Thursday 27 December 2012

Part 2

In May 1973, exactly one week after Sunderland won the FA Cup, I flew to Jersey in the Channel Islands. I had a one way ticket, two nights accommodation paid for in a hotel, and twenty five pounds cash. I knew only one person there, a. guy called Ian Nixon who I went to senior school with. We had met up the previous Christmas in Carlisle, and Ian had told me what a wonderful place Jersey is. Through Ian I found work with a car hire company. Years later Ian’s wife was to win £125,000 on “Who wants to be a Millionaire”
One reason I needed to get away from home was I had just received a suspended jail sentence. I certainly didn’t fancy living in Carlisle with that hanging over my head. To say the local constabulary would have done their best to make sure I was in breach, and thus get me jailed is an understatement. At that time I hadn’t served a prison sentence.

I also was getting quite heavily into gambling, and the thought of a sun drenched island with no bookies really appealed. Imagine my horror when the taxi taking me to my hotel from the airport, on that first Saturday, stopped at some traffic lights, and through the open car window I heard “Under orders at Sandown“. The taxi was stationary, right beside a bookmakers. To make things even worse, I found out later, they were open for night racing, something that didn’t occur in main land Britain for several years. .

I stayed in Jersey for four years, coming home at Christmas, for periods varying from a couple of weeks to a month. The second year, after hearing my stories of a beautiful island, sun kissed beaches, cheap booze, and an endless choice of girls who were replenished on a weekly, or fortnightly basis, holiday makers, several of my friends from Carlisle joined me

In December of 1975 we were all in a night club called Lords. It was the only club I have ever been to where there was only one guy on the staff, the glass collector. There were no bouncers, and Jenny, the manageress, stood on the door, and decided who was allowed entrance. On one occasion she turned away Malcolm McDonald, a professional footballer, because he said “Don’t you know who I am? I play for England“ I knew Malcolm through my old friend Stan Bowles. He was in Jersey with Newcastle United, and when I met him earlier, I had suggested we have a drink at Lords. He was supposed to ask for me by name. He never did get in.
As we stood by the bar, an argument developed about what the Who’s first hit had been. I definitely knew it was called“ Can’t Explain “, released in 1965.The others disagreed, and the barmaid suggested we asked two guys sitting a couple of tables away, saying they played in a band, and should know. We looked over, and saw two long haired geezers. Nothing special there, most of us wore our hair that way in those days. As usual I was chosen to do the talking, so I walked over to their table.

When I told them what I wanted to know, one asked me what I thought it was, I replied,“ Can’t Explain “ Immediately one stood up, and started playing air guitar, and the other air drums, making noises to the intro of that song. Having confirmed I was correct, the “guitarist” sat back down, and  invited us to join them for a drink. My best mate in those days was a guy called Jack O’Hare. He inquired if they played professionally. The two guys looked at each, grinned, and one said, " I guess you could say that." Jack asked if it would be anyone we had heard of, and they burst out laughing, and said.

“ Led Zeppelin, mate. “

Believe it or not, I had never heard of them, and before any of the boys who had, could stop me, I asked

“Have you had any records released then?“

The two guys, who turned out to be John Bonham, and John Paul Jones, thought I was taking the piss, and weren’t amused at all. However as soon as they realized I really didn’t know, they cooled down, and we had what was to be the first of a few great nights with them, although Mr Jones was always a little suspicious of me.

It turned out they could only spend sixty six days a year in England due to tax reasons, They were in Jersey as it was a short trip home for Christmas, planning to arrive there just after midnight on Christmas morning. I now know Bonham was called Bonzo, but don’t know if this was used by his friends, or by fans. I can’t remember this name being used then. We only knew him as John. After a few drinks, we were invited to their hotel, the Atlantic, on the north side of the island. Jack O’Hare, and John got on like a house on fire, and started “glugging,“ downing in one, £80 bottles of wine, to see who could finish first. £20 was our average weekly wage. After more drink, and some wonderful stories of a their experiences on the road we agreed to meet up in Lords the following evening.

When we met them there, we were told they had agreed to jam with a local band at our other favourite watering hole, Behan’s night club the next night. Behan’s was much larger than Lords, the biggest, and by far the best, at that time on Jersey. I believe it is now called Behan’s West Park. We went along and watched those two rock stars play a few numbers, and while no doubt they were very good, it didn’t seem that special to me.

The real treat was to come a seven nights later.

