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Earls Court… Turning Back The Clock

25 May 2005 4,891 views 2 Comments

Earls Court

Ticket: Gallery Block 72 Row L Seat 34

The first night – met then girlfriend Fiona in London for the long long awaited return. When the stage burst into action following Bob Harris’s intro just after 8pm well it was the moment my life switched into colour after the previous 18 years had been viewed in grainy black and white!

We had a good view high up to the right looking down towards Robert’s side. They were a little nervous and it was evident Jimmy was having lead trouble in Rock’ n’ Roll but once they settled in it was all and more I’d hoped for. I’d played Physical Graffiti non stop since it had come out so seeing In My Time, Kashmir and Trampled played live was just awe-inspiring. Initial opening night impressions: Bonzo’s incredible drum sound, Robert’s warm raconteur with the crowd, Dazed and the laser lights shooting through Jimmy’s violin bow. We got back to Bedford at 2am and I was already counting down the hours to 8pm

SUNDAY MAY 18 1975
Ticket: Gallery Block 70 Row E Seat 17

In the morning I’d got the Sunday Observer with the colour supplement magazine with that Tony Palmer feature in.

”Led Zeppelin bigger than The Beatles?” proclaimed the front cover. What a compliment …

On the train at 5 in the afternoon with fellow fan Nic and his girlfriend. My eldest brother Mervyn attended this night with his wife – he was most impressed but suffered what he describes as psychedelic nightmares for days after!

Hung outside Earls Court amongst the programme sellers and poster stalls before the show – bought a bootleg badge which was as big as a dinner plate. Wore it with pride for years!

Improved view tonight lower down – same side. Three performances stood out – a chugging Over The Hills with that meandering Page solo, an intensive and incessant In My Time Of Dying (Plant’s “I must have done somebody good” line resounded in my ears all the way home) and a wonderfully relaxed No Quarter led by Jonesy’s virtuoso piano performance. We just managed to get the last train back and in for 2.30am. Two down and incredibly … three still to go!

FRIDAY MAY 23 1975
Ticket: Gallery Block 98 Row F Seat 6

The days in between the frst gigs had been pretty non stop. Tuesday at short notice I went to see Swan Song artists The Pretty Things support Status Quo at Ipswich with the Atlantic rep who called on the record shop I worked in. Next day he brought in to the shop 30 copies of the limited edition Trampled Underfoot single – yet another bonus! Thursday was spent soaking up the music press with the arrival of the NME and Melody Maker front covers (those cover pics were just awesome!) – the excitement just didn’t stop.

So imagine waking up on a Friday morning with the prospect of over nine hours of live Led Zeppelin in store over the next three days.

Talk about the weekend starts here!

But that was the treat in store as I went to catch the train on Friday May 23 for gig 3. Earlier I had a passport pic taken suitably dressed in Earls Court T shirt – I was due to fly out with my friends to sunny Loret De Mar in a week’s time.

After the frantic pace of attending the two first gigs, Friday seemed a much more relaxed affair and I took much more in. The weather was good too and beforehand we drank a bottle of wine in Hyde Park. Then it was to SW8. The view this time was the opposite side – we scrambled down a few tiers taking some empty seats. A full on, if slightly distant view, of Page’s side. From the moment Plant gave out an excited Immigrant Song ”Aha ah” squeal as Bonzo and Jimmy did the usual warm up, it was so evident they were up for it. ”Last week we did a couple of warm up dates for these three nights. We believe that these were the first three gigs sold out so these must be the ones with the most energy stored up because you’ve been waiting”. That opening Plant speech was met with tremendous applause.

Highlights: Plant’s You Shook Me reference at the end of In My Time, the image of Page swathed in blue light up on the screen delicately picking out The Rain Song, Tangerine yet again so moving and a Dazed that included the San Francisco interlude.

This time we did miss the train finally getting back to Bedford at 4.30am. It was now Saturday May 24th and this one was going to be the big one.

Second row seats beckoned.

Who needed sleep with that prospect ahead!

Ticket: Gallery Block AA Row B Seat 8

My friend Dec had queued up for these tickets for this one over night when they went on sale in March. Five of us went from Bedford (Hi Dec,Tom and ,Phil!). We went shopping in Oxford Street in the afternoon and then across to Earls Court – walking along the aisles and up to the front of the stage, well you can imagine the feeling. We were just so cose to Bonzo’s drum kit – and the amp set up, it was so amazing. I was second row to the right of the stage.

