5/17/11 - you can't turn back the clock

In today's excerpt - by 1971, Led Zeppelin had performed in front of crowds as large as 200,000 and was earning close to $2 million (in today's dollars) per performance, but wanted to reward their fans from their earliest days by returning to perform in the small clubs they had barely filled three years before. As reported by tour manager Richard Cole:

"Back in England, Zeppelin was performing again, this time on a Return to the Clubs tour—an idea conceived by [manager] Peter Grant. Amid the band's enormous success, Peter never let himself forget the band's early days when they struggled to get attention at home. In the cramped clubs in which they played in those days, they had a small but loyal following. And Peter still felt he owed them a debt.

" 'This new tour is a way of saying 'thank you' to those fans who have been with us since sixty-eight and sixty-nine," Peter had said when he suggested the idea. So during the remainder of March, we played in a dozen clubs, including the Marquee in London, the Mayfair Ballroom in Newcastle, the Boat Club in Nottingham, and Stepmother's in Birmingham. With audiences averaging 300 to 400 people, these dates were the ultimate contrast to the Bath Festival [with its crowd of 200,000].

"The clubs tour, however, was much better as a concept than as reality. None of us particularly enjoyed it. The clubs were small, and the demand to see Zeppelin was, of course, much larger than it had been in the early years. This was now the biggest band in the world, and literally thousands of people were turned away at the doors. Disappointed fans sometimes took out their frustrations and anger on whatever they could take a swing at—whether it was the clubs' bouncers or nearby street lamps. On a couple of occasions, the police were called to prevent a full-fledged riot from erupting.

"After the scares in Ireland [where Zeppelin had toured in spite of the violence between Protestants and Catholics], I had insisted on taking two bodyguards with us on the British tour, and Peter agreed. Two brawny protectors, Patsy Collins and Jim Callaghan, gave me some peace of mind for most of those U.K. performances. Nevertheless, the Return to the Clubs tour was not incident-free.  As Zeppelin performed at the Nottingham Boat Club, a fellow in his mid-twenties with a satanic face approached the stage, hovering for a minute or two as the band played 'Whole Lotta Love.' He had a knife tucked in his belt, and although it was still in its case, I decided not to wait to see what might happen next. I rushed toward the front of the stage and slammed my body into the bastard, wrestling him to the ground. Then with the help of Patsy, we dragged him backstage. ...

" 'What the f**k is that knife for?' I shouted as I stood over him, poised for another punch.

" 'My girlfriend loves Robert Plant,' he mumbled. 'Whenever she swoons over him, it drives me crazy. Sometimes I feel like killing both of them.' ...

"When we played the Mayfair, just before the band went onstage, Jimmy was bitching about the entire tour. 'Once you've played in the big places, these small clubs are murder. It's nice to be near the audience, but you forget how small the dressing rooms are. At this point in our careers, I think we're entitled to more luxury than this. This is really hard to believe.'

"With the larger venues, Zeppelin had gotten spoiled very quickly. They had become used to big dressing rooms and catered food. They expected excellent sound systems, not makeshift speakers and overloaded fuse boxes that hemorrhaged and died in the middle of a set. So even though Zeppelin was eager to expose their fans to songs from their forthcoming album—songs like 'Stairway to Heaven,' 'Rock and Roll,' and 'Black Dog'— I could see them cringe every time the sound system would screech, scratch, and squeal.

"There wasn't much of a financial payoff, either. The band took a percentage of the door, but when you're only squeezing three hundred and fifty people into a club, the band's share covered gas money and maybe a few bottles of whiskey. 'It's no Madison Square Garden,' Peter said, showing a knack for understatement.

"Peter still felt that the entire exercise was worth it, at least in terms of public relations. Even so, he never suggested repeating the Return to the Clubs tour. Neither did anyone else."


Richard Cole and Richard Trubo


Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored


Harper Collins


Copyright 1992, 2002 by Richard Cole and Richard Trubo


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