by Audrey H.
I’d like to dedicate this stubstory to my long term best friend, Ang. We were childhood friends, classmates at high school, ‘hairie’ friends and rock concert goers after we left school and before we met our respective husbands. I remember Ang and I going to watch consecutive showings of ‘The Song Remains The Same’ for the price of one entrance each when it was shown in the cinema in our hometown. How we didn’t get kicked out, I’ll never know but I’m glad we weren’t. We didn’t keep our cinema tickets but if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be writing this article.
I’d gone to my first concert by Letz Zep in kind of a nervous frame of mind thinking that even if they weren’t as good as the reviews stated, I would in any case, have enjoyed hearing the music I once knew so well. Part of this was due to the appeal of seeing how four British musicians would cope with performing music of the calibre of Led Zeppelin. Knowing that the task before them was on a par, challenge-wise, with Frodo’s travels to Mordor, I’m certain I wasn’t the only one in the audience in Madrid who was willing for them to succeed yet succeed they did. BIG time.
I was very keen to see and hear them in concert again but knew I would have to wait a long time so meanwhile, I joined one of several Letz Zep groups on Facebook and wrote to them, was pleased by a nice reply and offered to forward rave Spanish reviews I’d read of their concerts which they said they’d like to receive and thanked me afterwards.
Serendipity occurred on the October morning of the day I was due to undergo LASEK surgery on both my eyes in the form of a notification email from Letz Zep in my computer inbox! It referred to a rare concert date in London in 2012. I took the message out of the blue as a good sign and it boosted my confidence. I was humming ‘Rock N’ Roll’ and other Zep songs to myself in the hours before my appointment and was hoping like mad that it would go all right. Nervous but emboldened, I underwent the operation which wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared and it had a successful outcome. I vowed that if all went well, I would see Letz Zep again with new vision.
Having checked the gig listings they posted on their website for their tour in 2012, I saw that they were going to start the year by playing a number of dates in Spain in January but for some reason excluded Madrid. I chose to go and see them in Valladolid, which, at 163 kilometres/101 miles away, was the closest gig to the Spanish capital and accessible in an hour by Spain’s AVE train network. My husband booked our seats on the train and a room for the night in the nearest hotel to the venue. I purchased the entrance ticket well in advance though I was put out by the fact that it was printed on A-4 size paper, still, I reasoned to myself, there might be a chance that the group would be staying in the same hotel and if possible, I would ask for their autographs.
Shortly after checking into the hotel, we went out to look for the location of Sala Porta Caeli Global Music, only a ten minute walk away. It was very cold in Valladolid and after dark the temperature fell to several degrees below zero centigrade. My husband accompanied me as far as the entrance and waited with me for the doors to open at 21:30. Once inside, I quickly sized up the surroundings: the venue was much smaller than the one in Madrid. I headed for the bar and ordered a vodka and orange. More people entered and the ambiance warmed up. I felt a little self conscious then thought it would be a nice idea to take photos of the group’s instruments on the stage so I snapped away then went to get a beer when I glimpsed the members of Letz Zep in their street clothes emerge into the public area to dine on a delivery of ‘telepizza’ there instead of backstage. Well, that was a turn up for the books! There was a low metal grille placed around them, like an old fashioned fireguard. I watched as two people went up to ask to have their photo taken with Billy Kulke to which he obliged. It occurred to me to go over and ask for his autograph but how would I handle it if he refused? He might not, though, as I’d seen him hand the set list to a fan after the Madrid concert.
Would I ever get another opportunity like this? Probably not, so nothing ventured, nothing gained… I overcame my shyness, strolled as casually as I could manage over to where they were sitting, greeted Billy Kulke and asked if I could please have his autograph. He nodded with a smile and invited me to take a seat. WOW! I moved the grille to one side, replaced it and sat down beside him. As luck would have it, although I usually always have a pen on me, I hadn’t bothered to put one in my bag. Billy didn’t have one either. I said that it didn’t matter but I must have momentarily looked forlorn. When I mentioned I’d traveled from Madrid especially to see them again, he sent one of the group backstage to look for a pen. Thus supplied, Billy passed my concert ticket paper to each member of the band to sign. I was delighted and felt honoured and said as much, to which I was rewarded by their warm smiles. Billy seemed content to keep on talking and what a friendly, pleasant guy he turned out to be.
