Ultimate Interviews

Ultimate Interviews

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hats Off To Led Zeppelin

It's been said, and agreed by many, that Led Zeppelin would not have been what they became, without their manager, Peter Grant. It was Peter's belief that the artist could generate more revenue and a larger, loyal following based on touring and album sales, while avoiding releasing singles and appearing on television shows. In order for someone to experience the greatness of Led Zeppelin, they had to see it for themselves live. For twelve years, Mr. Grant made sure that Zeppelin was in control, successful, treated with respect and loyalty. He became known as the fifth member of Led Zeppelin and continued to be thought of that way until his untimely death in 1995.

Fast forward a few years and a tribute band that was going out and playing the music that they loved and respected would soon have a greater connection to Led Zeppelin, than just the music. 

In 2012, 'Hats off to Led Zeppelin'  would soon have their promotion and management handled by Bandwagon Productions, and none other than Warren Grant, Peter's son. Warren decided that his return to music promotion would start with a group of guys who wanted to get out there on stage and perform the legendary rock band's music in front of audiences who loved it the most. The band proudly claims that, that Warren is the fifth member of 'Hats off to Led Zeppelin'.

The next year,  The Agents Association of Great Britain crowned 'Hats off to Led Zeppelin' as the UK's Number 1 tribute act to Led Zeppelin. If that wasn't impressive enough, they are also the only UK tribute band officially endorsed by amplifier giants, Marshall.

I reached out to Kevin, requesting an opportunity to interview 'Hats Off To Led Zeppelin' for our blog and Facebook page. The band graciously accepted and proceeded to provide me with some wonderful links, pictures and an exciting interview. I learned a lot about these guys and their passion for Led Zeppelin and the love of playing the music to their fans. 

Hats Off To Led Zeppelin

Jack Tanner: Guitar
Peter Eldridge: Vocals
Kevin Oliver Jones: Bass, Keyboards
Simon Wicker: Drums

LZUFP~ How does it feel to not only be the winners of the 2013 UK National Tribute Awards but to be the only UK tribute act to be endorsed by amplifier giants Marshall, a prestigious honor, what is that like to have such accomplishments?
Photo: Elizabeth Mahoney-Marshall Factory 18Aug2011

Kevin:  To have been recognized by a major international company as Marshall Amplification as being worthy of becoming endorsees of their equipment is absolutely amazing for any band or artist.  To have achieved this in what was our first proper, full year is unbelievable.  We are very proud to be promoting Marshall all over Europe, and to have their backing for what we do.To have been voted the UK's number one tribute to Led Zeppelin by a major UK organization is also incredible again considering how long we have been together and also how long our 'competition' have been going.  Most of the other tribute bands in the UK have been together for over 10 years and for us to come on the scene and achieve so much in such a short time is nothing short of phenomenal.

LZUFP~ Peter, you are no stranger to performing in front of fans. From  your performances in 'Rent' to 'We Will Rock You', how is it different, (or is there a difference), preparing yourself to get on the stage for those productions compared to performing Zeppelin classics?  Do you have little rituals you do before each show? Can you share what those are?

Peter: Very easy to answer this one ... no real difference in preparation, as long as I have a couple of ciggies before the gig, then I'm good to go!!

LZUFP~ Jack, what was it about Zeppelin and in particular Jimmy's style of playing that made you want to learn the Zep catalogue? Do you recall what the first Zeppelin song you learned was? Which songs do you enjoy to play the most live, if you can narrow it down, be it because of arrangement, a challenge to play or just plain fun to play?

Jack:  Being a little bit more mature than the others, I grew up during their heyday, so their music pervaded my subconscious I suppose. 'Whole Lotta Love' (albeit by Alexis Korner) was the theme tune for a British TV show "Top of the Pops" which was the must watch chart show for years. It was also used on the radio chart rundown so it was everywhere. The riff is relatively easy to play and never gets boring so you can just keep it going forever! Everyone loves it! In terms of style, I think where Page excels, is not so much in technical ability as in feel. He was the most diverse of players from hard rock to soulful blues, delicate folk and even elements of classicism. He could be sloppy but, like punk rock a few years later, it didn't matter. He was so connected to the music. That's why I love him - total freedom and abandon.

