When Led Zeppelin performed at 'Suffolk's greatest gig' 50 years ago

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

Were you at St Matthew's Baths Hall in Ipswich to see Led Zeppelin 50 years ago?

Many of those who were lucky enough to be at "Suffolk's greatest gig" on November 16, 1971, still vividly remember it. The pool was covered over with boards so the band could appear.

They had just released their legendary fourth album, featuring tracks such as Stairway to Heaven and Black Dog, and their appearance in Ipswich caused huge excitement. 

Nigel Rea is selling his poster with rare photos of a Led Zeppelin concert in Ipswich in aid of EACH

Nigel Rea is selling his poster with rare photos of a Led Zeppelin concert in Ipswich in aid of EACH - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown/Archant

Felixstowe photographer Nigel Rea smuggled in his camera and has produced a limited-edition poster featuring his photos from the night, with profits going to East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices.

"There has been a lot of interest and a lot of people getting in touch about it," he said.

Nigel was able to get on to a balcony where he had a good view, and his photos show the band at various stages during the night.  

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

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

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

Richard Jarrett from Ipswich also vividly remembers the concert, which was one of the Bluesville gigs arranged by Ron and Nanda Lesley at the Baths Hall, which has just returned as a music venue. 

Richard Jarrett from Ipswich with his poster and ticket from the Led Zeppelin concert, and the treasured recording he made

Richard Jarrett from Ipswich with his poster and ticket from the Led Zeppelin concert, and the treasured recording he made - Credit: Richard Jarrett

A keen fan of the band and a regular at Bluesville, Richard was one of the first in the queue. He said: "I saw Robert Plant and Jimmy Page arrive in a green Rolls Royce. After a quick wave to the crowd they disappeared around the back of the hall."

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Richard, then a student, recalls smuggling in a cassette recorder, hidden by PE kit. "I had a bag and put a small towel in there around the recorder, just in case we were searched," he recalls.

Richard Jarrett's poster from the 1971 Led Zeppelin concert at the Baths Hall in Ipswich

Richard Jarrett's poster from the 1971 Led Zeppelin concert at the Baths Hall in Ipswich - Credit: Richard Jarrett

He went up on the balcony and recorded the gig, and about 12 to 15 years ago he transferred the music from tape onto a CD. He still enjoys listening to the music and remembering that unforgettable night.

Gig started Phil's career as road manager

For Phil Carlo, who was born in Sudbury, the gig was his first as a roadie for Led Zeppelin. It marked the start of a long career as a road manager, not only on the road with Led Zep but also with other acts like Bad Company and Jeff Beck.

Phil Carlo, pictured on a return visit to Sudbury.

Phil Carlo, pictured on a return visit to Sudbury. The gig at the Baths Hall in Ipswich was his first as a roadie with Led Zeppelin - Credit: Archant

Phil, now 76, said it all started because he had friends in Cambridge including David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame. "Another friend was a guy called Mick Hinton who played in pubs, and I went to see the band. I really liked them and started to help them."

After working as a roadie in the Cambridge area, he was then invited to London by Clive Coulson, Zeppelin’s lead sound engineer, to meet the band's manager Peter Grant and tour manager Richard Cole.

"Richard said: “We are doing this tour, and Mick said you are the ideal bloke to be an extra roadie.”

Phil said he hadn’t got much experience but  was told he wouldn't need it. The first gig he joined the tour for was in Ipswich - and, when he was told the show was at a swimming pool, he realised it must be St Matthew's Baths.

Phil Carlo with Jimmy Page on a European tour in the early 1980s

Phil Carlo with Jimmy Page on a European tour in the early 1980s - Credit: Supplied by Phil Carlo

"I was a good swimmer and athlete, and had swum for West Suffolk Schools there," Phil said, adding that he knew Nigel Rea because they were both boarders at King Edward VI Grammar School in Bury St Edmunds.

Remembering the gig at the Baths Hall, Phil said: “It was a really small stage. The sound engineer mixed the sound from on the stage and he also did Jimmy’s guitar. That was his responsibility as well.” 

Phil Carlo with Robert Plant in Madison Square Garden, New York

Phil Carlo with Robert Plant in Madison Square Garden, New York - Credit: Supplied by Phil Carlo

Phil said two of his friends, Neil Taylor and Ken Marsh, turned up at the gig in their builders' van, offering to provide extra security.

He has told of his experiences working with Led Zeppelin in the books Trampled Underfoot by Barney Hoskins and Bring It On Home by Mark Blake.

Nigel Rea's limited-edition poster costs £20 with all profits going to EACH.

It is available from Keith Avis Printers in Hadleigh, Out of Time Records in Ipswich, Woodbridge Emporium and Stillwater Books in Felixstowe, or by email.


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