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TBL CELEBRATES STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN AT 40: PART ONE – TBL ARCHIVE SPECIAL – HOW BELFAST RE-UNITED UNDER TRIBUTE BAND SIMPLY LED TEN YEARS AGO PLUS THE WAY IT WAS IN 1971…

4 March 2011 6,370 views 7 Comments

40 years ago tomorrow, Jimmy Page strapped on a newly acquired Gibson double neck guitar and played the first chords of a new lengthy composition in front of an audience for the first time.

The occasion was Led Zeppelin’s opening date on their UK tour at the Ulster Hall Belfast.

The song was Stairway To Heaven

Today we begin a two day celebration of this special anniversary of a special song.

This TBL Archive feature looks back to the events that took place on the 30th anniversary of that first airing of Stairway To Heaven.

Ten years ago popular tribute band Simply Led came up with a very clever idea – they decided to book the Ulster Hall in Belfast to perform a special anniversary concert 30 years ago to the very day Led Zeppelin had staged that opening night of their UK tour when Stairway To Heaven was first played – and in the very hall that first echoed to the sounds of what would become such an iconic composition.

I was invited to go over to cover the event for TBL – it was a fantastic success. There was a genuine sense of history in being in the vicinity where Led Zeppelin had performed all those years ago. Simply Led played superbly and the people of the city were incredibly friendly and receptive. The comment from one fan afterwards  ‘’Thanks for bringing Led Zeppelin’s music back to Belfast’’ said it all.

There’s a poignancy about reflecting on this occasion as sadly, Simply Led’s drummer Paul Kelvie passed away in 2006.

So this piece is dedicated to Paul who ten years ago along with Eddie Edwards, Keith Lambert and Phil Elridge reunited the Led Zeppelin fans of Belfast in fitting style –all in the very place where Stairway To Heaven was first performed live.

Remembering Led Zeppelin at the Ulster Hall

Belfast Re-unites Under Simply Led

March 5th 2001: Another cold Monday. Another journey. Today I’m bound for Belfast to celebrate a very special Zeppelin related anniversary. For 30 years ago on this very day Led Zeppelin took a Trident Hovercraft across the Irish sea to perform what would be their only concerts in the Emerald Isle. On the evening of Friday March 5TH 1971 they performed their opening show of the so called “Back to the clubs tour” at the Ulster Hall, Belfast. During their set that night they unveiled a new composition due to appear on their forthcoming fourth album. It was called Stairway To Heaven. Five million radio plays later…

30 years on the London-based tribute band Simply Led have hit upon a very novel and ambitious idea. Tonight they will perform a special anniversary tribute concert at the Ulster Hall – scene of that history making evening for Led Zeppelin back in 1971. Particularly ambitious when you consider this is only their second gig together.

Tribute bands of course are now an accepted part of the live gig scene. Any half renowned or much missed ex-mega group has anything up to half dozen would be copyists trouping up and down the pub circuit. Zeppelin are well served and I have immense respect for the likes of Fred Zeppelin, Whole Lotta Led, Stairway to Zeppelin, Let’s Zep who pack ’em in week in week out.

Simply Led’s Belfast plan, as I said, is massively ambitious, and they have done their homework. Singer Keith Lambert had come over a month back to launch the idea at a press conference which garnered much local coverage. Ticket sales have been brisk with already 600 sold. Bass and keyboardist Eddie Edwards assures me they have rehearsed intensely to do the real thing justice on the night. For my part it’s an opportunity to support Eddie, a long-term TBL associate (notably his Song Remains dissection in TBL 13) and spread the TBL word in a new territory. Despite the foot and mouth scare and the freezing weather, the flight out of Luton goes to plan and I meet up with the band around mid day. Andy Adams is in tow to lend them a hand and we walk down with Eddie to view the Ulster Hall in the afternoon. Morale is well high by this time – ticket sales have exceeded all expectations with a good chance of over 1,000 likely to witness the show.

As we walk around the balcony of the grand hall it begins to get exciting. There is a genuine sense of history about the place which is smaller than I expected and one of the most impressive venues I’ve ever seen. The vantage point over the stage up on the balcony is superb and you can’t help thinking how incredible it must have been to have viewed the original 1971 show from up here.

Eddie and his boys are understandably more than nervous as they arrive for the soundcheck and run down extremely competent versions of Heartbreaker and The Wanton Song amongst others.

