Revisiting Iron Maiden’s Deflating ‘Somewhere on Tour’ Shows
On paper, Iron Maiden’s Somewhere on Tour road trip of 1986 should have been something worth celebrating. But the band seems averse to kicking that particular gravestone too hard.
Which is a shame, because by all accounts it was a spectacular show in support of Maiden's well-received, if non-standard, sixth album, Somewhere in Time.
The best official hint at the impressive stage show can be seen on the video for the LP's second single, “Stranger in a Strange Land." Near the end of the song a giant inflatable version of Maiden’s Eddie mascot in futuristic bounty-hunter form appears to take over the stage. Nicko McBrain’s drum kit is elevated to the ceiling as the head appears beneath him, while singer Bruce Dickinson and bassist Steve Harris take their places on platforms at either side of the stage, standing in the palms of Eddie’s hands.
Watch Iron Maiden's ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ Video
“This was the ‘Great Inflatable’ tour,” Dickinson told Classic Rock later. “Dave Lights was still doing our lighting stuff, and he was well into inflatables. He had a bit of an inflatable megalomania, in fact. He built inflatables that were so big they wouldn’t actually fit inside the sodding buildings! We had two big hydraulic hands, which would raise up – not Spinal Tap at all! – with big Eddie claw hands that would inflate.”
“Me and Bruce stood in the palms of the inflatable hands,” Harris added. “On one night, a lamp was too close and burnt a hole in it. Consequently it was like [deflating noise] – I felt a right plonker being up there like that. But not only that! The best thing about it, the next gig we did, they’d patched it up. They tied the fingers back so it came out with the middle finger up. … That was quite hilarious!”
Dickinson recalled “roadies frantically coming out and [pumping air] sort of like alien hand fluffers!” He noted that the head underneath McBrain’s kit “was great, except when the pressure started to go and it looked a bit like a saggy bin liner.” (As the massive and impressive airplane, devil and angel inflatables used on the 2018-19 Legacy of the Beast tour demonstrate, the band has since gotten a better grip on the technology.)
In the meantime, the singer had gotten used to abandoning the top part of an outfit that was supposed to look like his heart and arteries were throbbing with light outside his torso. “I mean, obviously I didn’t think it was Spinal Tap at the time,” he admitted. “The idea was that the whole suit would be covered in veins that would just be pulsing the whole time so, in the end, the way they got it to work was about 30 pounds of copper wire inside a big jacket and a six-volt lead acid battery stuck in there which ran out of juice about halfway through the song!”
Watch Bruce Dickinson's "Lite-Brite" Jacket in Action
It was probably less funny back then – maybe that’s one reason why none of the shows was ever recorded (manager Rod Smallwood also said it was too soon for another live project). But Maiden appeared to be quickly falling out of love with Somewhere in Time by the time it arrived on Sept. 29, three weeks after the tour started. By the end of the eight-month, 151-show journey, only four songs from the new LP remained in the set – the fewest number of new songs ever to be performed on a Maiden tour supporting an album.
Another part of the problem was that they hadn’t resolved the issues that arose after their fifth LP, Powerslave, and its massive success, which was followed by a twice-round-the-world tour and the Live After Death concert album. A burnt-out Dickinson came to the conclusion that the band had to change direction, so he brought a group of acoustic-based songs to the table that he felt represented their Led Zeppelin III. But Harris thought they were closer to Jethro Tull and inappropriate for Maiden.
That left guitarist Adrian Smith to fill the gap, delivering a stack of songs that moved in a more commercial direction and even saw the introduction of guitar synths. The result was an album that sold 2 million copies in North America alone but left the band feeling as deflated as the Eddie prop. Blackie Lawless, whose band W.A.S.P. opened the first leg, later recalled that "there were a lot of times we went on their bus. Both of us felt we had sort of put out tired records by tired bands.”
Watch Iron Maiden's ‘Wasted Years’ Video
Even though they called their 2008 nostalgia tour Somewhere Back in Time, the band has continued to all but ignore the album, with only the lead single, the prophetically named “Wasted Years,” receiving much love. Dickinson and Harris mended fences over the idea of the follow-up concept album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and it was only after that the lineup began to falter. By the time they established a new paradigm at the turn of the century, perhaps those Dickinson songs would have become more palatable. Perhaps then Maiden should have done more than just patch up the inflatable.
“A live video would have complimented Somewhere on Tour perfectly, and would surely have sold well on the heels of Live After Death,” Maiden Revelations argued. “In fact, based on bootleg recordings from 1986 (Paris, in particular), Bruce’s voice was significantly less strained than on the World Slavery Tour, as the entire band had learned several valuable lessons when it came to pacing themselves after the near-disastrous consequences of their previous tour.”
“As a project, the album attempted to carry the band into the future while flexing a budding songwriter in Smith and appeasing a stir-crazy Dickinson at the same time,” Invisible Oranges said of Somewhere in Time. “It accomplished none of those things: Maiden abandoned this sound, Smith hasn’t written so much at once since and both he and Dickinson wound up leaving later. That Smith and Dickinson since returned to the fold doesn’t alter the album’s significance as a harbinger of the end -- not the end of Iron Maiden, but of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.”