Photo: Col McG
Every tune has its challenges. Certain numbers are improvised and I both welcome and fear that. It's what makes our versions (and I think the originals) so good. The element of danger - seat of the pants stuff. Things like the guitar solo in 'No Quarter' are never the same. They are statements of my frame of mind in that moment. Then there are more technical things like 'Since I've Been Loving You', which I try to play verbatim as per the studio recording, but are still governed by this sense of being in the moment. 

To me, to have seen Led Zeppelin in the '68-'72 period must have been like seeing the punk movement in '76. Raw, powerful, and pure emotion. I can't abide impersonators because Led Zeppelin never impersonated - they were real and that's what we try to be. Real for the current age. 

LZUFP~ Kevin, being a multi-instrumentalist, it's no surprise that you assumed the role of John Paul Jones perfectly. Are there certain elements that John brought to Zeppelin, that you, yourself bring to 'Hats off to Led Zeppelin'? Which songs in the setlist do you enjoy the most to play?

Photo: Karl Tyler
Kevin:  Hopefully I do bring the same elements to 'Hats Off' as John Paul Jones brought to Led Zeppelin, but they are massive boots to fill! The guy was an extraordinary musician and is often overlooked in favour of the two 'front men' and of course Bonham! I have been involved with rock and roll theatre shows since I was a teenager where I was required to pick up and play a lot of instruments and cover other musicians at very short notice so you either learn very quickly or look very stupid. 
Photo: Sally Owers
Over the years  I have learnt  and played  bass, guitar,  keyboards, harmonica,  drums, saxophone and trombone in  professional shows so joining 'Hats Off to Led  Zeppelin' was perhaps an 'all roads lead to  here' moment ... it was destined to happen! I  am a big fan of great musicians in bands  whatever the instrument they play, and John  Paul Jones approaches a lot of the bass lines in  Zeppelin almost like counter melodies as  opposed to just playing the root note which a  lot of the music up until that time involved!  Picking a favourite setlist is impossible to do  as every time we play there is something new  to discover. I think the fact that we get to play Led Zeppelin's great music for a living is the most enjoyable thing and I hope that we do it justice!

LZUFP~ Simon, John Bonham was the backbone of Led Zeppelin, and still very loved by Zeppelin fans to this very day. How did you prepare yourself to assume such an important role within the band? You also play the Ludwig Vistalite John Bonham reissue drum kit, how important was it, to have the exact set up?

Simon:  I started out playing the drums at age 14 and played to/listened to a wide range of music, from my parents' love of '60's music, country and western, funk, soul and classical, to my sister who played things like Michael Jackson and the Housemartins and my brother who was very much into Iron Maiden and Guns N' Roses. I grew up with a wide and diverse taste in music but when a school friend of mine gave me a copy of Led Zeppelin II on cassette, I was hooked! From that moment on I wanted to find all I could about Led Zeppelin, and particularly John Bonham as I was already teaching myself how to play the drums.

As to why Led Zeppelin are my favourite band, and John Bonham my favourite drummer, it is because of the power and energy in their music, along with the diverse influences they displayed in the songs they wrote, ranging from heavy rock of 'Immigrant Song' to the country feel of 'Down by the Seaside', to the funk of 'Trampled Underfoot' and the blues of 'Since I've Been Loving You' and many more. To me, they were the ultimate meeting of all these styles of music, but with their own unique take on things, which was often raw and rough, with an incredible feel and musicality displayed by all four musicians. 
Once I started to study John Bonham, and his musical influences, I found myself seeking out 60's soul and funk albums, Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa albums and much more. The more I listened to his playing I realized he wasn't just a powerful drummer, he was a very musical drummer with a fantastic feel and groove and also could be incredibly subtle too, which of course all adds to his amazing feel. I could see why John Bonham was/is the most influential rock drummer of all time because his style became the prototype almost for all other rock drummers that came after him, although not many of them are able to capture his unique style.

As to how I manage to do that as best I can, that has been a long process that starts with many hours listening and playing to his music and trying to replicate exactly what he is doing, down to playing my notes in exactly the same place as his. Coupled with this I have listened to many different live recordings from the beginnings in 1968 to the end in 1980.