Andy and I set up a display and stall in the foyer and head over to the pub for some pre -gig banter with the local Irish contingent already in. Everyone is really friendly and so keen to witness tonight’s celebration. Over at the Ulster Hall a couple of hundred fans are snaking their way around the hall eager for the doors to open.

DL inside the historic Ulster Hall Belfast – March 5th 2001

There’s aready  a great sense of occasion in the air. Original 1971 promoter Jim Aiken comes over to view the scene. “This is so special to be witnessing this again,” he tells me. “I can remember how excited we all were to get them here at the time. Nobody apart from Rory of course and a few others bothered to play Belfast. We still talk about the night Zeppelin came…”

It’s a wonderful cross section of fans who mill around the foyer. The elders who remember that momentous night 30 years ago, some bringing their off-spring’s to hear the songs that made such a troubled place at one with itself all those years back. There’s also lots of younger fans in attendance not even born when Zeppelin played their final gig in 1980. It makes for a very boisterous atmosphere and from the moment Simply Led take the stage and chug into the Immigrant Song/ Heartbreaker double whammy that was a staple part of the ’71 Zep set, well that sense of occasion is duly shared by band and audience alike.

I must say that in the weeks leading up to the gig 1 had my doubts that they could pull this off convincingly. It’s a pleasure to be proved so wrong. A combination of this being the right anniversary at the right time in exactly the right place makes the next couple of hours an absolute joy.

This is no mere tribute concert. This is an event and Simply Led rise to the occasion.

Highlights: Guitarist Phil Elridge’s fluid Gibson work during Over The Hills, Keith Lambert’s pleasing ad-libs (“Acapulco gold”) and pre-’73 high vocal register, Paul Kelvie’s drumming superb throughout the show – as good a Bonham-inspired performance you will see this side of Michael Lee. Eddie Edwards strong feel for Jonesy’s musicianship evident in a compact No Quarter and an ambitious and suitably emotional Stairway. Finally a rousing Whole Lotta Love and Rock And Roll brings to a close a striking performance. Throughout it all I couldn’t help thinking that right here in this very hall exactly 30 years to the, moment Led Zeppelin were making history. I’m sure it was an emotion shared by many in attendance. The atmosphere as the crowd spill into the foyer is a joy to be part of. It’s more than evident that Simply Led have captured the spirit of Zeppelin very well indeed.

Back stage the band themselves are justifiably triumphant. “They’ll never believe this back home,” says Eddie. And I guess unless I’d witnessed it myself I’d probably have been of the same opinion.

As I mentioned earlier the fundamental reason this all came together was the location and timing. Coupled of course with Simply Led’s enthusiasm, musical prowess and sheer determination to pull it off.

Belfast was a very special gig for any band back in those troubled times of ’71. For a band of Led Zeppelin’s stature to come and perform here was a real event. On tonight’s turnout that gesture way back in ’71 has obviously not been forgotten by the people of Belfast.

The whole evening is wonderfully summed up by the excited comment of one of the elder generation of Zep fans here tonight.

“Thanks for bringing Led Zeppelin’s music back to Belfast,” he tells Andy on the way out. It’s an accolade echoing throughout this historic venue. And that’s some accolade for a tribute band playing only their second gig,

Simply Led have every reason to feel very proud of themselves because tonight in Belfast they paid homage to a very special concert in Led Zeppelin’s history.

And in doing so they reunited the people of Belfast just as the real thing had done on a similar cold Irish night 30 years ago. It was simply remarkable.  

Dave Lewis, March 6th 2001

Simply Led  Belfast March 5th 2001 -Paul Kelvie, Eddie Edwards, Keith Lambert, Phil Elridge


Remembering Led Zeppelin at  the Ulster Hall 1971: Recalled in 2001 by those that were there…

“The concert was absolutely unbelievable, I was 15 years old and so close to my idols. I was in the seats behind the stage. It is just a moment of great posterity for me in terms of the age I was and seeing the band I loved. I also saw Zeppelin at Earl’s Court but it could never match the intimacy of that night in the Ulster Hall.” Noel Thompson, now a BBC Newsnight reporter.

“It was brilliant. In those days nobody played Belfast unless they were Irish like Taste or Thin Lizzy. To see Led Zeppelin was so enjoyable. It put Belfast-on the map. Stairway To Heaven did not stand out on the night, but I later saw them perform it to 100,000 fans at Knebworth. A lot different to the 1,500 who saw it in 1971.” Mervyn Jones, now a Belfast Councillor.

