"We aim to re-establish our contact with the people who got us off the ground": What happened when Led Zeppelin went Back To The Clubs

Led Zeppelin on a sofa,. and some tickets and posters for the 1971 club tour
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives)

They had been accustomed to filling the enormodomes of the US, but when Led Zeppelin undertook their first tour of 1971 – a 14 date trek across the UK – they played to venues with a capacity of less than 1,000 in what was dubbed the Back To The Clubs tour.

“The audiences are becoming bigger and bigger,’’ explained Jimmy Page at the time. “By going back to places like he Marquee we aim to re-establish our contact with the people who got us off the ground in the beginning.”

In a rare act of charity, manager Peter Grant charged the promoters the same fee as they had done when they originally appeared an the venues concerned in the band’s early days. Inevitably there were complaints from fans unable to get tickets, especially as this would be the last opportunity to see Zeppelin in such intimate surroundings.

The tour kicked off with a visit to trouble-torn Ireland. On the evening of March 5, 1971, fans inside the Ulster Hall Belfast witnessed Led Zeppelin perform Stairway To Heaven for the first time. They also premiered Black Dog, Going To California and Rock And Roll from their as-yet unreleased fourth album, which eventually surfaced some six months later.

Paul Sheppard saw the band at Bath pavilion for the princely sum of 70 pence (the equivalent of about £8 today).

“The volume was incredibly loud for such a small venue,” he remembers. “for the acoustic set, they sat on old, canvas-backed metal chairs. Robert made a reference to The Mixtures, who had a hit at the time with The Pushbike Song. Tobacco Road [a nashville Teens hit from ’64] made an appearance in the Whole Lotta Love medley.”

Up in Newcastle, then-17-year-old schoolboy Phil Tait queued for hours to get tickets for their show at the Mayfair club and managed to take a few photos.

“Cameras were banned at the venue, so i was very lucky to get my equipment through. i used a Kodak with a large flash-gun attachment – something that you see in old films of the 1950s. getting it past the doorman was not easy. Luckily my greatcoat had big pockets.”

Other choice venues included Nottingham Boat Club, the Belfry Golf Club in Sutton Coldfield, and the famous Marquee Club in London.

They also appeared at the BBC’s Paris Cinema in London for John Peel’s In Concert Radio One show. an hour-long edited broadcast of that show (including Stairway To Heaven), was aired on April 4, 1971. Listeners to the show on that spring Sunday evening could have no inkling at the time that they were privy to the very first radio play of a song that would subsequently rack up some six million plays on radio stations around the world over the next 40 years.

Dave Lewis

Dave Lewis is a freelance journalist and the editor and publisher of the Led Zeppelin magazine and website Tight But Loose, and author of several books on the band. Through the magazine and books, the Tight But Loose website and his Facebook page, Dave's objective remains to continue to inform, entertain and connect like minded Led Zeppelin fans new and old throughout the world – bringing them closer to the greatest rock music ever made.