Were you there the nights rock legends Led Zeppelin played Peterlee and Sunderland?

Led Zeppelin in 1970.
Led Zeppelin in 1970.

It’s 50 years since rock giants Led Zeppelin first performed live and a rock historian is looking to trace anyone who saw them perform in this area to contribute to a "people’s history" of the band.

The foursome – Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham – went on to become one of the biggest selling acts of the 1970s, responsible for such classic songs as Whole Lotta Love and Stairway to Heaven.

A ticket for Led Zeppelin's Sunderland concert.

A ticket for Led Zeppelin's Sunderland concert.

But two of their earliest shows were in the North East and a long way from the huge stadiums and arenas they played in America.

The March 23, 1969, appearance at the Argus Butterfly pub, in Peterlee, saw Zeppelin performing one of their very first British shows.

Appearing for a fee of £100, the band played a set that included Train Kept A Rollin, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed and Confused and Communication Breakdown.

Richard Houghton, who is compiling the people’s history of the band, said: “Zeppelin had already done their first US tour by this time and had earned a fearsome reputation for blowing away the bands they had supported, like Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly, such that no one wanted to follow them on stage. They were a fantastic live act from the beginning.”

Dave Richards, left, and Brian Stoker, with Peterlee Jazz Club cards promoting the Led Zeppelin concerts.

Dave Richards, left, and Brian Stoker, with Peterlee Jazz Club cards promoting the Led Zeppelin concerts.

Supported by local band Middle Earth, the rock superstars were apparently very normal and down to earth characters with no superstar pretensions.

Promoters Brian Stoker and David Richards, having paid £100 for Zeppelin, demurred when offered a solo performer also for £100 a few weeks later.

They said there was “no chance” they were playing that “for a bloke on his own” and so Elton John didn’t get to follow Led Zeppelin and play the Argus Butterfly.

Other 70s bands who did play the Argus Butterfly before going onto bigger things included Free and Jethro Tull.

Led Zep in concert in 1973.

Led Zep in concert in 1973.

The second visit to the North East area saw Led Zeppelin play Sunderland’s Locarno (or Mecca) on November 12, 1971.

Barely three years after the appearance at the Argus Butterfly, Zeppelin already had four albums under their belt, with the iconic Led Zeppelin IV having been released just four days before the Locarno show.

The appearance in Sunderland came off the back of a Japanese tour and a gigging schedule that had seen the band play European and American tours that year.

Opening with Immigrant Song, the group played a set that drew heavily from the newly released fourth album, which went on to sell more than 37 million copies.

The Locarno crowd would have been among the first anywhere in the world to hear not just Stairway to Heaven but also the Zeppelin classics Black Dog and Rock and Roll.

Richard said: “Tickets cost 15 shillings, or 75p, during an era when concerts were viewed as loss leaders as a means of promoting albums.

“Ticket holders to the show could get 50p off the price of Led Zeppelin IV at Bergs Records.

“Of course, today sales of CDs have collapsed and bands make their money from live gigs.”

The audience sat cross-legged on the floor for the acoustic part of the show, and waited patiently for the band who were delayed because their van broke down on the way to the gig.

One gig-goer estimated that there was more than 500 people in attendance – more than the official capacity of the venue – such was the demand for tickets.

The band encored with Communication Breakdown, responding to the crowd’s clamor for more.

But the delay in them returning to the stage meant that some gig-goers had already left the venue.

Richard said: “I’ve done ‘people’s histories’ on The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. Led Zeppelin seemed like the obvious next act to write about, both because I’m a fan and because it’s the 50th anniversary this month of them starting out as a live band.

“I’m trying to tell the Led Zeppelin story in a different way. There have been loads of books about them but I’d like to tell it through fans’ memories of those shows, including what they remember of the concerts but also who they went with, how they got tickets and so on.

“The music of the Seventies was about social and cultural change and the book will hopefully capture that and weave together musical and personal memories to provide a social history of Led Zeppelin.”

“People capture gig memories now on their phone and upload them to YouTube as soon as they get home. But memories from the Sixties and Seventies are still in people’s heads and hearts and I’m hoping to capture some of those memories for posterity.

“I’d love to hear people’s memories of either of those shows because they must have been something special.

“I was lucky enough to see them play at Knebworth in front of 100,000 people. I can only imagine what a show at the Argus Butterfly or the Locarno would have been like.”

Anyone who saw either of the two Zeppelin shows can email Richard at iwasatthatgig@gmail.com

Richard Houghton’s new book, Jimi Hendrix – The Day I Was There, is published by This Day In Music Books.

Also read: When Jimi Hendrix rocked South Shields