“When I heard Stairway performed that night I knew it was something special. We were in the front row of the balcony. Whenever I hear that song the memories of that night in Belfast come flooding back to me.” Trevor Haslett, Killinchy

TBL Archive Special part 2:

Here’s a review from TBL 15 of the then newly surfaced Belfast March 5th 1971 tape:

March 5th tape ensures this historic night will never be forgotten


Led Zeppelin on stage at the Ulster Hall Belfast, March 5th 1971. Photo G. Irwin.

Led Zeppelin’s decision to visit Belfast as part of their spring 1971 UK tour was heralded as a very brave move back in 1971. Few rock artists included it on their intinery due to the escalating political situation and threat of rioting. Earlier in the year T.Rex had pulled out of a planned appearance in Belfast. The Zeppelin concert itself was played out to the background of far off Friday night disturbances in the troubled parts of the city.

Until recently the only recorded remnant of that Irish visit was their March 6th date at Dublin’s Boxing Stadium. Now in a perfect piece of timing, a very rare recording has emerged of the Belfast Ulster Hall show. It was captured by one Norman Hanna – 20 years old at the time. He smuggled-in a newly purchased Phillips cassette recorder and taped the show some two thirds of the way back with the cassette machine positioned on the floor.

Unsurprisingly this newly discovered tape has been negotiated into the hands of the ever enterprising Japanese label Empress Valley and will probably have emerged by the time you are reading this as a deluxe four CD set containing the Belfast and Dublin shows.

The set will include a fourteen page booklet with photos and press cuttings from their Irish shows. This includes reproduction extracts from the review of the show featured in the Northern Ireland newspaper City Week.

Of the fifteen UK dates that comprised the Spring ’71 Back to the clubs tour only the aforementioned Dublin show and the officially released April 1 BBC In Concert recordings have emerged until now. This Belfast recording is therefore most welcome.

The tape recording quality is fair to good for the time – a little distorted and with occasional interference but mostly very listenable.

The most striking aspect of hearing it is the sheer force and determination in their playing. This opening night of their ’71 campaign was their first gig in over five months -the longest lay off so far in their career. It followed an eight week period of intensive recording sessions for their fourth album conducted at Island Studios and on location at Headley Grange.

It’s evident they were itching to air the newly recorded material in a live setting. Before those historic premieres we hear them storm through the then customary Immigrant Song/Heartbreaker opening.

Witnessing this in the Ulster Hall must have been extraordinary. Plant extends the vocal shrieks and the Page solo is just completely out there. Off mic you can occasionally hear the excited babble of Irish accents from the crowd. Then it’s a relaxed run through of Since I’ve Been Loving You. Plant on absolute peak form attaining the high pitched notes with ease. Black Dog is the first of the new songs employing the opening riff of Out On The Tiles. It’s back to the greatest hits for a no-nonsense, compact, Dazed And Confused,

More history making follows: Stairway To Heaven live performance number one. A straight rendering slightly tentative with Page playing the unfamiliar, but soon to become more than familiar, tune on the newly acquired Gibson double neck guitar. It suffers slightly here due to cuts and a high pitched sound from the original recording.

Evidence that the softer side of their playing as deployed on Zep 3 would still be present on their forthcoming album was duly demonstrated by the performance of the new Page/ Plant composition Going To California.

The more familiar Zep 2 standards What Is And What Should Never Be and a powerful Moby Dick take us into the finale – the now expected Whole Lotta Love medley including Let That Boy Boogie, Honey Bee and The Lemon Song.

The encores are just plain shattering. A thrashing Communication Breakdown followed by the debut live performance of Rock And Roll – then known as It’s Been A Long Time. A final welcomed bonus brings this historic recording to an end. There’s quite a delay before they get around to performing and it’s evident they are trying to work out what to play. They opt for a rarely played post 1970 version of Bring It On Home performed in a unique delivery sans vocals and harp in the final section.

“If everybody was like this to each other every day there would be no problems,” Plant can be heard to inform the audience just before the second encore. A nostalgic and relevant comment of the times.

Which is exactly what this Belfast discovery represents. It’s a true document of the band at a crucial moment.

Flushed with the massive success of the past, fresh from a welcomed lay off and enthused by the studio sessions that provided yet more new on stage impetus, this is prime 1971 Led Zeppelin.

In short, this tape is a brilliant reminder of how good they were at that stage of their career. Freeze-framing a period when they were receiving deserved mass popularity and acclaim at a time when they were also producing some of their most powerful and vital work.

Incredibly it all happened thirty years ago. The Belfast people haven’t forgotten. Thankfully, the emergence of this tape will make sure they never do.  

