Queens Hall Narberth Saturday 24th November 2018.
As time passes the tribute band part of the music industry can only grow as the acts emulated grow older, stop touring or simply break up. Tribute acts for 70s and 80s bands are thriving, with many paying tribute to the likes of Pink Floyd, Level 42, Abba, The Jam and Fleetwood Mac to name a few. There was even a tribute act festival last summer in Aberystwyth.
One of the best of these tribute bands is Whole Lotta Led who do the Led Zeppelin thing really well. Formed 22 years ago by guitarist Nick Ferris and bass player Geoff Hunt, they were among the first professional musicians to form a band specifically to tour a tribute act.
Whole Lotta Led have appeared at The Queens Hall in Narberth at least four times in recent years and always perform accurate representations of songs from the Led Zeppelin catalogue. Unlike some tribute acts, they look nothing like the original Zeppelin, but, as the band say, they don’t wear wigs or costumes, but just focus on the music. Having one of the best known rock band’s catalogue as source material they can infinitely vary their stage show and it doesn’t matter that the original contributions of John Paul Jones are now performed by two musicians or that Nick Ferris has long blonde hair rather than Jimmy Page’s curly black locks.
The show on Saturday was a cross-section of tracks from most of the Zeppelin albums. They came on stage after a wonderful intro combining the acoustic instrumental Bron-Yr-Aur from Physical Graffiti with riffs and snippets from other albums. The band launched straight into Good Times, Bad Times from Led Zeppelin One. Then came the Lemon Song and just to show the incredible diversity of Zeppelin they performed the country music influenced Tangerine from Led Zep Three.
The first set was a whirlwind of songs showcasing a band really on form. They played Down By The Seaside, Immigrant Song, Misty Mountain Hop and then Kashmir with a great representation of this song’s soaring chords played on synthesizer by Martin Weetman. Immigrant Song was a tall order for the vocalist Lee Pryor with the originals opening high-pitched choral intro, but fair play to him for trying it – although his voice could come nowhere near the studio enhanced notes of the original.
Lee had a warm stage presence and was obviously a big fan of the original band. Between tracks he discussed how he used to pour over the album covers and reminisced about him and Nick seeing Zeppelin play live at Earls Court, London – not together though – the two were yet to meet. Halfway through the evening he announced they were going to have a cup of herbal tea and would be back shortly. The crowd beside the stage dispersed slightly and we all sat or stood around chatting or waiting in anticipation. This was a good chance to talk to the people around you about Zeppelin music or other acts at the Queens Hall.
Then the guys returned to the stage with classics like Ramble On from Led Zep Two and the blues of Since I’ve Been Loving You from Zep Three. At this stage, people reading this who aren’t familiar with Led Zep might think this reporter has forgotten the band’s album titles. But actually, the band simply called their first four albums by the numbers one to four – with the fourth album sometimes also known as Four Symbols. Of course if you browsed the vinyl racks or CDs in a record shop you would have to know which album was which as the numbers and track titles were also missing from the cover-art. Such was the originality and mystery of this legendary act.
Probably the best known Led Zep song is Stairway to Heaven from Four. This classic was played next, and it was obvious before the opening chords what was coming. Again, those in the know knew that Jimmy Page always played Stairway to Heaven on a Gibson twin-neck guitar and Nick Ferris did the same. Always a prime photo opportunity and mobile phones lit up everywhere. Then it was another track from Four called Black Dog followed by the performance closure of Communication Breakdown merged cleverly into the middle of Whole Lotta Love from Led Zep Two.
Two encores finished the evening with the aptly named Thank You followed by the classic Rock And Roll. A great performance, but as with all tribute act’s selections there is always a favourite track not played on that particular night. It would have been great to hear the reggae of D’yer Mak’er or the mellower Going To California. So if Whole Lotta Led read this review, how about an acoustic tour; Zeppelin famously did a wonderful seated interlude at Earls Court back in 1977 doing exactly this. Such is the huge volume of classic Zeppelin songs that this idea could fill most of a show.
A great evening – look forward to seeing Whole Lotta Led yet again – and again!