By Keith Sharp
“It wasn’t like this in Brazil,” sniffs Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood as he shudders against the driving snow that greets him when he steps outside on to Toronto’s John Street to smoke his first cigarette in two days.
It’s Saturday April 2nd and Smallwood is meeting up with some of his support crew at the downtown Office Pub, one day before his band continues their Book Of Souls tour at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, the band’s 19th appearance in the greater Toronto area (if you include one appearance at Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum and an early appearance at the Kingswood Theatre in Maple, north of Toronto).
The fact that Maiden concluded a five-date Brazilian leg of their tour just seven days ago and also managed sold-out dates at New York’s Madison Square Garden (March 30th) and the Montreal Bell Centre (April 1st) defies all logistics until you realize the band, and all of their equipment are being flown around the global in their own customized 747 Jumbo jet, affectionately known as Ed Force One and co-piloted by the band’s lead singer Bruce Dickinson, a certified commercial airline pilot..
With this luxurious transportation at hand, Iron Maiden has launched their most ambitious tour to date, a seven-month sojourn which kicked off in Fort Lauderdale, February 24th and flew on to Tucson AZ and Las Vegas, headed down to South America before continuing on a tour that will include 36 different countries and visit all five key continents with first time stop overs in Shanghai and Beijing as well as their first date in El Salvador and return visits to Moscow and Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa.
Venues that couldn’t possibly be reached under normal touring circumstances but now with Ed Force One, distant continents can be reached in a matter of hours. Of course there are pitfalls to the rationale of having all your crew and equipment in just one plane.
The band and management awoke Saturday March 12th after performing before 58,000 rabid fans at Santiago, Chile’s National Stadium to discover their Ed Force One aircraft had suffered massive damage to two engines and the undercarriage. While being towed for a refuelling stop before flying over the Andes for a Monday April 14th date in Cordoba Argentina, the steering pin connecting the plane with the tow truck either broke or fell out and as the plane made a turn, it lost control and smashed into the tow truck sustaining major damage.
“Fortunately, the two guys in the tug, jumped out of their vehicle in time or they would have been in serious trouble, the entire roof of the truck was sheared off,” explained Smallwood as he quaffed a glass of Guinness back in the pub. “They were taken to hospital but only received minor injuries but the plane was seriously damaged”. So what to do about the impending date in Cordoba the following day?
“Logic says we should have just cancelled the date, disappointed all the fans who had bought tickets and moved on but that’s not the way Iron Maiden works!. The bigger the set-back the more determined we are to resolve the problem,” Smallwood declared. “Fortunately, the stage gear hadn’t been loaded on to the plane, so we hired a bunch of trucks, re-booked the band on alternative flights and the Maiden crew did a killer job getting over the Andes and setting up the gig in Cordoba. We didn’t miss a beat!”
Meanwhile, the plane mechanics, contacted the plane’s owners Air Atlanta who had leased Iron Maiden the aircraft. and arrangements were made to fly new engines from Jeddah, replacement cowlings from Birmingham England, with a crew from Iceland flown over to repair the damage. Remarkably, repairs were made in record time and Ed Force One reunited with the band in Brasilia after they had played Rio De Janiero and Belo Horizonte utilizing alternative transportation.
So as Ed Force One sat parked at Toronto’s Pearson Airport , 14,000 diehard Maiden fans braved a brutal snowstorm to battle their way into the Air Canada Centre to catch the band’s 19th area appearance, and the band didn’t disappoint, four of the band’s first five songs are tracks off Maiden’s latest Mayan-themed “The Book Of Souls” double studio album and tracks like “If Eternity Should Fail”, “Speed Of Light”, “Tears Of A Clown” (a tribute to the late Robin Williams) and “The Red And The Black” melding flawlessly with Maiden standards like “Powerslave”, “The Trooper”, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and their signature “Iron Maiden” with a three-song encore led off by “The Number Of The Beast”, a new song “Blood Brothers” and finally “Wasted Years”
Considering he suffered a major tongue cancer scare last May which delayed this tour, Dickinson was in fine vocal form and bassist Steve Harris must have been proud of the fact that his son George was playing lead guitar for the opening act Raven’s Edge.
