Iron Maiden - The Early Years Review
This is the first in what, at least, has the potential to be an exciting series of releases. We best first be honest; Iron Maiden are one of daftest, crassest band in the history of music. Their lyrics are overblown, the music as subtle as a sledgehammer, their artwork borders on the offensively stupid and they are blessed with some of dimmest fans in the history of fandom (and before you seethe at that, just watch the LWT documentary on here for some lovely examples). But, having said all that, anyone whose ever drawn Eddie T Head on the inside of their schoolbooks or pestered their mum to sow a hugely unfortunate and embarassing patch on the back of their denim jacket will be rejoicing inside at this. I will be honest. I am a fan. Mock if you will.
A word on spoilers. It's impossible to really spoil your enjoyment of this, but there are some lovely little moments that you might prefer to see for yourself. If you fall into this category, then this review is pointless anyway as, whatever it says, your going to buy it and you'll enjoy every minute. So read it afterwards if you like.
Live At The Rainbow
(Previously available on VHS)
Most Maiden-philes will have seen this one, but maybe not for some years and certainly not looking as good as it does on here. It's not perfect by a long shot; there's some nasty horizontal inteference lines throughout that give it a TV feel, but the actual image is crystal clear if a little soft. The soundtrack is a little soft as well; the stereo mix is a little muddy.
The band is, however, on top form. This is, of course, back in the day when one Paul Di'anno was on vocals and his gruff, aggressive tone is a world away from the more 'metal' wailings of Bruce Dickinson. It's a nice selection of songs but this is possibly the least exciting thing in the disc. The real fun lies elsewhere. Directed by David G Hillier
Beast Over Hammersmith
This is where the real fun starts. A never before seen Iron Maiden concert from the Beast On The Road Tour - it doesn't get much better than this. I guarantee you will feel a real lift in the soul as the opening of the chords for 'Murders In The Rue Morgue' play before, as is their trademark, the band burst onto stage just in time for the vocal line. It's excellent and keeps getting better. 'Anyone out there watch Tiswas?' asks Bruce before they launch into 'Run To The Hills' and it sounds and looks excellent.
It's quite incredible how confident Bruce Dickinson is here, considering it's the first tour since taking over vocal duties. He is, quite simply, born to be in this band. Foot on monitor, he's a bundle of energy and hair and never, ever still. It's nice, as well, seeing the band stripped of all the stage ornaments they later became notorious for. Though, of course, Eddie makes his appearance during 'Iron Maiden', book ended by two unfortunates dressed little demons.
Picture quality is rather ropey, it has to be said. There's been a little bit of restoration work and it looks like it needed it. Occasionally, the picture looks sort of overexposed and there's a fair few picture sparklies. For the main part, though, it's fine. It looks like a slightly below average TV broadcast and, to be fair, the rarity of it makes up for any picture quality deficiency. It's marvelous to be able to finally see the live version of 'Total Eclipse' in it's entirety after the tantalizing clip was first seen on the VHS Twelve Wasted Years. The sound is a lot better, the muddiness from Live At The Rainbow has gone and every power chord is crystal clear.
Live In Dortmund
Another rarity. 'Piece of Mind' was a more measured, and perhaps better, album than 'Number of the Beast' and here we get the German TV broadcast from when the band headlined a festival there. Unseen in it's entirety since the original broadcast, it's a treat from the very second 'Sanctuary' starts. There are some lovely moments on here. Watch in bewilderment as Dickinson dons a guitar for 'Revelations' and looks as confused as Nigel Tufnell when he pretends to play it. Fortunately, this doesn't last for long. There's also a small sense of disappointment that 'Iron Maiden', the song of course, isn't on here. All slightly obsessive Maiden fans will know that this concert was the scene of some violence towards their mascot and some uncharacteristic instrument trashing. It was on the '12 Wasted Years' video, so it's erasure from here is a mystery.
