Dundee-made film Schemers celebrates the 40th anniversary of an epic Iron Maiden gig organised by three city lads from the council schemes. With the film’s UK-wide release on Friday, Gayle Ritchie talks to lead actor Conor Berry and looks back at the historic heavy metal extravaganza.
If there was a simple phrase to describe Iron Maiden’s gig at Dundee’s Caird Hall in 1980, it would be “out of this world”.
The heavy metal legends, then in their infancy, were on the up and the world was going wild for them – but the Dundee event very nearly ended in disaster.
The gig came about thanks to three wheeler-dealer working-class Dundee lads from the council schemes who brought the rockers to the city.
The film, Schemers, which charts the historic gig and the early careers of the fledgling promoters, goes on UK-wide release tomorrow.
Described as “a madcap caper with something to say”, Schemers tells the true story of how dreamer Davie McLean (played by Edinburgh actor Conor Berry) is determined not to get a job working in a factory and instead turns to the world of music promotion.
As Davie and his pals Scot and John lurch from one cock-up to the next, they find themselves deep in debt to a violent gangster.
There’s only one way out of their mess, and it involves sweet-talking Iron Maiden into playing the Caird Hall.
The film, said to be a “love letter to Dundee”, is filmed in iconic city locations, including Groucho’s record store, Clarks bar, Beat Generator, Magdalen Green bandstand, the Caird Hall – and along Broughty Ferry’s waterfront and in the schemes of Fintry, Whitfield and Lochee.
It features cameos from The View’s Kyle Falconer, former Danny Wilson band member Kit Clark (who plays Davie’s dad Wullie), and former Dundee United player Dave “Psycho” Bowman.
There’s even a nod to the Evening Telegraph, with Davie referring to “the Tully” – Dundonians’ affectionate name for the newspaper.
Davie, 65, who is the film’s director and has a house in Broughty Ferry (although he lives full-time in Bangkok), went on to have a hugely successful career in the music business, working with the likes of Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Roxy Music, Pearl Jam and Oasis.
A bit of a shambles
When Iron Maiden’s huge tour bus pulled up outside the Caird Hall on June 12 1980, Davie and his pals were in for a shock.
In their panic to organise the event, they had only sold 200 of the 2,000 tickets and Davie hadn’t even read the contract…which was stuffed down the back of his sofa in Whitfield.
“Where’s the crew? Where’s the catering?” demanded the tour manager.
With neither a crew nor catering in sight, Davie had no choice but to get his mum to rustle up vast quantities of food and booze and drafted in random drunks from the street to become “crew” members.
He’d also forgotten to put up any promo posters, so it was a frantic rush to sell tickets – 1,800 of them – in the few hours before the band took to the stage.
Thankfully, Maiden were pretty chilled out about the whole, shoddy, affair and once they’d been to the pub with Davie and his pals, the concert went down a storm.
“I feared the gig would be a total shambles,” Davie told The Courier.
“We’d done absolutely no promotion and I’d only sold 200 tickets in advance. We were absolutely useless.
“The band were up and coming – they weren’t as huge as they became – but they went to number four that weekend.”
Forty years on, Iron Maiden reminisced about the historic Dundee gig in a tweet supporting tomorrow’s UK cinema release of Schemers and they’ve been generous in allowing the film-makers to use original gig footage as well as their music.
Star of the show
Edinburgh-based actor Conor Berry takes on the lead role of Davie – a young man looking for something meaningful in the limited opportunities available in 1970s Dundee.
His promising football career has been cut short by injury and he develops a crush on student nurse Shona, inviting her to a disco he’s yet to organise.
From there, his interest in music promotion grows. He and his pals look to put on bigger and bigger acts, often requiring financial help from the less salubrious elements of Dundee’s underbelly.
For Conor, whose portrayal of Davie landed him the Best Actor Award at the New York International Winter Film Festival 2020, it’s all been a bit of whirlwind.
The 26-year-old auditioned for the role of Davie in 2016 after seeing the casting call on Facebook.
“I’ll be honest – I’d never been to Dundee,” he reveals.
“The first time I went there was for the audition, but I’ve been there so many times over the past four years that I’ve fallen in love with the city. It’s become a part of me now.”
Conor got the part six months after graduating from London’s Giles Forman Centre For Acting.
“It was a fantastic experience, and to watch it grow has been amazing,” he says.
“We shot the first footage in 2017, then shot additional scenes in 2018 and the final scenes in 2019, reshooting the Iron Maiden stuff – so it was spaced out over three years.
” It was strange going back to it at different points and I felt like I was ageing! I felt I looked a bit different every time – I was 22 when I got the part – but I think we got away with it.”
Conor hopes when people see Schemers they’ll love it – and that this will boost his fledgling career and propel him on the road to stardom.
There wasn’t much glitz and glamour during his first filming session in Dundee, however.
The cast and crew initially stayed in student accommodation on the Kingsway, which he describes as “a great laugh”. The next few times they were treated to hotels.
While Conor enjoyed “dotting around Dundee”, he became a big fan of the Ferry, hanging out at Davie’s house.
“Often, after filming, or on days off or weekends, I’d go down there and spend time with Davie,” he says. “It’s so beautiful there, by the water. I absolutely love it.
“I got to know Davie pretty well. During the shoot, he was never intrusive with what I was doing. He didn’t put any pressure on to tell me what to do, or how to be.
