More on (Led) zeppelins

9 02 2009

As we’re talking about zeppelins in Stornoway, it would be a good time to remind readers of another important visit to the town of a zeppelin of an entirely different variety. Led Zeppelin, and their long forgotten 1975 gig in Stornoway.

In 1975, at the height of their popularity, Led Zeppelin were about to start yet another chaos inducing tour of North America. The band, manager, groupies, road-crew and hanger-on’s all assembled at Heathrow Airport and embarked onto their very own Boeing 737 for the flight across the Atlantic.

Whilst en route to New York, the aircraft had to make a precautionary stop at Stornoway Airport due to a minor technical problem – the drinks trolley had run out of brandy.

On landing the jet taxied over to the Gaydon Hanger to try and keep prying eyes from seeing the huge Led Zep logo on the side of the fuselage. One of the flight attendants was dispatched to Henderson’s Off-license on Bayhead Street with a wallet full of £50.00 notes in order to buy up the entire stock of brandy.

The original plan was for the flight to be on the ground for no more than half an hour. However, the band members, all being the worse for wear, were totally oblivious that they were in Stornoway, far less than they were still on the wrong side of the Atlantic. They thought as the plane had stopped, that they must be at their destination and so demanded that ‘they be taken to the gig’.

In the absence of a fleet of stretch limos, a Mitchell’s bus was hastily arranged to take the band and their road crew in to town and a MacBrayne Haulage lorry was chartered to take the bands gear to the non existent gig. As the four band members descended the steps of the plane, the road crew got busy loading up the gear, enough to fill the backstage area at Madison Square Gardens, and set off, equally oblivious to the fact that they weren’t in New York.

The band and their manager, Peter Grant, piled onto the bus and asked the driver to take them ‘to the gig’. The bus driver knew there was a disco in the Scout Hall that night and so assumed that this must be the place to go. With the MacBrayne’s lorry in tow, Led Zeppelin made their stately way in to Stornoway. The bus pulled up outside the Scout Hall and the four members of the band staggered in, looking for the dressing rooms and muttering things about a ‘sound check’. They were ushered into the kitchen and plied with the newly arrived brandy. Meanwhile, the roadies set up Bonham’s drumkit at the back of the Scout Hall and plugged the guitars into the Disco Unit.

The bemused Cubs, Scouts, Brownies and Guides looked on in anticipation of hearing a ‘real pop band’ and put bets on which Mud, Bay City Rollers and Slade songs would get played (as this was what all Stornoway bands played). After a 2 hour delay, due to John Bonham sneaking out for a chicken supper at the Church Street chipshop, Led Zeppelin took the stage and let lose a frenzy of drink and drug infused rock music, complete with an hour long drum solo.

The band played a huge selection of their songs, all with a Stornowegian slant, including The Scouthall Remains the Same, Communion Service Breakdown, and Trampled Under Professor Foot. House’s Of The Holy went down really well with the Free Church element, as did Stairway to Heaven.

At 11.00, the Scout Leader pulled the plugs and the band was ushered out of the Hall and into the waiting bus. Ten minutes later they were on board their plane and taxing down the runway, oblivious to the fact that they had just played a gig in the Outer Hebrides.

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Zeppelin over Stornoway

4 02 2009

Towards the summer of 1916, as the Great War trundled into its third year, both sides in the conflict had made huge strides in air warfare. Modern bi-planes, with forward firing machine-guns, long range bombers, that could fly far behind the enemy lines and of course the mighty Zeppelins, began to appear high above the Western Front.

The German’s fleet of Zeppelins also flew further afield and caused alarm and concern over many parts of the British Isles. These bombing and reconnaissance missions struck terror into the hearts of civilians up and down the land.

Even far Stornoway was not immune to this threat. In summer 1916, a German Zeppelin on a raid to Newcastle found itself blown way of course. Helpless in front of gale force winds and blown steadily north west, the crew of the airship soon found themselves crossing the Minch and en route to Lewis.

Dawn on a Friday morning saw the zeppelin appearing over Arnish Point, much to the confusion and consternation of the townsfolk. A few hardy souls rushed out with shotguns and blasted away at the airship, but the Germans were drifting too fast and so were carried safely over the town and out into the moors, to disappear into the clouds. Eventually, reports reached the military commanders in Stornoway that the zeppelin had disappeared into the Uig hills.

The Captain of the Zeppelin, Count Von Tooff-Reeh, despite being stranded over foreign territory, vowed to continue military action against the British Empire and attempted a number of audacious raids on prime military targets.

These included an attack on a sheep fank at Ardroil, where the Germans attempted to disrupt the supply of sheep fleeces to the Western Front. However, the German landing party were chased off by a boisterous sheepdog. The zeppelin also tried to attack the Breanish Communions, but the attack took place at night and so the crew couldn’t make out the church goers due to their black clothing.

The zeppelin also made a number of flights over Stornoway. Occasionally the zeppelin would fly low over the houses of Stornoway and try to steal the lead off the roofs. One of the Free Church elders, a gardener in the Castle called Murdo Dan ‘Plant’ Macdonald, was said to have influenced his grandson’s choice of name for his rock band, by telling him the tales of the day the zeppelin tried to steal the lead off the roof of the Free Church on Kenneth Street.

The zeppelin came to an unfortunate end in January 1918, after the crew had converted the engines to run on peat and inadvertently set fire to the gas after a Burns Supper. The remains of the zeppelin can be seen on the east slope of Mealisval.