Well, the arena is awash with the kind of sludge you dream up monsters emerging from and everyone we pass is in varying states of ‘fuck-it’ at this point. Little has been done to calm the quagmire overnight it seems and as the rain poured steadily throughout the day (and then horrifically during Nightwish’s set) there are actual rivers becoming moats between the stages. If you were the guy throwing yourself down the hill with wild abandon after the first falling-over incident, because why the hell not – you sir, I salute you.
However, it is with sheer luck that we stand here tonight waiting for Iron Maiden and only a tiny speckle of rain is upon us… obviously the weather-gods knew that we’d need to ditch our umbrellas to properly rock out for this. As the sky begins to darken and the thousands upon thousands of bodies cram the main stage area, a Mayan temple backdrop and stage set are unveiled which look rather like a section of The Crystal Maze. Bruce materializes from the centre stage gangway for If Eternity Should Fail and below him Nikko takes to his drum nook to begin the show. Seriously – a drum nook. It sounds like something I should have at home.
Yelling “England, how the fuck are you?” was probably only going to incite sarcasm at this juncture, as the soggy crowd snark back “fucking wet”, but Bruce has probably spent his afternoon in a cushy hotel following his flight over on Ed Force One. With visuals of the plane being hurled out of jungle vines by Eddie and a raft of fire cannons going off, it’s clear Maiden are going to put on the kind of show we were hoping for and as the notes ring out for Children of the Damned it’s pretty much a given that Bruce has lost none of the power or range after his surgery for throat cancer.
Dubbing it ‘Downpour festival’ Bruce seems to be keen on interacting with the crowd more this tour, quipping “I usually have a go at people texting in the pit… and I look down and it's our fucking manager! What a cunt! He has a hotline to the weather… we said please stop the rain for Maiden”. Though we are British and used to a rain-lashing at Download, it is pretty nice to not watch through the crackle of a crap poncho.
Next up is Tears of a Clown – a song written about and dedicated to the late Robin Williams, a song Bruce says the band “never thought they’d play live”, followed by The Red and The Black. I mean, I know it’s a stop on The Book of Souls tour, but they really are going heavy on the new album songs. It seems a shame that anyone new to Maiden here won’t get to fully experience the complete rush of hearing 85 thousand people singing along to every single word of every single song. The new tracks just haven’t sunk in yet.
Not to worry too much though, as The Trooper – with Bruce in his red jacket racing around the stage with his flag, is absolutely brilliant as always, leading into heavy Powerslave. Hallowed Be Thy Name is shouted into the night by everyone in the arena and Fear Of the Dark is accompanied by the traditional ‘ooohs’ and what once were lighters held aloft is now a sea of phone screens.
Some joking about monkeys, a very unstable Eddie (on stilts) and many “Scream for me Donington”’s aside, it’s been a non-stop show, and as a flipping GIANT Eddie head emerges from the back of the stage to stare his red eyes out into the crowd, we know that we still have twenty minutes and an epic encore to go.
Joining the band on stage for Number Of The Beast is… well, the beast. Sporting a sometimes crooked set of horns and a countenance reminiscent of battle-worn teachers during ofsted, the giant bust oversees a rampage of fire from the stage and sound tent. There’s something cathartic about screaming “666” into the sky with thousands of other people, maybe it’s the teenage rebel inside.
Bruce tells us “We’ve done this six times… frankly it’s got to stop.” to a rousing ‘boooo’ from everyone in the arena, but a promise of a giant stadium show next year for 80 thousand people (it’s definitely Wembley then…) raises a roar of appreciation. Going on to talk about the fresh news of the awful mass shooting in Orlando this weekend as “Senseless and stupid” Bruce assures us that “Maiden is one big musical family…. I don’t care what gender, what colour, what creed, what religion…” which gets the biggest applause of the night from this crowd many of whom are on the margins of society in everyday life themselves. Bruce also speaks of the Bataclan attack and urges everyone to not be like that and retaliate but to spread “music and love” instead, saying “…my friends, we are all Blood Brothers” bringing them around to one of Maiden’s grandest showpiece songs. The magnitude of the meaning is not lost on anyone, after the horrific reports we have seen on the internet today.
With a starry night backdrop and a circle of stars around Eddie’s head (which could be mistaken for an EU reference if we were looking for one…) Maiden finish up with Wasted Years which also seems especially poignant. “It’s more of a heavy metal waltz this one” jokes Bruce, but it does seem odd to end on such a sombre note, without fanfare or fireworks, just a quick “We will be back next year” and the standard Monty Python Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, to usher us from the arena. Traipsing through the sticky mess of swamp and chair-graveyards towards the exits, we are leaving with a sense of elation that always comes with Maiden shows – you know you’ve just seen something extraordinary, and that is worth all the mud you could have thrown at us.
All photographs © A. Hyams, please do not use without permission.