Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Eternity

I recently wrote a massive kind of introduction to Iron Maiden piece for http://www.alreadyheard.com, but due to editorial constraints I had to cut it down and change the format and stuff. However, having put rather a lot of time and energy into its researching and writing, I’ve decided to make the most of it to reproduce a brief history right here.

Iron Maiden was born on Christmas day 1975, but spent three years messing around with different members, before Steve Harris, Dave Murray and their then colleagues got it together to record a demo on New Year’s Eve 1978. Such was the popularity of the demo, that in under a year it had been pressed and released under the name of ‘The Soundhouse Tapes’, all 5000 copies selling out in a few short weeks based on word of mouth; had secured them a manager in the rotund form of Rod Smallwood; oh yeah, and landed them a major label record deal with E.M.I..

By April of 1980, riding high on the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, the Londoners were already delivering the goods – their eponymous debut crashing the UK album charts at number 4. Featuring Paul Di’Anno‘s rough edged vocals, it boasts a raw energy honed to perfection by five long years on the East London pub circuit. From the sinister rock riffing that opens the murderous ‘Prowler’ there is something quite daring about it; this is the sound of a band exploring its creativity, pushing themselves and the Heavy Metal genre forward, reworking classic ideas whilst incorporating new. The most startling example of their innovation is the monumental ‘Phantom of the Opera’, an epic master class in songwriting that helps make ‘Iron Maiden’ one of the finest debuts in Heavy Metal. In one fell swoop, Iron Maiden established themselves as the act to follow, not only in sound, but also in marketing, the stunning first glimpse of Eddie The Head the first step to establishing their merchandise empire.

However, Harris and Murray were still having difficulties with personnel, which led to Adrian Smith joining the band prior to the recording and release of 1981’s ‘Killers’. Although it was another quality album, there was little to set it apart from their debut, it largely consisting of left over material, plus there were more personnel problems on the horizon. Besides the excessive drug use of vocalist Paul Di’Anno, which never really fit the band’s profile, the raspiness that had initially attracted Harris to his voice would prove to be the singer’s downfall; his hard rock tropes were just too limited for the direction the songwriting would take.

Samson‘s Bruce Dickinson was seen as the perfect replacement and slipped seamlessly into the band for the recording of ‘The Number of the Beast’, the album that changed everything, providing their first UK number one. ‘Beast’ is jam packed with killer material, the songs are quite simply in a different class, whether it’s the riff fest that is ’22 Acacia Avenue’, the hook filled chorus of ‘Run to the Hills’ or the subtle complexities to the epic tale of ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’, which is arguably the band’s finest moment in itself, the songs are quite simply in a different class. It is a genuine classic that created a template by which future Metal albums would be judged. With Nicko McBrain replacing drummer Clive Burr after the supporting tour, what would become the classic line up was in place and the Maiden machine would march on to conquer the world.

The first half of the 1980s was the band’s most prolific period and would see them produce a quite staggering album a year for five years until 1984, followed by the definitive heavy metal live album in 1985’s ‘Live After Death’. Simply put, it is one of the finest live albums ever recorded and documents the seemingly endless World Slavery Tour following 1984’s ‘Powerslave’ and the 1983 album that first broke them stateside, ‘Piece of Mind’. The tour went on so long that Dickinson actually threatened to quit if they didn’t have a few months off.

The break was short lived however, as they were soon back in the studio for ‘Somewhere In Time’, on which they controversially added some synthesised elements to their signature sound; something they further explored on 1988’s conceptual affair ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’. Even so, both albums were warmly received by critics and fans alike; the latter providing the band with their second UK number one. The supporting tour culminated in their first headline performance at Donington for the Monsters of Rock festival, which was marred by the death of two fans in the crush during Guns n Roses’ UK debut set.

Chinks were starting to appear in Iron Maiden‘s armour though, Dickinson was feeling creatively limited by the band’s sound and released his first solo album, the vibrant ‘Tattooed Millionaire’ in 1990, alongside guitarist Janick Gers. Gers would then find himself employed by Maiden after the departure of long time member Adrian Smith, who was distinctly unhappy (and rightly so!) with the stripped down direction the band was taking on ‘No Prayer for the Dying’, which proved to be a stinker of a record. After having produced seven classic studio albums, at some stage the creative juices had to run dry and ‘Prayer’ is the sound of band pushing the self destruct button. It looks and sounds like Maiden, but it’s like they decided to give the tribute band a shot. How ironic that the second single from the album, the stunningly awful ‘Bring Your Daughter…’, gave them their first number one single – must’ve been a quiet week on the charts.