What can I say – being in such close proximity to one of the highest profile gigs Led Zeppelin ever performed, was well beyond compare.

Images ingranied on my brain for 30 years: Watching Page slither across the stage as they hit Sick Again, Plant seemingly lost in a trance right in front of us as Page did the solo in Over The hills, dry ice seeping over the front rows in No Quarter, the stand up micrphones being brought out for the four part harmony of Tangerine, the acoustic segment – so close so intimate, Trampled and the revolving lighting creating a real sense of speed, Page’s violin bow and going ”Ahhh’! as the lasers spiraled above us. The last few moments of Stairway as the mirrorball created that swirling spinning effect and thinking I must have died and gone to heaven!

The encores with the neon sign lighting up … Plant strutting over to our side in Black Dog and looking straight at us and smiling.

It was just too much. We left in a dazed state – how could we not – we had just seen Led Zeppelin at the ultimate vantage point. Nothing else mattered right then.

Certainly not rushing for the train. We predictably missed the last one back and slept on the station amongst several disgruntled Scotsman.

Finally it was back to Bedford at 8am. The party was drawing to an end … but there was a final memorable date with Earls Court remaining … and one that really would cement for all time my addiction for this band.

There were other events going on aside from Zep at Earls Court on that epic Saturday. In the afternoon England beat Scotland 5-1 at Wembley – a result that made for quite a few depleted and drunken Scots as we made our way to Earls Court. For the record England’s scorers were Beattie,Bell,Johnson and two from Gerry Francis.
The England line up that afternoon read: Clemence, Whitworth, Beattie, Bell, Watson, Todd, Bell, Channon, Johnson, Francis, Keegan, sub Thomas.

Can’t say Bonzo would have been too excited over this result . ”I think football’s a load of bollocks” was his no nonsence summary as they came back on for the encore – a retort to the numorous soccer references Plant had made on stage during the gigs.

Some 24 years later history would repeat itself when I watched England truimph 2-0 over Scotland at Hampden in the Euro 2000 play offs before setting off to see Robert perfom with the Priory at the Red Lion Birmingham. In stark contrast to Earls Court’s 17,000 capapcity just 300 were in the pub that night!

SUNDAY MAY 25 1975
Ticket: First Tier Front Stalls Block 19 Row DD Seat 35

So the party was nearly over. Got up at 1pm and on the train at 5 – my brother John and wife Sally attended this show – the man of course responsible for taking me to see Zep in 71 and 72. I was wearing the mirror shades I’d brought in Oxford Street the previous day and he always relays the tale how he watched me come into the arena straining my eyes and taking off the shades as I looked to find my seat. The shades sensibly stayed off for the gig!

Great view for this last swan song – straight, face-on view, on the back tier front stalls. I remember vividy Alan Freeman’s introduction ”We are here today because you and I have great taste…”.

There was a sense amongst the audience of the show being the last as Plant put it in his opening speech for ”A considerable time”.

”Still there’s always the 1980’s” – what an ironic statement that was to prove.

The arrival of that soundboard tape of this performance few years ago revealed that the band were completely at ease that final night. Free from the pressure of the opening gigs, clearly looking forward to their summer break and respective tax exile travels and content in the knowledge that their public acclaim at home was at a new height, well they could just lay back and enjoy it.

That’s exactly what they did, performing with a great sense of cameraderie. Given that freedom, this performance easily rivalled the previous night and often exceeded it. May 24 remains my personal Earls Court favourite but May 25 was the best group performance of the five nights.

Great moments on the final run in: Page’s free form solo on over The Hills – right out there as he closed his eyes and drifted off – thoughts maybe of life in the Agadir the next week … Another refrain of You Shook Me at the end of In My Time … the San Francisco insert back in for what would be the final full version of Dazed And Confused ever played … an emotional Stairway with Plant’s moving reference to his daughter Carmen ”A song to a little girl who sits there and who wonders what it’s all about”… and then the encores. When it was apparent they were coming back again after Black Dog we rushed down to the side of the stage and had a great view of Heartbreaker and Communication Breakdown.

