I lost my job because of Paul Di’Anno. The original Iron Maiden vocalist wasn’t directly responsible, but he was partly involved – inasmuch as I skipped work to go to a signing he was doing at a record fayre.
It was 2003 and I was working in Index, The Catalogue Shop. If you can’t remember that particular chain, imagine Argos but with less sophisticated clientele. I was principally in at weekends, and the shop would regularly look like a bomb had gone off by the end of the day – catalogues, order forms, pens, and fast food debris strewn over every available surface. This was the shop where somebody ran off with one of the stereos that was on display, the police were called, and he was caught when he came back for the speakers.
In hindsight, I actually really enjoyed working there. We got away with a lot, we had a good laugh, we got loads of shit from arsehole customers, but we were also afforded responsibility and quite a high degree of trust. We abused the managers, of course, but compared to some people I have worked for since, they were remarkably reasonable people on the whole. More often than not, we all got on pretty well and had fun. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it quite so much.
The job could be quite demoralising, not helped by the deplorable bus “service” that I was forced to rely on, and I was late for my shifts more often than not. I got warnings about it, which didn’t improve my demeanour, and I know for a fact that I missed out on a promotion or two because of it.
The breaking point came when they refused me holidays one weekend, on a Saturday in March 2003 (as I recall.) It was a few days before Paul Di’Anno played a solo show at the Barfly, and as a long-time diehard Maiden fan, it was his first visit to Glasgow since I got into them. There was no way that I was passing up the opportunity to meet their first frontman, and to get oodles of merchandise signed. Nowadays, I’m less phased by it all – my love of Maiden has waned, and I don’t really bother with autographs unless I think it will eventually increase the value of the rarer stuff I still have. I spent close to £3000 accumulating my Maiden record collection – all kinds of memorabilia – and at some point I will sell it all, but the sheer amount of money and time I spent gathering it all should indicate my devotion to them back then. I phoned in sick from the train to the SECC, and my boss told me I had to come in as they were understaffed and had refused my holiday for that reason. I apologised but said that I would be absent.
The record fayre was large and well laid out, but very quiet. I browsed various stalls and picked up some more rare gems, a phrase I deliberately chose to use there because it sounds so utterly wanky. “Rare gems” – read: promo CDs, a scarf, a 12-inch or two. Di’Anno was there with some woman, I presume his mrs, and was predominantly occupied with signing and plugging copies of his autobiography. I bought the book, and got him to sign – looking back – a quite significant amount of stuff. He signed some of Maiden’s first singles and LPs, a Japan-only release, some rare US and Canadian pressings, a back-patch that I have never yet seen another of, some cassettes, and probably more besides. I actually got one promo CD signed by Blaze Bayley seven years later, and was surprised to discover when I got home that it had already been signed on the inside by Di’Anno. That was how much of my collection he autographed – I couldn’t even keep track of it all.
The proceeds from his book were going to some cancer charity, if I remember correctly. I do remember, vividly, that his mrs approached me as I walked away having chatted to him and got him to sign everything. She said that really, since he had graciously done that for me, I should donate a tenner to the charity bucket. I was caught so off-guard by this, eyes glazed over and happy at having met someone who fronted my then-favourite band, that I didn’t protest and just fished a note out of my wallet and handed it over, unquestioningly.
Once I read his book, and its revelations about his fondness for a particular marching drug, and about the fortunes he has made and lost, I had my doubts as to where that ten quid was truly destined. The general critical opinion of his autobiography was that the recollections therein should be taken with a large pinch of salt, and in the subsequent band biographies Paul has always been portrayed as being a little wayward, and a bit loose with the truth. His stories are wild and not always particularly reliable. However, he was certainly friendly and amiable, happy to talk and to answer my questions, although I wouldn’t ever want to cross him. He gets a lot of stick for trading on his past, since he only did two albums with Maiden thirty years ago, but it is increasingly well known that he sold all of his rights back to the band a decade ago now. He might sing the songs live and cover them on his CDs, but he makes no money from them any more. That might account for the benefit fraud that landed him in jail last year…
His band played a gig a few nights later, and it was a set almost entirely of Maiden songs and a cover of “Faith Healer” – enjoyable, but I’ve forgotten most of it now. Like Index, the venue folded a few years later and neither company exists now. When I went back to work later that week, I had a disciplinary hearing and received a written warning, but I had already lined up other work in the theatre and with the Inland Revenue (which also no longer exists under that name, incidentally.) It didn’t surprise my boss when I went in and just passed her my resignation letter across the desk. When I served my notice and left, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I realised how unhappy I had become working there. Nine years later, I look back fondly on those days – it was just a completely different time in my life. We got up to a lot of nonsense, but it was great fun. No regrets.
Di’Anno has played here once or twice since, but I’ve never made the effort to go and see him again. Not because I fear for losing another job, more due to a lack of interest as my taste in music has broadened and shifted. Maybe I’ll catch him again some day.