1992’s ‘Fear of the Dark’ managed to recover some lost pride, but was the final nail in the coffin for Dickinson, who’d simply had enough, the tension of the subsequent tour signalling the end of an era. He was eventually replaced by Blaze Bayley from Wolfsbane, who had supported Maiden on their 1990 tour. Blaze’s deeper voice added a darker edge to their sound on the competent ‘X Factor’, but his limitations were starting to show by 1998’s disappointing ‘Virtual XI’ and were undisguisable in the live arena, many of Bruce’s songs proving too challenging for Bayley’s natural register. January 1999 brought the likeable front man’s five year stint to a close, and, at the suggestion of manager Rod Smallwood, Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith were both approached to rejoin the band.

From the opening chords of ‘The Wicker Man’ on 2000’s ‘Brave New World’ it is clearly the sound of a band reinvigorated, now boasting a three guitar line-up of Smith, Murray and Gers and a return to more complex compositions. Maiden were back on form and would embark on a run of quality releases through the noughties; besides the superb ‘Rock in Rio’ live album, which neatly captures the enthusiasm of Brazilian fans, both ‘Dance of Death’ and ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, from 2003 and 2007 respectively, were well received and would result in ever more ambitious touring. Not only were their songs getting longer and more complex, rarely dipping below the five minute mark, but the tours were also going to ever greater lengths, visiting more exotic locations and flying in their own plane, Ed Force One, with lead singer Dickinson at the controls. The ‘Flight 666’ movie of their 2008 ‘Somewhere Back in Time Tour’ makes for compelling viewing, giving rare insight into the logistics of a world tour and the dynamic of the band, as they play in places like India, Colombia and Costa Rica as well as the well trodden stages of previous world tours.

For a band that had weathered the turbulence of internal difficulties, coupled with the ever changing musical climate, the fact that after Dickinson and Smith returned they consolidated their creative reputation, besides cementing the popularity of their live performances, is testament to their talent and enduring appeal. For 15th studio album, ‘The Final Frontier’, which was widely expected to be their last, to then go to number one in 28 different countries was a remarkable achievement, as was the Grammy win for single ‘El Dorado’ and the fact that the supporting tour gathered audiences reportedly totalling 2 million people.

It would’ve been no surprise if Iron Maiden had decided to call it a day, but with another greatest hits album, ‘From Fear to Eternity’, and more live releases they found excuses to keep on touring. Their headline performance at Download in 2013 would be their fifth at Donington, 25 years after 1988’s infamous occasion.

The breaks between the albums may have got longer but 2016 finds Iron Maiden touring the world once again, and with another Donington headline appearance lined up. Last year’s ‘Book of Souls’ proved that despite Dickinson’s brush with cancer, Maiden marches inexorably on, the longest album of their career providing yet another UK number one. Although all the albums since the return of Smith and Dickinson have been well received and stand up in terms of quality, it is ‘Book of Souls’ that holds up when compared to the cannon of albums from the eighties. Tracks like ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ and ‘Tears of a Clown’ show that they still have a trick or two up their collective sleeves, and that’s before we get to the 18 minute piano driven epic ‘Empire of the Clouds’!

Whether or not ‘Book of Souls’ is their swan song remains to be seen, but for the moment at least, it’s business as usual as their enduring brand continues to thunder across the globe. Who would’ve thought that in the 40 plus years since that Christmas Day in Steve Harris’ living room his brainchild would go on to sell over 90 million albums and monstrous quantities of merchandise, becoming one or the most recognised brands and bands in the world, with multiple number ones, multiple awards and a legacy that makes them one of the most important forces in the history of rock music.

http://ironmaiden.com/

Postcards From Glasgow

When people think of vibrant music scenes in the UK, London aside, the focus inevitably falls on Manchester and other big English cities like Liverpool, Birmingham and Sheffield. However, back at the beginning of the 1980s a post punk movement sprang up around Alan Horne, Orange Juice and Postcard Records that would have far reaching impact, the echoes of which continue to resonate in the industry today.

