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Maiden Heaven: The Irons' Flight 666 Book
John Doran , December 21st, 2011 07:44

John Doran speaks to John 'Bomber' McMurtrie about his fine new photo book documenting three Iron Maiden world tours

So you've left your Xmas shopping 'til the last minute. Let us help you with a present suggestion for that long hair or maiden aunt in your life. [You're fired, Ed]

Gentleman of the lens John McMurtrie has spent four years touring with Iron Maiden as their official photographer and the results have now been published in Iron Maiden: On Board Flight 666.

The hardback coffee table book published by Orion contains 258 pages of photographs taken of the band, their fans and crew all over the world.

Perhaps the most unique factor of all three tours is that the entire production - including band and crew were flown from arena to arena by Bruce Dickinson in his own Boeing 757, meaning that John got a level of access to the band that few have had before.

As the singer says in his introduction to the book: "The delays and costs associated with freight, customs and inconvenient airline schedules would be circumvented and territories which hitherto had been deemed 'uneconomical' for the band to tour, could now be included. Mr Mercator and every schoolboy's map of the world went out the window and we bought ourselves a large globe."

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I spoke to John recently about the venture.

When did you first hear Iron Maiden and what it was that impressed you about them?

John McMurtrie: Back in '88 I was in a band and the drummer was a Maiden nut! He used to play the Live After Death video all the time. I liked them a lot but it wasn't until I saw them live that I really got it. They are great value for money. They make epic music and put on the mother of all stage shows and have never ripped off the fans. They have an honesty that rarely exists elsewhere these days.

When did you first see Maiden live?

JM: I first saw Maiden at Castle Donington in 1988. I was 18 at the time and it was the best thing I had ever seen.

When did you first meet the band?

JM: 15th September 1998. I was commissioned by Metal Hammer magazine to shoot a cover feature in Germany. I had a nightmare journey and just made it to the venue in time to shoot a session with them. When I arrived I was looked after straight away . Given a beer, a triple AAA pass and a burger. I remember thinking these guys are alright. That was during the final stages of the Blaze Bailey era. I had a great chat with Steve about photography and felt very at ease with them all. Considering it was probably a difficult time for the band they didn't show it.

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When did you first get to go on Ed Force One?

JM: Back in 2007 I photographed Bruce first inspecting Ed Force One. He had a very mischievous look on his face that day. I think he was very proud and excited that he was going to change the way the band would tour forever. When I stepped inside the aircraft it was having a major re-fit. The entire fuselage was stripped bare with wires and electronics all over the place. It did worry me whether the aircraft would be fit for flight by the time the tour started two months later.

How did the idea for the book come about?

JM: Back In 2008 when we left on the Somewhere Back In Time world tour I discussed the idea of a book with manager Rod Smallwood and he was very supportive. Originally the idea was to put the book together after the tour. My wife gave birth to my second son when I returned so family commitments and work outside of Maiden didn't leave enough time to give a book my full attention. Fortunately we held off and I think the book featuring the last four years of tours (three separate world tours on board Ed Force One) is much more exciting.

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Tell us about the project. How long did it take to do? How many gigs did you shoot? How many countries did you visit?

JM: In total the book took close to four months to complete. I was still making changes at the repro house the evening before it finally went to print. The hardest part was the picture edit. I had over 130,000 shots of the band to sort through which was simply exhausting. It would of been easier if the book was just a picture book but I was determined to put it together in chronological order and in a way that told a story. That meant hunting for obscure moments on the tours like riot police in Santiago, electricians hot wiring generators in Puerto Rico, Nicko firing golf balls across the Equator and armed military in Brazil. So much of the book are moments that have never been seen before and none of it is staged. It is a document of events as they happened, a real journey. Maiden have a sense of adventure and that is what I set out to illustrate.

One of the things that I really love about Live After Death is the big list of all the stuff they used on the Power Slave tour down to how many gallons of orange juice they drank. Can you explain just how big the production on the last two tours was? What was the size of the crew for example?

JM: 12 tons of equipment is squeezed into Ed force One. The weight is so critical. Anything that was non-essential was left behind. Including un-necessary camera equipment. There are about 25 permanent crew on board at any one time.

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Where do the most dedicated Maiden fans live and which were the best shows you saw?

JM: Without a doubt the most passionate are the South Americans. Particularly in Brazil and Santiago. I think every band is fuelled by their audience and in Brazil the reaction from the crowds is phenomenal. It is impossible not to be effected by the atmosphere that 70,000 Brazilians singing "OLE OLE OLE" minutes before Maiden walk out on stage can do. There have been so many spectacular shows over the years but ones that will stay in my memory forever are Twickenham Stadium, London in 2008, Ullivi Stadium in Gothenburg, Interlagos race track in Sao Paulo, Santiago in 2009 and all the shows in Indonesia in 2011. When you have 70,000 people singing every word of 'Fear Of The Dark' and the crowd approaches euphoria as the intro to 'The Number Of The Beast' plays out you know you are photographing a very special evening in Rock History!

You must have a clearer idea of what it’s like being a touring musician in a big band now. Do you still envy them their lifestyle or not so much now?

JM: At the end of the day it becomes a job. One that is very rewarding but hugely exhausting. You have days when you only sleep a few hours but you ride on the adrenaline and excitement of the adventure. In South America the band are unable to escape the hotels because they will be mobbed. As a crew member it can be difficult as we are the nearest they will get to the band. I have been filmed and photographed in bars and I find it amusing. To experience that level of attention all the time would probably send me on tilt so no I would not want to be on the other side of the camera. As far as the lifestyle, who wouldn't?

Tell us something we probably don’t know about members of the group?

JM: Bruce carries a Kazoo on him most of the time and will rip into any number of Maiden songs without warning and Nicko McBrain makes the finest Pork Ribs in the world.

On Board Flight 666 is out now