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Back in the Day

The Story Of The Soundhouse Tapes And The Birth Of IRON MAIDEN

Posted by on May 5, 2019 at 9:19 am

Paul Di'Anno first saw Iron Maiden performing live at the Cart & Horses, the legendary pub where bassist Steve Harris played steadily for years with his other bands, including Gypsies Kiss in the early 70s. Iron Maiden's lineup at that time in 1978 featured vocalist Dennis Wilcock, formerly of Smiler, another Steve Harris project.

Wilcock was very much into making a big impression on stage by wearing Alice Cooper-like makeup, spitting fake blood, and sticking swords in his mouth. Willcock's' time with Maiden would also see the band using pyrotechnics during their live gigs, the first time allegedly being November 5th, 1976 at the Cart & Horses. Even though this all sounds pretty fucking metal, the night Di'Anno showed up at the Cart & Horses he didn't really dig what he saw:

A shot of Dennis Wilcock during his days with Iron Maiden.

"I went to see them play at the Cart & Horses in East London, and their old singer (Wilcock) had this silly sword and fake blood dripping from his mouth and me and my mate were pissing ourselves laughing. When I got introduced to Steve Harris I couldn’t keep a straight face. And when he talked about me going for an audition I thought ‘Bleeding hell, I don’t fancy prancing around with a sword,’ and I didn’t really want to know."

Despite his first impression of the band, Di'Anno would take over for Wilcock in September of 1978. Iron Maiden drummer Doug Sampson remembers Di'Anno's audition for the band:

"We were knocked out by Paul Di'Anno's audition. From that minute he auditioned he was the vocalist for Iron Maiden. We heard a phenomenal voice one that really suited the band at that particular time, this was a different league, Di'Anno took it to another level. And Paul got the job obviously."

As the end of the year approached, Maiden headed into the studio for two days (December 30-31st) to record The Soundhouse Tapes at Spaceward Studios, though they allegedly didn't play any live shows until 1979. In the 2014 book Killers: The Origins of Iron Maiden, 1975-1983, author Neil Daniels clears up a persistent rumor regarding Paul Di'Anno's first live gig with the band by way of long-time Iron Maiden roadie Steve 'Loopy' Newhouse. Newhouse claims Di'Anno's first live show with Maiden was at The Bridge House in Canning Town, and an ad run in Melody Maker (pictured below) backs up Newhouse's recollections about the timing of Di'Anno's first gig with Iron Maiden. Although Di'Anno and Steve Harris went to high school together, they didn't know each other, and musically, they were polar opposites. Di'Anno swore his allegiance to punk rock and, well, let's let Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson sum up how Steve Harris felt about punk rock and The Soundhouse Tapes:

"If you look at all the old Steve Harris interviews — he hates punk rock. The first Maiden album (The Soundhouse Tapes sounded punky because it sounded like a sack of shit. He hates that record. The first singer (Paul Di'Anno) gave it a little bit of that kind of vibe, but the punk thing was nailed to the band by the press. The band absolutely hated it, because there was no way on God’s green earth Maiden was ever, even remotely, a punk band."

Di'Anno would eventually come around to headbanging music thanks to one of his only heavy metal influences at the time, Judas Priest. Another point author Neil Daniels demystifies is the addition of guitarist Paul Cairns, who had responded to an ad placed by Harris in Melody Maker, looking for a second guitarist to play on The Soundhouse Tapes. Once again, despite the omission of Cairns' name from the album liner notes, there is photographic proof of Cairns, along with his dog Nelson, (who he brought along to his audition) standing in front of The Clarendon Arms, a pub located directly next door to Spacewood Studios. Paul Di'Anno has said he also remembers Cairns being in the studio with Maiden "as clear as day." The sessions at Spacewood went quickly, as the band was said to have recorded much of the three-song album in only one take and cost $200. Once it was pressed and ready to go it found its way to influential DJ and NWOBHM champion Neal Kay's hands, who dug it and on Saturday, February 17th, 1979, Iron Maiden's single "Prowler" took the number twenty position on a playlist maintained by infamous rock club, The Bandwagon Heavy Metal Soundhouse via their Heavy Metal Charts (which was based on a requests at the club, not sales). By late April "Prowler" was number one.

Iron Maiden outside The Clarendon Arms, December 31st, 1978. The pub is located right next to Spaceward Studios. Left to right: Paul Di’Anno, Paul Cairns (with his dog, Nelson), Dave Murray, Steve Harris, and Doug Sampson. Photo: Spaceward Studios.

Only 5000 copies of The Soundhouse Tapes were ever pressed, and since its release in 1979, it has never been re-released on vinyl. However, there are two instances of official reissues of the demo–one being a CD released in 2001 or 2002 (limited to 666 copies–nice!), and another released by Sanctuary Record Group in 1998 as a part of their very cool "mini vinyl" CD line. Due to the rarity of authentic copies of The Soundhouse Tapes, the album has been widely bootlegged, and collectors are often duped into purchasing fakes. If you're looking to add this to your collection and care about it being the real deal, good luck, as legitimate copies of The Soundhouse Tapes sell for thousands of dollars. The bottom line is if you're serious about acquiring this rarity, head over to The Soundhouse Tapes.net where Iron Maiden fan and owner of what may be the largest private collection of Maiden merchandise in the world, Kenny Maxymowich, has painstakingly laid out how to tell the difference between an authentic copy of the album, and the vast variety of fakes out there.


Iron Maiden's client sheet for Spaceward Studios for The Soundhouse Tapes recording sessions.

The ad in Melody Maker advertising Iron Maiden's first gig with Paul Di'Anno.

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