Mark Arbuckle: Glasgow, April 2021
When it was announced in late 1974 that Led Zeppelin were going to play Earls Court, London in May 75 my great friend Peter Milligan and I vowed to get there any way we could!
We had already seen them perform a stunning gig in Glasgow but Earls Court would be at another level!
Peter decided he would ask his Dad to borrow the work’s van, a two seater Ford Transit, and drive the 800 mile round trip!
He had passed his driving test in the previous Spring but had never driven further than Loch Lomond! (I hadn’t yet learned to drive).
Our tickets were for Sunday 25th, the last night of the tour, but we decided to leave on Friday evening to have two full days to explore all the delights that London had to offer two 17 year olds.
(‘I’ve been to London, seen Seven Wonders’ – The Rover by Led Zeppelin)
We cleaned out the joinery tools from the back of the van, put in a mattress, 2 sleeping bags, pillows, bags of food and drink and enough clothes to last us till Monday.
We set off around 7pm.
Our excitement was already reaching fever pitch.
The van only had a basic radio and it was my job to search for rock songs to suit our journey…not an easy task in 1975 with Donny, ABBA and Bay City Rollers dominating the dire Radio1 playlist!
We stopped at services to eat and use the facilities.
Around 11.30pm we decided to get off the M6 and park up for the night. I spotted a sign for Knutsford (the name appealed to our teenage sense of humour!) so we drove into the middle of an affluent housing estate not far from Manchester to stop-over for the night.
The next morning we set off bright and early onto a very foggy dual carriageway heading back to the M6.
We had travelled about half a mile when I realised I could only see the reverse side of the road signs!
That’s because….we were on the wrong side of the road!!
Planes, Trains and Automobiles!!
Luckily it was quiet and there was no other traffic about so Peter got off at the next ‘ON’ ramp and crossed over to the correct side of the road!
We got to London in about 3 hours without further incident.
Amazingly without the use of SatNav (not commercially available for another 20 years) Peter drove straight to the designated hotel’s underground car park in Kensington.
Once parked up we got the tube into central London and headed for Carnaby Street and Soho.
Distracted by our own adventure I had completely forgotten that Scotland were playing England that same day at Wembley in the Home International’s.
Yes it was the infamous ‘What’s the time?
It’s 5 Past Kennedy!’
5-1 defeat to the Auld Enemy.
The city was full of Scots fans in varying degrees of tartan and sobriety.
Beer was on average 18p per pint but we heard of some London bars charging up to a £1.00!
That was probably just an outrageous rumour but whatever the price it was certainly no barrier to yer average Scot!
The streets and bars cleared around 1pm as they all headed to Wembley and we continued to explore.
That evening after Scotland’s 5-1 thrashing you’d have actually thought that they had won!
The city centre was once again invaded by thousands of tartan clad fans. However most of the bars and restaurants were barring Scots from entering.
Tempers became frayed which led to outbreaks of violence and vandalism.
None of this impacted on Peter and I as we had changed into smart shirts and suits and easily gained entry to the pubs and clubs.
We were taking it easy though because at last we were nearing the prime reason for our pilgrimage…..The Mighty Led Zeppelin gig at Earls Court.
The next day we made our way to the venue around 4pm and went into the large pub across the road.
It was already busy with a sea of long hair, denim, leather.
My brother Paul and his friend Gerry had tickets for the gig too and had travelled down by train, they were already in the pub….not that much of a coincidence I suppose as nearly every Zep fan in London was in that pub!
The concert itself was just incredible! From the opening drum intro of ‘Rock and Roll’ everybody was on their feet!
Song after song and solo after solo, amazed and delighted the fanatical 20,000 strong audience.
Robert Plant’s soaring vocals and commanding stage presence, John Bonham’s incomparable drumming, John Paul Jones’s mesmeric keyboard patterns and pounding bass and of course the Maestro himself, Jimmy Page with his incredible, intricate guitar playing and glorious riffs!
They played 16 songs, most of them extended 10-15 minute versions to increasingly ecstatic applause!
The crowd were hearing songs from the band’s most recent album, Physical Graffiti, played live for the first time including the majestic, awe inspiring Kashmir!
The three plus hours they were on stage seemed to pass in an instant.
Then they bowed and exited….but we knew they’d be back on as they hadn’t yet played the anthemic ‘Whole Lotta Love!’
After 5 minutes of thunderous applause and foot stomping they reappeared and played two songs including WLL.
Off they went again as the crowd screamed for more!
They did come back and I don’t even remember what they played for their third encore as the crowd threatened to blow the roof off.
Then it was all over, the house lights were turned on and most of the crowd reluctantly headed for the exits.
Peter and I and hundreds of fans were actually out on the street when we heard Plant’s blood stirring vocal intro to ‘The Immigrant Song!’
Everybody turned and ran back in to the arena!
No Health & Safety in those days!
Nobody tried to find a seat and we all just surged as close to the stage as you could possibly get!
After 15 minutes or so they left the stage for the final time!
They had played for over four superb, magical hours and everybody including the band was exhausted!
Dazed and Confused you might say!
It has been said many times that going to a Led Zeppelin concert is akin to a deeply profound, religious experience but I fear that my lack of vocabulary prevents me from accurately describing the true essence of this phenomenal gig.
Truly they were/are The Hammer of The Gods!!
It was a wonderful experience and still to this day the greatest gig I have
And nobody ever mentioned that awful football game ever again!…..well apart from the media, pundits, punters, fans etc