This year's Europe Maidenfans Meetup was in London, England - a little place you might know as the birthplace of a band called Iron Maiden. From Friday until Monday, various Maidenfans hung out with various other Maidenfans, drank a lot of alcohol, and rocked the fuck out in ol' Blighty.
I flew out of Montreal, departing at appx. 9:30 PM EST, arriving around 9 AM BST. After navigating Heathrow incorrectly, eventually getting through customs then finally getting an Oyster card, I decided to head downtown. Knowing I had time to kill, I got off at Green Park and took a stroll through towards Buckingham Palace, assuming it might be nice to check out. When I got there, there was a solid two or three thousand people about for the Changing of the Guard. Even the Queen knew Maidenfans were coming, and decided to send out fresh troops. I wandered through St. James Park and along the old War Cabinet, to the Palace of Westminster. Realizing that a few people were near, I then popped over to the London Eye, where I met with Foro and nush. Per and Ariana caught up after a few minutes, though they were with others; we shook hands and hugged and then went off on our own way after awhile.
My next stop was Paddington Station, to meet up with Black Wizard. We succeeded in this task, and then ate burritos, as you do. We then checked into the Airbnb, a lovely row house within a 10 minute walk of New Cross Gate, a Sainsbury's, and pretty much everything you might need. I will admit, the walk to the Airbnb, when I had been up for about 30 hours, was fairly long-feeling at the time. We settled in, and then I had a nap, during which Shadow showed up. After prompt discussions we decided to head out to a pub called the Rose, where the group gathered for the first time. Everyone was in attendance, except Albie and Black Abyss Babe. We drank there until 1 AM, getting chased successively from the front patio, the back patio/beer garden, and eventually the pub itself. My party headed back to the Airbnb where we attempted for about an hour to find an open delivery restaurant; I succumbed to travel fatigue around 3 AM.
But there was cold pizza in the morning, so I'd call that a win.
The plan for the next day coalesced fairly quickly. We agreed it would be best to meet at a pub between the hours of 12 and 2, and hang out there until about 6 before heading to the O2. Which pub did we pick? The Cart and Horses, a Stratford pub known as the Birthplace of Iron Maiden. We expected to meet some other Iron Maiden fans there, and it did not disappoint, as other pilgrims came and went, taking pictures, drinking beer, and enjoying themselves. I met a man from Norway with a Virtual XI head bandanna, a guy who looked like an actual Swedish viking who will have seen Maiden 30 times on the Book of Souls World Tour alone, and a chap whose father was at the Cart and Horses the first night Iron Maiden played, among many other fun characters.
We also met Albie and Black Abyss Babe here, and we spent the afternoon chatting, getting to know each other better, drinking beer and eating pub food in preparation for the evening. The Cart and Horses has a ton of Iron Maiden nostalgia stuff, though most Maidenfans noticed that they had the album dates wrong for every album from Fear of the Dark to Brave New World on their sign. At the end of our time, we crowded on the stage and took a picture, standing where Iron Maiden stood when they got started, over forty years ago.
And then we headed to the stage where Iron Maiden was standing that very night. We got in late, and after navigating various lines for security and for merchandise, we eventually entered the venue near the end of Shinedown's set. Darn. We had gotten separated during; I followed Ariana and Perun as they plunged through the lines of bodies, searching for small gaps to bring us closer and closer to the stage. Ariana was like an infiltrator, drawing us progressively closer to the stage. We ended up settling maybe 30 people back, as Shinedown approached the end of their set. Here, we reunited with EW, Wiz, and Shadow. Unfortunately, our joyous welcoming of each other was cut off short, as it happened exactly as the band called for a moment of silence to honour the victims in Manchester. Oops.
Hey, Manchester. Let's talk about that for a minute. It's not quite the elephant in the room, but it was a unique experience for me. I've been close to a terrorist attack before, in 2014; Canadians handle these things somewhat differently than our British forebears. There was quite a police presence at the gig, including armed officers with assault rifles, something I've never ever seen. But these were professionals who were there to react in case something happened, not people attempting to force an attitude on the people trying to enjoy themselves. It was the British people at their very best, in refusing to be cowed by fear, refusing to act differently in the face of violence. The Iron Maiden concert in London was the first major show in the city since the attacks, and everyone knew it, but you could tell they also simply wouldn't be affected by it. It was truly an honour to stand, as a foreigner, with the British people at this time, to defy those who would punish us for living as we choose by choosing to live, and live well. To reaffirm,in a new way, old alliances and remind ourselves that the one thing that unites so many of us is the freedoms we share, and our demand to protect these freedoms, even at risk of life and limb.
