When Led Zeppelin played the Baths Hall - and more memories from iconic venue

Nigel Rea's photos show how small the stage was for Led Zeppelin's gig at St Matthew's Baths Hall in Ipswich in 1971

Nigel Rea's photos show how small the stage was for Led Zeppelin's gig at St Matthew's Baths Hall in Ipswich in 1971 - Credit: Nigel Rea

News that the Baths Hall in Ipswich is to stage concerts again has brought back memories, including the famous Led Zeppelin gig staged there almost 50 years ago.

The former St Matthew's Baths in Civic Drive was a popular gig venue in the 1960s and 70s, when boards were laid over the pool for visits by top names.

It was announced this week that the venue is to stage gigs as part of the Sound City Ipswich festival from October 1-2, and could become a regular venue once again.

Nigel Rea photographed Led Zeppelin at St Matthew's Baths Hall in Ipswich in 1971

Nigel Rea's photos capture the intimacy of Led Zeppelin's gig at St Matthew's Baths Hall in Ipswich in 1971 - Credit: Nigel Rea

Nigel Rea captured photos of the memorable Led Zeppelin concert at the hall, on November 16, 1971 - after smuggling his camera into the venue.

"I can remember my friends and I were quite surprised when we learned Led Zeppelin were coming, because they had  just been on tour in Japan and America," he said.

"I  was a director and cameraman for educational film maker Boulton-Hawker Films in Hadleigh, and I used to take my camera everywhere. At the time, not many people were taking cameras into gigs."


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He added there were rumours that Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin’s manager, had been confiscating cameras and recording equipment and putting them in a bucket of water.

Nigel Rea smuggled in his camera to photograph Led Zeppelin's famous gig at the Baths Hall, Ipswich, in November 1971

Nigel Rea smuggled in his camera to photograph Led Zeppelin's famous gig at the Baths Hall, Ipswich, in November 1971 - Credit: Nigel Rea

Fortunately Nigel's camera escaped that fate, and he was able to get on to a balcony where he had a good view.

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His photos show just how small the stage was where the band played.

"Robert Plant asked which was the deep end, and he was talking about his trip to America," he recalled.

Nigel said Led Zep did their full set despite the intimacy of the venue, including full encores. "For their acoustic set, they all lined up at the front - they were so close to the audience."

Bootleg recordings of the set appeared on CD, and can now be heard on YouTube.

Dancers from the television show Ready Steady Go at ‘Bluesville’ in St Matthews Baths Hall

Dancers from the television show Ready Steady Go at ‘Bluesville’ in St Matthews Baths Hall in October 1966. The band on stage was Jimmy James and the Vagabonds. - Credit: David Kindred/Archant

Many other concerts and events were staged at St Matthew's Baths Hall, and Nigel remembers seeing Geno Washington, The Equals and many more.

Other famous acts to appear included Deep Purple, The Who, Cream featuring Eric Clapton, The Move, The Sweet and Status Quo. 

A keep fit rally at St Matthew's Baths Hall, Ipswich, in December 1966.

A keep fit rally at St Matthew's Baths Hall, Ipswich, in December 1966. - Credit: Archant

David Vincent writes: "Back in the day they used to cover the pool with floorboards.

"When there was a rock band on and the crowd on the floor danced, the whole place would shake and bounce. It was a wonder it never collapsed.

Actress Virginia McKenna at a fair held at the Baths Hall, Ipswich, in November 1963

Actress Virginia McKenna at a fair held at the Baths Hall, Ipswich, in November 1963 - Credit: Archant

"I remember seeing Rod Stewart, twice I think, Cream, Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity and many more."

Do you remember gigs at the Baths Hall? Send us an email. 

To order copies of staff photos, visit our website or call Diane Townsend on  01603 772449.

St Matthew's Baths Hall from Berners Street in the 1970s

St Matthew's Baths Hall from Berners Street in the 1970s - Credit: Davidn Kindred/Archant






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