We had met them a couple of times the following week, and during the second evening, John quietly told Jack it would be a good idea if we went to Behan’s the next night. We duly turned up but there was no sign of either of them.

Suddenly Hughie Behan, the owner, appeared on the stage, and announced that Led Zepplin were about to do a free gig, right there and then. This one off show had, obviously, been kept a secret to avoid the club being inundated with punters. I think it was a Wednesday evening. The entrance fee during the week, out of season, was 25p. Imagine how many of the Jersey population would have turned up if they had known in advance?

Onto the stage walked the guys we already knew plus Jimmy Paige and Robert Plant.

On August 4th that year, Plant had been involved in a horrific car accident with his family on the Greek island of Rhodes. His daughter had been very seriously injured. She was airlifted back to a UK hospital. Plant still had a full plaster cast on one leg. He opened the set by saying “ Tonight we are going to play the music that influenced us, and we grew up with, and still love, rock and roll “

For the next hour and a half, they did exactly that. Here was an excellent band playing all my favourite tracks. Classic rock, and roll. It was almost as if they were playing just for me. The club, which was only half-full, was rocking. No one wanted to miss this experience by going to get a drink, so, unemployed, the bar staff joined the audience. I don’t know how much of the material they had played together before, but it was like they had being doing it for ever. I had seen several top guitarists play, and I may have seen Paige with the Yardbirds, and not known who he was. This night he was sensational

After the gig they came out front, and sat around some reserved tables. Bonham sent a message over to Jack, and invited us to join them. After introducing us to Plant, and Paige, we had an exceptionally heavy session. In Jersey there is a very strong drinking culture, and we thought we could drink, until we tried to keep up with these guys, but I guess they had practised more than us. During the course of the evening I remarked to John, how brilliant I thought Jimmy had been. He replied.

“ Pete, that was a borrowed guitar, the neck was too thick, you should hear him on his own “

This episode in their history is told in an unofficial biography called “Hammer of the Gods “, written by Stephen Davis. Though the account recorded is slightly inaccurate.

Davis writes

“On December the 10th, they jumped on stage at Behan’s pub, and played some old favourites “

What Hughie would have made of his wonderful night club being described as a pub, I don’t know. He was an Irish guy, brought up in Birmingham, and very well connected to most of the top London villains. We had some mutual friends so I knew Hughie very well, a lovey guy. Plus Robert Plant could hardly have jumped anywhere.

Only last year, after telling a very good friend this story, he told me about “Hammer of the Gods”. It was great to read the short account of that excellent night (page 265), and to realize I hasn’t dreamed it all. While in Jersey, Bonham had his dark blue Rolls Royce brought over. Due to the narrow roads, and his excessive drinking, within a week there were scrapes, and dints all over the car. He just laughed when Jack told him it would cost a fortune for a paint job, and replied.

“ I will just buy a new one, mate. “ Now that is rock, and roll !

Like many of the other bands I met, or worked with, I never met, or saw Led Zepplin live again though I used to read of their exploits with great interest. 
When I heard of John Bonham’s death, I wasn’t too surprised, but deeply saddened. Over the years I have heard many tales of his drink, and drug fuelled rages, but in my experience he was just an amiable guy who loved to party


  1. This was very interesting, thanks for posting!

    lol at 'Supermac' trying to get into the small club. I thought him and Bowles didn't like each other? There's a famous picture of Bowles shouting in McDonald's face when QPR got a late winner in some game during the 70s.

    Behan's, sadly, was where 70s cabaret legend Ronnie Dukes (Blackpool regular) died during his show, just off stage. I've never been to Jersey so I didn't know how big and famous this place was.

    I wouldn't have recognised Led Zeppelin either, if that helps, but I'm a soul and disco fan.

  2. The Stockport Years Just seen this,mate. Good comments. No Stanley and Super Mac didn't like each other at all. I met Mac once when I was visiting England, someone introduced us telling him I lived in Jersey. Mac knew Newcastle were coming to Jersey, and he took my number.I wasn't too keen on him myself but did go to his hotel when he told me they were there. Thought it was quite funny when he didn't get in Lords though I did see him later in Behan's.

    If you see this,mate email me on I would love a chat. Cheers Peter

  3. Great to read your blog I was at the zep gig that night, I was working at the st Peters bars and later for british airways at the airport I often think of that night it's always been a bit sketchy due the mary ann special and the rye and dry's but it came flooding back after reading your blog, many thanks.rob....