A couple of days ago, a picture appeared online of Blaze Bayley at a festival in Manchester. He looked well. It was fabulous to see. A few months before, in March, it was very different. He’d had a heart and had to undergo bypass surgery. But you know the only positive to this awful sort of adversity? You find out who really likes you. And the outpouring of love and concern for Blaze was lovely to see.

But first and foremost, Blaze Bayley is a singer, and even more than that, he’s a live performer. He’s a brilliant one too. That’s how he’d want us to judge “Damaged Strange Different and Live” – and like everything else he’s done for a decade or more, it’s exceptional.

This album features five songs from his most recent work, “War Within Me,” recorded in the UK, and four others from his time in Iron Maiden from around the world. “War Within Me” showcases Blaze at his best – “every day I fight”, he sings. The personal nature of the words shines, especially now. “Pull Yourself Up” is joyous and real, while “Warrior” captures the type of metal he excels at, with the band understanding it perfectly. The slashing riff of Chris Appleton makes “The Power Of Nikola Tesla” stand out, and “18 Flights” turns an earthquake into a song!

“Lord Of The Flies” takes us to a parallel universe where Maiden plays a show with all their members, and the two Blaze albums are given their just deserts. These Blaze live albums always contain a gem you’d forgotten, and “Judgement of Heaven” is that gem. Maiden doesn’t perform that era anymore, but my goodness, it’s a wonderful song. “Fortunes Of War” is quintessential British heavy metal, played by a wonderful metal band, and on “Como Estias Amigos,” he sings “no more tears,” which in the context of what’s happened to him, makes you yearn for this second chance.

Since he hooked up with Absolva 10 years ago or so, Blaze Bayley has created a collection of work that no one really betters. But if I may end this on a personal note, his first band, Wolfsbane, were the first I ever saw live back in 1991, and I’ve met him many times since. As well as being a brilliant artist, Blaze is a lovely bloke.

Welcome back, mate. Never mind the record; I look forward to the next time you see me at a show and say, “You, you with the glasses, you’re not clapping along!” I promise I will…

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