“He was very open to what I was doing and just letting me work, which was the most comforting thing. That was my main worry – playing a real guy and his own story.
“I feared it could be a disaster if I didn’t do what he wanted but he was really chilled out about it.”
Conor admits he hadn’t listened to much Iron Maiden prior to the film, but he’s become a fan.
“They’ve been really good to us. We just kind of went ahead and made the film, without their support, just as a wee local thing, and once they saw it, they were so on board with it and wanted to help as much as possible.
“That’s why we ended up reshooting some scenes last year – they gave us the gig footage and the right to their songs – so I’ve only good things to say about them.
“They’ve helped the film massively. They’ve tweeted about it and put it on all their social media accounts – and they’ve got one of the biggest followings in the world.”
A young and very ambitious promoter took on an Iron Maiden gig just over 40 years ago… It was not an easy undertaking!
'Schemers' will be in UK Cinemas from Sept 25th.
— Iron Maiden (@IronMaiden) September 14, 2020
While the Iron Maiden gig is the film’s climactic point, Conor says it’s a recurring theme that when the lads book something, they realise how incapable and unprepared they are for it.
“It goes quite wrong after the Iron Maiden gig,” he says.
“The gig is very nearly a disaster. It’s a true story that Davie’s mum had to make all the bacon rolls and basically do all the catering! It’s hilarious!”
The title, Schemers, links to the fact the lads hail from the schemes of Dundee.
“That can be seen as a negative but we wanted to try and spin that on its head,” says Conor.
“You can still be successful coming from these places – you can still make something of yourself if you give it a try. That’s what the film’s about. Even if you’ve got no experience and probably no right to be doing what you’re doing, you still give it a go.
“The three of them – Davie, Scot and John – all turned out to be successful.”
It was a lot of fun filming in the schemes, says Conor, with the locals being “hugely supportive”.
“We tried to keep it under wraps – we weren’t sure what it was going to be, whether it’d just be a wee film for ourselves or whether it’d end up in the cinema,” he says.
“One time, we were filming at the flats and this man had this massive, scary-looking dog. He was shouting, ‘d’you want ma dug tae be in the film, lads?’ and we were like, ‘no thanks’! It was funny though.
“It was cool having to explain to people why we were cutting about in 70s clothes.
“Everyone in Dundee was hugely welcoming.”
Conor also loved filming the pub and gig scenes and cites Clarks and Beat Generator as among his favourite haunts.
Anyone lucky enough to have already seen the film – it was on show at the Edinburgh International Film festival last year – will know Conor has well and truly nailed the Dundee accent. How did the young Edinburgh lad go about mastering the lingo?
“I just listened. Kyle Falconer from The View’s accent is absolutely wild – he’s so authentically Dundee.
“I wanted to find something that was universal but something people from Dundee could recognise as being a Dundee accent, but also that people from England or elsewhere could understand and be able to follow the story.”
Kyle Falconer from The View’s accent is absolutely wild – he’s so authentically Dundee.”
Kyle appears near the start of the film, buying records from Davie.
Conor says: “He was a lovely guy – really supportive – and there are a few View songs in the film which gives it a local nod.”
Ahead of the film’s release in UK cinemas tomorrow, Conor is hugely excited.
“It’s been surreal. It’s such a big thing for all of us. It was supposed to come out in May and we’re desperate to see it in the cinema. Seeing the posters for it and talking to the press is crazy.”
He hopes the film will appeal to a huge spectrum of people worldwide.
“Hopefully it’ll travel well and put more eyes on Dundee,” he adds.
“It’s a good time for a film like this to be coming out. It’s feelgood, it’s a flash to the past and of a world we’ll hopefully return to. It’s like a wee time capsule.”
Iron Maiden gig
When Maiden played the Caird Hall in 1980, the band was fronted by singer Paul Di’Anno.
This was before Bruce Dickinson took over and propelled them to stardom – but there’s no doubt they were well and truly on the way up.
Di’Anno, who fronted the metal legends on their self-titled debut album and its follow up Killers, took to the stage to be greeted with a sea of cheering fans clad in denim and black T-shirts.
The band opened with The Ides of March and finished with I’ve Got the Fire.
Retired sub-editor Steve Taylor from Dundee described the gig as “out of this world”.
“I wore my jeans, Adidas baseball boots, black T-shirt and Wrangler denim – with all the usual rock band patches on it like Led Zep, UFO, Maiden, Lizzy, Quo, Sabbath, Boston to name just a few,” he says.
“I was into hard, head-banging heavy metal at the time and Maiden were on the up. It was hugely exciting.
In 2017, the crew behind Schemers invited the people of Dundee to show up at the Caird Hall dressed as “retro rockers” as they needed extras for the movie’s finale, a re-staging of the epic Iron Maiden concert.
With the help of The View frontman Kyle Falconer, who features briefly in the film, more than 50 locals showed up to take part in the scene.
The film netted the Audience Award at the 2019 Edinburgh Film Festival and the Best Director Award at New York’s International Winter Film Awards.
Dundee actor Grant R Keelan originally auditioned for the role of one of the “bad guys” and ended up playing the part of Davie’s friend John Gibson.
Paisley actor Sean Connor, who’s featured in River City, plays Davie’s friend Scot.
Ultimately, the film captures the best of Scottish humour without softening the edges of a tale based on achievement against all odds. Just look out for the battered sausage!
- Schemers will be in UK Cinemas from September 25.