Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page: A whole lotta love from four women

When Jimmy Page met the female Led Zep, he was in awe, he tells David Sinclair

Lez Zeppelin, the female Led Zeppelin tribute band, had an idea that there might be someone special in the audience when they were playing their gig at the Garage in north London. But it wasn't until they ended with a swirling, shrieking, shuddering encore of “Whole Lotta Love” that the band's guitarist Steph Paynes saw a shock of white hair by the bar at the back of the venue and knew for certain that her alter ego, the real Jimmy Page, was there.

“I'd dreamt of that moment for so long,” says Paynes, who put the group together 10 years ago in New York. “In my mind, I play as if he's out there every night. But this was a real fight-or-flight moment.”

Four women tramping over the hallowed ground of Led Zeppelin's musical legacy; what would Page make of it? As the band left the stage to tumultuous applause, he strode purposefully towards the dressing room and banged on the door. “He came in and he was gushing,” Paynes recalls. “'Finally, this is the way it should be done,' he told us. 'Each and every one of you is brilliant'.”

Page corroborates their story. “They played the Led Zeppelin music with an extraordinary sensuality,” he proclaims, some days later. “They certainly played with an energy and passion that highlighted their superb musicianship.” This is high praise from the man who knows better than anyone what it takes to perform the songs of Led Zeppelin, and speaks volumes about a group which has managed to elevate the often tacky business of being a tribute act into a creditable art form.

The first thing you notice about Lez Zeppelin is, of course, that they are all women. But by the end of the show it is the “superb musicianship” and obsessive attention to detail which they bring to every facet of their performance that leaves a more lasting impression. Paynes, who either plays a Les Paul or a double-necked, six and 12-stringed guitar, has long black hair and a saturnine look. Shannon Conley, who has long, blonde hair and a lean, willowy figure, sings in a high, throaty glissando, and plays occasional harmonica.

The bass player Megan Thomas also plays keyboards (with bass pedals) and mandolin on certain numbers, while the drummer Leesa Harrington-Squyres performs with a muscular force majeure that recalls the behind-the-beat heft of the late John Bonham with uncanny accuracy. She has even mastered the no-sticks sequence during the drum solo which comprises most of “Moby Dick”.

They are good by any standard. But the fact that they are women, strutting and preening like rock gods of old, plays odd tricks on your mind. For all their much avowed machismo on and off the stage, there was a duality about Led Zeppelin and their music which was not fully appreciated at the time. Hearing Conley singing Robert Plant's melodies in exactly the same keys as the original recordings, the thought occurs that Plant (in those days, anyway) was a man with a woman's voice. And seeing Paynes playing her guitar with a violin bow and making her lithe, lunging stage moves, you realize how slight and coquettish Page was.

“What Jimmy was witnessing was complete and utter passionate surrender to his music and all of its moods, all of its sexuality, by musicians who are in a place where we can do that,” Paynes says with a typical flourish. “I think he was kind of stunned.”

Paynes is kind of stunning. A committed Anglophile, she first came to Britain as an exchange student to study at the London School of Economics. She later formed a band in London and got herself some work writing for the NME and other journals. She played in a militant all-girl punk band called 1-900 Boxx who featured in the movie Rhythm Thief and she toured in Ronnie Spector's band.

Everyone thought she had gone mad when she announced her intention to form an all-female band playing the music of Led Zeppelin and the task has not been easily accomplished. Lez Zeppelin is currently on its third vocalist (“Roberta III”), second bassist and third drummer. (“The guitarist remains the same,” Paynes says.)

But the band has been gaining fans in high places ever since. Their recent visit to the UK began with an appearance at the Isle of Wight festival, where the promoter, John Giddings, had booked them as the opening act on the Big Top stage.

Paynes actually first met Page in October 2012 when she buttonholed him at a party after the New York premiere of the Zeppelin movie Celebration Day.

“At one point I reached out and touched his face,” she says. “It was completely autonomic. I had to feel if he was real. I said, 'Jimmy, I just want to tell you, it's really hard being you'. He laughed and said, 'I know'.”

Will she and Page meet again? “I hope so,” she says.

“I hope it's just the beginning and not the end.”

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine