Iron Maiden ‘Flight 666′ Feature
If you went to see Iron Maiden’s ‘Flight 666′ story yesterday, you’ll already be aware of how much ass it kicks. Come on in to read the inside story behind the movie!
Here is the inside scoop behind the album with words from Metal Hammer editor Alexander Milas. Be sure to check out the details of our forthcoming ultra-collectible, limited-edition ‘LED Force One’ cover sleeve!
IRON MAIDEN: FLIGHT 666 FEATURE
“They think they’re better than you? Fuck ‘em. They have something you want? Fuck ‘em. They’ve put something in your way? Fuck. Them. It’s about reality, honesty, integrity, it’s about working hard to earn your crust, and you do not compromise.”
Right now Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood is expounding upon the fundamentals of rugby. There’s a Six Nations rugby match tomorrow, and conversation has shifted from the legendary Yorkshireman’s first love – Iron Maiden – to his second. Or has it?
“No, not at all,” he says, smiling. “It’s the same thing. We never had help in the beginning, no one was on our side. Iron Maiden approached their career in the same way.”
It’s not an assessment you can really argue with. Nearly 34 years have passed since the band’s conception by Steve Harris on Christmas Day, 1975, and – at a stage when even the hardiest of bands are in their twighlight, Iron Maiden are just about to release one of the greatest documents to their ongoing defiance of conventional wisdom: ‘Iron Maiden: Flight 666′ – a tour documentary which covers the first leg of their genuinely world-beating ‘Somewhere Back In Time’ world tour last year. The colossal nature of that tour’s first chapter – an international media event and already a weighty tome in the annals of metaldom – is an essay unto itself, so let’s stick to the numbers: 21 cities across three continents, 50,000 miles, and the not insignificant matter of Ed Force One, the band’s own plane, piloted by none other than Bruce Dickinson itself. As global victory laps go, it was a piss-take: two gigantic fingers aimed squarely at the naysayers that have dismissively shook their heads at a band with a zombie for a mascot and lyrics that have more to do with Homeric epics and Western culture’s fixation with heroic feats than fashion.
“It’s like when we started off , go back to 1979, my plan was, ‘we’ve got the east end, let’s get London, we got London, let’s get England, we got England…’ It’s easier now because communication is global but there was no metal press back in those days, so we had to do it in a totally different way but our belief was there were people out there who were not satisfied and wanted something more.”
And you could say that ‘…Flight 666′ is as much a documentary about the commitment of Iron Maiden fans around the world as it is a testament to the band’s undiminished ability to enthrall on the live stage. It was assembled from over 500 hours of footage by Canadian filmmaking duo Sam Dunn and Scott McFayden, the pair responsible for 2005′s rapturously received ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey’. In fact, it’s there that the duo’s relationship with Maiden began.
“They were contacting me because they were having trouble accessing people, and when I realised Sam was a professor of Anthropology I decided to help them when I realised they wanted to take an intelligent approach and that’s what I wanted,” says Smallwood. “Metal people are genuinely bright people. Metal to the media world is looked on like this gormless, slovenly form of music which we all know is completely bullshit. Metal is an outlet. Frustration is built up from questioning. If you’re questioning, there’s innate intelligence. So to me metal fans have always been very intelligent. So I thought I should encourage these so I arranged some interviews with Tony Iommi, Slayer, and people like. They came to me a couple of years ago when we announced the Maiden tour, and they said they wanted to do a documentary on Maiden. I was like, ‘ok, but what’s the story?’”
Therein lies the conundrum. As Smallwood points out, there’s no blackness to Maiden – no underbelly requiring exposure and, resultantly, no obvious angle for a documentary film. That is, of course, if you overlook the sentiment that Steve Harris so eloquently expressed in these very pages last year on the eve of Maiden’s triumphant appearance at Twickenham Stadium: “I hope that Maiden fans can feel a sense of accomplishment in seeing us play here because they have been a part of the journey.”
‘…Flight 666′ is in some ways two films running in parallel: in equal parts a record of life on the road in the biggest metal band in the world is like as it is an answer to the question of how it’s possible that an English heavy metal band can inspire fanatical adoration from Tokyo to Mumbai to Bogota, and – not insignificantly – sell out stadiums. In some parts it’s a curiosity cabinet – meeting the Catholic priest in Peru festooned with Maiden tattoos from tit to fingertip whose sermons are based on Maiden lyrics; Nicko McBrain receiving an Aztec blessing in Mexico. In others, it’s a fly on the wall’s view of life with Steve Harris and company – a bird’s eye view Ed Force One’s Maiden voyage, and in others, a sentimental tribute not just to what Maiden represents around the world but what ‘metal’ represents. Take the Colombian metal fan, one of tens of thousands who camped outside of Simon Bolivar Park site for nine days in a tent city, who authorities stripped of food and water before being allowed in, who – upon catching one of Nicko McBrain’s drumsticks tossed into the crowd, completely loses his shit. Or the take the kid on his way to Maiden’s show in Mumbai who – in a universally-repeated tradition of Maiden supporters – relates the day that he became a fan. Like millions of others, he admits that it was the artwork he saw and was captivated by at first, and when he actually heard the band, ‘it was love at first listen.’ They are these moments, a shift of the camera away from the main attraction that makes this so compelling.
