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6 May 2012 9,490 views 3 Comments

Tuesday heralds the start of another new phase in the career of Robert Plant when he presents The Sensational Space Shifters at The Guildhall in Gloucester ahead of appearances at London’s HMV Forum and the Womad Festival in July.

This new line up combines the basis of The Strange Sensation plus drummer Dave Smith and virtuoso West African musician Juldeh Camara who has worked with Robert before – they will be joined by Patty Griffin from the Band Of Joy .  The tickets for this debut appearance have as we know, been in massive demand. After a lot of stress and worry with a little …no make that a big help … from our friends ( Richard G, Michaela we thank you) Gary, Tom Locke and myself aim to be pitching up for this one – the worry has taken yet another hour off my life at the very least…

So we look forward to hooking up all who have been lucky enough to get tickets. The pub we have been recommended to try for a TBL meet is the Café Rene which is about five minutes’ walk from the Guildhall. Here’s a link to some info about it

So another first night beckons –all this had me reminiscing about another spring first night some 19 years ago. It was back in May of 1993 that Robert Plant commenced the Fate Of Nations touring campaign with two very low key gigs at the tiny Kings head pub in Fulham London – appearing under the pseudonym Fate Of Nations for the May 14 gig and The Band Of Joy for the second show a week later on May 20th. This was the first shows with a new touring line up that included the late Michael Lee on drums and the late Kevin Scott MacMichael on guitar together with Francis Dunnery, Phil Johnstone and Charlie Jones.

Gary Foy and myself along with our friends Kam and Krys were lucky enough to be in attendance on both nights – in fact looking back the stress  of trying to sort those ones out also took another hour off my life!

The first night was very special as all first nights are as we anticipated this new phase of Robert Plant’s career. We arrived in the Kings Head  pub in the afternoon and excitement mounted as we could hear the band (minus Robert) rehearsing in the main bar. Hearing the solo of What is And What Should Never Be –previously unplaced live for some 21 years was a huge thrill. We knew this was going to be a special night and indeed it was. The just released The Fate Of Nations album found Robert in a great place musically as he drew on many influences to produce an organic collection that as I put it at the time ‘’Live and breath yesterday by the same measure push for the aspirations of tomorrow’’. Along with Pictures At Eleven it’s my favourite Plant solo album.

I have reproduced a mass of Fate Of Nations TBL archive taken from TBL issues 8 and 9 – the review of the Kings Head opening night plus tour watch details, an overview of the state of play as he undertook a European tour and an in depth review of the Fate Of Nations album. Note the quaint references to the FA Cup final.

Few quick bits here – and talking of which, I watched the FA Cup Final at the ridiculous time of a 5.15 kick off – as Terry Venables noted, if this final is now a warm up for Britain’s Got Talent on the TV schedules that is so wrong. Let’s get it back to the traditional 3pm kick off where it belongs. As it was I was eating my dinner as Andy Carrolls goal for Liverpool was ruled to be not over the line and Chelsea hung on to a 2-1 win. The challenge now is for Spurs to try and gain fourth place over Chelsea and perhaps third over Arsenal in the Premier league and after the 1-1 draw with Aston Villa  today ,it’s going to be tight.

Some birthdays: Happy birthday to my very good friend Mr Tom Locke who shares his birthday with the anniversary of that epic Led Zep Tampa show on May 5th. We had a couple of beers to note that fact on Friday and Tom plans to be pitching up with us in Gloucester on Tuesday.

With Birthday boy Tom Locke

Happy birthday also to my very good friend Terry Boud for Tuesday –we will be hooking up with him tomorrow with his good lady Marian to toast his coming of age – ahead of the Gloucester trip  (sorry I am missing the day mate  but if it was Rush for you on my birthday I’d understand!).

With birthday boy Terry Boud

On the playlist well… Robert Plant unsurprisingly – and it’s great to dig out some gems from the backwaters of his catalogue – ie Pledge Pin and Moonlight in Samosa from Pictures , Why and The Way I Feel from Now And Zen, I Cried and Liars Dance from Manic Nirvana, Come Into My Life ,Promised Land and Memory Song from Fate, Girl From The North Country and Flames from Priory Of Brion live era , Skip’s Song and Dirt In A Hole from Dreamland, The Enchanter and Dancing In Heaven from Mighty Rearranger,  Stick With Me Baby and Please Read The Letter with Alison on Raising Sand, Harms Swift Way and The Only Sound That Matters from the Band Of Joy album and a few more – the brilliant Life Begins Again with the African Celt SoundSystem, Little Hands, Ship of Fools, Another Tribe, Darkness Darkness, Freedom Fries, In the Mood –wonder if any of those will have a live airing come Tuesday night….