The Glasgow punk scene, graced by the likes of The Sick and The Vomit, was late burgeoning and, as a result, ugly and violent. So when Alan Horne the editor of fanzine ‘Swankers’, met Edwyn Collins to strike up an alliance in the form of Postcard Records and what would later become Orange Juice, their intentions couldn’t have been further removed. Collins, and bandmates Steven Daly and James Kirk, were united by a love of way more sophisticated music like Bowie and Velvet Underground; so when The Clash rolled into town with The Slits, The Buzzcocks and Subway Sect in tow, it was the intricate guitar pop anchoring the punk ethic of the Television influenced Subways that caught the eye.

Having settled on a sound that was the very antithesis of the raging punk that preceded them, Orange Juice put out their first single, ‘Falling and Laughing, on Postcard in February 1980 and a legacy was born. A flurry of releases followed from Josef K, who originated from the similarly vibrant Edinburgh scene, The Go-Betweens and the Roddy Frame vehicle, Aztec Camera.

Roddy’s prodigious talent would, however, soon depart in favour of the London based Rough Trade, with whom Horne’s relationship was one of mistrust and antagonism after owner Geoff Travis, had failed to see the attraction in Orange Juice’s second single ‘Blue Boy’. This friction with the store/label/distributor, and more specifically Geoff, was symptomatic of Alan’s confrontational personality, as well as his laissez-faire attitude to business, and by the summer of 1981, just over a year since the first release, a series of bad decisions had caused the fledgling label to implode.

Nevertheless, in his short tenure at the helm of a label, Horne had succeeded in providing the spark for “The Sound of Young Scotland”, a sound born from the guitar based pop melodies of Orange Juice that would inspire a new generation of talent to follow suit. Altered Images, The Bluebells, Paul Quinn vehicles like The Jazzateers and Bourgie Bourgie, as well as Del Amitri and The Lone Wolves were all making waves by the time Horne had decided to join his Orange Juice friends in the capital.

Now in charge of Swamplands, for major label London Records, little changed for Alan, releasing very little and making more enemies than friends, yet his influence continued to pervade. Orange Juice, now signed to Polydor, finally crashed the top 10 in 1983 with the classic ‘Rip It Up, while James Kirk and Edwin Collins also got together with Alan’s starlet, Paul Quinn, to record a sublime version of Velvet Underground‘s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’, which was one of the few releases on Swamplands.

In the meantime, more sophisticated guitar pop was coming out of the Glasgow scene in the form of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, whose debut single ‘Perfect Skin’ would break the top forty, as would most of their future singles, embellishing their name indelibly on the 1980s.

Although Horne’s spell at Swamplands would ultimately prove unsuccessful, the movement inspired by himself and Orange Juice would continue to gather pace with the likes of
Strawberry Switchblade, The Pastels and Nick Currie, of The Happy Family and later Momus, all having varying degrees of success. More importantly, the jangly guitars and intelligent heartfelt lyrics that had defined the scene provided the roots for what was to come; the feedback fueled indie pop of The Jesus and Mary Chain, who had a string of top forty singles and albums, and the massive Primal Scream, formed by the charismatic Bobby Gillespie, who had also played drums on the J&MC debut ‘Psychocandy’.

The rich strain of talent that was uncovered around Glasgow as a result of Horne and Collins’ influence made up a substantial part of the landscape of popular music during the 1980s. The Postcard/Orange Juice combination had provided not only the template, but the impetus behind multiple bands to appear in the 1980s and beyond, spawning a succession of successful and influential records. The impact of that music on the generation of listeners and subsequent generations of musicians cannot be underestimated as it continues to resonate in the music of today; one listen to the likes of Tame Impala or Wild Nothing and you can hear it; sophisticated lyrics, intricate guitar melodies underpinned by synthesizers and a slightly downbeat vibe, it’s all there; kudos to Alan, Edwyn and the “Sound of Young Scotland”.