…… After Letz Zep’s gigs in Spain, they were due to tour in France for the first time and a keynote show was scheduled at the world famous Paris L’Olympia concert hall. I asked Billy about it and he said that they were looking forward to it… it was a big stage… many great names had performed there such as Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour… Led Zeppelin themselves… I told him I was sure that they would rise to the occasion… I had lived in Paris and had seen The Communards play there and yes, it was a massive auditorium. Billy was amused by the mention of The Communards and began to sing the chorus of ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ with me joining in then both of us burst into laughter. We spoke for a while longer then he said he had to go and get ready for the show. I’d enjoyed the conversation so much that I’d almost forgotten what I was there for ……A Night With The Music Of Led Zeppelin……
I found a good vantage point to take photos. There was quite a large crowd in spite of the televised soccer match taking place between Real Madrid FC and FC Barcelona. The last few seasons, these two teams had been playing each other more than is usual and the rivalry between them usually means skilful soccer and a bad tempered game. I was pleased to have a reason not to watch yet another yellow card fest. A Letz Zep concert was a much, much better option.
The lights lowered, Letz Zep’s intro music was heard as they emerged onto the stage to loud cheers from the assembled public. Once again, the recognisable start of ‘Rock N Roll’: the drums and cymbals, the bass, then lead guitar and vocals. Not such a long time since I rock n’rolled but a whole year was long enough! What a pace it was played at. Just like Led Zeppelin themselves. Benji Reid set the percussion bar way up high right from the start and maintained a ferocious tempo throughout the entire set. There was no stopping after ‘Rock N Roll,’ directly into ‘Heartbreaker’ after which they were loudly applauded and greeted with cheers of welcome in response to Billy Kulke’s ”¡Buenas Noches, Valladolid!”
For this concert, Billy Kulke was sporting a paisley patterned, brown and beige shirt, partially unbuttoned with the sleeves rolled up, faded blue denim jeans and black cowboy boots. He was also wearing silver jade rings and bracelets. Andy Gray was decked out in the black, ornately patterned sleeved, open chested top and dragon emblazoned flared black trousers: trademark Jimmy Page gear. Wow! How great it was to see that again. Steve Turner wore a classic blue denim long sleeved shirt and white flared pants and Benji Reid was clothed in a black, cap-sleeved tee shirt and loose fitting black pants.
The next song up was ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine.’ Great interpretation, Billy’s harmonica playing and vocals were perfect.
‘Misty Mountain Hop,’ featured Steve Turner on keyboards. This was such a boppy, feel good song and judging by the smiles wreathing the faces of the band, they loved it as well. They played and sang it superbly.
Andy Gray’s gentle guitar notes rising up the scale introduced one of my favourite slower bluesy Zeppelin songs: ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You.’ As Billy sang, ”Working from seven…baby ’till eleven every night,” he extended an arm towards Andy Gray, who inclined his head in acknowledgement at the truthfulness of the lyrics as applied to himself and smiled modestly at the extra applause. Justifiably so. Perfecting the playing style of Jimmy Page must take many hours of patient practice and then to demonstrate it in front of an expectant public must be extremely demanding. On this particular number, Billy successfully demonstrated why he is capable of tackling the versatility of Robert Plant’s vocals.
Steve Turner’s keyboards resonated through the room to signify the start of ‘No Quarter.’ The dark, sombre feel of the tune and lyrics were captured and executed perfectly by each band member, causing it to be one of the strongest songs of the night.
‘Black Dog’ was next. A magnificent interpretation by Letz Zep on one of my favourite Zeppelin tunes and a chance for the public to join in on the chorus ”ah ah, ah ah, ah ah, ah ah, ah ah, ah ah…” then back to Billy’s voice. The final eight power chords in the ‘live’ version building up to the crescendo that ended this song… wow, they were breathtakingly brilliant. I loved it!
The next number, introduced by Steve’s plucked bass notes was ‘Dazed and Confused.’ It’s Andy’s showpiece, but once more, each group member excelled himself. Much to my surprise, I realised I was hearing Billy singing the lyrics of ‘Woodstock’ by Matthew Southern Comfort sounding very differently, sung in a minor key, preceding the established lyrics also sung in a minor key of Scott Mckenzie’s, ‘If you’re going to San Francisco (be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.’) I thought it was very innovative and it worked very well. The audience got to sing, ”Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh…” along with Billy a couple of times, then the spotlight illuminated Andy on the guitar using a violin bow with which he displayed amazing prowess. His guitar playing was top notch throughout that whole song and for that matter, the entire set.
