Led Zeppelin Masters

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So I was into Led Zeppelin when they first started and then, when I heard Black Dog , I was hooked for life.” – David Sandstrom

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It might be thirty-six years since Led Zeppelin’s official demise, but their legendary sounds will be returning to Australian shores in January in the form of Led Zeppelin Masters who will be performing two shows at Sydney’s iconic Opera House. Frontman Vince Contarino recently caught up with HEAVY for a chat which in turn became a walk through Australia’s rock history.

57-year-old Vince has been a musician for all of his working life and he tells me it all started way back when he was twelve years old and started playing guitar. “By the time I was twelve or thirteen I had my own little band and we were playing original music,” he recounts. “We were playing gigs regularly so I was honing my craft as a frontman. Then in the summer of ’77 I left school and in 1978 I was touring professionally with a Top 40 band. Got sick of that and wanted to go back writing songs and play rock music so I went back to Adelaide and formed a band called The Dukes. We were playing rock at a time when punk and new wave were really starting to take over and we were playing rock at a time when it was considered uncool. But we had this huge following and we were packing out venues and that lasted for about four years and then I joined a band called Fraternity which was the band that Bon Scott and then Jimmy Barnes sang for. Working with people like Bruce Howe who was the bass player meant I got to learn so much about rock and the rock business. And that’s how The Zep Boys first started I did a couple of gigs as that while some of the other boys were touring with Barnesy on the back of No Second Prize.”

 

As a person in my 30s I’ve never known a time when rock wasn’t cool so I ask Vince what it was like playing rock music in that period where punk first started to take over. “It was weird,” says Vince after a long pause. “The fashions started to take over. People liked to put the dark eye-liner around their eyes, dress up in black and walk the streets and they would look like witches. Of course their hair was also jet black so there was this whole fashion thing that was really cool. The music they listened to was stuff like The Cure and it was all really macabre, and they had this morbid fascination with suicide, heroin and all that kind of shit. And then there were the nu-romantics as well, but rock & roll was on the way out. But we couldn’t relate to any of that other stuff so we were doing pub gigs and mainly guys would come to our shows and they would just want to have a drink and get into the music. They were just working class guys and weren’t into the dress-up or anything like that, they were just wearing flannelettes and jeans. But because our crowds were such big drinkers the pubs kept asking for bands like us. So I think in a way we kept rock & roll alive because the pubs were succeeding financially. We weren’t interested in the grog though we just wanted to play our own music. We were into what AC/DC were doing, what Cold Chisel were doing and we were into bands like Small Faces and Humble Pie. So we just thought stuff it we’re going to play the music that we want to play.”

 

With the stories of Vince’s life obviously showing a life-long relationship with rock music I ask him when he first fell in love with the work of Led Zeppelin. “I think I first fell in love with Led Zeppelin when I was a ten or eleven-year-old,” says Vince. “I fell in love with the energy and I think that’s still why kids fall in love with music today. There’s something about that music at that age that just grabs you.

 

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I was into Led Zeppelin when they first started and then when I heard Black Dog I was hooked for life. This Stairway To Heaven Led Zeppelin Masters though, this wasn’t an over-night thing. I’ve been with The Zep Boys for over 30 years and we’ve done a lot of shows but back in about 2004 we started working with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and then we started taking the show to Melbourne and people would watch the show and say ‘oh this isn’t a tribute band this is actually like a night of classical music, these guys aren’t pretending to be the band they are actually playing the songs.’ Then we went up to Darwin and the ABC up there goes right through Asia and these guys got in touch with me while I was in Sicily and they were saying they wanted to do some shows at The Opera House and I thought it was a joke. But these guys were bloody fair dinkum and by the time I got back it was full on and we did end up playing The Opera House. Now we are doing the Opera House again and we’re going to the U.K.”

 

I couldn’t let the moment go without asking Vince what it is like playing at the Opera House and we joked about how an Australian comedian recently said the Opera House is the one gig you don’t want to blow or it will haunt you for the rest of your life. “The Opera House has its own persona,” says Vince. “It really does have a persona in its actual self. I was talking to our publicist in the U.K. and they are as interested in the Sydney Opera House as we are in Albert Hall. To them it is a bucket-list thing and it really is a world wonder. I’m sure when that comedian made the joke that they made it out of sheer fear. But for us every night we are working with an orchestra that fear is there because you are working with so many musicians and you all have to be on the same page, literally, because they are reading that music from manuscript so you have to do it justice and you have to work as a musician, not only as a rock musician who just belts it out and struts the stage. You have to work with another thirty-five musicians and a conductor.”

And of course, Led Zeppelin Masters isn’t  working with just any conductor. No, they are working with Nicholas Buc who has worked on music from Star Trek, E.T., Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Harry Potter And The Philospher’s Stone, Back To The Future and Psycho. So how did Buc end up with working with them? “We were introduced to Nicholas by the promoters,” explains Vince. “He has worked with them on a number of shows over the years – Tina Arena, The Beatles shows and he has proven himself to be very, very talented. He also gets the ‘rock band thing’ which not all conductors would, some people are purists and traditionalists and couldn’t think of any worse but Nick because he’s done so many varied things he embraces the opportunity and says ‘forgot about being pure and think about the crowd and how happy they will be.”

 

So if you want to be one of those happy audience members, make sure you get along to see Stairway To Heaven Led Zeppelin Masters at The Sydney Opera House on either the 13th or 14th January 2017.

 

Written by David Griffiths

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