Watching Iron Maiden’s Flight 666 this week was enlightening on so many fronts but one aspect of a fantastic film, in particular, made me think.
Here we are, the founders of rock and heavy metal, the home to great British bands like Maiden, Leppard, Whitesnake and still the one place where every act in the world wants to play and break.
But over here in dear old Blighty have we forgotten what it takes to really rock? The evidence as presented on Flight 666 suggests the disturbing answer is yes.
Granted Maiden’s rockumentary didn’t feature their Twickenham show – the only UK stop-off on the mammoth Somewhere Back In Time world tour – and so there was no direct comparison to be made within the film between foreign crowds and their British brethren.
Nevertheless, the footage of the band’s South American shows proved that you only have to go as far as Columbia, Argentina and Chile to experience a true rock crowd. The fact that you might not live to survive another concert is beside the point.
It’s not just the gig itself which inspires hysteria on a scale not seen on these shores since Beatle mania was its frenzied peak. South of Mexico metal fans turn concerts into mammoth events where the build-up and post-concert party are almost as important as the show.
They queue for days, still race each other across the venue floor for the best spot against the front of stage barrier (Alice Cooper at Whitley Bay Ice Rink was the last time I did that) and cry uncontrollably at the very fact Maiden have brought the ultimate metal show to their city.
And that, of course, is the point. Perhaps it’s going too far to say familiarity breeds contempt but on our own little island we’ve always been blessed with big acts touring relentlessly. More recently we’ve added big arenas to the mix and lately Download has become the premier rock and metal festival in the world.
We’re bloody lucky but we just don’t know it. When, within 18 months, in one provincial city, you can see Leppard, Whitesnake, Metallica, Slipknot, Rush, Heaven & Hell, Alice Cooper, Velvet Revolver etc. etc. it’s perfectly understandable that you become blasé. You don’t jump around madly for every second of every song throughout every set because next week you’ll be back at the same place watching another mega-selling act and nodding along with smug satisfaction.
Back in Chile they’re not afforded those luxuries. Last year was the first time Maiden had ever set foot in Santiago. For years the people of a country rooted in traditional Catholicism demanded Bruce and the boys were barred from crossing its borders and so, by the time this miracle of an event happened, the baying hordes were almost out of control. At times the footage was frightening. But it screamed the kind of uncontrollable passion which rarely rears its head at British gigs these days.
I couldn’t help but notice a comment from The Answer’s Cormac Neeson this week when he explained London crowds were traditionally cold towards support bands. In my experience it’s not just the support bands. And the biggest single reason our friends down south take an almighty kick up the arse to get rocking is that they’re spoilt. Spoilt rotten.
If the only solution is to shift the centre of rock activity to Santiago then so be it. After a decade without a decent metal show in London the natives would be restless bordering on the riotous when an act like AC/DC or Metallica stopped off to play a show. And the good folk of Chile would have calmed down enough to allow Bruce and his boys an evening stroll untroubled by intense scrutiny and relentless fan adoration. Or maybe not.