Dave Lewis –  March 23rd 2001

And finally….

The way we were…March 1971

Here are some of the events that were happening 40 years ago as Led Zeppelin toured arund the UK….

LED ZEPPELIN 3 CLIMBED BACK UP TO NUMBER FOUR ON THE UK ALBUM CHART.

GEORGE HARRISON WAS AT NUMBER ONE ON BOTH THE SINGLES AND ALBUM CHARTS WITH MY SWEET LORD AND ALL THINGS MUST PASS

THE ROLLING STONES KICKED OFF WHAT MANY CONSIDERED WOULD BE THEIR FINAL UK TOUR AT BRISTOL’S COLSTON HALL

IRON BUTTERFLY, THE BAND ZEPPELIN SUPPORTED ON THEIR FIRST US TOUR, ANNOUNCED THEY WERE DISBANDING

THE UK WAS EXPERIENCING ITS FIRST MONTH OF DECIMILISATION AND STILL IN THE THROES OF A GENERAL POSTAL STRIKE

NEWLY RELEASED ALBUMS INCLUDED NICK DRAKE’S BRYTER LATER, THE FACES’ LONG PLAYER AND SOFT MACHINE FOUR. NEW SINGLES JUST OUT INCLUDED JOHN LENNON’S POWER TO THE PEOPLE, DEEP PURPLE WITH STRANGE KINDA WOMAN AND BOB DYLAN’S IF NOT FOR YOU

CHOICE GIGS OF THE MONTH INCLUDED CURVED AIR AND GENESIS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX FOR 62 NEW PENCE AND HAWKWIND AND THE PINK FARIES AT THE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON.

ON TV ATOMIC ROOSTER AND LEON RUSSELL WERE GUESTS ON BBC2’S DISCO 2 WHILE THE ANDY WILLIAMS SHOW INCLUDED RAY CHARLES, ELTON JOHN AND CASS ELLIOT

NEW FILMS AT THE CINEMA INCLUDED LOVE STORY STARRING RYAN O’NEAL AND ALI MACGRAW AND BARBARA STREISAND IN THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT.

IN FOOTBALL, FOLLOWING THEIR GIANT KILLING FIFTH ROUND 3-2 VICTORY OVER LEEDS IN THE FA CUP, COLCHESTER WERE BEATEN 5-0 BY EVERTON IN THE SIXTH ROUND. IN THE SAME ROUND ARSENAL DEFEATED LEICESTER 1-0 IN A REPLAY ON THEIR WAY TO SECURING THEIR CUP AND LEAGUE DOUBLE.

With thank to Eddie Edwards and Keith Lambert

Dedicated to Paul Kelvie 1961 – 2006

The above text all first published in Tight But Loose issue 15, 2001. Currently out of print – re print planned.

Copyright Dave Lewis/Tight But Loose 2011 – not to be reproduced without prior permission.

Check out  Eddie Edward’s superb dissection of various Led Zeppelin releases at

http://www.thegardentapes.co.uk/

TBL celebrates Stairway To Heaven at 40 – Part Two tomorrow – find out the results of the TBL Poll to determine the fans favourite live version of Stairway To Heaven…

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7 Comments »

  • Debbie said:

    Thanks for honouring Simply Led 10 years on and remembrance of the late great Paul Kelvie. Belfast was a night to be remembered and I was lucky enough to be back stage as a friend of Eddie and Paul.I have a drumstick that Paul broke while pounding out those incredible songs, I treasure it. Your recount of that night brings back so many happy memories. Thanks again Dave.

  • Steve said:

    Can’t help but think those album charts are full of classic albums and artists Sinatra, Lennon, Bolan, Young,Morrison , Zep…..the list goes on. Ah those were the days.

  • Gerd Zaunig said:

    Simly GREAT reading and memories!
    I have a very friendly relationship with Simply Led’s singer Keith and I also really admire EE’s remix work and analysis (Garden Tapes, official ‘DVD’ etc).
    Some historical documents of Simply Led can be found on youtube and IMO they were really, really good.

  • Jim Sloane said:

    Loved that – excellent !

  • Ross said:

    I went to the 2001 gig and it was a great night – I still have my tour shirt. Met some bloke who spun me a yarn about sitting behind Bonzo’s kit for the show.

    Obviously my uncle and father liked to remind me that they were there first time round…

  • Steve Harrison said:

    Great read Dave.
    good to see the TBls might be re-printed ,better start saving the schekels.

  • Michael Brazee said:

    I downloaded this show a while back. It will be played tomorrow of course.

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