“If anyone made a documentary without the fans it’d be a farce, a fake, a sham,” says Sam Dunn, fresh from relating the story of his first encounter with Maiden. He was about 12, he’d just seen some artwork, and precisely one listen to ‘Powerslave’ on a shitty school record player, well… you know the rest.
“A lot of films get made without a meaningful shot, not one, of the fans. That’s different with the Maiden experience. You couldn’t capture those shows without the singalongs – you go to South America and kids are singing the harmonies and the solos, not just the words – it’s like they’re obsessed. It’s incredible, but what pisses me off is you can make six documentaries about the Rolling Stones, like ‘Shine A Light’, celebrating the band and ‘only’ the band, and you can make a movie about Iron Maiden and people scratch their heads and ask ‘why?’
Take the fan in Chile who’s about too see Iron Maiden for the first time – a full 20 years since the first time the band came to that country only to be banned as the result of protests by the Catholic Church. Or the one in Mexico City who tells the camera that his country is ‘the ass of the world’ and no one goes there, but then Maiden do. It’s all in stark contrast to the glitz of the first dates of the tour, back in LA, with the likes of Lars Ulrich, Scott Ian, Tom Morello, and Kerry King lurking in the backstage halls of power waiting for a glimpse of a band that still, to the amazement of many in a business accustomed to separate tour buses (and in some cases jets) – still share the same dressing room. But when the band depart to tour the Southern hemisphere, there’s a definite sense that they’re leaving the relative security and familiarity of their usual stomping grounds and putting themselves in harm’s way. The film takes a distinctly dark turn, as if – they’re entering Mordor. Dunn doesn’t disagree.
“Yeah it’s scary, but it turns out Mordor’s the place to be!” says Dunn. He’s electric, radiating a love for his subject. “There’s this volatility down there and overall enthusiasm that can tip over into being dangerous or risky, but I think the guys in the band know there’s always something that could happen so there’s this urgency and tension for the second half of the tour, but there’s something Bruce says about trying to feel worthy of those crowds’ energy that sums it up. They’re playing most of these places for the first time and selling them out. I mean, we always felt like you could walk through a crowd, but it’s not what we’re used to. In Colombia there’s the threat of rebels, kidnappings, but then you’ve got the military people throwing you the horns too. It’s a weird scenario. Every person in Bogota had to take their shoes off and put them back on – some of the kids just ran in without them to get to the front of the stage before anyone else.”
Of course, the question of how to capture the religious fervour of Maiden fans around the world wasn’t the only challenge that Dunn and McFayden faced. First, they had to penetrate Iron Maiden’s inner circle, a tight-knit web of long-serving roadies and managers who conduct the business of touring with military precision.
“Maiden are a highly functional band,” says McFadyen. “They’re in their 50s playing some of the most challenging, energetic music around. It flies in the face of the idea that heavy metal should just be played by young people, but then they’re difficult to know. It was hard in the beginning.”
They relate how the first two weeks left them feeling very much like outsiders and it was awhile before going along with drummer Nicko McBrain for off-day jaunts of golf or indeed Adrian Smith for tennis. As time went on, endearing themselves with the bandmates’ wives worked wonders. And it’s with each chapter of this story – punctuated by another number from the Somewhere Back In Time tour’s career-spanning set list, that the pair seem to become what Dunn describes as a circle of trust.
“Different people had different takes,” he says. “Janick hated being filmed but then he came around. When you’re part of the family, you’re part of the family, but we got put throught he ringer by the crew. They’re not used to it. They’re used to: media and cameras are bad. That’s a problem. And with 70 people all thinking the same thing, and you’re trying get them all to like you? It’s like going back to high school!”
Of course, sharing the moment of departure in the cockpit of Ed Force One, climbing above the clouds in a jet piloted by Bruce Dickinson, and filming it, it’s an experience to be sniffed at, but then, as Dunn admits, it’s not really about the personal privilege of that vantage point, it’s about sharing that experience with the tens of millions of fans around the world for whom upping the Irons is a way of life. There’s a reason why they relate. As Smallwood says: “The band never asked me how many tickets we sold. Ever. They want to play and they know they’re going to play to devoted fans. 500 or 50,000, it doesn’t matter that much. A lot of bands trundle around between arenas and stadiums and no one wants to be on stage, it’s a job. It’s not passion. You should do things for the right reasons. And we do.”