To the question of the drumkit, well, it has been my dream ever since I saw Led Zeppelin live in 'The Song Remains The Same' film to own a  Ludwig Vistalite drum kit in John Bonham sizes! This is the most recognizable John Bonham kit, it looks amazing on stage under the lights and is the drum kit I believe he used for the longest length of time live. I have a long term goal to own replicas of all his major kit set ups, from the late sixties Maple to the Green Sparkle finish and finally the Stainless Steel set up that he used from 1977 onward.  I also use a 38" Paiste gong and two timpani in my set up to try to achieve a similar set up to the one of 'The Song Remains the Same/Earl's Court' concepts.
I tune it for a big John Bonham type sound, but of course he never used this type of kit when recording so we go for very much a live sound rather than a studio sound for the drums. 

LZUFP~ Peter Grant was known as the 5th member of Led Zeppelin. He was the manager that so many bands wished they had. How does it feel to be managed by Peter's son Warren? Does it bring something special to the band just having that connection to a person who is admired and respected still to this day in the Zeppelin community for all his hard work with Led Zeppelin?

Jack, Kevin,Warren Grant, Peter, Simon
Jack:  Clearly the connection to the original band is a great coup for us in terms of publicity, but more than that we clicked on a personal level immediately with Warren. This gives us a calm confidence. We share the same sense of humour and he gives us encouragement to do what we do as we see fit. When he's among us it's like we've known him for years, so he truly is the 5th member.

Simon Absolutely it does! It was an amazing feeling to find out that Warren had contacted us and expressed a desire to work with us, we didn't need to think about. He went on tour with Zeppelin with his father and was there backstage many times and so when he told us that we were doing a great job recreating the band his father helped to become major international stars we were over the moon, also proud of that recognition from someone so closely connected to the band. Also, we are looking forward to going through his boxes of memorabilia about his dad and Led Zeppelin with a view to including some of that material, which will be exclusive to us, in the multimedia aspect of our new show. He also has some great stories about his dad and Zeppelin. 

Photo: Carla Longmate
LZUFP~ When comprising a setlist, how are the songs chosen? Is it a collaborative process when all the members suggest songs? What five songs need to be on the list, and have there ever been songs left off for whatever reason (and what were those songs)?

Photo: Ed Carter

Kevin:  Thinking up the set list is very hard because there are so many great songs, but there are some songs that we definitely HAVE to play. I think 'Rock and Roll', 'Immigrant Song', 'Whole Lotta Love', 'Kashmir', and 'Since I've Been Loving You' are the five songs that just have to be in the set. We often have a debate about taking 'Stairway to Heaven' out of the set so we can include something else but so far have not been brave enough to see how the audiences might react! For the most part our show stays the same but every year we chance it and put new songs in to keep it fresh and interesting but as I said earlier there are some songs that just have to be there, and once they are there we build our show around them, depending on what we think will work in terms of putting on an exciting show.

LZUFP~ Have you had the opportunity to play before Jimmy, Robert or John? If yes, what was that like having them there, watching you? If no, if you could be joined on stage by any of them, which member would you choose, why and what song would you want to perform with them?

Simon: Sadly we have not yet had the opportunity to perform for any of the surviving members of the band. That would be an absolute honour for us. If I were given a choice it would have to be John Paul Jones, as he is a bass player and it would be fun to get together and jam with him, but ultimately, I would love to step in and fill John Bonham's shoes with Page, Plant and Jones if they ever decide to go out on tour!

Photo: Martyn Bragg

LZUFP~ There are Led Zeppelin tribute bands all over the world. What is it about your band, do you think sets you apart from all the rest? Not only do you replicate what Led Zeppelin was known for, but you add your own personal elements to the performances, do you think that helps set you apart?

