LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It’s an unusual fashion choice for a heavy-metal singer. Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson is strolling about an airport, looking a little nerdy in a short-sleeved white dress shirt and a black tie.
If he looks like an airline pilot, that’s because he is. The 50-year-old rocker flies large passenger jets for a British charter company when he isn’t prowling concert stages bellowing out “2 Minutes to Midnight” or “The Number of the Beast” in his operatic wail.
Dickinson often combines his two passions, as seen on the new tour documentary “Iron Maiden: Flight 666,” in which the band and crew fly on a customised Boeing 757 to 11 countries in 45 days.
The film lands in cinemas in 45 countries on April 21, and rolls out on DVD one month later. In March, it won best music documentary at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Texas.
Dickinson was one of four pilots on the 2008 trek, and he dressed the part when it was his turn in the cockpit — to the consternation of his less-stylish bandmates.
“I couldn’t get my head around that for a couple of weeks,” said drummer Michael “Nicko” McBrain.
Some of the passengers had more pressing concerns: Is Dickinson a good pilot?
“We were nervous the first day when he took off. I was a bit concerned,” said Scot McFadyen, who co-directed the film with fellow Canadian Sam Dunn. “After 20,000 miles, you relax a bit. He had the best landings out of the four pilots.”
“Flight 666” follows the band on its “Somewhere Back in Time” world tour through India, Australia, Japan, the United States and Canada. But the real fun on the first leg of the yearlong journey begins in Latin America, where they are venerated like football stars.
Iron Maiden visited Costa Rica and Colombia for the first time, inspiring fans to quit their jobs to catch the shows, and turning macho men into sobbing wrecks. Pandemonium also reigned in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
Rock bands’ tour documentaries have an inevitable sameness: another day, another show, another country. Wacky fans, hungover musicians, and an awful lot of concert footage.
McFadyen and Dunn were aware of that pitfall, and faced another challenge. Iron Maiden is wary of outsiders. Since 1980 the British band has sold 70 million albums, largely without the help of radio airplay or the mainstream media.
“They’ve always, in general, been leery of any mass-media approach,” said Dunn, who became an Iron Maiden fan when he was 12 years-old. “They’ve always done it their own way. To break that mould, as a successful band, is difficult. Why do they need us?”
Dickinson and McBrain were clearly comfortable with the seven-man camera crew. Their colleagues, including band leader and bassist Steve Harris, took longer to accept the intrusion. The filmmakers bonded with elusive guitarist Adrian Smith because they all played tennis. Another guitarist, Janick Gers, ignored the filmmakers until the last week.
“Now, he’s like our buddy,” said McFadyen. “I think we are part of their families now. We know them so well.”
The filmmakers, who first gained attention with the 2005 documentary “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” are now focussing on another underappreciated rock band, the Canadian power-trio Rush.
Iron Maiden, meanwhile, wrapped their world tour in April, and will return to the studio in January to record their 15th studio album, McBrain said. A tour is planned for later than year into 2010.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte