The History of, Part 1: The Early Days (DVD)
posted on 12/2004 By:
Legends aren’t simply born, but developed, built brick by brick, and The Early Days shows how Steve Harris formed the foundation of Iron Maiden and then transformed the band from young pub dwellers into one of the most important bands in the history of metal. This is the first of a series of DVDs chronicling Maiden’s history, and this edition starts with Harris’ pre-Maiden work and covers the band’s work up through their 1983 classic, Piece of Mind. Iron Maiden have done more than their fair share of retreading old ground with best of’s and live albums, and some of these projects have been better than others. But the band gives the fans more than their money’s worth with this offering, as The Early Days has a run time of more than five hours, plus a slew of special features. Like a patented Murray/Smith harmonized lead, the history of the band is told in two complimentary formats—Disc One contains three concert performances, from 1980, 1982, and 1983, while the centerpiece of Disc Two is a 90 minute documentary. The second disc also contains a pub gig from the time of the launch of the band’s first album, and an assortment of television spots and videos, as well as pictures and other bonus features.
The documentary is a fascinating look at the band’s early development and serves as a testimony to the will and determination of Steve Harris. The program begins with Harris explaining that he only chose to play the bass because he didn’t have enough room for a drum set. The fact that he had only been playing bass for a few years when he wrote complex compositions like “Phantom of the Opera” is mind boggling. The viewer hears Harris recount his first band experiences with 1972’s Gypsy Kiss and later with Smiler. Harris formed Iron Maiden in 1975, and underwent a near comic number of line up changes. Many of these ex-members are interviewed, and most of them now look like your father. Among the characters met along the way were drummers Ron Rebel and a guy simply known as Thunder Stick. Harris kept experimenting with the composition of the band, briefly adding a keyboard player and even considering adding a third guitar player (which of course they have now). They went through drummers and singers, but the biggest turn over was at guitar—Maiden went through guitarists like Spinal Tap went through drummers. I was just waiting to hear that they were forced to replace Terry Wapram after he choked to death on vomit (of course, they couldn’t be sure whose vomit it was).
The revolving door eventually slowed down a bit and the band developed a rabid fanbase in the UK. The classic first album was very well received, although we learn that Harris has never considered it a great album, due to the production. The Early Days also tells of the beginnings of relationships with other important collaborators, like long time manager Rod Smallwood, Eddie creator Derek Riggs, and producer Martin Birch. Each of the four albums recorded during this era are discussed, although the making of the albums does not get much attention. More time is spent talking about the touring, strategies, and life of the band. According to insiders, it was Maiden’s unrelenting live shows and close connection to their fans that helped them succeed.
There is ample evidence of the band’s stellar live shows on Disc One, beginning with the original VHS release Live at the Rainbow, a 30 minute concert filmed in London in 1980. Footage from this home video was later used on music video channels as promotional clips, so this footage may look familiar. Highlights of the show include an energetic “Transylvania” and an early version of “Killers” with alternate lyrics, which Di’Anno says he made up in the dressing room. Eddie makes an appearance on stage even back then. Several Eddies in fact, as back then the band would grab a couple crew members and send them out to wander the stage wearing Eddie masks (One crew member would show up wearing cords, knowing Smallwood would never let Eddie appear in corduroy).
It’s hard to believe that the next footage, from 1982’s Beast over Hammersmith, was filmed only a year and a half later. The street wise, punk edged, blue collar performance of the early days was long gone by the time the band was fronted by Bruce Dickinson and touring for Number of the Beast. By then, everything was bigger—much bigger. The crowds, the stage, the energy, and the showmanship had all grown leaps and bounds. Dickinson, of course, was everything that Di’Anno was not, for better and for worse. And regardless of whom you prefer as a front man, there is no denying what Dickinson brought as an energetic front man. Unfortunately, the footage of this show was sub par and never released, and this restored version is truncated to 45 minutes. Still, there are plenty of good moments, including a blistering performance of the b-side “Total Eclipse” and the always powerful “Hallowed Be Thy Name.”
It was obvious Maiden’s star was very much on the rise, and by the time they performed at the 1983 Dortmund Rock and Pop festival, it was clear the band was on top of the metal world. The festival included several of the big names in metal, but was headlined by a confident and relaxed Iron Maiden. This footage was originally aired on German television and hasn’t been replayed since. The entire performance is captured, with the exception of “Iron Maiden” which wasn’t shown, due to German broadcasters fearing that the band’s “lobotomy” of Eddie was too graphic for television. The band is in top form, blazing through Piece of Mind classics like “The Trooper” and “Revelations.”
The concert footage is of satisfactory quality for its age. The sound and picture are not as crisp as you find today, but that is to be expected. Minor flaws are easily forgotten, given the value and rareness of the footage. Rarest of all, is a bonus concert from 1980 at the Ruskin Arms pub in East London. The band used to play there frequently and when their first album was launched returned for a charity gig. The show was filmed on home video and although the quality isn’t the best, seeing Maiden lay waste to a pub crowd alone is worth the price of the DVD. “Prowler” absolutely smokes, and this is also the only known footage of “Another Life” and “Charlotte the Harlot.”
Bonus features include pictures galore, Steve Harris’ journal, tour programs, tv performances, early music videos, and more. One can get lost for hours scrolling through the numerous menus and features.
Although there are minor complaints about The Early Days, such as imperfect footage quality and abbreviated discussions of the making of their albums, there is absolutely no way to give this package anything other than a perfect score. The band has simply included all they can on this one, and any limitations are purely the result of time—both the age of the footage and the run time limitations of the DVD. At over five hours, one can scarcely complain about what they would’ve liked more of. The Early Days is a welcomed history and celebration of the band, and should be required viewing/listening for all headbangers, young and old alike.
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