With Mick Lowe at StudioMix Bedford last Friday working on TBL 32 design.

Full on here in the last throes of TBL text for the forthcoming issue 32 – and looking over it so far, I am proud to say that this looks like being one of the best magazines I’ve ever produced –the mix of content just hits the mark and Mick Lowe has done another great job on the design. If you love the world of  Led Zep then you would love this magazine. Simple as.

I’ll be emphasising that fact out and about in Gloucester on Tuesday so look for the man with flyers in hand spreading the TBL word.

Right… there’s a fair bit off stuff to do and sort between now and jumping on that train to Gloucester so I’d better get on with it.

Finally here’s the TBL 1993 Fate Of Nations archive.  Looking over it there’s some passionate prose going down here – to say the least we were a bit keen for this era! It’s amazing to think that all this went down 19 years ago. What I can categorically state is that my enthusiasm and passion to chronicle the work of Robert Plant is as fervent as ever. It’s a passion shared by countless like minded fans across the world.

As I have noted before, as much as we look back – it’s always a joy to relish to the expectation of looking forward to his next move…the next musical high, the next Robert Plant vocal performance sung into that Shure SM58 microphone that will leave you breathless in admiration.

That’s the prospect ahead and it’s a most exciting one. Gary and myself are staying over and I won’t be back to the TBL  HQ until later on Wednesday so I hope to have a full TBL report up on Wednesday evening.

But before all that…This is how it was in 1993 – there’s a lot here to soak up here and if you are lucky enough to be going to Gloucester you might want to print it out and read on the journey. This was the beginning of a new chapter back in 1993…and now a new one is about to unfold.

Fate Of Nations World Tour Reviewed

Rejuvenation in Fulham…!       

What Is And What Should Definitely Be…


King’s Head, Fulham, May 14 1993

Just prior to their European dates, Robert Plant chose to premier his new touring band under the pseudonym Fate Of Nations for a date at London’s King’s Head, Fulham on the Friday preceding the FA Cup Final.

Although over a million people will witness the projected 1993/4 Fate Of Nations tour, a mere 200 packed in to the South London pub to see Robert debut a new band and a new set. For the staff and locals it was no real surprise that Robert should select this venue for a warm-up as he and his band have used the place to rehearse throughout the past year.

One of the last times I had seen Robert perform in his own right was amongst the thousands at Knebworth ’90 and the opportunity to view the new line-up in this most intimate of surroundings was incredibly exciting and a throwback to those early ’80s Honeydripper days.

Even back then though, the stages were never as small as the one Robert walked on to around 10p.m. dressed in black Jeans and a cut off T-shirt, emblazoned with what appeared to be an Arabic slogan. Flanked by Charlie, Phil, new guitarists Kevin Scott McMichael and Francis Dunnery plus drummer Michael Lee, he proceeded to kick start the 1993 campaign in to action with a vibrant ‘Calling To You’ which works great live. Over the next hour the band ran through a tight no-messing selection of numbers which are likely to form the basis of the festival set they will take around Europe this summer. ‘Calling’ was followed by a return to active duty for ‘Trampled Underfoot’ played with a nagging insistency which then segued into Tall Cool One now devoid of all the samples and sounding well refreshed.

There was little in-between chat from Robert aside from the obligatory ‘’Good Evening’’ and a brief opening statement: “Welcome to the first night of a tour that takes in Morocco, Casablanca and many other strange places”. ’29 Palms’ came next, clearly the song of the moment to be found on radio, on TV and now live and happening in Fulham High Street and embellished with a slowed-down complete ending.

The new line up is firmly spearheaded by Francis Dunnery’s lead playing supplemented by Kevin MacMichael with Phil Johnstone concentrating on guitar rather than keyboards. This makes for a much punchier sound than the ’88 to ’90 outfit and the whole set up echoes the air of rejuvenation that Robert is experiencing with this new phase of his career. It was immediately apparent that on stage he has already created a productive alliance between the two new guitarists.

