Iron Maiden performed their first concert with new singer Bruce Dickinson on Oct. 26, 1981 at the Palasport of Bologna, Italy.

It was a daring personnel change for a band that was already enjoying great success with two fine albums recorded behind well-liked frontman Paul Di’Anno. In retrospect, however, there’s little doubt that Dickinson’s recruitment provided the final ingredient needed to accelerate Maiden’s inexorable march toward global dominance, beginning with 1982’s watershed The Number of the Beast.

Regardless of that happy outcome, the stark reality was that the situation had basically become untenable for band leader, chief songwriter and bass player Steve Harris – regardless of Di’Anno’s worthy contributions to the cause up to that point in time.

His gruff melodic vocals and even gruffer bad-boy charisma had capably shepherded Harris’ musical vision since 1978 — from the self-recorded "Soundhouse Tapes" to the major-label release of 1980’s Iron Maiden and 1981’s sophomore effort, Killers/ But then grueling tours and punishing media tasks ensued, and they took a steady toll on the fun-loving singer’s mood.

To Di’Anno, Iron Maiden now seemed more like a tightly run corporation than a rock 'n' roll band. He would later mince no words in comparing Harris and ambitious Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, based on the ruthless, military precision with which they ran the ship.

Be that as it may, this was Harris’ band — always had been, always would be — so once the decision to dump Di’Anno had been made, he and Smallwood applied that same businesslike discipline to identifying his replacement.

Watch Iron Maiden Perform in 1981

As fate would have it, Dickinson had already shared many stages with his future employers. He began fronting Iron Maiden rivals Samson (under the questionable stage name of Bruce Bruce) in 1980, and had reportedly been secretly coveting Di’Anno’s job. Iron Maiden also boasted professional ambitions that his present band clearly lacked.

Harris had likewise long admired Dickinson’s powerful air-raid siren of a voice, and saw no reason to change his opinion after a successful audition was held in September 1981 – mere days after Di’Anno’s dismissal. Dickinson was offered the job on the spot and told, “Oh, by the way, we’re touring Italy next month!”

That's how Bruce Dickinson suddenly found himself on stage in Bologna, facing the daunting prospect of fronting Iron Maiden’s well-oiled touring machine as they ripped through a 17-song set bursting with Di’Anno-era staples like "Sanctuary," "Wrathchild," "Running Free" and "Phantom of the Opera."

The band was called back for three encores that night, the last of which consisted of Montrose’s "I Got the Fire." Understandable nerves notwithstanding, it was abundantly clear to Harris, Dickinson, guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, and drummer Clive Burr that everything was going to be just fine for Iron Maiden.

The newly fortified quintet set off toward incredible new heights that are obviously well documented elsewhere, furthering a collaboration between Iron Maiden and Bruce Dickinson that started to seem inevitable.

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