The night Led Zeppelin rocked my teenage world
As a schoolboy, John Daly saw the iconic band's only Dublin gig
It was, without a doubt, one of the luckiest moments of my life when I landed myself in the front row at that legendary Led Zeppelin concert in Dublin on March 6, 1971. As a callow 17-year-old Leaving Cert student marooned at a Jesuit boarding school in the sticks of Kildare, I added my name to a 'cultural outing' on the college notice board without the slightest notion of where it would eventually take me.
The chance to exit the restrictions of this boys-only environment for a single night was my primary motive -- I knew little about the 'greatest rock band on the planet' at the time. On being asked to forward the 16 shillings cost of the ticket, all my Mum asked, bless her, was "Will it help with your exams?" I naturally replied in the affirmative.
The fact is I had never been to any kind of concert in my life -- it could have been front row at a Daniel O'Donnell gig for all I knew. Led Zeppelin, who had effectively conquered the world by then, were doing their 'Back To The Clubs' tour, and that gig at the National Stadium would be the only Dublin concert they ever played.
The band had just recorded their seminal album, Led Zeppelin IV, and opened the tour at Ulster Hall in Belfast the previous night, before arriving in Dublin to debut 'Stairway to Heaven' -- the song frequently listed top of the best rock anthems ever written. Being in that small boxing arena with 2,999 other fans on that famous night turned out to be one of my life's most enduring memories.
The media went into overdrive ahead of the concert with banner newspaper headlines proclaiming: 'Ireland Unites Under Zeppelin'. It was the same year that the Republic switched to decimal currency and the Irish Women's Movement took the 'contraceptive train' to Belfast, but also the time when the Troubles in the North became a powder keg as internment was introduced and the British Army began to destroy many cross-border roads as a security precaution.
Dublin got very few concerts in those days, and certainly nothing of the stature of these 'rock gods' who had sold out 50,000-seater stadiums in America. I'd never seen so many speakers in my life before, dozens of them towering over the stage with miles of wire snaking off in all directions. The ancient stadium, more accustomed to boxing matches, crackled and throbbed with excitement long before the band even took the stage.
Suddenly they were there, a quartet of whirling dervishes cloaked in clouds of dry ice only six feet from our front row seats, racing into the wraparound ear-shattering volume of 'Immigrant Song'. Lead singer Robert Plant, bare-chested and wailing like a banshee, drenched us in sweat with every twirl of his pelvic-length blond locks.
Some reviewers suggested his ability to hit high notes was in direct proportion to the tightness of his jeans. No arguments there.
"We had a play-list on a piece of toilet paper," Jimmy Page explained after the intro numbers, "but I think it's been used." Playing his twin-necked Gibson guitar with a violin bow during 'Dazed & Confused', he puffed on a dangling cigarette while prancing across the stage clad in an ankle-length leather coat adorned with an SS badge on the collar.
The stadium really went ape as the first chords of their global hit, 'Whole Lotta Love', echoed across the rafters. It was the ultimate heavy rock call to arms that had everyone standing on seats, stomping the floor and bouncing in the aisles.
Nobody was sitting at that point, and the befuddled security staff, who had long given up attempting to restore order, melted meekly toward the exits. If this was the teenage rebellion, I wanted more.
Artist William Mulhall, who designed the tour poster depicting a zeppelin looming through the clouds over the Harland & Wolff shipyard, was invited to watch the concert from the wings. "They were shy lads, really, and asked me to sit on the stage," he recalled. "All of a sudden I was there, on the high altar."
The Dublin concert of March 6, 1971, is famous mainly for the showcasing of 'Stairway To Heaven' -- the song that defines them to this day. For the 3,000 rocking souls who were at the National Stadium on that legendary night -- and especially us pimply teens in the front row -- it was the ultimate baptism into rock's highest order.
The Led Zeppelin film, Celebration Day, which documents the band's 2007 reunion concert at London's O2 Arena, will premiere in Irish cinemas today.