Judging by this opening set, it would also seem that Roberts fave Zep album at the moment might well be ‘Led Zeppelin 2′ as there were no less than three selections included from that album.

First up was What Is And What Should Never Be’ (what a joy it is to write that statement!). Incredibly, it’s first live airing in 21 years. And it sounded wonderful, performed very faithful to the original right down to the stereo planning between the PA for the power chord guitar outro shared by Kevin and Francis. Following a passionate pairing of ‘Tie Dye On The Highway’ and ‘Nirvana’, Francis slugged out the intro to ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and Robert proceeded to re-enact a slice of his history with his first ever solo non-Zep reunion rendering of that old cock rock classic.

The middle part found Francis delivering the required fret board effects across Robert repeating the line “Just a little bit, just a little bit”, a lathe old BBC version.

All too soon this compact performance was over, but not before the band were called back for two encores. They ran down the new ‘Promised Land’ which emphasised my earlier comments that this is a number that grows in stature on repeated hearings (I’m constantly waking up with the chorus in my head). Finally a rousing Livin Lovin’ Maid’ with Robert stalking the stage majestically and baptising the front row (yours truly included) in a shower of sweat in the process.

The message was clear for all those in attendance at this first night run through. The Fate Of Nations tour is underway and ready to trail blaze its way across Europe and beyond with a vitality that will impress any audience it encounters.

“We must be in Heaven” laughed Plant as he left the stage, paraphrasing that Woodstock ‘Tie Dye On The Highway sample. Indeed we were . . .

Dave Lewis  – May 16 1993


Venue: Kings Head Fulham

Friday May 14 1993

Background: Robert and the band have been consistent visitors to the popular London pub venue for the past year (pics of Robert and the staff adorn the walls in the public bar) and he had promised landlord Les a couple of warm up dates as far back as early April. This first show was much more low key than the May 20 show. Those with a keen eye would have seen a group called Fate Of Nations billed as the Friday attraction at the Kings Head in the NME gig guide for that week. The lucky few that were in the right place at the right time and paid the £5 entrance fee were treated to a very personable first night preview with less than 150 in attendance.

In The Crowd/Backstage: Nigel Kennedy puts in a non playing appearance and Fontana’s Dave Bates and ‘Fate Of Nations’ engineer Mike Gregovich also spotted. General low key turn out mostly filled by Fulham set regulars with just a few lucky Plant/Zep heads down the front (say hello Gary, Krys, Kam and Julie!)

Soundcheck: The band (minus Robert) come in around 5pm and run through instrumental versions of ‘Trampled Underfoot1, Tie Dye On The Highway’ and ‘Nirvana’. Francis practises the solo of ‘What Is And What Should Never Be.

Set List: Calling To You/Trampled Underfoot/Tall Cool One/29 Palms/What Is And What Should Never Be/Tie Dye On The Highway/Nirvana/Whole Lotta Love-Encores: Promised Land/Livin’ Lovin’ Maid. (NB – The written set list taped to the stage had ‘Heaven Knows’ crossed out after ‘What Is, so it can be assumed that number had been rehearsed).

Performance Notes: Robert wears a cut down ‘Om Kalsoum’ T-shirt and just for safe measure has the lyrics of Nirvana’, ‘Tall Cool One and ‘Hurting Kind’ taped to the floor of the stage (‘Hurting Kind’ is subsequently not performed). The band are a little rough at the edges but look to be well at ease with each other and perhaps well relieved to be finally playing in front of an audience. There’s a no messing approach to the set with little in between spiel. Trampled’ and Tall Cool One’ sound particularly vibrant in their new guise, but What Is And What Should Never Be is the song of the night, returning to live duty for the first time in 21 years and causing this writer to swoon just ever so slightly as Plant effortlessly delivers the opening line.

A truly manic ‘Livin’ Lovin’ Maid’ completes a great night in the most intimate of surroundings and for me personally the best live Zep related experience since Leicester University five years previous. The next day’s FA Cup Final stalemate draw between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday seemed all the more tedious with the hangover I was experiencing! (DL)

Venue: Kings Head Fulham

Thursday May 20 1993

Background: A much more high profile gig than the previous Friday, this date is a charity bash with all proceeds going to the Deaf Foundation. The pub venue is officially closed and admittance is by ticket only. For this date Robert redeploys The Band Of Joy pseudonym. Word of the gig begins to sweep the capital like wildfire after Robert hints very strongly to Richard Skinner during that morning’s interview on Virgin 1215 that he is playing ‘somewhere tonight’.

