Robert Plant’s Secret Gig, Room 14, University of Keele Students Union (UKSU), 11 March 1981

Katie Turner, Rick Cowdery, Robert Plant, Frank Dillon & Carol Downs, with many thanks to Frank Dillon for the photograph (added June 2017)

In many ways this is a darned simple story.

Robert Plant secretly arranged to play a warm up gig with his new band, The Honeydrippers, at the UKSU Ball on 11 March 1981. The gig was in one of the smaller performance rooms, Room 14, despite the fact that Robert Plant was the former lead singer and lyricist of Led Zeppelin, among the biggest names in rock then and indeed ever.

I was at that ball. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time when one of Robert Plant’s roadies was getting some drinks in just before the start of the gig.

I politely let the roadie go ahead of me at the bar; he returned the favour by tipping me off to get upstairs to Room 14 before word spread. I remember partly doubting the roadie’s word, but he did have a roadie lanyard and he also surreptitiously showed me a Robert Plant badge, so I thought, “if this is a practical joke, it’s a clever one and I don’t mind falling for it”.

I am extremely lucky to have seen that gig; Room 14 is small, so I don’t suppose more than 100-150 of us saw the gig. Even that will have blown the fire limit; once word spread most people who tried simply couldn’t get through the door. Far more people claim to have seen the gig than actually saw it.

The gig became a big news story at the time.

With thanks to Steve A Jones for sending me this image…more than once. This version hopefully good enough quality for most/all Ogblog readers.

The intriguing, complicating factor is that, back in 2013, I stumbled across a reference to this gig on-line and discovered that on-line sources, of the “rock history” variety, were all quoting the wrong date for this gig. Some 10 March, some 9 March, none 11 March.

My diary was not always a totally reliable source of dates back then – heck, whole days could disappear at Keele and sometimes I would “back-write” a few weeks if I got behind.

But this was at a ball and balls normally happened on Wednesdays. In any case, there was enough going on in my diary that week to suggest that I was…on the ball at that time (pun intended).

I posted some corrective comments on-line which triggered contact from the relevant Led Zep archivists. They were appropriately helpful but sceptical at first. They wanted additional evidence, so I sought the help of John White (who for some reason I recalled was at that gig, although I didn’t know him all that well back then).

John sent me a redacted copy of his diary page – John specialised in existential angst in his diary back then apparently – but I must say this is one of the most heavily redacted diary pages I have ever seen:

Many thanks to John White for his efforts digging out this page and redacting…almost all of it. We do learn from that note that Dr Feelgood was the main act at that ball. We also learn that John, back then, preferred the cabaret to Feelgood and Plant.

Our diary trawling efforts, together with the redoubled efforts of those real archivists once they had some more leads to go on, got to the bottom of the matter. There was a private, secret gig in a pub in Stourbridge on 9 March, but the secret gig that blew the story open was indeed at Keele two days later, So the Robert Plant Secret Keele Gig is now “officially” confirmed to have happened when it did happen; 11 March 1981. Some on-line sources might not yet have caught up with this news.

In short, as a result of our efforts, the date sources for this gig now go up to 11 – click here only if you don’t get this joke or cannot resist seeing this Spinal Tap clip for the eleventh time.

Prior to our temporal triumph, I also tried to engage the help of Daniel Rushton, a Keele alum who had worked at Z/Yen for a while but had recently returned to alma mater. Dan drew a blank, but subsequently said:

extremely happy to hear that this has all been cleared up and that a slight weight has been removed from my weak shoulders. Now I can go back to imagining having been there!

One further intriguing matter from an Ogblog perspective. In my correspondence with the Led Zep archivists back in 2013 I wrote the following:

I might write this business up for the Keele Alumni mag – some of the stuff in my diary has reminded me of some ripping yarns from that end of term week, not least that Robert Plant gig.  I envisage a sort-of pseudo blog/diary – what would I have written back then if blogs and Twitter had existed?  If/when I do write it up, I’ll let you all know.
This small matter might have planted (pun intended) the thought seed for the entire Ogblog project. Reading that 2013 e-mail again has certainly tweaked my interest in that week of my 1981 diary…there must be quite a bit of other juicy stuff in there.
Watch this space.

3 thoughts on “Robert Plant’s Secret Gig, Room 14, University of Keele Students Union (UKSU), 11 March 1981”

  1. I was at that gig as I was one of the ticket sellers that used to sell tickets in Lindsay refectory at lunch times in the run up to the SU gigs and balls. The Ents officer knew I was a massive Zeppelin fan and tipped me off the day of the ball. I remember being massively disappointed that no original Zeppelin songs were played. Other than that I was ecstatic to be no more than 15 foot from one of my idols compared to half a mile away when I saw Zeppelin at Knebworth.

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