Belfast Telegraph

Robert Plant: Rock legend returns to Ulster Hall 43 years after Stairway to Heaven was first performed there

By Amanda Ferguson

It was a moment in rock music history most Led Zeppelin fans desperately wish they had witnessed.

When the legendary band debuted the now classic Stairway to Heaven in Belfast in 1971, locals fans were distinctly unimpressed.

Maurice Kinkead has "no recollection" of the track being played at the Ulster Hall gig and Gerry Fitzgerald said he and his school friends wrote it off at the time as "too sedate".

The men are sharing their memories of the time as former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant returned to Belfast last night to grace the Ulster Hall stage where the band first performed Stairway to Heaven more than 40 years ago.

Robert Plant And The Sensational Space Shifters played the Belfast venue as part of the 65-year-old's new band and project, showcasing tracks from the new album entitled Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar.

It was the first time he'd been back to play the venue since that fateful night

On March 5, 1971, the city became part of music history when the inaugural public performance of Stairway to Heaven took place.

It was Led Zepplin's first appearance in Northern Ireland and the first outing for the iconic hit song.

In an interview, bassist John Paul Jones recalled that the crowd was unimpressed.

"They were all bored to tears waiting to hear something they knew," he said.

Among those at the 1971 gig was the now chief executive of the East Belfast Partnership, Maurice Kinkead, who didn't attend last night's Robert Plant concert at the Ulster Hall because he had tickets for a Van Morrison gig elsewhere.

"I was indeed there but I was 17 and quite drunk and have no recollection of Stairway to Heaven being played," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I was listening out for tracks I knew.

"I had brought three people with me and when we got to the door I had lost our tickets.

"We talked our way in and were sitting behind the band so my memories are of seeing the faces of the serious Led Zeppelin fans headbanging in the front row.

"Stairway to Heaven made no impact on me on the night yet it became one of my favourite songs on the album."

Former Belfast Telegraph picture editor Gerry Fitzgerald wasn't impressed by Stairway to Heaven either.

"I was there was with a load of lads from school," he said.

"We were all into rock music, loved Rory Gallagher and got into Led Zeppelin.

"They were getting really big at the time.

"We enjoyed the concert but didn't like Stairway to Heaven.

"We were very bemused, with it being so gentle and when we talked after we said 'that will never make it' because it is too sedate.

"How wrong were we? It became a classic."

The song has since been recorded by numerous artists and there has been a whole album of different versions of the same track.

This year Led Zeppelin has faced a copyright infringement suit in the US that contends parts of the 1971 hit were lifted from a song by the band Spirit.

It has been claimed Jimmy Page ripped off the chords for Stairway to Heaven from Spirit's 1968 track, Taurus.

The bands had toured together at one point.

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