Mere matters such as a Cup Final replay pale into insignificance and a growing crowd converge outside the entrance from 6 p.m. onwards hoping to gain admission – a plea that proved fruitless for the majority of ticketless fans.

Soundcheck: With an MTV film crew in attendance Robert and band run through a variety of numbers from late afternoon and into the early evening including ‘Calling To You’ and a blues jam with Nigel Kennedy, plus ‘805’ and ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ with Kevin Scott McMichael – all of which were aired on MTV’s Rockblock show on May 31. Interview segments were also conducted and later interspersed with various videos for the MTV screening – including a rare airing of the ‘Ship Of Fools’ video.

In the crowd/Backstage: Nigel Kennedy (who also joins them onstage for the encores), Dave Bates, Bill Curbishley, Chris Blackwell, Doug Boyle, Maureen Plant, Debbie Bonham, plus several Zephead vets (say hello Peter Jones, Nigel Glazier, Gary, Krys, Kam, Pasc and Diane, Rob and Liz). Plus numerous press and media types and representatives from Phonogram and BMG Publishing. Around 180 pack the venue.

Set List: Hurting Kind/Trampled Underfoot/Nirvana/Ramble On/If I Were A Carpenter/Going To California/I Believe/29 Palms/Tie Dye On The Highway/What Is And What Should Never Be/Tall Cool One/Whole Lotta Love. Encores: Promised Land/Calling To You/Shook Me.

Performance Notes: Much extended set than the previous week and with a high profile media audience, Robert seems very aware of the need to impress. Wearing the same garb as last week and with his hair tied back slightly, he’s on song from the off. Mini acoustic set sees the return of ‘Going To California’. ‘I Believe’ is superbly premiered from the new album. Robert loses the lyrics slightly during Tie Dye’ and there are no prompt sheets to aid him this week. The real fun comes with the encores as Nigel Kennedy joins them for a manic ‘Calling To You’. A second encore (“This must be the Led Zeppelin Convention” jokes Robert beforehand!) features a loose jam version of ‘You Shook Me’. Following a call and response rapport with the fiddling Nigel, Plant takes over Frankie’s guitar and plays a very competent solo (a feature that will become a familiar part of the tour).

A crazy end to a crazy evening and my sweat stained attire indicates that this must have been the best Zep related live experience I’ve encountered since . . . well since last Thursday at the same venue (DL).

After Show: Robert and the band join Mr. Kennedy and co. for an upstairs party. Early on a shirtless Plant can be seen to be serving drinks behind the bar. He also takes time out to pose with manager Bill Curbishley and BMG Publishing moguls Andrew Jenkins and Nicholas Firth for an industry photo call to celebrate his signing a new worldwide deal with BMG Music Publishing International.

Press Reaction: “For those that were inside Plant and band could have played anything … what we got was pure rock’n’roll nirvana. Close your eyes and it could have been Boston, Anaheim or Madison Square Garden in the early 70s; open them and you appreciate that Plant has emerged from all the potential reformation/supergroup rumours with an integrity that many of his contemporaries have lost. We all knew he was the first, now he’s proved he’s still the best”. (Chris Collingwood/Metal CD)

“If this showing is anything to go by, the upcoming ‘Fate Of Nations’ tour should be Robert’s finest to date. Gig of the year and the best Plant performance since Led Zep at Earls Court!” (Xavier Russell/Kerrang)



Robert Plant’s Fate: Diversity As A Function Of Union

FATE OF NATIONS (Fontana/Es Paranza)

So he’s back and ready to re-establish himself all over again. Of course, being Robert Plant re-establishing yourself doesn’t mean a total change of image or musical stance. He just draws on the many influences that have characterised his journey of the past 30 years and extracts from them as he sees fit.

What’s so refreshing about ‘Fate Of Nations’ is that, for this occasion, Robert has delved into the very essence of his roots going as far back as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson, through Moby Grape, Quicksilver, The Incredible String Band, and Fairport Convention to the music of India and North Africa and, of course, the work of Led Zeppelin. And in taking these influences he has not allowed them to be diluted into a slick or soulless concoction but as he describes it, he has pumped them to inspire a set of new compositions that live and breathe yesterday, and by the same measure, push for the aspirations of tomorrow.

