IT'S a simple idea, pairing up an orchestra with a rock band to play the songs of Led Zeppelin. But like so many simple things in life - to get it right isn't quite so straightforward.

However with Stairway to Heaven: the Led Zep Masters, get it right they have - and how!

Australian outfit the Zep Boys have been making a name for themselves Down Under playing the music of the band they love. On this their first visit to these shores they are joined by the 35-piece Black Dog orchestra and the results are spectacular.

Adding strings, brass and woodwind to a Led Zeppelin show is a pretty natural fit. The band may have been the heaviest of the heavy rockers when required but much of their music has an orchestral quality to it.

For those fearing the show may be too much of a compromise, the opening night of the tour in Manchester blew that one away with the first few chords.

The Bridgewater Hall has one of the bigger stages you'll see and it's a good job. A stack of Marshall amps at one end and a giant Perspex cage for the drums at the other with the orchestra seated in between, it was as though the band were saying to the musicians we're all in this together.

Fronted by the charismatic Vince Contarino, the Zep Boys are the real deal. Contarino is built like Ayers Rock but close your eyes and Robert Plant could be on stage. Many attempt to pull of the trademark Plant howl but very few succeed - Vince is one who does.

The set included some classic Led Zeppelin songs and a few lesser known ones. At times you feared for the orchestra's very survival as guitarist Tzan Niko, bassist Warwick Cheatle and drummer Bradley Polain threatened to swamp their delicate phrasings with sheer power but the orchestra proved more than up to the task and were always audible adding an extra dimension to things.

The Rain Song and Going to California really gave them a chance to show their skills and were particular highlights in a night of many.

And Kashmir was nothing short of epic as the orchestra laid down a pounding, eerie and even frightening sound.

The Song Remains the Same - complete with Niko on twin neck guitar - Stairway to Heaven (naturally) and All of My Love were other high spots.

And one of the outstanding moments was seeing drummer Polain being set free for the monstrous Moby Dick. He summoned up his inner Bonzo for a truly staggering solo which you never wanted to end. A one-man artillery barrage, he pounded his kit to within an inch of its life as the orchestra looked on in awe - it's worth the ticket price for this alone.

The night finished with a blistering version of Whole Lotta Love and an audience standing as one to applaud two hours of magic.

Music lovers get a little precious about the idea of a 'tribute' show but when you see something like this you should just dump your cynicism in the bin.

The Zep Boys play with passion and above all a love of the music. The orchestrations are inspired and just demonstrate what great songs Led Zeppelin produced.

It may be the boys first visit to the UK, but on this form they should be given an open ticket to return any time they like.