The Image That Made Me Weep
published: 8 /
In 'The Image That Made Me Weep' Julie Cruickshank laments the demise of legendary rock pub The Ruskin Arms, which launched Iron Maiden and the Small Faces.
The Ruskin Arms, in East Ham, East London was a handsome late-Victorian pub built in 1899 which found fame as a rock music venue of note. The Small Faces played their earliest gigs there and rehearsed in the upstairs room. But it is most famous for being the birthplace of Iron Maiden.
As a teenager I used to frequent the Ruskin Arms with my friend (also called Julie) as we simply adored rock music and were desperate to see live bands. The Ruskin, as we called it, was a fantastic, friendly, welcoming venue which hosted bands every Friday and Saturday. Always ringed outside by an impressive array of motorbikes, it was our very own glowing temple of rock, and, best of all, it was free. You could wander in and out, and bands such as Desolation Angels, Deep Machine, Chemical Alice (whose keyboard player Mark Kelly later went on to join Marillion) and our favourites, Electrix, would guarantee we would have a great night out. The main bar led to the gig area, with a raised stage and walls painted black over layers of old band posters.
We had just missed the Iron Maiden residency, since by the time we had started to frequent the venue Maiden had started on their stratospheric rise to fame. But bass player Steve Harris and early vocalist Paul Di’Anno still drank in the pub, and we often saw Steve standing with a pint in his hand checking out the bands. To us he was just another local, enjoying the Ruskin experience.
The image shows a performance of the very young Iron Maiden, showcasing their spirited raw promise, helped along and nurtured by the rough and ready, free and easy atmosphere of the Ruskin. Bands could pretty much do as they pleased, were guaranteed an enthusiastic audience, and it was this environment I think which boosted the confidence of Maiden and so many other young bands
At its heart it was still an East End pub. A man would come in selling little tubs of cockles and trays of delicious prawns in pepper and vinegar, and in another room locals were playing snooker, oblivious to the noisy bands. An old-fashioned jukebox was by the bar, and upstairs was a training ring for boxers.
The Ruskin Arms closed its doors for good in 2018, and although attempts had been made to keep the music venue side going, it was nothing like the heady glory days of the late ’70s - early ‘80s.
On the cover art of Iron Maiden’s second album ‘Killers’ can be glimpsed a sign reading ‘Ruskin’, just behind the menacing ‘Eddie’ figure. A small tribute to a great venue. Gone but never to be forgotten, the memories of those wonderful days of the NWOBHM at the Ruskin Arms still linger, as a later Maiden album title puts it, Somewhere in Time.
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