‘Fate Of Nations’ is therefore devoid of any grunge outings if you were looking. It’s also a step away from the rather staid standard rock formula that rendered some of the more mundane moments of ‘Manic Nirvana’ (‘She Said’, Big Love’) into the realms of mediocrity. By surrounding himself with new players and passions, Plant has pleased himself in taking his music where he wants it to go, and not where the consensus of opinion might expect it to go. For that reason alone, this album is vastly different from past solo outings. Almost every track carries its to soul, to rock and back again. Much of it demands utmost attention and does not rest easy on the ears in one listening. It may not be immediately apparent, but given time and repeated playback, the end result is a rewarding experience that tor me again confirms this particular 44 year old’s status as the outstanding vocalist of this or any other era.

The eclectic content of ‘Fate Of Nations’ perhaps also illustrates the difference of musical opinions that now divides Robert and Jimmy – and goes some way to explaining why a Led Zeppelin reunion could never work. Let’s face it, If I Were A Carpenter’ would not have found itself easily on a Zep reunion album. There is a totally different atmosphere prevailing on Robert’s album than that of the Coverdale Page set. Jimmy’s music is built on relentless riffing that captures a vast vacuum of sound. Robert has seemingly moved away from that stance, preferring to move around organically as he puts it, encompassing different styles and genres.

Not that he has lost his ability to adapt such Zep-like dynamics (witness ‘Calling To You’) when the desire takes him. For the most part though, the dynamics are alternately diversified and for me personally that’s not a problem. I can quite happily enjoy Jimmy and Robert’s respective new works based on their own differing merits and motives.

So this isn’t music that can be pigeon-holed to the cover of Kerrang. This is Robert Plant in 1993, still offering up that vocal style (his singing throughout is quite exemplary) that continues to give him a reason for being … instead of a reason for having been.

The track by track TBL dissection that follows is based on an advance tape and at the time of writing, I did not have access to the individual track listing details regarding who played what etc. Nonetheless this is how it sounded after a week of non-stop airtime on the Totnes Towers tape deck:

It all begins with ‘Calling To You’ which is simply the business. Beginning with some minor key strumming it then tacks into shape via Pete Thompson’s powerful (and yes perhaps Bonham-like) drumming. This really is a definite Zep throwback stomping along with some great dual guitar effects from, I think, Francis and Kevin. At the centre Robert turns in a majestic vocal, often undercutting the mix with additional bizarre phrases that add to the mystery of the lyric. All the old trademarks are intact (“Ohhhh Yeeaahhl”) and as effective as ever. The instrumental refrains have an Eastern quality about them and are further enhanced when one Nigel Kennedy enters to layer on a manic violin solo that recalls to mind the effects on The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows’.

The track fades (“Just fade awaaaay!”) all too soon (this groove could sustain another five minutes in my book) but there is a telling moment as Plant can be heard right at the close to scream “Jimmy!”‘

Could this be Robert’s own personal retort to his former partner? Perhaps illustrating that he can still turn on his sort of dynamic style when required? All in all it’s an infectious and engrossing slab of archetypal Plant that proves that he can still commit himself to this vocal style better than anyone. It’s also one of his best solo tracks to emerge in a very long time.

Elsewhere there are many differering styles to assess. ‘Down To The Sea’ is a quirky, repetitive Cure-like ramble, led by a subtle injection of Eastern table drums. The descriptive nature of the repeated lyric (“When I get older settling down will you come down to the sea”) conjures up video storyboard images of deserted grey beaches and the retired Plant many years hence holding court in carnal Malibu style with a bevvy of beauties still in tow. Vaguely psychedelic and dreamy, this track has a very ambient feel and is a very enjoyable departure.

‘Come Into My Life’ can be viewed as a direct influence of his hanging out with the Fairports. So enter Richard Thompson to add some achingly beautiful guitar licks and Maire Brennan from Clannad to float around Robert’s turn of phrasing. The chorus is heavily scored by a rush of acoustic guitars from which I detected a slight ‘Over The Hills’ leaning. The middle guitar part from Richard is superbly atmospheric and amongst the most elegantly constructed solos I’ve heard in an age. Robert’s vocal (“Ohh when yer get there yer know”) is also superbly recorded, capturing the gentle folk essence of the track but also rising in temperature with the chorus as required without ever losing control. This as  good as anything he’s done in the post Zep years.

