Continuing the maidenoke theme and with my lungs at bursting point through singing, ‘run to the hills’ is next up and Eddie makes his appearance dressed as general Custer, followed by ‘wasted years’ and it’s fair to say I’m in seventh heaven at this point. Talking of the number 7, ‘seventh son of a seventh son’ is next up. As an album song I never really rated this, I always saw it as a poor relation to ‘rhyme of the ancient mariner’ but not anymore. The intricacies of this song and the vocal challenge it poses are stunning but Bruce is majorly on form tonight and despite it being over 12 minutes long it’s over all too soon. ‘the clairvoyant’ provides yet another chance to jump up and down like a lunatic and ‘fear of the dark’ allows for more sing-along-a-maiden before ‘iron maiden’ closes the set. But only temporarily.
As we’re waiting for the encore to start, Churchill’s speech heralds ‘aces high’ and the band appear from behind a curtain of fire and pyro as though it’s the start of the show all over again and not the 15th song of the night. By now we’re just shy of 2hours since it all began but the band cover every every inch of the stage, whipping the crowd into even more of a frenzy, so much so that for the first time of the night a circle pit starts at the front swallowing up all the crowd surfers and the faint hearted. ‘The evil that men do’ surprisingly provides the most pyro of the evening with every flame thrower going off during the song before the most spectacular indoor explosions I’ve ever seen go off at the end. ‘ Running free’ provides the audience with one last chance to “scream your guts out” and of course 20,000 mad Frenchmen plus me do just that. Then, that’s it. They’re gone. The house lights stay off just long enough to hint at another encore but it’s just not meant to be and end up leaving the arena to monty pythons ‘ Always look on the bright side of life’
So a life times ambition achieved and what a way to do it. This is the greatest set I’ve seen maiden play and to have had the chance to go to another country to see it first hand makes me feel very privileged indeed.You might be reading this and not be a maiden fan or even a metal/rock fan but here’s the thing: Maiden deserve massive respect. They have built this career over nearly 40 years of hard work and determination and without any media help and just word of mouth to pass the message on. They have played gigs to 30,000 people in countries where they don’t even have a record label, such is the power of their fan base and their spreading of the maiden word. I was wearing my new maiden T-shirt the following day when we were walking through a posh part of the centre of Paris near the opera house, when a guy who was sitting at one of the posh pavement restaurants saw me walking past and shouted “MAIDEN” at the top of his voice at me before giving me the horns. I was at Twickenham in 2008 watching maiden play to a stadium full to the brim of 60,000 fans and had just the best day ever and this experience in Paris will rank along side it as one of the best musical days of my life.