Led Zeppelin Rock Belfast

The first live performance of 'Stairway to Heaven' took place in Belfast

The first show of Led Zeppelin's 1971 tour took place in Belfast's Ulster Hall. The atmospheric old venue further benefited from Zeppelin's stage design featuring blacked out windows and seats to the rear and the sides of the performance area. The show would be remembered for years to come by all those present.

The decision to play in Belfast at the height of the Troubles did not go unnoticed. Marc Bolan and T-Rex had pulled out of their gigs just weeks earlier, starving Northern Irish rock fans of their need for live music. Zeppelin's music served to create a unified atmosphere among the fans, and that night the music drowned out the sound of gunfire and rioting only a few streets away.

The show boasted the first ever public performances of 'Black Dog', 'Rock and Roll', 'Going to California' and, of course, 'Stairway to Heaven'. An unlikely but nonetheless interesting local rumour actually suggests that Stairway was first performed in a Belfast pub.

The band played to approximately 1200 people at the Ulster Hall. The set kicked off with the bombastic 'Immigrant Song', crushing the audience with immense volume. The superb 'Heartbreaker' followed, complete with a compact guitar solo and a wave of rhythmic clapping by the crowd. The concert was a showcase performance by Robert Plant. The unbelievable power of his high-pitched vocals was evident right from the start. No wonder they had to postpone the BBC Live in Concert Paris Theatre recording later that month!

For a long time people have wondered what the first performance of 'Stairway to Heaven' must have been like. The band turned in a fairly straightforward rendition of the number with no real surprises. It has often been said that a deathly silence hung over the audience after this number, followed by a standing ovation. Not so, as applause was offered immediately after the finale of this great opus.

What followed was possibly one of the best ever live versions of 'What Is and Should Never Be'. The band performed this number as if it were their last ever show. Drummer John Bonham utilised the gong to great effect, seemingly trying to put a few dents in it during Jimmy's power chord chops. The band was definitely firing on all six by now!

Plant did his bit for world peace, telling the crowd, if everybody was like this to each other every day, there would be no problems. This sentiment met with an overwhelming response from the fans.

Despite the band's eagerness to return to the Emerald Isle, Led Zeppelin never did set down on Irish shores again

However, as a postscript to this historic night, Simply Led, a dedicated Zeppelin tribute band, came to the Ulster Hall in 2001 for a major 30th anniversary celebration of the night that 'Stairway to Heaven' was given to the world. A full house rocked the night away, with many children of those originally present coming along to see just what it was that got their parents so excited all of those years ago.

Keith Lambert