“Memory Song” (Spikes Ghost) lurches in on a loping churning riff that proceeds to dominate the tempo. Robert’s vocal is nondescript and slightly phrased. The drum beat has a touch of the ‘Levee Breaks’ about it and towards the end the piece becomes a vehicle for some typical Plant gymnastics (one of which is right out of the fade to ‘Four Sticks’).

The appearance of ’29 Palms’ changes the mood. Already discussed as a single, within the confines of the album, it leaps out as being overtly commercial, with some very Knopfler-like guitar licks and a nice driving feel. Likeable.

‘Colour Of A Shade’ takes over where ‘Liars Dance’ left off on the last album. Framed by a series of attractively overdubbed acoustic guitars, Robert applies a very folksy vocal that leads to an affectionate chorus. Shades of the Incredible String Band prevail throughout. File next to ‘Going To California’.

Side 2 opens with ‘I Believe’. The intro has a distinctly ‘Tears For Fears’ sounding keyboard motif (Chris Hughes influence) before moving into a very pretty strident mid-tempo chorus-led excursion likely to be pulled as the next single. Lyrically it’s not too difficult to detect a very personal message in the lyric (“Say brother sister see your brother in the sky”), which is duly reflected in the emotional content of Robert’s singing. “Like the wind you are free so talk to me, talk to me”. I guess we all know how the latter line will be extended in a live setting. There’s a very Beatlish flavour to the guitar solo here and overall this is another successful deviation from the expected.

Promised Land’ is more traditional fare, a bluesy strut with some prominent organ early on, before the familiar harmonica merges with some stinging guitar at times embellished by wah wah effects. His vocal here has a very retro feel which is almost ‘Physical Graffiti’ in texture. There’s an offbeat peculiarity about the whole track that draws you in on subsequent listening.

Another departure heralds the arrival of Great Spirit’. Set against a muted wah wah guitar effect played slow and moody, Robert croons over a repeated background chorus (“Great spirit comes”). Soulful and tasteful with some impressive guitar soloing but not a riff in sight. The lyrics include a reference to the album title and it all mellows out into the distance via some echo vocal effects as the master heeds the lyrical call of a previous incarnation (“Sing and Celebration”).

“Greatest Gift opens with string induced grandeur. This is an epic love ballad, again more soulful than bluesy. It livens up for each power chorded chorus before returning to a very moody and mellow theme aided by some silky smooth guitar lines. The addition of a full string accompaniment adds to the epic nature of the piece. The whole thing has a widescreen effect and it strikes me that the song would make a great movie soundtrack theme. Plant’s impassioned vocal just soars.

And then . . . Robert joins such illustrious company as Bobby Darin, The Four Tops, Johnny Cash, and The Band Of Joy in covering the Tim Hardin 60s classic ‘If I Were A Carpenter1. It’s a superb performance beautifully sung with full respect for the original and underscored by a subtle snare injection and another lush string arrangement. It’s a song he was familiar with long before there was Led Anything around circa 1967 and though it’s hardly the usual formula, it proves to be a perfect vehicle for his voice. And who knows, it could be a huge smash if extracted as a single at the right time.

And that is ‘Fate Of Nations’. An album that explores many different facets of Robert Plant’s compound of influences. It may take a few repeated listening but stick with it, because the end result will be immensely satisfying.

Led Zeppelin’s greatest strength was always their sheer diversity, a point clearly not lost on their ex-singer 25 years after their original inception. On ‘Fate Of Nations’ Robert Plant employs diversity as a function of union. Share it with him at your earliest opportunity.

Dave Lewis  – April 25th 1993

STOP PRESS Please note early tapes of the album did not carry the track Network News’ which I was unable to review due to the already overdue printing deadlines. Just received the second CD of ’29 Palms’ with the new acoustic ‘Whole Lotta Love’ – it again employs Rainer on steel guitar – a sparse bluesy workout very much in harmony with Willie Dixon’s original “You Need Love” which no doubt accounts for the subtitle employed on the sleeve.