Streamtime

8-ways-streaming
The apparent liberty and misguided feeling of anonymity afforded by the internet have led to a shift in cultural paradigms. After a few years of dial up connections and getting excited when you received an email or managed to penetrate the ads and access the monumental porn database, broadband and 3G eventually woke us up to the potential of this international network of computers and legitimized our God given right to steal music.

“But file sharing’s not stealing – it’s like making a tape of your mate’s CD” I hear you cry, and to an extent you have an argument, but when we were younger and we made tapes this was often a way to get into something new we would later acquire, not quite the same thing as torrenting the entire back catalogue of your favourite artist now is it?

By necessity our music tastes were much more tribal than today because our access was oh so limited, so we tended to stick to what we knew we liked, and tape swapping was a way of broadening horizons and getting to know different bands or genres, albeit constrained by the limitations of the format; I miss tapes. Nowadays, the entire scenario is different – we basically have access to everything and listen to everything – now it’s actually kinda cool to have guilty pleasures or varied tastes.

This wide ranging access afforded by the internet has led to the rise of streaming; and now you can stream pretty much anything from books through to porn. We are the immediate generation, transcending “On Demand” to “Right Fucking Now”; patience is no longer just a virtue, it’s a rare commodity as scarce as likeable politicians. Attention spans are equally hard to come by, so streaming is the perfect solution, if we don’t get instant gratification we can bin it and move on, no need to invest time or money in something not instantly likeable, unless of course you like a challenge. As far as music goes, on the surface at least, the enormity of the available catalogues on streaming services is proving a raging success and is the latest chapter of the ever changing story board that is the music industry, so what’s going on and why is it the future?

Streaming services first became viable as a result of governmental concessions granting certain liberties in regard to royalty payments. In a nutshell, so as to facilitate their growth, they were given the possibility of paying lower rates than radio or tv or from physical sales; so called digital performance royalties. Basically, the record companies and independent artists license out their catalogues to digital services through aggregators like Nimbit, TuneCore or CD Baby and the royalties are then collected and distributed through Sound Exchange, with artists recouping as little as half a cent per stream. i.e You’d need 20 thousand streams to make 100 bucks, which when compared to standard royalty rates of 9.1 cents essentially equates to slave labour – in no other industry would this be acceptable.

Now that streaming is so well established maybe it’s time for a rethink on this, especially now that it counts towards sales figures and chart positions. This move is probably part of a grander plan from the conglomerates, a kind of first step towards the much more lucrative mechanical royalties, as paid on physical sales and downloads. In the meantime, at least the digital platforms provide another way to discover an artist, so there is a bit of shop window factor in return for musicians not really making any meaningful cash from their music.

Right now there are a number of players offering a variety of streaming type services, from the ubiquitous “freemium” service of
Spotify, through the dominant online radio of Pandora, which is also set to join the on-demand market using its powerful brand as leverage, to the totally paid services like Rhapsody or Napster. There are even ad-supported platforms like the extremely attractive Guvera, which is only available in about 20 countries, but set to expand. And lets not forget the tech giants like Apple and Google pimping their services to their already cornered markets.

As a dedicated non-Appler (I like thinking for myself), I know very little about Apple Music, though must admit to wishing I could access the Beats Radio programming, which I’m sure is illicitly available somewhere on the interweb. However, I find the whole Apple domination thing a little sinister – personally I like choice, flexibility and competition; running apple services on exclusively apple platforms is a little monopolistic for my taste.

Spotify is obviously the most universal entry point to the streaming market, with over 75 million users, about 20 million of whom pay for the service and provide 91% of the company’s revenue, the other 9% coming from the ads supporting the free service. In other words, one person pays for certain privileges so another 3 or 4 can enjoy the free service, hmmm. Their model is somewhat controversial as a result of the royalties thing, but from the customer’s point of view it’s an attractive option, whether you listen to their 30 million plus catalogue for free with limitations or subscribe and take advantage of being able to save albums and playlists to your devices – regardless of its brand. Personally, I prefer Deezer which offers a similar service, but their interface is not only much more attractive, but also way more user friendly – for instance you don’t need to save an album first to download it after, as well as navigation also being easier, with less polluted results.

