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Led Zeppelin in Montreux

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Led Zeppelin 1970

This is what happened in the town of Montreux, Switzerland

Montreux was blessed by water and stands as a safe heaven for lost ships and wandering souls. Rare exotic perfumes tickled your senses, palm trees and other tropical shrubs grow lazily along the shore. Everything was there, including the sunshine. You could be easily fooled by the luscious vegetation there except for the Victorian old English ladies strolling down "Quai des fleurs" on a Sunday afternoon.

This is Montreux: A constant clash of the old and the new.

The past and the future seem to grin at each other here.

"Very few places can match Montreux’s charm and uniqueness. One does not need to be asked twice to jump at the opportunity of making the trip to this "cadre enchanteur" because you know everything will be alright. Coming from Paris in 1969 was an experience in itself. Hitch-hiking my way to Switzerland, sometimes hopping on a train, getting there was half the fun. But escaping the Paris Rock ‘n Roll scene was what mattered", Gilles remembers.

SPIKED WITH BAD VIBES

Rock concerts attracted the worse elements in a French society in complete turmoil. 1968 had shaken France’s foundations for good and the rats were running for cover but in the meantime repression was "de rigueur" at any rock event and crooks were in control of the scene. They hired losers for security, hoods for promoters, and obnoxious characters for P.R.

"After seeing Zep several times in 1969, they were quickly at the top of the heap compared to any other live act, especially by the second album", recalls Gilles. In those days, European radio was very poor with only a few hours per day devoted to the latest rock acts. With Led Zeppelin not heavily into releasing singles, they were rarely heard on the airwaves. This helped propel their notoriety of their music being rebellious and underground material.

The opportunity was ripe for Claude Nobs - local promoter and founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival - to bring the best rock in the world to Montreux.

Meeting with Led Zeppelin in early 1970, discussions were underway. An immediate bond and friendship formed and paved the way for a promising future.

Their first major European tour was kicked off in the new year, performing in the U.K. and traversing through Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, and Belgium. Their impending return to North America was to be the dawn of a new era for Zeppelin, as the succession of large arenas would barely contain their hoards of fans. During this European tour, they were invited to play one of the newest and relatively undiscovered venues – in Montreux.

News spread quickly of Led Zeppelin’s planned visit to Montreux and attracted a wide spectrum of fans from all over Europe.

"When I heard Zep was to play in Montreux", recalls Gilles, "I knew we had to be there."

It’s easy to imagine the crowds of fans invading the town. Zeppelin was set to perform at The Casino, an historic building in Montreux, built in 1881 with modifications made in 1903. Throughout the past century, the site had played host to many great symphony orchestras and well-known conductors. By the late 1960’s, the modern sounds of jazz, blues and rock would fill its walls. Contrary to popular belief, Led Zeppelin never participated in the Montreux Jazz Festival. During initial research in the early 90’s, the correct date of their first concert there was confirmed as March 7th, not the 14th as previously believed. A concert scheduled in Geneva on the 7th was replaced with the Montreux Show, after eight days of rest in the Mountain Resort.

Swiss Holiday

Boating, tea salons, swans and postcard vistas, nestled on the north eastern bank of Lac Leman, Montreux encompasses the best of Switzerland. Tranquility, charm, beauty, abundance, pride, safety and cleanliness all blend into one characteristic: Swiss attitude both pleasant yet predictable. The small town of Montreux, with its 25,000 registered residents (half of them foreigners), does not escape this cliché.

But the main difference here is that the population moves happily to the beat of the music and has for many years.

It has acquired the reputation of the best Jazz Festivals in the world with a multitude of significant live recordings and performances by various jazz giants jamming for the occasion. In 1970, as fans first went down to Montreux to experience heavy Rock and Roll, the small mountain community would be changed forever.

One band would unknowingly help launch a musical revolution in the most unlikely of settings.

Since their inception in the summer of 1968, Led Zeppelin worked virtually non-stop on the road and in the studio, through most of 1973. Their first album was recorded in an amazing 30 hours. Constant touring in the early days added incredible strength to the bond between Bonham, Jones, Page and Plant, both on-stage and in their songwriting. As they crossed the Atlantic in the final days of 1968, the group began their invasion of North America, several weeks before their self-titled debut album was even released. They created a buzz among North American fans that endures to this day.

Somehow, during their hectic treks across Europe and North America, they managed to release a second album in October 1969, just as they embarked for yet another string of concerts until mid-December. This latest tour was their most successful to date, riding on an impeccable reputation from fans as word-of-mouth spread news of Zeppelin’s high-energy performances across the world. The instant success of Led Zeppelin II didn’t hurt either.

Their musical direction was now firmly planted as they proved to the world their first album wasn’t just a one-hit wonder.

By this time, Led Zeppelin II had displaced The Beatles’ Abbey Road from the number one position in the charts. It was easy to see why some rock journalists proclaimed them as being "bigger than the Beatles." An incredible feat after only a year on the road. The heavy riff-based songs such as Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown and Dazed & Confused dominated the underground airwaves mesmerizing legions of new fans.

Ever-increasing sums of money graced the group in return for their incredible stage performances, but the circumstances in Montreux offered rewards that perhaps money couldn’t buy.

As with every musical act to pass through the lake retreat, peaceful relaxation in serene isolation compensated the artists in an all-expenses-paid vacation in this undiscovered getaway. For most bands whose touring schedule was feverish, the reward for playing Montreux came as a welcomed friend.

