Friday, March 7, 2014

Iron Maiden, fans and the ‘Luxembourg Issue’

Iron Maiden have undoubtedly one of the most hard-core fan bases of any band in the world. Fans routinely travel across Europe and even further to see them play, and at the last gig they performed in the UK, at the O2 last August, I met three guys who had flown over from Australia for the two nights, at one month notice.

Since they reformed in 1999 shows in small venues have been at a premium, during the summer even more so as they opt to play to maximum numbers in fewest shows by doing the festival circuit around Europe with a few stadium shows thrown in for good measure. So imagine the excitement when on February 12 it was announced that they would be playing the Rockhal in Luxembourg. The capacity for the Rockhal is just over 6,500, which would be the smallest gig of the tour, and one of the smallest (at least by venue size) since the band got back together.

The FanClub message board buzzed for a couple of days. The announcement hadn’t originally said that much about the venue, except it being the first gig in Luxembourg since 1983. So the following day when the FanClub members had first chance to buy tickets, many did. The day after they went on general sale and shifted within a couple of hours. As you would expect, from the band that sold out the O2 in 45 minutes and the Friends Arena in Sweden (60,000) in under an hour.

The intimate 6,000 capacity Rockhal in Luxembourg
So far so good then, everyone who got a ticket is happy, and of the 20 gigs announced for 2014Luxembourg is set to be the fifth and final indoor one (at the time of selling out, only three indoor shows had been announced, the other two in Hungary and Bulgaria).

Fast forward two weeks to this Monday just gone, when the following announcement appeared on the Maiden website:

Due to overwhelming demand, the Iron Maiden tour date in Luxembourg on July 1st will now be held at the 12,000 capacity main field at the Rock-A-Field Festival Ground, Roeser after the original location at Rockhal sold out within two hours, the fastest ever sell-out time at this indoor venue. Swedish heavy rock phenomenon, Ghost will be special guests at this show.

A generic field somewhere in Luxembourg
I didn’t even have time to log on to the FanClub boards before they were ablaze with people ripping into the band’s management for this decision. I can only add my voice to theirs; this seems such a cynical play for a band who repeatedly tells us that the fans are their number one concern. We knew deep down it was never true, but to have to displayed so openly was still a shock.
I’ll just summarise the points as to why this decision is one of the worst Maiden have ever made

  • The fans who brought the tickets were promised an indoor gig, not an outdoor one
  • The lights, sounds, atmosphere are all vastly superior indoors
  • They were also promised the smallest gig of the tour, not 12,000 capacity
  • The new venue is over 15 miles away from the original and public transport is a nightmare, by all accounts
  • They could have booked the Rockhal for another night, which would have given more capacity than one night in Roeser

This isn’t just a one-off though, it’s the culmination of a relationship between the management and fans which has been going slowly bad for a while. I am one of the most evangelical Iron Maiden fans you could ever wish to (or not to, as the case may be) meet, but these are the current facts for the band.

  • We haven’t had a new album since 2010, and only two in the last 11 years
  • Since Dance of Death was released in 2003, Maiden have toured every year with no full years off, yet of those tours eight have been Best Of/ Greatest Hits line-ups, only two showcasing new material
  • The 2014 Maiden England tour will be the third year running that this tour has been on the road. We understand that the band (especially Nicko) can’t do long tours anymore, but that doesn’t mean that we have to have this tour going round Europe for the second year running, playing only a few countries that haven’t already seen it, does it?
  • Bruce finds the time to appear on BBC Breakfast talking about planes and Steve and Adrian have both done solo projects, since the last album was released.

Add on to all of this the way which gigs are announced these days and it’s easy to see why fans get so worked up. There aren’t many fans, admittedly, who go around Europe,  but you would think that while there were any then steps should be taken to ensure they have access to all information. I’ll just give two examples, last year the drip-feeding of dates led to the Friends Arena gig being announced and going on sale within 48 hours. The choice of gigs on offer at the time was scant, so I got my tickets, despite it being expensive, having doubts over the sound and being a swine to get to. Two weeks later, a gig at Bercy in Paris is announced, cheap, easy to get to and great sound.

Fast forward then to mid-June, when Bruce announces a gig at the O2 (later to become two) on 3 August, it’s a pain because people have booked summer holidays, travelled to Europe after being told there would be no UK gig other than Download festival. People still buy tickets though; the last night of the tour is always special. So what do Maiden do? Add a second night, the next day, 4 August, so now you’re no longer seeing the final night unless you buy another ticket.

Oh year, ticket prices have also gone up £15-20 each in the last couple of years, but that’s another blog post….