In the band’s hospitality suite, named Rod’s Room as select guests imbibed on the band’s own Trooper beer, ( now available at your local LCBO – if you’re lucky enough to find it), Smallwood acknowledged Maiden’s connection with Toronto, going back to their first ever Canadian performance on Friday June 19th 1981 when they debuted at Toronto’s Concert Hall (Masonic Temple) with Ottawa’s Reckless serving as the opening act. It was a debut that forged a strong connection with Music Express magazine.
Dave Munns, Capitol Canada’s acting Vp of Marketing at that time mentioned about this new wave of British metal bands that were launching in England and specifically raved about Iron Maiden, who had just released their self-titled debut release. Shortly after, this writer caught a video of the band’s live performance on City TV’s “New Music” program, where a highlight was the appearance of this character wearing a ghoulish mask, and when Munns asked me if I wanted to interview the band prior to their Concert Hall debut, I was agreeable,
So I am chatting with the band’s affable bassist Steve Harris about their debut North American tour and the release of their second “Killers” album and when I mentioned our mutual love of football (soccer) I obviously struck a nerve with him. Harris, who is a fervent West Ham United fan, informed that Maiden had their own team of musicians and crew. So I suggested they play Music Express the day before their gig. Challenge accepted!
Thursday June 18th, a fleet of cars pull up outside a house I leased with my partner Conny Kunz (which doubled as our office) on Kingslake Road, and out stepped Harris, dual guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith and then lead vocalist Paul Di’Anni ,drummer Clive Burr and Smallwood (who turned out to be the bloke in the Eddie mask). I had scrambled together a bunch of local musicians and staff writers including Kerry Doole, Roman Mitz and Lenny Stoute, and John Martin, the head honcho at City TV sent out a video crew to film our game, which also featured New Music host J.D Roberts.
The match was more of a kick-around which spotlighted Harris scoring about six goals on yours truly, but the event was such a success, and such a routine breaker for the band that they vowed, after debuting at the Concert Hall, that they would play a game against us the day before every concert appearance in Toronto.
Soccer became the key connection between Iron Maiden and Music Express. As they became more successful with the addition of lead vocalist Dickinson and drummer Nicko McBrain, their venues got bigger (Massey Hall 1982, Kingswood 1983, Maple Leaf Gardens 1984 and 1987 and the CNE Grandstand in 1988 (with Guns N Roses) opening, and our games got bigger and more intense. Expanding from the field behind Kingslake Rd to Upper Canada College for the 1983 game and Varsity Stadium in 1988. Maiden even joined forces with Music Express on Sunday September 11th to play a team from CHOM-FM in Montreal at the Olympic Stadium as the opening act for the North American Soccer League playoff game between the Montreal Manic and New York Cosmos before over 30,000 fans.
As stated, Maiden have played 18 concerts in the Toronto area, their 1998 Virtual X1 date was performed at Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum, and even when the band was struggling, in 1992 they played a scaled down date at the Ricoh Arena at the CNE and in 1996, after Dickinson initially left the band to be briefly replaced by Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley, they even played a club date at the RPM Warehouse – but they still played Toronto.
“When we were in Montreal, I had so many people ask “why didn’t we play Quebec City” noted Smallwood of their current Book Of Souls tour. “But I had to tell them, it’s a World Tour – we can’t play everywhere,” noting also that the only other Canadian dates on this leg are in Edmonton (April 8th) and Vancouver (April 10th).
Although the Somewhere In Time Again (2008-2009) tour and the follow up “The Final Frontier (2010-2011) tours, (documented in their Iron Maiden Flight 666 movie) have opened up even greater performance opportunities, Smallwood ‘notes the band has never lost touch with their fans. “Yes we’ve had our bumps and bruises along the way, but no matter what trends have been happening in the industry, we’ve always remained popular with our fans. The shows are getting bigger and better, our record sales are still strong, even with all of this streaming stuff going on and our merchandising sales are unbelievable”.
And as Dickinson himself noted when addressing a media scrum in Fort Lauderdale prior to the start of the tour. “Yes this is a global tour, we will be travelling all over the planet, all five major contents, but as for playing in the Arctic and Antarctica, I don’t know if the penguins are Maiden fans!”
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