Picture is generally very good, and it's by far the best on disc one. It looks like a TV broadcast, but there are some brief moments of distortion throughout. Nothing to worry about though. The sound is also a little muddy at times.
This is where the rarities really start appearing.
A B&W, very early, LWT broadcast that runs for a scant 20 minutes but features an impossibly young Danny Baker. It also features two of the most witless heavy metal fans ever to walk the earth. Imagine what an achievement that is. No names mentioned, but they have spent time and effort making cardboard guitars to take with them the Neil Kaye's Soundhouse Metal Disco effort and, believe, the interviews with them are quite possibly the funniest things you'll ever see. Watch in awe and shame as they expound their theories on why women make lousy headbangers ('they just don't have it in them. It's the same as my job mending the roads...') and giggle as they talk about the difficulties of making pretend guitars. Apparently, it's stupid putting frets on them, as that would make it too much like a real guitar......oh there's more for you to discover on here for yourself. Suffice to say, it could be a spoof but, sadly, isn't. Neil Kaye, by contrast, comes across as intelligent, sensitive and utterly credible. It's a shame he's juxtaposed by two witless fools.
Picture quality is adequate, at best, but nothing really to complain about given the age and scarcity of this and it is a thoroughly entertaining piece of trivia.
The Early Years
A brand new 90 minute feature taking in the early years of the band. Very candid and very interesting for the Maiden fan, it will leave everybody else utterly cold. Who else would be interested in the story of their first van? (The 'Green Goddess' of course) Full of people like Doug Sampson and, if you know who that is, you'll love this. There are some lovely pictures of the band, and the development of the Eddie mascot. A treat for fans - it's candid, funny and interesting but consists mainly of talking heads.
Picture quality is excellent. Anamorphic widescreen and crystal clear. Still only stereo sound, but absolutely crystal clear.
Live At The Ruskin
This isn't going to win any prizes for picture quality or sound, but it's a lovely piece of history. It's a bootleg quality video from the Ruskin Arms days. Fuzzy and muddy sounding, it's a curiosity piece only, really, but it's nice to have it. It does let you witness Paul Di'Anno's effortless charm, though.
Yep, you get Steve Harris' diary for the year, here and he's as honest and as open as it gets. On 10th June, he went to see Genesis at the Hammy O and it was 'bloody brilliant'. Hohoho. Anyway, this is quite possibly a little anal for most, but it's a fun little feature.
Bits and Bobs
You also get Women in Uniform from TOTP and dull and lifeless it looks. Far better is 'Running Free' from the same programme and you get it again from German TV as well. Picture quality for these is adequate, if soft, and the sound is fairly clear, but lacks a little of the punch you'd expect.
There are some fairly clumsy videos here. It's funny that a band as visual as Iron Maiden have never really taken to the art of the video. Women In Uniform is crass and sexist and not worth the effort. Run To The Hills is little better. Given the subject matter is, after all, genocide, turning the whole thing into some sort of Buster Keaton comedy number is, quite possibly, the stupidest thing a metal band has ever done. Number of the Beast is a little better, in that it's not totally offensive, but still leaves much to be desired. By the time you get to Flight of Icarus there's at least a smidgeon of professionalism, but it's still a dull, studio based video. The Trooper, too, is a dull affair.
Whilst it's nice to have these, it does show how crassly unimaginative this band can be sometimes and it might have been wiser to leave them off. There is an ‘easter egg’ on the video menu screen though. A little bit of twiddling will reveal two hammers which will, when pressed, give you a lovely Rod Smallwood 'Nicko McBrain anecdote. Lovely. You'd be better off watching this than the videos.
There's a whole load of other things on here to play with and discover. Photo galleries of tour programmes, T-shirts, very thorough tour dates and so on. There's also a fairly complete discography up until Piece Of Mind.
This is an absolute must for the Maiden fan who will, of course, waste no time in rushing out and buying it. The best might be yet to come though, for next in the series will cover the golden age between Powerslave and Somewhere in time and promises, at last, the arrival to DVD of 'Live After Death'....