birthplace of iron maiden


I receive an email offering me a gig in London’s east end on Saturday night for £70 to play classic rock covers, with the assurance that if I don’t have time to practise, rehearse or learn any of the songs “we can just wing it on the night”. My correspondent underlines that she is only offering me the gig because the regular drummer is unavailable. Such news always comes as a relief, and is the second time in as many days I have been tempted by the allure of filling in because someone else can’t make it. It’s a comfort to know that there’s something there when you scrape the barrel – even if it’s usually just me adhering tenaciously to the bottom.

As Saturday rolls around I am delighted to discover that am afflicted by many of the symptoms of an influenza virus, replete with chesty cough, which are massively exaggerated after I’ve loaded the car, necessarily exerting the maximum possible physical effort in order to produce the minimum achievable noise negotiating narrow doorways, creaky stairs, the safety gate on the landing and all manner of obstacles in the hallway so as not to disturb our dozing daughter. Amazingly, she remains asleep as I wheeze, sweat and splutter my way several times to the car.

Owing to some issues with my mobile phone (smashed screen, wrong story told to insurance people, sim card incompatible with wife’s emergency backup handset, still two months remaining on contract till due an upgrade), I am left to locate the gig venue following directions and a map. This is intoxicating, and takes me back to the days prior to my unquestioning adoption of Satellite Navigation via my iPhone. I am off-grid! And it’s fun again to see the context for my journey, to have to attempt reading road names in the dark, to think I am lost so pull into a side street to discover the turn I need is actually the next right. With no one robotically “recalculating” for me, displaying graphics of my car in a field, or telling me to “turn around when possible”, I feel – despite debilitating symptoms of manflu– like I am at least to some extent master of my own destiny. I feel my way around the one-way system like in the old days, and pull up deftly outside the door to the venue.

I’ve been scared about the gig, if I’m honest – “east end” always suggests to me the Cray Twins, Guy Ritchie films and the certainty of cruel, bloody violence. So I am relieved to find the bouncers are a cheery, fresh-faced pair and that the pub exudes an easy, upbeat vibe. People move politely out of my path as I carry drums in, and apologise if they find themselves in the way. There is a mad Romanian man waiting outside, who accosts me en route to the car, exuberant about the possibility of live music and delirious that he’s talking with the drummer. The bouncers tell me that “he’s not the full ticket”, so they have to keep him outside. It’s with an uncomfortable mixture of sadness and joy that later from the drum-stool I half-watch this delighted gent as he bounces, waves, jiggles and grins at the window, loving every song and each guitar solo. He must be freezing.

The Cart and Horses is purportedly the birthplace of Iron Maiden (so says to the pub’s website). I wonder if this is merely local lore, probably apocryphal, or something one denies in public for fear of reprisals and only the NWOBHM anoraks care about so keep silently to themselves. I need not fear, however, since the pub’s proprietors apparently have no shame about it. Beneath the exterior banner bearing the name of the venue is a permanent sign declaring “birthplace of Iron Maiden”, and the wall-space inside is covered with Dozens of Iron Maiden posters. The edge of the stage bears a banner reminding us again that this really is the birthplace of Iron Maiden, and there is a beer on draught called “Trooper”, the tap featuring artwork from the band’s song of that name. At the back of the stage is a huge board used (from 11 pm) to cover the pool table – also adorned with Iron Maiden artwork – and across the room from the stage are individual photos of members of Iron Maiden. I panic momentarily, in light of the absence from my band’s set list of any songs by the godfathers of heavy metal. But then it strikes me that playing Iron Maiden songs here might be a bit like carving an instruction manual on Mount Sinai, or drafting a contract for world domination and protracted ideological conflict in Yalta – we’d come across as sad, derivative and maybe a bit desperate.

The stage is tiny, but the band fits nicely (Iron Maiden must have been mostly draped around it!). My Echo Custom Drums look stunning, as always, and the sound of that snare drum again makes me beam. I feel very little anxiety, since I am meant to be winging it, we are billed anyway as “a new band”, and the audience all appear in good spirits. Plus Terri and Jan are both tremendous musicians. Drumming with Terri on bass is like accompanying a thunderstorm, and Jan can really play guitar. Being in a three-piece demands that we each fill the space, and we do so with gusto. We sound-check with “Pride and Joy” by Steve Ray Vaughan, giving me a chance to air my Texas shuffle – I haven’t played one in a good few years, and never on this snare drum, and man this feels fantastic! The groove is like butter (I think!). The momentum is effortless and driving, the band is cruising at 30,000 feet, and there is blues-rock alchemy in our fingertips and our feet. There are approving smiles from expectant punters too. The flu symptoms disappear for a while without trace, leaving just the momentous groove.

Primed, and appetites whetted, the audience lies low for most of the first set, but 100 Stratford revellers are on their feet and dancing by the time we hit “You Really Got Me” and “Sharp Dressed Man” (although the whole way through this song, I know I am no Steve Moore) the party was kicking! There is meek acceptance as we abruptly close the first set, then utter delight as we shortly career into the second with (I feel certain, sure-fire-failures) “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (G n’ R version) and “Wish You Were Here”. The crowd goes wild! With the set-closing combination punch of “Whiskey in the Jar”, “Smoke on the Water” (which I haven’t played since I was 14 – 24 years ago!!!), “Born to be Wild”, “Purple Haze” (not since I was 13), “Foxy Lady” (only ever air drums, mostly when watching Wayne’s World) and “Free Bird”, the room is ecstatic. Part of me can’t believe people are so easily pleased, but it does feel nice. During the fag-break before the last set it transpires that the leaping, energetic Italian girl near the bar hails from the same town in Tuscany as our bassist. I am briefly the fourth wheel in a three-way dispute about the typical traits of Turkish girls in the covered smoking area, before we return for the third set where we capture the level of audience euphoria achieved in the second – so maybe next time we’ll switch those sets around: I can really think of no better way to finish a gig at 3 AM on a Sunday in the butt-kicking-est of homage-to-rawk venues than with the epic shred-fest that is the immortal Skynyrd anthem to end all classic rock archetypes. *


* Although the Eruptörs’ “Leaving (on the wings of an eagle)” makes a close, albeit sincerely and massively ripped off, second.



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