Jan 30th, 2012

The Early Days - Classic Rock review by Geoff Barton

 'You knew when you'd been Maidened,' says Neal Kay, ex-DJ at London's legendary Heavy Metal Soundhouse, while offering his reminisences about an early Maiden gig during an interview on this epic double DVD. And it's true. Ever since bass player Steve Harris's first tentative steps into the limelight with his East End band Gypsy's Kiss in the mid-70s, Iron Maiden have never done things by halves - not even when they used to pose for photos underneath a freshly sharpened guillotine.

It's hard to know where to begin with this bumper package, which details Maiden's fledgling career in finite detail, right up to summer 1984. (Fear not, there are more DVDs to come in this series.)

I'd better give you the bare facts first. Herein you will find: footage of four of the band's concerts (a home video from the Ruskin Arms in 1980, at the Rainbow in '81, at Hammersmith in '82, and from the World Piece Tour in Dortmund in '83); an all-new 90-minute documentary; a re-run of a half-hour TV feature on the rise of UK heavy metal, shown by London Weekend Television in 1980; and a slew of extras including early Top Of The Pops spots, promo videos for 'Women In Uniform', 'Run To The Hills' and 'Number Of The Beast'... and plenty more. Phew! As a fan offering, The Early Days has an appeal that borders on the sublime.

The live stuff is fascinating - it's very interesting to contrast Maiden's punky approach at the '81 Rainbow gig (with Paul Di'Anno on vocals) with the more bombastic Hammersmith show (with Bruce Dickinson) that took place barely a year later.

But most Maiden-ites will make the freshly filmed documentary their first port of call. This is a real trip down memory lane. There are converstations with almost every former Gypsy's Kiss / Smilers / Maiden member conceivable (anyone remember drummer Ron 'Rebel' Matthews?) and the tales of Maiden's early birth pains are utterly compelling. Steve Harris, for example, recalls how the potman in the Coach & Horses pub told him about the existence of another band called Iron Maiden which made Harris rush out and register the name. You even get to see a photo of said potman! Harris also amusingly remembers when the band bought a big truck to lug their equipment around in; 'We called it the Green Goddess... cos it was green.'

There some terrific diary documentation of early gig fees: a payment of £10 soon increased to £15 and then reached the heady heights of £17.50. But all the time the band were still forking out a tenner per show for dry ice.

There precious little bad feeling or argy-bargy evidence here, even from the most prehistoric ex-members who missed out on Maiden's fortunes. And even Paul Di'Anno admits humbly: 'I still think Bruce is the best Maiden vocalist ever.'

Elsewhere, artist Derek Riggs spills the beans on Maiden mascot Eddie's surprising Vietnamese origins, and producer Martin Birch offers insights into how he moulded the Maiden sound. There's even live colour footage of Adrian Smith's old band, Urchin - how did they dig that up?

What's also surprising is how well the Maiden members have worn the ravages of time: unlike a certain rock writer (me) who has degenerated from a sylph-like Sounds scribe (as seen on the old London Weekend Television film) to a Jabba The Hutt lookalike on the new documentary footage (I blame the camera angle). I almost docked them a star for it.

Rating: *****