The melodies that followed were a contrast to what had been played earlier and it proves why Led Zeppelin were often described as the quintessential rock band. Honestly speaking, to hear their material covered so faithfully by Letz Zep was a treat for the ears. Two high, wooden stools were brought onto the stage, Andy with an acoustic guitar settled himself on one, Billy perched himself on the other and together they performed ‘Gallow’s Pole.’ It was greatly appreciated by the audience as was the beautiful ‘That’s The Way.’ Billy expressed himself with great tenderness on that one. Then came ‘Bron- Y- Aur Stomp.’ I loved that song. Ab-so-lu-te-ly amazing acoustic accomplishment by Andy Gray.
‘Black Mountainside’ played out its gentle part before smoothly syncing into ‘Kashmir.’ The rhythmic, thrusting beat of this classic with its Moroccan influence was as captivating as ever. Steve’s work on the double bass made for a faultless interpretation.
When Robert Plant wrote the enigmatic lyrics to ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ could he ever have envisaged that more than forty years later, people would still wonder what they could really mean? The poignant guitar and piped organ notes introduced what is possibly my favourite Led Zeppelin song particularly when the ‘live’ version is played. The public sang along with such fervour that they almost drowned out Billy’s voice, the same as had happened in Madrid. I was in luck again, they played the longer ‘live’ version that soared spectacularly to a rockin’ crescendo then… ”And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.” Just beautiful.
Incredible riffs from Andy and Steve at the beginning and ending of this number… which featured Benji and the extraordinary drum solo of ‘Moby Dick.’ He produced an awesome percussive display with an intense full body engagement building up to such a speed so as to resemble the flickering optical illusion of an octopus… Now I know why that phrase was coined! I saw it with my own eyes and my own ears heard some amazing drumming.
The immortal riff of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ started off this all time classic rock number. What a rockin’ interpretation of it they gave! To obtain the same sound as Led Zeppelin on this song, Andy used a theremin with Billy’s voice imitating its eerie sounds while Steve and Benji kept up a relentless background beat. Great stuff. During the ‘Boogie Mama’ section, they added an excerpt of ‘Hello Marylou.’ I’ve always loved this part of the ‘live’ version of ‘Whole Lotta Love.’ This group sound like how Led Zeppelin used to and they include extra improvisations. As far as building excitement in the audience went, they certainly achieved it from start to finish. After ‘Whole Lotta Love’ rocked to a close, the band members all took a bow to raucous cheering then left the stage. The crowd continued to clamour for more. The band returned to renewed cheering to treat us to an encore of ‘Immigrant Song.’ The power and velocity with which they played this at the end of an uninterrupted two hour set was astonishing. ‘Immigrant Song’
was the last tune played though more would have been very welcome for the enthusiastic public.
As the crowd began to disperse, I stayed where I was, to absorb the post concert atmosphere and let my ears return to normal. I was reluctant to leave. How great then it was to see the band come out into the public area to make themselves available for the remaining fans to talk to them. I waited my turn then went up to Andy Gray to shake his hand and congratulate him on a fantastic set and told him how talented he was and to please keep on going. I felt too awestruck to say very much else!
Near the exit, I saw Billy Kulke, who asked me whether I’d enjoyed the show. Only one possible answer. ”YES! It was fantastic!” I told him I thought the show had been even better than in Madrid and that I’d loved the acoustic set. He said that it made a change from the heavier stuff and laughed. It was getting very late and I needed to phone my husband to come and collect me so I made my excuses, kissed Billy goodbye and wished him and the band all the best. While waiting outside for my husband, a guy with a pronounced Liverpool accent began chatting to me. When I told him where I was from, he started laughing like a madman when he described me as a Spanish Geordie! I was laughing as well. At that point, my husband arrived to escort me back to the hotel!
Letz-Zep! Long May They Rock!
Rock ‘N’ Roll
Nobody’s Fault But Mine
Misty Mountain Hop
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Dazed And Confused
That’s The Way
Stairway To Heaven
Whole Lotta Love