A few months ago, I was commissioned to write a piece about my first gig for the Belfast Telegraph. “Don’t worry about being cool, just write about what actually happened” was my brief, so I did.
Below is what i came up with.
My First Gig
Iron Maiden, Maysfield Leisure Centre, Belfast, January 31, 1996.
Back in 1996 I was a 16 year old struggling musician growing up in a council estate in Newry. At that point in my life I had been an Iron Maiden fanatic for nine years and counting and yes, you can safely assume from here on in that I was one of “those” people at school. After enduring some excruciatingly endless months of saving money since they announced their first NI headline show in an age, my wait finally came to an end on a cold wintery night in January.
As myself and my former band-mate Joe boarded our rented mini-bus to Belfast ready for the night of our lives, we felt a little intimated by the sight of dozens of older, hairier men all glaring back at us, but our common love of the Irons bonded us together. Looking back on it now, it was probably more to do with the booze they were guzzling rather than a shared admiration for Steve Harris’ galloping bass-lines, but I digress. As we slowly trundled toward our destination I noticed that while I came armed with a lunchbox filled with two Dairylea sandwiches made earlier that day by my mum, everyone else brought beer and “funny cigarettes.” Yes dear readers, as if you couldn’t tell by now, it was obvious from the get-go that I rocked the hardest.
By the time we reached Belfast I had started to relax a little but that was soon short lived as my calm was interrupted by the arrival of a brick through the mini-bus window. I turned around and the guy behind us was a mess. His face was a crimson mask and my newly found comrades were in an up-roar. I’ll be honest, I started to panic a little-but probably for the wrong reasons. I immediately thought to myself that I didn’t care how much blood was squirting out of his neck or how many of my bus-mates wanted to go back and kick some spide ass, I was going to see Maiden and nothing would stop me. Luckily the driver agreed and broke all speed limits to get us to Maysfield and then bring his injured passenger to the hospital. Result!
As soon as I stepped out of the bus I was pounced on by the touts who must have smelled the fresh blood in the water. Almost instantly the fiver my dad gave me for a programme was spent on a dodgy bootleg t-shirt which I promptly put on as we ran(yes RAN) into the venue. Clearly someone upstairs was smiling on me as I spotted a place right at the very front and I made a bee-line straight for it. For the rest of the night my seven stone frame was crushed up against the barrier by a bald bloke with a beer belly that could make Johnny Vegas look svelte. For better or worse he would now be my new best friend and even though I was convinced he wanted to get to know me in a biblical manner, in many ways I was happy that he was acting as my giant fleshy cushion as the mosh pit looked fierce.
As soon as Maiden came running onstage, the next two hours went by in a blur. I remember grabbing Janick Gers’ guitar, bassist Steve Harris grinning at me at I stood engulfed in a sea of beer guts and Maiden’s then singer Blaze Bayley singling me out and giving me a much appreciated thumbs up. Other than that it was all sounds, shouts and sweat and I loved it.
After the gig we piled back onto the bus as the wind whistled through the giant hole in the window. I didn’t mind that it was the middle of winter and we were all freezing our nuts off, I was on a high from watching my heroes up close and personal. It didn’t matter that I would later get the worst flu of my life from the trip or that it would take a full week before I got my voice back, because I had the best night of my life. I never did get to eat those sandwiches though. Sorry mum!