Anyway, back to the show! After properly annoying the people waiting near us by singing, horribly and off-key, the worst Iron Maiden songs (literally, I pulled out my phone and opened up the master list to give us some "choice" selections), we were treated to the event we were all waiting for. Doctor, Doctor came on over the loudspeaker, followed by our intro video, and then followed by Iron Maiden themselves. Instantly a mosh pit developed on our right and EW and Wiz were lost to it; I stuck with Perun and Ariana; our intrepid leader pulled us forward as the crowd moved and became a living thing, a wall of humanity; permeable, perhaps, but yet a wall. We pushed forward as the songs moved and as the crowd around us got stronger. One bearded chap and I worked together for awhile to get closer - not one step backwards! Perun and I linked arms and held when people tried to surge forward past us; we set our shoulders against the crowd as it rocked away from the barrier, and slipped ever closer. During some of the classic songs, it got sketchy in places, the press of people constant and growing, but we managed to keep a space around us, ensuring that Ariana could continue to pull us deeper forward. By the end of the night were were maybe three, four people away from the barrier, close enough to be given water by security several times. I lost the left rear pocket of my jeans in the struggle, and I was left battered, exhausted, and sore, but victorious. We had been almost dead centre, right in front of Steve and Dave and H; there was a moment Steve Harris looked down the neck of his bass as he swept it around the crowd, and for a heartbeat our eyes met.
At the end of the show, we almost lost Ariana as goodies were tossed to the crowd and someone lunged across her, pulling her into the crowd in a meaningless gesture (seriously, the armband was going to fall maybe 10 metres away), but luckily, I grabbed her. We then slowly found others. EW had taken an arm to the head and Wiz seemed enthralled by the experience. We caught up with others as we fell back, eventually getting outside the gig to say goodbye to some people we wouldn't be seeing again on the trip, exhausted, wounded, and exhilarated. We got the tube back close to home and caught an Uber the rest of the way, ate, and made our way to bed.
The next day, Brigantium and her beau were departing, so they, myself, Wiz and Shadow wandered to King's Cross (beautiful!) to see them off, meeting up with nush, Foro, and EW there for lunch. We chatted, talked about our favourite moments, of course, and just kind of came down off the high of the previous evening together, debriefing each other. After hugs and handshakes, we then made our way to a Fopp's so Forostar could buy classic cinema, and then split off; EW to head home, Wiz and Shadow went off for food, and I to head to the O2 for another night of Maiden. I skipped Shinedown, was unable to find Albie (who had taken his mum to the second show!), chatted with a couple who had seen Iron Maiden for the first time at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1982, and then watched the show from up above. I thought it was a good show, though the first one was better, in my opinion. I was quite tired, after this, but after getting home, Wiz and I polished off the Troopers in the fridge, Shadow having headed already for Gatwick.
The next day Wiz and I said goodbye as well, I checked out of the airbnb and made my way to Heathrow. I got in after a 7 hour, fairly uneventful, mildly uncomfortable flight, and slept for six hours. Now I am awake and at work, and I can honestly say I am riding this incredible high - seeing the best band in the world, and meeting and hanging out with some of the best Maidenfans there ever could be.
It sounds like you had quite an adventure fighting for the middle. I got separated from the rest of the group during the process of getting through the various security checks and couldn't see you when I finally got into the arena. I was particularly sorry to miss that singalong!
I'm really glad I attended the meetup. Not being the most outgoing person in the world, I had been a little apprehensive about the idea of just wandering into a modestly sized group of people I'd never met before. But I needn't have worried, everyone was really welcoming and I felt at home literally straight away. This has never happened to me before, anywhere, ever. And to be in the Cart & Horses too - I wasn't expecting this but I was immediately awestruck when I stepped through the door, when it hit me that Maiden played on that stage (albeit a very different Maiden to the one we know now), that's the bar where Steve took that phonecall from the other band claiming to have bagged the name ... that pub really has a tangible spirit of place. And when it's full of other Maiden fans as well ...
The feeling of being part of something big and special.