The trouble with writing about Led Zeppelin is that maybe it has all been said.
Mud sharks and groupies? Read Hammer of the Gods.
Alastair Crowley? Read When Giants Walked The Earth by Mick Wall.
The insidious influence of their music on your children? Read Raising PG Kids in an X Rated Society by Tipper Gore. Just kidding about the last one.
But each of Page, Plant and Jones remain active and creative, so let’s start with the first time I saw Robert Plant live. Nearly twenty five years ago, in the basement of The Colchester Institute in January 1988. There was only 200 people there, so the chances are, this’ll be new to you…
This is a venue that is so obscure even 80% of Colchester doesn’t know it exists. It’s the student bar at a minor polytechnic college. How Plant came to play a warm up show there is beyond me. It’d be like having the Olympic Opening Ceremony in a working man’s club in Rotherham. It was to support his forthcoming Now and Zen album, and a friend who lived in Colchester told me about it. The gig was so secret even the venue appeared baffled when I phoned to buy tickets (the girl at the ticket office knew nothing about it). When I told my friends, most of them asked “Who is Robert Plant?” Which just emphasises my point about how British Radio Isn’t Doing It’s Job Properly…
(As an aside, the first time I heard Stairway To Heaven was the version by Far Corporation. Another British Radio Triumph. The people behind Far Corporation went on to even greater musical heights a few years later with Milli Vanilli with a song that needless to say didn’t struggle to get airplay).
Colchester is an old Roman town, and at the time wasn’t blessed with the strongest late night travel links. Showing all the foresight of Gordon Brown with a pile of gold to sell, I didn’t check the time of the last train home. This was an error. As I told myself at 4am on the station platform waiting for the milk train on a cold January night with little more than a t-shirt and denim jacket to keep me protected from the elements…
Back to the gig, All About Eve were supporting. AAE are perhaps best known for their Top of the Pops appearance on prime time BBC TV when their monitors weren’t switched on and their latest single began playing without their being able to hear it. This is not, by all accounts, the easiest way to lip-synch to a record, something that the band discovered on live TV. The image of Julianne Regan staring dumbfoundedly at the camera whilst the song played is etched on the memory of millions. At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was a protest against being forced to mime, or perhaps the world’s greatest single display of ventriloquism.
Plant then came on with his band and played to the capacity crowd which couldn’t have been more than 200 strong. In between solo songs from the forthcoming record (including the single, Heaven Knows) he played In The Evening, Trampled Underfoot, Custard Pie, and Misty Mountain Hop: none of which I knew. I asked my friend what the songs were, because they sounded Zeppelin-esque, (not that I really knew them: despite being seventeen and a rock fan). He rolled his eyes skywards and patiently explained about Led Zeppelin. So the first time I heard Custard Pie was when Robert Plant played it in front of me and 199 other people. I guess that’s pretty cool. Not so great that I was a rock fan who hadn’t ever heard a Led Zeppelin song.
This could probably never have happened in the USA. In Dave Grohl‘s biography This Is A Call by Paul Brannigan, Steve Albini is quoted as saying “Growing up in the seventies, Led Zeppelin were everywhere, so saying you were a fan of Zeppelin was like saying you were a fan of air”. Sadly that wasn’t (and isn’t) the case in their country of birth.
So here’s my question. Have you ever heard a really famous or classic song and asked a friend “what’s this?” only for them to look at you like you’re an idiot: and if so what was the song?
I think Yesterday by The Beatles would be the best answer, but highly unlikely. Let’s see where we get to…
Record #78 : Robert Plant – Heaven Knows
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