Anxious not to let this Earls Court experience end, we hung around the front of the stage and incredibly, as the arena emptied we were able to walk through the black curtain at the side of the stage and walk unchallenged through to the backstage area. There sitting on a limo was Robert Plant – blue sparkled jacket, white scarf and draped in braclets and rings looking for all the world like a greek god. Being right in front of Robert at that moment was just incredible. An unforgettable image . After getting over the sheer shock of seeing him, I asked the rather dumb question when would they be playing in England again. ”There’s a lot of travelling to do first” was his reply. We walked across to the entrance where the aftershow party was taking place with Plant and his wife Maureen and Rusty from Showco. Robert sang a few lines from Kashmir as he scuttled through the entrance. We also saw Bonzo, Jonesy and Jimmy arrived along with Chris Squire from Yes, Bob Harris and Jeff Beck.

Knowing they would have to come out at some point we waited outside the party entrance. There was no way we were going anywhere until then!

About 3am, I actually walked on to the Earls Court stage now deserted except for some PA gear and Jonesy’s grand piano … It was an incredible feeling looking out from the actual focal point where all this had happened. We saw them all leave the party at around 4. Jimmy looking frail in white suit but keen to acknowledge the remaining fans – one of them asked how his finger was – ”oh fine now it’s so nice you all care”. Jonesy and Bonzo signed autographs and Robert looking rather out of it, was ushered through to the limos. That was our final view of Led Zeppelin at well afer 4am on the morning of May 26 1975.
…and coming down wasn’t easy!

Monday May 26 was thankfully a bank holiday and after ariving back home at 7.30am I then slept all day. The real cream on the whole week had been the fact I’d met them all and got their autographs – there was no plan of action to do that, it had just all slotted into place.

Days later I was in the heat of Loret De Mar on a lads holiday. My fellow Earls Court attendees Phil, Tom and Dec were with me and Phil brought along the tape he’d made of the May 24 show recorded next to me on a primitive casette portable. It rained once in Loret and we all piled into his room to hear the tape. A bizzare experience as Earls Court came alive again in foreign surroundings. Incidentally, alongside revelling in the late night discos (one of them was called Moby Dick!), the highlight of the hol was the batch of Zep Spanish pressing singles I uncovered in the local record shop – it just never stopped!

Once back home I began scribbling down some notes on my Earls Court experiences – this would eventually form the basis of the Earls Court feature in the first issue of Tight But Loose.

Can it really be thirty years ago? To paraphrase Robert’s on stage comments on May 18
”It’s been like a lifetime and yet a second”

Remembering it all 30 years on and celebrating it at the Stourbridge and Northampton events has been hugely enjoyable and absolutely warrented.

In my view they were the greatest series of concerts Led Zeppelin ever played. Put on the disc two of the DVD as it ushers in Going To California – and 49 minutes later I think you’ll agree.

Earls Court May 17 – 18 – 23 – 24 – 25.
They were, are and always will be the glory days of Led Zeppelin.
And as you’ve probably gathered from reading all this … some of mine too.

Dave Lewis May 25 2005

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)


  • Mike MacLennan [aka Dino] said:

    I was nearly in tears reading this. It brought back so many memories of being an unemployed 18 year old in N Ireland devouring MM and NME for gig reviews and cutting out the b/w pics and adding them to all the other Zepp pics sellotaped to my bedroom wall. And trying to get Earls Court tickets by post, and failing, knowing there wasnt a hope in hell i could have afforded the [then massively expensive ] airfares never mind accomodation BUT lets just get a ticket and see what happens! Unfortunately it didnt happen and i had to content myself with the reviews and playing Physical Graffitti even more if that was possable. But smug in the knowledge that MY band were now officially recognised as the biggest and the best in the world, and I spotted them first [amongst my mates] so “I told ya so” lol! I even tried to piece together a set list from all the articles and taped the album tracks in order on to cassette and used that as my Earls Court show.
    34 years later I can play a cd of any of the Earls Court shows thanks to my genourous friends from the Zepp net community and the God given gift of torrenting! How things have changed.
    But as Dave says in this look back, this WAS really Zepp’s golden age and though it is my lasting regret I never saw them live [tho Page and Plant was pretty close especially the 98 tour] I have a collection of over 100 of the best/classic Zepp gigs [which didnt cost me a penny other than postage, again thanks Zepp net fans you are all so genourous]to console myself with, aided and abetted by the magnificent Concert Files book and the stimulating Louis Rey tome to wet my appetite and interest in reliving all manner of Zepp gigs and keeping the buzz and the legend alive for at least as long as I am alive.
    I thang yew [all]!!!

  • Mark Harrison said:

    The GLORY GLORY days indeed Dave – sends my brain back to those days and nights with misty eyes….

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