by Margaret Chrystall
WHEN the time comes for Lee Pryor to face the stairway to heaven, he’s fit enough to fire up those stairs two at a time.
Lee’s been with Whole Lotta Led as frontman and singer Robert Plant for two years. He instantly tells you the date and the venue where he first joined the band on stage because he’s wanted to be part of the line-up since he first saw them.
But with Whole Lotta Led turning in a two and a half hour show, singing the Robert Plant would be challenge enough for anyone.
But Lee alternates a morning run at his south coast home 500 yards from the beach with a gym session throughout the week.
Maybe it’s no surprise he’s ended up near the sea.
"I was born in Great Yarmouth. I’ve always been into music, my mum was into music and my grandma loved the theatre. My mum and dad used to take me to all the musicals and I loved all that singing.
"My gran had a guest house and we would visit her every summer and help out. Me and my mum would sing together as we cleaned the rooms. She taught me songs and they they had this talent competition there in the big open air theatre. When I was seven, she put me in for that and I won it singing On the Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady. I thought ‘Ooh, I rather enjoyed that!’."
So as well as piano lessons and taking part in music at school, Lee also sang in the choral society. And as a teenager, Lee realised there could be side benefits to singing!
He laughed: "In the 60s everyone got into the whole folk thing. I discovered that by playing the guitar and sitting on the stairs at parties, girls would come to YOU which I thought was pretty cool!"
But though he would have loved to start a career in music, Lee also wanted to travel.
"My dad was in the navy and his dad had been in it too, so I suppose it was one of those things. Being a young boy I was always fascinated by ships. When I left school I joined the navy – I started with the Fleet Air Arm in Arbroath at RM Condor when I was 16. The one thing I remember is the Arbroath Smokies which I just love!
"But I was on a big aircraft carrier with two and a half thousand others, so when you went ashore you always had lots of guys with you and the whole town would be swamped – so you never got to see the country for yourself.
"I stayed in for six years, but had realised by then that I had the travel bug and wanted to travel on my own and go to different countries.
"I spent 10 years on the road in the 70s, doing the hippie trail and spending time in India and Africa.
"I have great memories and with all the people I met, music was always through it.
"We would sit around campfires and play guitars and I was always meeting other musicians, so it was a very happy time.
"I didn’t really have any possessions or any money to have possessions and there is a certain peace that comes with that.
"I ended up in Switzerland and lived there for about four years and got much more into music there including singing with Alexis Korner and toured with him."
Back in the UK, settling down with a family meant Lee put music on hold for a time.
"But I started going out on my own with my guitar and playing pubs and then from there joined various bands including a Free tribute for a while.
"Then I went from there into a Zeppelin covers band – I had always enjoyed Zeppelin.
"The two rock bands for me were Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and I always admired the singers of both and luckily enough I found I had the range to be able to sing the Zeppelin role.
"The opportunity came round to go for an audition for Whole Lotta Led, their singer left and I thought ‘I’m going to go for that’.
Stepping into the frontman Plant role doesn’t faze Lee.
"I’ve been singing publicly for so long and there is a confidence that comes with knowing that you know you can do it.
"Having said that, just before the band was going onstage with me joining them for the first time, when our special intro came on, just for a second I thought ‘Wooh!’," says Lee, making a wobbly, nervous sound.
"But it was a nice feeling because I had wanted to sing with Whole Lotta Led for ages!
"I went to see them years before and loved them as a band and rather conceitedly – and jealously – thought ‘I could do that!’.
"So when the opportunity came up to do it, I thought ‘YES!’."
Lee isn’t offended by the term ‘tribute band’.
"At the end of the day people like to put a name to something, that’s fine.
"But with ‘tribute band’ – I wish there was another word because strictly speaking to me that suggests you also try to look like the band.
"But bad wigs and dragon suits, that has never been our thing.
"For us, it’s always about the music.
"For us it’s just like being an orchestra that specialises in Mozart.
"We are a band that ‘specialises’ in Led Zeppelin, for want of a better word.
"I love the music and singing the songs and thinking what the words mean.
"I just enjoy it and get into it in my heart.
"I’m not at all worried about being the frontperson.
"I think I would be if I was wearing a wig and pretending to ‘be’ Robert Plant.
"Then you’d be worrying ‘Am I carrying it off?’.
"But because it’s just me singing the great songs in front of a fantastic band, I’m quite comfortable about it."
With Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page re-releasing the first three Led Zeppelin albums this month with lots of extras to excite fans – plus the rest of the albums coming out later in the year – the band’s work is in the spotlight and wooing a new generation.
Lee is also a massive fan of the music which just adds to the pleasure of his job.
He said: "There are some core songs Stairway To Heaven, Black Dog, Whole Lotta Love and Kashmir we always have.
"I often say to everybody the biggest problem is knowing what to leave out of the setlist.
"We do change it around, so if people come to see us again, they won’t see the same thing.
"We also do themed gigs and we were the first band to do that. For example, we might do the whole of Led Zep 4 or the whole of the set of a particular tour.
"When we do that, we do it in the order of how it was – and if it’s an album, how it appeared on the vinyl.
"We pioneered that and since then lots of people have copied it."
But Lee sees the power of the music on people every night he performs.
"I see people closing their eyes and they are away with the fairies.
"Speaking to me afterwards, people often say things like ‘It takes me back to being 18!’.
"I would love to do a ‘lock-in’, some kind of charity event maybe and we’d do everything Led Zeppelin ever did.
"It would be amazing, but it would take quite a few hours," he laughed.
"One of the reasons I do all the running is to stay fit for the show.
"My other passion is surfing I wish I had the time – and the space in the van – to take the board up when we come up to the Highlands.
"I went up a few years ago surfing.
"We took the boat to Tiree – that was beautiful – then we went to Skye, all the way up the west coast and along the top – and I surfed wherever there was surf.
"On Tiree, me and my wife went to a little beach and put our tent up. There was no-one there but us beside this crystal blue water. From half four to 10 at night in the sea – bliss."
Whole Lotta Led return to the Ironworks, Inverness, on Saturday.