Definitive Ruskin Arms 1981 (Zodiac 513)
Ruskin Arms, London, U.K. – December 23, 1981
(77:27) Sanctuary, Wrathchild, Run To The Hills, Remember Tomorrow, Genghis Khan, Killers, Another Life, The Prisoner, Running Free, Murders In The Rue Morgue, Phantom Of The Opera, Iron Maiden, Happy Birthday Dave, Transylvania, Drifter, Prowler
Iron Maiden’s last live date in 1981 took place at one of the most iconic venues in the band’s early days, The Ruskin Arms in London’s East End. Just months before, the band had parted ways with singer Paul Di’Anno and brought Bruce Dickinson into the fold. After a short five date trek through Italy to break him in, the band played two dates in London, November 11 at the Rainbow Theatre and this December 23 gig at the Ruskin Arms. All of these concerts have been recorded and circulate in trading circles, although most of them are of average or below quality. The London dates are unique as both feature early versions of songs which would appear on their magnum opus, The Number Of The Beast, the following year.
The recording from the Ruskin Arms falls in the good to very good range, considering the venue was a small pub and the volume, the taper manages to get a great capture of the performance. The instruments and vocals are all clear in the mix as is the audience, the sound does get muffled at times certainly due to movement among the punters, overall an excellent document of being at an early Iron Maiden gig in London. This release is not the first, Ruskin’s Prisoners (Hardtropolis Records CCE-199.001.531) was released nearly thirty years ago, a release that has eluded me. A title that has not eluded me is the excellent double LP set Heavy Christmas (Casino Records), in my book the definitive version of this concert. The sound is certainly on par with this release and it includes the entire soundcheck portion of this concert, something that is glaringly missing from this release.
The concert begins with the band taking the stage and Bruce tell the audience “Alright Happy Christmas” and the band launch into Sanctuary, the sound is powerful and in your face, the audience respond in singing the chorus, the atmosphere is intimate and immediately puts you in the crowd, certainly ‘eadbanging with the others. Wrathchild follows and this is musical perfection, the band are always killer (no pun) and Bruce sings like he has always been there. Afterwards Bruce talks of being in the studio and gives the title for the forthcoming album and the band preview Run To The Hills…its first live airing. Incredible live rendition, very similar to the official version, the vocals are incredible and the music has a freshness and urgency not found in latter versions.
It’s no secret, I love versions of Bruce singing Remember Tomorrow, it’s one of my favorite tracks from the debut and he really brings it vocally, certainly channeling Ian Gillan with his wails. Some clap along, some chat, the venerable club certainly at capacity. Genghis Khan is played at breakneck speed, Dave, Adrian, and Steve traverse the time changes easily, this instrumental and the song that follows, Killers, are great examples of Clive Burr’s style. He throws all these little beats and fills in that gives the music more energy and a fresh take on Metal drumming. Bruce introduces the drum solo and Another Life, Steve says “Let’s see some hands up” and the Earth Dogs comply. Interesting to hear Bruce’s introductions as he still has the London slang, he would quickly change this in the next year as he played on the world’s stages honing his craft into being one of THE best frontmen in Metal. Big fan of Another Life, Dave Murray’s melodic leads always blow me away, catchy tune to boot.
“Right time for another new one we wrote the other week…it’s a song all about a man who got knocked up and got out and nicked…it’s a song called The Prisoner”, this introduction gets no fanfare, certainly some in attendance figured it’s based upon the Patrick McGoohan Sixties TV show of the same name. Like Run To The Hills this is the songs live debut and the band play a fiery version to say the least. Cool to hear a standard version of Running Free with no sing along, just a short three and a half minutes, a short run. Murders In The Rue Morgue is another of my Di’Anno classics sung by Bruce, just smoking and he brings a bit more to the song. Was happy to see this song live during the Early Days tour in 2005. They were a part of Ozzfest and heard that Black Sabbath were not going to perform in Columbus, Ohio and Iron Maiden would be doing a full headline set, immediately left and drove the two and half hours to catch the show, hearing Murders live was worth the money and effort.
The gravy continues to flow, Phantom Of The Opera is a celebration and the fans sing along. Love this song, the early versions were played so fast, certainly Speed Metal before its time. The main set ends with Iron Maiden, the band have whipped the audience into a frenzy. Bruce leads into singing Happy birthday to guitarist Dave Murray, the original Maiden instrumental defines their sound, typically during this period would be a Dave Murray solo, this time the band go right into Drifter. Bruce taps his inner Paul for the sing along, the classic Police taken “Yo Yo Yo Yo Yo” is great, the audience shout in unison. This version of the concert includes the rare encore of Prowler not found on most other versions, “Don’t get carried away”. This is my favorite song from the first record, hearing live versions are always great, while I think Paul did the definite version, Bruce is no slouch, he sings with confidence. Again it’s the Dave Murray melodic sound he gets from the Wah pedal, great great tune and an excellent way to close the show.
The packaging is great, the cover art of Eddie with axe in hand towering over Beelzebub is classic, the rear photos hearkens back to the Ruskins Prisoners title. Only drawback is the interior pics are all over the place, even one from 1983 that looks a bit out of place. Great title…Yes. Definitive version…No. Zodiac could have easily made this a two disc set, gave us the soundcheck on the second disc and filled the rest out with The Number Of The Beast tracks from the November 11 Rainbow gig (although they are dismal quality) and given us a few tracks from the Italian gigs. That would have made for an incredible title.