In an ironic moment early on in Bruce Dickinson’s speaking show at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre, he displayed a hi-res scan of a letter from the headmaster of his school to his grandparents, advising of Dickinson’s expulsion. The key point? That once again, his tongue had been his undoing. This generated a wave of laughter throughout the crowd, as well over 1,000 people had come to see the legendary Iron Maiden vocalist speak.
The first act of Dickinson’s talk dwelt for a surprisingly long time on his childhood at an English public school. As with other notable rock stars of his vintage, from Ozzy Osbourne to Dave Mustaine, Dickinson’s childhood was working class to say the least. Nevertheless, through the hard work and dedication of his grandparents, Dickinson was able to attend a public school – which, as he pointed out, was not actually a school that the public could attend, but rather a private institution for “chinless wonders.” Unsurprisingly, it was not the environment for a young Dickinson, who was unimpressed with the authoritarian and often abusive environment. Though he touched on some quite heavy material in this section, Dickinson’s brilliant humour was never far away, and he raised laughter from circumstances that in another voice, may well have come across as tragic.
Dickinson then moved on to detail his early musical career, particularly his time in Samson. It was then that Dickinson first began to discover the realities of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle he’d always fantasised about, from the prevalence of drugs to the lack of money. Somehow through the hijinks of drug-fuelled road trips to Scotland and back, stolen ornamental geese and comically brief arrests, Dickinson found himself being asked to join Iron Maiden.
This, of course, was theoretically what the crowd were all there to hear about. Certainly this was attested by Dickinson’s description of his meteoric rise to fame, likening it to the adrenaline rush of a rollercoaster that never abated over his first five years in the band. During this dive into his first body of work with Iron Maiden, particular attention was given to the legendary Rock in Rio show, from its unlikely inception through to its shambolic execution that led to Dickinson bleeding profusely from a head wound, and throwing the monitors off stage – which, he noted, did not improve the sound on stage, surprisingly enough.
Dickinson’s show flowed beautifully, seeming to move along quite quickly while also diving into the right level of detail for particularly interesting events. Rock in Rio aside, these weren’t all necessarily landmark events, but rather those that simply made for good storytelling; and it must be said, Dickinson is an excellent storyteller, with his trademark British humour rounding out the package to something that often could have come out of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Discworld. Nonetheless, it could be observed that surprisingly little was learnt about the other Iron Maiden members throughout the talk; there were some light-hearted reflections on Nicko McBrain via drummers in general, and a particularly amusing story about 38 Special getting Adrian Smith incredibly drunk. Steve Harris was perhaps mentioned once by name – but then, this was Dickinson’s show.
It was excellent to see that Dickinson did spend a little time reflecting on his solo show in Sarajevo during the Bosnian civil war, the focus of the recent documentary, Scream for me Sarajevo.
Time managed to get away from Dickinson, whose on-stage alarm clock failed to go off; as such, Melbourne’s audience were treated to an extra 20 minutes of tales before Dickinson left for interval. On his return, he had with him written questions from the audience, the vast majority of which he seemed not to have looked at previously. This led to some very amusing moments as he read them out verbatim, including “When you lost your virginity for the first time,” to which Dickinson responded, “Well, I remember when I lost it for the second time…”
Surprisingly, the majority of audience questions seemed to revolve around Dickinson’s career as a pilot, and these led to some hair-raising tales of what can go wrong when flying commercial airliners, and also the kinds of problems one deals with when owning an airline. That’s right – not only is Dickinson a qualified commercial pilot, he now owns his own airline based in Malta.
After addressing the substantial stack of audience questions, the final part of the show was a reading from towards the end of Dickinson’s autobiography, What Does This Button Do? This encompassed Dickinson’s terrifying battle with throat cancer, how he coped with it, and his eventual victory. Dickinson spared no detail in the horrors the treatment put his body through, and yet continued to approach it with the uproarious humour that characterised the rest of the show. Iron Maiden fans know that Dickinson is a consummate showman, and this speaking engagement only proved to solidify that notion. Dickinson easily entertained the crowd with a good two hours of talking, and doubtless everyone in the theatre would have been happy to listen to more. For fans of Iron Maiden, rock and Metal, aviation, or just interesting lives in general, Dickinson’s show is a must-see.
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