For the past few years, fans of the most famous iron balloon in musical history have been able to get their fix with a breath-taking evening of all things Led Zeppelin courtesy of the Aussie production 'Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Masters'. And now in its fourth year, boasting performances both at home and across the UK, the upcoming edition helmed by Adelaide's iconic Zep Boys and The Black Dog Orchestra is set to bring a whole lotta love - and a whole lot more.
Celebrating the timeless legacy of utter rock masterpieces, Led Zeppelin Masters not only brings to life the majesty of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones - it also brings together a ballistically talented array of Aussie musicians, from the roaring rock of the Zep Boys, to the 30-piece Black Dog orchestra. And with less than a month to go until the next instalment, we grabbed Zep Boys frontman Vince Contarino to chat inspiration, orchestras and the longevity of the almighty Led Zeppelin. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hi and thanks for the chats today! And exciting times ahead with the 4th round of the legendary ‘Led Zeppelin Masters’ happening in early January, what’s it like to have this event reach this next milestone?
VINCE CONTARINO: It’s an honour. We were so happy when we got to play at the OPERA HOUSE 4 years ago and for it to continue is amazing and something, we don’t take for granted.
TIANA: And for yourself and the Zep Boys, you are all collectively now a highly-regarded institution in the music world, going beyond the four years of Zep Masters, and instead decades back in time bringing an entire set of Led Zeppelin songs to life onstage. But I’m intrigued to discover, do you still recall your earliest memory of hearing a Led Zeppelin song? Did you realise how momentously that occurrence would shape your future?
VINCE: Oh yes, I remember the first time I heard Black Dog as a 12-year-old in 1972. My mouth dropped (or should I say dripped?) and my excitement level went up to 11/10 ! I had to discover all that was Zeppelin from then. I was in the back seat of a Holden FC on our way to the West Coast of South Australia for our summer holiday. It was on my brothers Teac reel to reel tape player.
TIANA: For a group of gents from Adelaide, what was it like back in the day establishing the Zep Boys, did people think you were crazy for starting a concept band? Or was there support for the idea from day one?
VINCE: The only people that thought we were crazy were the industry types , musicians and agents etc. The punters were hanging out and so were we!
TIANA: And now fast-forward to late 2018, Led Zeppelin Masters has gone all over Australia, and started taking the show on the road internationally in 2017, a fact that will be repeated in 2019…what is it do you think that endears these songs so heavily to such varied audiences still after all this time?
VINCE: The song writing is genius, the musicians are not only artistic in expression but very capable musically and technically. The music is rich but not overdone. They borrow from so many styles of music but somehow, they make it palatable for the listener . Led Zeppelin is often described as , Magical, Mysterious, Exciting and sexual. I’m in!!!!
TIANA: Having now played these shows internationally, do you find a significant difference between the crowds in Australia and over in the UK and Europe? And if so, what differences? Or perhaps there are none?!
VINCE: Hmmm This is a delicate on. I think the overseas audiences have had more exposure to a wider variety of live acts than we do here in Australia simply because of the distance and cost of getting to Australia. I noticed that the audience overseas is more emotionally demonstrative and confident at singing out and screaming at the top of their lungs . Australian audiences are a little more conservative. Having said that the last gig we did in Adelaide at the Festival Theatre was absolutely wild. The place rocked like never before. I have never seen a theatre audience go off like that at one of our Orchestral shows so hey it may be changing . Woohoo!
TIANA: Zep Boys are joined, of course, by the epic Black Dog Orchestra for these epic events – how did that collaboration come to life?
VINCE: Working with orchestras came about from an inspiration we had whilst touring in New Zealand in the early 2000’s maybe 2002 ? The South Island looked so majestic and breathtaking, everything seemed enhanced . It was the time of Lord of The Rings and we were travelling through the places it was filmed and that’s where the idea first originated. Two or three years later we did the first orchestral show with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and it was massive and a huge success.
TIANA: And for someone so heavily and intrinsically linked to Led Zeppelin – is it foolish to ask what music you grew up listening to? Was it always this brand of rock/metal/heavy music from day one? Or did you gradually evolve into it?
VINCE: Led Zeppelin came after Elvis and The Beatles. I grew up listening to She Loves you Yeah and Heartbreak Hotel. Of course, as a teenager when I heard Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and the best in my opinion Led Zeppelin my passion moved away a little from Wooden Heart and Yesterday (I still love Elvis and The Beatles).
TIANA: Now for the potentially impossible question. If you had to choose one song and one song only - what is your favourite Led Zeppelin song and why?
VINCE: Impossible to answer. Seriously I can’t. It changes daily so I would never choose.
TIANA: I actually found it quite interesting that, reunions and special appearances aside, Zep Boys have eclipsed Led Zeppelin from a time perspective, you guys have consecutively been together longer than the actual band were overall. Do you see Zep Boys continuing indefinitely for the near future?
VINCE: Zep Boys started in 1986 so that’s 32 years almost 33 ! As long as we can perform the songs with the energy and vitality they deserve and of course if there is an audience we’ll just keep on doing it.
TIANA: And finally – can you reveal any secrets about what we can expect for the 2019 Led Zeppelin Masters series? Anything hidden up your sleeves that you can reveal ahead of time?
VINCE: If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret or a surprise, so you’ll just have to come and see. There is always something up our sleeve ! ☺
'STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: LED ZEPPELIN MASTERS' WILL BE TEARING THE ROOF OFF THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE IN EARLY JANUARY. FOR TICKET INFO AND MORE, HEAD TO: www.ledzeppelinmasters.com
BY TIANA SPETER