Whatever service one uses, the whole concept of streaming has raised some interesting issues, besides artist royalties. Primarily, having such an enormous catalogue at your fingertips is incredible yet overwhelming. The realization that you can now listen to absolutely anything you want whenever you want is liberating to say the least – I’ve rediscovered old classics, got back into artists I’d forgotten I liked, checked out new releases, been recommended cool bands I’d never heard of and revisited stuff I have on vinyl but haven’t been able to play for years (when you have a young child spending money on decks is not a priority!), all without illegally downloading a thing. Personally I like not committing a crime to listen to music.

However, the limitlessness of it is kinda scary, having pretty much everything at the touch of a screen has made me think about whether or not I really need a record/CD/tape/digital file collection and to be honest that’s not a comfortable thought; as well as not getting decent Christmas presents it would be just plain weird – what would I play in the car? Imagine never studying the beautiful artwork on an album sleeve, or never reading an inlay again, or never holding the physical product! As (The Great) Chuck D says, streaming’s a fools paradise, you are basically renting music, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but a world without physical ownership of music is not a world in which I wish to live. The downloading generation are sure to super overvalue our record collections come the digital backlash. Also, can you really conceive of paying a monthly fee for the rest of your days? Again, limitlessness =scary!

Even so, the benefits of streaming are attractive, I love the “I haven’t heard it for ages” factor, I love having legal access to an album I’m curious about, and, as a subscriber, I love being able to save to my phone. And therein lies the rub. Here in Brazil, Deezer and Spotify are an easily accessible R$14:90 which in dollars is only $3:75 and comes in R$5 cheaper than Netflix over here; pretty good value huh? Especially when you consider that streaming services tend to cost around $10, £10 or €10 depending on where you are. Ten bucks would be a cool forty reais out here, twice the price of Brazilian Netflix.


Interesting discussion surrounding the issue from Consequence of Sound

Another interesting consequence of streaming is that when you search for an artist, although you get the most popular tracks you also get the discography organized by album. As such, if you are a subscriber and wish to save something to a device, the easiest way is to download the album, unless someone has already made the definitive playlist of course, as picking and choosing tracks is not only time consuming but impractical. Therefore, unless you’re a compulsive track skipper, chances are albums are getting listened to as complete works once again; in my view this is a positive thing.

Right now, the majority of users prefer the free services that are available, the challenge for the platforms is getting people to subscribe – Tidal, Deezer and Rhapsody have used a variety of techniques with varying degrees of success, Spotify’s model having had the best results thus far. It seems that people are still uncomfortable with paying for music – strange mentality if you really think about it – I mean you wouldn’t steal a book from a book shop would you? But then again, why pay to join a library?

The future, I believe, would be to make the subscription service more attractive, Spotify are already under artist pressure to do this, but keep the cost affordably low so as to increase the number of users. Basically, the free service, if you are listening on a PC with broadband or a Laptop on Wi-Fi is every bit as good as it is for subscribers; free users only really lose out on mobile devices, because as well as eating up their data quota they only get shuffle play, besides the annoying ads. So how about more ads and less flexibility on PCs and Laptops? How about exclusive content for subscribers? Make the free service less desirable, then with a higher subscription rate maybe royalties would be less laughable.

Whatever way you look at it and however you prefer listening to music, streaming services are here to stay and record companies see them as part of a coming golden age in the music industry. The big labels are already preparing for the possibility of ubiquitous Wi-Fi and super fast internet connections; and when I say super fast I mean beyond what you can imagine, thousands of times faster than today’s broadband speeds and instant access wherever you are. The information super highway is set to go supernova in the next few years and the labels are already working out how to make money from people being able to access music with such facility.

So, like it or not, subscription streaming is the future and, with any luck, the kind of money this is likely to generate may well be just the shot in the arm the industry needs; if, and it’s a big if, that money filters down to artist development and to the independent labels. After all, that the internet is a hotbed of creativity is a given, the indie/alternative/ punk scenes, fuelled by alternative streaming services like SoundCloud and artist friendly hubs like Bandcamp is thriving and is an enormous market in itself. However, too much talent falls by the wayside, as sustaining an upcoming band is quite simply not a financially viable proposition under current circumstances, but with greater investment at grass roots levels and more exciting young talent breaking through, maybe something like a Guns n Roses reunion won’t seem like such an exciting idea.