Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Hall 1971 - surely the rock concert of the decade?

Gerry Fitzgerald, Picture Editor, reflects on an epic gig when Led Zeppelin played in Belfast in 1971 and the night they played Stairway to Heaven live for the first time

It was March 5, 1971 - I was 18 years old with long curly hair and the slightest hint of a wispy beard.

I was dressed in tie-dyed T-shirt and loons, and weighed about three stones lighter! Well didn't I look the part!

I was off to the rock concert of the year and as it turned out probably the rock concert of the decade - Led Zeppelin live in Belfast's Ulster Hall. I have just seen the pictures of the Zep's reunion concert on Monday night and they are definitely wearing a lot better than I am.

How guitarist Jimmy Page aged 63, who has gone through the excesses of a rock and roll lifestyle, can look so good I admit, it's a mystery to me. I didn't even look that good at 18! Maybe if I had hit the drink and drugs instead of the gym I would look that good. He is nine years older than me for goodness sake! Still has his hair and is slim. What a bummer.

That night in the Ulster Hall was the first public performance of Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven and we didn't like it. Too 'ballady' for Led Zeppelin was our thoughts.

It didn't really sound like them - at least not until the last minute of the song when Jimmy Page launched into that now famous guitar riff. Stairway to Heaven went on to become one of the all time rock classics that has stood the test of time - sure what do I know about music anyway!

Whole Lotta Love was one of the songs we came to hear. This was the tune that was to front Top of the Pops for years to come and we were about to hear it live. In the middle of the recorded version the band launches into what I can only describe as a bit of 1960s psychedelic musical nonsense, but how would they produce this live on stage?

We heard the distinctive guitar intro to the song and were on our feet 'headbanging' or whatever our attempts at moving to the music was called in those days.

We waited and then it arrived, the part of the tune 'with the funny dreamy music'.

Much to our surprise and delight there was no raspy guitar notes or funny noises - No!

Robert Plant and the boys launched into a medley of classic rock and roll songs from the 50s and 60s that almost lifted the roof off the Ulster Hall - fantastic!

What a night I have to remember.

For your information I can now play Stairway to Heaven on my own guitar and yes, before you ask, I don't sound anything like Jimmy Page either.

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