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So far this tour we had generally been lucky with bad weather and storms although we did get caught out a couple of times in Texas and Quebec, though nothing too extreme - the severe heat was more of a problem in North America! However, on arrival in Stockholm the day before the show we were told that the forecast for show day was terrible -- stormy, very heavy rain, lower temperatures than normal -- all you don't want for a festival. And unexpected this time of year in Sweden.
The Sonisphere Festival was in the beautiful Stora Skuggan park close to the centre of Stockholm, a one day event with a metal bill with something for everyone -- Alice Cooper, Motley, Slayer, Anthrax . And did it rain on us all !! Stair rods for most of the day -- non stop. When we arrived the place was a quagmire in part ... but the fans were having a great time playing in the mud and watching some very good bands. A tough breed up there!! It looked like it would never stop, dark brooding skies with heavy cloud from horizon to horizon. Backstage everyone was avoiding going out in the rain as it was so heavy, trying to keep inside as much as possible. Normally a festival backstage is buzzing with bands and crew and staff outside chatting in the sun and catching up with old friends they maybe hadn't seen in a while. One of the great things about festivals for the bands is running into other bands again who you were friendly with but maybe hadn't seen for a while. Festivals have their own social scene for bands and fans alike! But with the rain the whole backstage area was deserted as everyone kept inside to avoid being drenched.
But then, about 20 min before we were due on, it gradually stopped and even got lighter, and by the time we went on it was quite a pleasant evening. But of course the fans sure were soaked by now but didn't let that or a little mud get in the way of having a great time, and as always they gave us a wonderful reception. To all of you who were there, thanks for putting up with it and being there to the end !!
However on the way back to the hotel the heaven's opened again -- all we could think about sat in the bar watching it pour down outside was all those poor fans getting even more soaked as they left the site and made their way home. In almost the whole 24 hours the rain poured except for about a 150 minute period in the late evening, just when we played. We could consider ourselves a bit fortunate for being able to play without the downpour on the fans , but things were soon to turn very bad very dramatically and this in no way prepared anyone for what was to happen the following day in Finland.
If the day before's forecast for Sweden was right on the money, that for Finland could not have been wider of the mark... We were told that Finland was experiencing wonderful hot weather and Pori in the North was glorious, hot and blue skies. Stockholm and Pori were back to back, the Saturday and Sunday, and our equipment and crew were air-freighted out there very early in the morning. As staging, PA and lights are already assembled we "only" have to put on the backline and production so it is feasible to play these back to back. The band and usual team flew over later in the afternoon after a good lie in to get ready for another big show and just before we flew out we heard from our crew that is was a beautiful day - I may be wrong as it's a bit of a mist now but I don't think they were even aware at that time that a major storm was approaching.
Photo: Hanna Salmi
As we landed we saw a plane on the runway tipped over with one wing touching the ground with one side of the undercarriage collapsed, hence the tilt. What we didn't know at the time that was that the plane which flew our crew in and it had been literally lifted and dropped by the tornado, smashing one side of the undercarriage. When we landed Ian as always called our Production office on site to be told about the massive storm which had passed by causing very extensive damage to equipment and staging and that it was fairly unlikely that we would be able to play due to all this damage. We headed to the festival site and it was a mess. The storm hadn't lasted that long but was incredibly severe. I think Andy is posting his IMTV episode on Sweden and Finland soon so you will see what I mean without my having to labour you with adjectives trying to describe the dreadful state of affairs. And most of the severest moments of the storm Andy missed as it was unsafe to be outside and our Production Manager dragged the ever-intrepid cameraman inside our Production Cabin, although even that was apparently shaking with the severity of the storm.
The crews were getting together and as we arrived Iggy Pop was going on stage to do an acoustic set as the crews all got together to retrieve what they could and try to get things working. Some time later, after much mopping of stages -- water and electricity don't mix well !! -- Alice Cooper was able to perform using Slayer's backline as they had already played and their backline was back safe and dry in their truck so they offered it to Alice. The main stage was reasonably sound. The second stage was torn apart by the storm in places and totally unsafe to play on so bands due to play on it -- including Motley Crue -- definitely weren't able to play, so hadn't made the journey to the show. Alice's crew were working with our crew to get some stuff together and Alice did a full set.
Maiden and team always go into problems with positive attitude and our inclination was if we are able to somehow play we will -- there we 50,000 fans there to see us, you have to give it a go. Bruce gave the crowd an update and introduced Alice and also told them if we could get enough gear to work we would play although it would be late and the curfew was set back a couple of hours and our crew went hard at it. The tension was quite severe backstage as another storm was forecast around midnight -- while we could still be playing -- and a very close eye was kept on this all evening but thankfully it never materialized. I guess the old adage "the show must go on" still applies
In the end we were able to play with a borrowed and made up monitor system (as ours had drowned), half the lights, one follow spot, no moving rigs and a few other compromises. When Bruce first ran onstage he went flying and was so pissed off with the crew for not mopping the stage and making him slip and take such a bad fall. But it wasn't the crew, of course, they had dealt with this fully. Basically, as soon as a moving light on the front truss moved, more water came out of it making a pool on the stage that Bruce ran straight into. Water appeared on stage all evening form one source or another.
But the band rose to the occasion and dealt with it all and, even more so, so did the fans. After such a day it was a collective blow out of tension, fear, you name it. I said afterwards that is was the best European audience I had ever seen, and it was. Half way through the mists came in making it a very surreal panorama from onstage, at times I couldn't even see as far as the mixing desk.
But, unknown to us at the time, there had been tragedy in the arena. When we arrived I made contact with the promoter to discuss the situation and check on any casualties and if there was anything we could do. Incredibly no one backstage had been hurt but there had apparently been injuries to fans in the main arena due to the stalls around the perimeter being blown apart by the severity of the tornado. It is difficult to get a clear picture of what is actually happening at an event of this size, partly because people are dealing with the problems not talking about them, but it appeared at the time there had been some injured parties taken to hospital but no one really seemed to know the status with any certainty, and generally the view was nothing serious, but updates during the evening were cloudy especially with so much going on. Over the next couple of days we were informed of severe injuries to 2 fans and I am pleased to say both are now well on their way to a full recovery. But tragically, on the Thursday following, we were informed of a fatality. Out of courtesy to the deceased's family and in view of the strict Privacy Laws in Finland, we will not disclose the name or circumstances, we would just like to say our thoughts were and are with the family, as, l am sure, yours are too. Life is so precious but can be so tenuous and to have something like this occur where people get together for basically the joy of music and community, it is so hard to accept for all of us, but of course more so the poor family and friends.
Lets leave it with that thought.