Over the last few years, between new albums, Iron Maiden have delved into their back catalogue to resurrect certain eras from their past and have released the corresponding contemporary shows on DVD to go with them.
The latest in this series, following on from 2004’s compilation and documentary The Early Years and 2008’s Live After Death re-issue, is Maiden England ’88, documenting the band’s tour off the back of the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album, with a show recorded live at the Birmingham NEC.
Disc one features an extended edition of the show with three extra encore tracks compared to what was originally released on VHS in 1989.
The set list is a mixed bag as this is clearly a tour in support of an album, so it leans heavily on material from Seventh Son, though this is no bad thing as its one of their strongest albums. Aside from this we get a selection of greatest hits from the bands early albums so we have Running Free, Number of the Beast, The Trooper, et al, which makes for a nice mix that captures the band in their five-piece, 1980s, heyday.
While the set list is a blinder the actual shooting of the show leaves a lot to be desired. What we find out in the accompanying documentary is that Maiden linchpin, bassist and band leader, Steve Harris, wasn’t entirely satisfied with the Live After Death tape so took it upon himself to direct and edit this film in a style he thought more represented the fans experience of the show.
While this may be the case, what it leaves us with is a lot of low angle shots of the band and, for the time it was made, a large number of hand held shots that show the limitations of the technology in the mid-80s and have a feel of almost being home video.
As well as this, the ‘fans-eye view’ of most of the gig leaves the stage and backdrop almost hidden meaning the show lacks something that has always been essential to Maiden’s live shows as the stage always helps tell the story of the show alongside the band.
So, despite a great set list and the band’s ever-excellent performance, the video feels unfortunately amateurish in places and lacks something of the sense of scale that has been the band’s calling card since The Number of the Beast.
In contrast the three bonus tracks seem to have been put together more recently as the editing is crisper and demonstrates more of the sense of scale and energy missing from the rest of the show, which at least leaves Disc 1 on a high.
Disc 2 of the set features part 3 in a series of documentaries on the history of the band and is an interesting view of the years around Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son as the band, burned out by a huge worldwide tour, reignited with a plan to make an elaborate concept album and (shock, horror) add some synths to their musical palette.
While this is interesting, and acts to continue the story of the previous DVD sets, I couldn’t help but think it would have been nice to maybe have more on the actual production of the albums – although I do get the impression the way Maiden make records is very workman like, so maybe this wouldn’t have been as interesting as some album making ofs.
The second documentary, contemporaneous to Maiden England’s original release in 1989, takes us on a trip through the band’s first 12 years, largely told by Harris but with input from most of the other band members and is an interesting insight into the world of metal in the late 70s and early 80s as we see the view from the ‘toilet venues’ to the arenas of North America.
In the end, while the live film lacks something compared to some of the Maiden’s other efforts, it is still invigorating thanks to the excellent, if somewhat off centre, set list, while the documentaries both give an insight into the world of Iron Maiden then and in retrospect which, for fans of the band, is always going to be an interesting watch.
And, like all the best music films, this made me sing along and pick up my guitar.