Kevin: There are lots of Led Zeppelin tribute bands out there, some very good ones, especially in the USA. What I think sets us apart from most of the bands is that we are not trying to imitate Led Zeppelin in terms of stage mannerisms/look exactly, we are four rock musicians who are playing music that we love in an exciting way in order to recreate the energy, power, magic and excitement of a typical Led Zeppelin concert. There are parts that we play that are note for note exactly from the recorded stuff, there are parts that are taken from various live recordings and there are parts that are just us improvising in a similar style to Led Zeppelin. All of this is carefully thought about in order to produce the best show that we can. 

Photo Sally Owers

LZUFP~ What is it do you think that keeps the fans loving and admiring Led Zeppelin after all these years? Even yourselves, since you enjoy playing the music and have a great time doing so, what is it about the music that makes you want to play it?

Kevin: It's the immediacy of it, the feeling of truth mixed with the finest musicianship and imagination. Three hundred million record sales tells you something. 

LZUFP~ It has been said in interviews that the first time Led Zeppelin played together, it was magic, a 'boom' and they knew it was right. Did you all have that feeling the first time you all played together?

Jack:  It felt like there was nothing else in the world at that moment, it was massive. Awe inspiring.

Photo: Katy Easthope

LZUFP~ Most of you all have a theatre background, were there elements from those roles that enhanced the Zeppelin tribute aspect or did you have to change things, such as how you projected your voice and performed?

Kevin: Not so much on that aspect but in the way that we put on a show! A lot of 'pub' bands think that they ought to be in theatres when all they can bring to the party is their pub act in a bigger venue. It costs more to go to the theatres as opposed to the local pub so by that fact alone you have to give the audience a show ... which we do, with pyrotechnics, hand made costumes and a rock and roll set! If you give a pub performance in a theatre then people are going to stop going to see tribute acts in these venues - come and see the best!!

LZUFP~ What do you see for the future of 'Hats Off to Led Zeppelin'? Is there something on the bucketlist that one day you would all want to scratch off? 

Photo: Magic Candle Photography

Kevin: To play at the Albert Hall in front of Page, Plant and Jones ... well you did ask!!

LZUFP~ now for the impossible question, what is your favourite Zeppelin track to play? Whether it's a personal reason or if you want to get technical, the arrangement etc?
Photo: Ed Carter

Simon That is a difficult question to answer. I would have to say that, live, the two songs I most like to play are 'Over the Hills and Far Away', as I love that song, and 'Since I've Been Loving You' because of the dynamics, the rise and fall of the music, and the fact that I really let go on this one and just play completely from the heart. Although, as a massive fan of Led Zeppelin, I would happily play any of their songs.

Photo: Katy Easthope

Jack:  Tough as each tune presents challenges that vary from gig to gig. Some numbers just hit you somewhere deep and for me 'Since I've Been Loving You' is the one I look forward to.

Photo:Ed Carter

Kevin: I really have a soft spot for 'The Ocean' as it has a number of different musical styles in it and some great and tricky time signatures - it was one of the first Zep tunes I sat down and learned the bass line to and as such has a special place in my heart whenever we play it - it is also dedicated to their fans so it covers everything really!!

LZUFP~ For someone who has never been to your show and is wondering what it would be like, how can you describe a 'Hats Off to Led Zeppelin' show, what can the audience expect?
Kevin: A musical orgasm. 


As 'Hats off to Led Zeppelin' continue to tour and perform in front of audiences, the reviews continue to pour in. They've been described as 'outstanding', 'incredible', 'like the real thing'. Individuals such as Richard Cole and Dave Lewis have also attended their shows, and gave them glowing reviews.

While conducting these interviews with Led Zeppelin tribute bands from all over the world, the one thing that is a common factor, is these men, and women, do this simply for the love and respect of the music. 'Hats off to Led Zeppelin' is no exception. They understand what the music means to so many people, to this day. When they get on stage to perform such classics, they send the audiences back to a special time when they first experienced the music, the magic, that is Led Zeppelin. 

Thank you to Kevin, Jack, Peter and Simon for your time and generosity while working on this interview!


Official Promo Video:


To keep up to date on 'Hats Off to Led Zeppelin', including tour dates, photos, merchandise and much  more, check them out on:

Official Website
Official Facebook Page
Official Twitter
Official Bandwagonproductions Website

All photos property of credited photographers. All non-credited photos courtesy of the band.

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