There are many plusses in being connected with the mighty publishing organ that is the National Rust. One of them is its policy of allowing its contributors to go beyond their given brief. In that context, today I stray from mine into the world of rock music.
On match day at the Stoop – the home of Harlequins rugby club – the output of the public address system retains a certain and soon-familiar structure in the final ten minutes before the teams emerge onto the pitch prior to kick-off. As no doubt intended, this adds at least two notches minimum to any sense of adrenalin-fuelled anticipation already coursing through the veins of the fans.
Ignoring occasional variations, three pieces of music always feature.
Secondly, London Calling by The Clash.
Thirdly, an instrumental version of the Led Zeppelin classic track Kashmir recorded by a group called Bond, consisting of four glamorous, blonde-dominated, female violinists.
I am reminded of this today because of coverage in the media of the announcement that Led Zeppelin are to release several pieces of music, recorded between thirty and forty years ago, that have previously never seen the light of public day.
Led Zeppelin are one of the top ten all-time iconic outfits in the history of rock music, not least because they deliberately never issued a single during their original eight-album, twelve-year, career.
Their legendary reputation lies in being one of the first – and greatest – of the heavy rock groups, the ‘biggest band in the world’ during the first (1970s) heyday of stadium rock, and the masters of dark excess when it came to considerations of the stereotypical rock & roll lifestyle – customised private jets, drink, drugs, armies of groupies and outrageous behaviour et al. – later lampooned so brilliantly in the Spinal Tap movie.
Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-two I was a huge fan of the group, after first been exposed to their music via the extraordinary 1969 debut album Led Zeppelin. My obsession with their music began to fade after the issue of Led Zeppelin III, featuring mainly acoustic and folk-influenced songs and a move away from heavy rock, which I regarded as a travesty and indeed terminal betrayal.
Zep had been founded 1968 by guitarist Jimmy Page, then aged 24 and one of the foremost session musicians and producers in Britain, having contributed to countless 1960s hits including those of Marianne Faithful, the Nashville Teens, Van Morrison & Them, Donovan, Joe Cocker, the Kinks, Who and Yardbirds – the last of which he had also formally joined.
Page is now widely regarded as one of the all-time most influential rock guitarists, albeit for me – someone who is completely unmusical – not one of the greatest.
This prejudiced view was formed by a conversation in about 1971 with a contemporary who I felt must know his onions. Our parents had been friends and neighbours when we were babies and – after eighteen intervening years in Australia – they had just returned to the UK in his support.
Still a quiet teenager, he’d just won a guitar scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music despite not being able to read music, having previously played in a successful three-piece Australian heavy metal group. [He subsequently went on to have a world-famous career in classical music, courtesy of a lute, but that’s another story].
Our chat naturally came around to me quizzing him on what he thought of the prominent rock guitarists of the time. I recall his replies to this day. Jimi Hendrix was unquestionably the greatest, with Jeff Beck in second place. In listing several others he didn’t mention Jimmy Page, so I raised the name. His answer was damning, or so it seemed to me. Page was brilliant technically but – in terms of purity of tone, style and ‘soul’ – he was not in the first rank.
I witnessed just one Led Zeppelin concert in my life, at Earl’s Court in 1970 – of which I can now recall little more than the fact that the only ticket I could purchase offered a restricted view of the stage – but three years ago, whilst visiting Toronto, I went to a concert by Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant and bluegrass star Alison Krauss, who had just collaborated on a Grammy award-winning, folk/Americana-influenced, album called Raising Sand. It was a fabulous, near-magical, experience and the charismatic Plant (now 65 – he was 19 when he joined Led Zeppelin) was on commanding vocal form.
In the world of popular music the surviving members of Led Zeppelin are treated, rightly, as gods. Though they were hugely-successful, they rarely compromised anything in the cause of greater financial reward. Proof of this is that – bar for one triumphant concert [on 10th December 2007 at the O2, in tribute to former Atlantic Records executive Ahmet Ertegun] – in defiance of innumerable rumours and mind-boggling offers over the past three decades, they will never reform and rarely play together as individuals.
How do I know this?
Because Robert Plant has said so – and means it. And Led Zeppelin reforming without Plant is about as likely as the Beatles reforming without John and George.
For those that need reminding – and perhaps also for those that don’t – here is a YouTube link to a Les Zeppelin promotional video featuring their classic WHOLE LOTTA LOVE
For those Quins fans who wish to relive their days at the Stoop here’s another, to the Bond version of KASHMIR
(Suggest you turn your volume control up to 11 for best effect!)