Reaching Montreux by mid-afternoon in March 1970, Gilles and friends obtained their treasured tickets to the sold-out show. The atmosphere was supercharged as the people ‘hung out’ near the grounds in what was to be the most successful rock concert ever in Montreux. Only about 2000 lucky fans would be able to experience the concert due to the small size of The Casino. People came from all over and amazingly many flew from as far as the U.K., Paris, Rome and Munich. Crowds without tickets were desperate to gain access into the show and stopped at almost nothing as they attempted to enter the Casino through the kitchen, windows, the roof and even through air ducts! False identification badges abounded. In fact, the Montreux tourist office (L’Office du Tourisme) was disappointed that the Casino could not accommodate the number of fans.

Although it was still early in the group’s career, it would be one of the last rare opportunities to attend a Led Zeppelin concert in such an intimate setting.

"Bonsoir", exclaimed Plant as they took to the stage. The show was a thrust of energy and fury. Opening with the Ben E. King cover, "We’re Gonna Groove", audiences rushed the stage and enjoyed the sounds. The band continued into their well-known hits.

Their incredible musicianship was featured centre-stage as Plant’s powerful voice stunned the audience throughout the concert. Page whipped through a superb guitar showpiece: "White Summer / Black Mountain Side", Jones borrowed the spotlight during a Hammond organ solo as an intro to "Thank You" and Bonham gave new meaning to the ‘drum solo’ as he dazzled the crowd in a new track, "Moby Dick".

A review in the local newspaper praised the group declaring that Led Zeppelin’s music: "seduces the senses" and that Led Zeppelin’s triumphant show was unprecedented in the small mountain town. Another unfamiliar song, "Since I’ve Been Loving You", which would be included on their third album later in the year, summarized Zep’s unique approach to the blues. It was a seamless performance which left the audience begging for more.

Local officials were amazed at the well-behaved crowds and reported no major incidents except for minor pushing and shoving due to the packed hall. For Gilles, the concert experience was completely opposite to the usual chaos he was used to back home. Few signs of security, police or guards were surprising and yet everyone behaved and enjoyed themselves.

At the time, someone remarked that it was beyond his comprehension why a dedicated fan paid 35 Swiss Francs (approximately ten dollars) to sit on the floor for two hours to watch the show.

Those who were left without a ticket offered up to 200 Francs (approximately sixty-five dollars – a lot of money for a concert ticket in 1970!) but it’s doubtful if anyone gave one up.

After spending that weekend of March 1970 in Montreux, Gilles and friends returned home to France with the hope of returning again soon.

Led Zeppelin enjoyed their retreat in Montreux while staying at Le Palace Hotel and took advantage of the town’s allures, except for Jimmy who arrived on the day of the show. Their original touring schedule apparently cited three other dates in Switzerland, most likely in Bale, Lucerne and Zurich. These gigs were cancelled due to a fall-out with local promoter Marc Andre Ghirardi.

The swift offer coming from Montreux resulted in the band taking advantage of the snow-covered mountains of Les Avants, directly north of town.

The group had enjoyed their visit to Montreux as much as the fans. The relationship with the town and local promoter Claude Nobs, turned out to be a great success. Zeppelin’s affection for Montreux was hard to top. With this hugely successful event, Nobs was well on his way to establishing Montreux as an international destination for the best of jazz, blues, R&B and rock.

In order to help build the fan base for future shows, Nobs started an ingenuous mailing list, called Montreux Pop, keeping those from all over Europe up-to-date on all upcoming events. After Zeppelin, bands would soon be brought in to play on a regular basis, braking the mold of the purely conservative views of most of the local people who felt it couldn’t succeed.

Rock concerts were now entering the age of "arena rock" where the huge influx of fans in America would force bands into larger venues to accommodate them. Seeing a band like Led Zeppelin in a tiny 2,000 capacity hall would soon seem unlikely. While Zep continued to push the musical limits, Montreux would develop as well.

SETLIST - March 7, 1970 - The Casino

We’re Gonna Groove
I Can’t Quit You Baby
White Summer/Black Mountain Side
Dazed & Confused
Heartbreaker
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Organ Solo/Thank You
What Is & What Should Never Be
Moby Dick
How Many More Times (incl. medley)
Whole Lotta Love (encore)

Next day local newspaper revue

"Journal de Montreux" - March 8th, 1970

  • Sold out show. 2000 tickets sold. Very large crowd outside the Casino. False identification badges and forged invitations abound by the hundreds. People were found (without tickets) in the most unusual places like the kitchen, on the roof and even inside air conducts.
  • Disappointed that the Casino could only fit 2000 people in the concert hall, the local Tourist Office asked all the folks who came to the show to fill up cards with their names and address, thus creating the first database to be used to inform them about future rock concerts in Montreux. This incredible mailing list, a first at the time in Europe, would reach thousands who would become legions over the years.
  • No incidents were reported except for the odd pushing and shoving here and there. Local authorities, including MM Pouly, municipal, Rochat, municipal, Anet, Maire from Veytaux, Gaudard, chief of police, were pleased to comment favourably on the well behaved crowd but someone remarked that paying 35 francs to sit on the floor for two hours, was out of comprehension.
  • The Aga Khan himself, then thirty two and recently married to an English model, was spotted in the crowd accompanied by a few friends.
  • The band stayed at the Montreux Palace Hotel and took advantage of the week’s vacation offered by the Tourist Office through its promoter Claude Nobs.
  • Most important for Montreux were the ripple effects of such concerts: these outrageous musicians, this long-hair clientele that intimidate certain locals and repulse others are beginning to be very appreciated, not for its intrinsic qualities but for the revenue it brings. For instance some bars did not empty from Saturday morning until the early hours of Sunday. Waiters triple their intake while some customers tipped at one hundred and ten per cent. Hard to complain !

Informations about this concert on the Led Zeppelin official website :
www.ledzeppelin.com/show/march-7-1970

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