 Playing To An Ocean: Robert Plant goes back to the people

From a grand entrance in front of over 100,000 in Milan on May Day 1993, through to the less populated confines of the Kings Head, Fulham and across a variety of European halls and festival dates, Robert Plant’s first tour in three years has produced one of the most intensive and interesting work periods of his entire career. Stretching from the early Spring into late August he has appeared in front of well over a million people.

In launching this new phase of his career, Robert has been firmly committed to taking the music to the people. With little pretentions for the arena rock circuit which by his own admission his audience would be unlikely to extend to filling, Plant and his new line up embarked on a promotional trip that ensured a strong visibility by shrewdly taking a support slot with Lenny Kravitz and making up the bill on several major European festival dates, including a triumphant UK return at Glastonbury.

Alongside the actual live appearances, there have also been the media plugs. These have encompassed a hefty round of promotional TV and radio interviews with the added spice of several acoustic sessions that have been responsible for some surprising performances. The ‘FateOf Nations’ media UK push also propelled the new line up on to the small screen with appearances on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and ‘Later With Jools Holland’ – the latter signalling Robert’s first ever live UK presentation in his own right since the Zepp 1969 one off.

Musically, in assembling a new line up, fresh thinking has been afoot. Gone are the techno wired for sound effects of Chris Blackwell’s drumming and the reliance on keyboards and samples from Phil Johnstone who, for this tour, has been much more prominent on guitar. Gone too, sadly, is Doug Boyle. He has been a much missed part of the line up for many Plant devotees, having carved a considerable nitch for himself during the previous four years. In revamping the line up Plant appeared to have struck lucky in finding Kevin Scott McMichael, an intelligent player with a seasoned background who displayed a fine alliance with

Plant’s own musical leanings (hence the introduction of the East coast Moby Grape/Springfield influence)., However, judging by his swift exit at the end of the European tour, it would appear all was not so well, and Plant was forced to hastily insert a replacement with the addition of Innes Sibun (see USA tour watch for more details). To the left of the lead singer has stood Francis Dunnery, a strident guitarist well versed in the Page songbook and a strong personality on stage (can’t say I was over enamoured with the green shorts mind!). His stay could also be limited as there are plans for him to tour in his own right in  early ’94.

On drums, Michael Lee has proved to be an excellent addition with a no frills attitude to attacking the kit (Calling To You) coupled with a subtlety in his approach when the occasion demands (witness the rimshot style on the new arrangement of Ship Of Fools).

The actual set list employed seems to have caused quite a division amongst the faithful. After the No Led Anything approach pre-83, the contention of what to play seems to have come full circle. This time out there has been a renewed emphasis on performing Zep numbers – a total of 11 were aired along the tour against a ratio of 9 of his solo outings (plus two non originals).

Of those nine Plant solo outings, none of the songs delved back further than the 1988 Now And Zen album. It’s almost ironic that many of the diehards I’ve spoken to said they would have preferred Robert to have reinvestigated earlier solo tracks such as Pledge Pin and Burning Down One Side at the expense of a Zep delivery or two.

Of the Zep numbers re-employed Thank You and What Is And What Should Never Be received their first live airings in 20 years and seemed to be most welcome by all that heard them. The actual structure of the set was changed to match the differing time slots – a rigid 45 minute set was the norm for the supports to Lenny while the festival set was elongated to over an hour. The UK meanwhile received something like the duration that the US leg enjoyed with plenty of encore surprises – the most striking of which was the verses of Dazed And Confused performed at the NEC. Three tracks were used as set openers with Tall Cool One eventually emerging as the key choice over Hurting Kind and Calling To You.

Visually his persona seemed a throwback to the golden age with the hair back to Earls Court centre parted length. Time has not been too kind to his facial lines however and I also observed something of a receding hairline when the sweat dripped off the hair. But he looked fit enough -incorporating that new whirling dance style with perhaps a more paced physical approach that kept the peacock preening for later in the set.

In amongst all the media saturation Robert has played off the usual Zep investigations with a combination of flippancy and perception. Sometimes appearing not to care too much about the past, while at other times keen to re-affirm their greatness and affectionately talk of John Bonham.

One of the illuminating comments that have surfaced in more than one interview, is Plant’s observation that towards the end Led Zeppelin had become less of a passion for him and would not have survived in the 80s for all that long. “One thing’s for sure it would have seemed pretty silly today” was one such comment. This quote from a French radio interview also summed up his thoughts of the state of play back then. “Could we have continued? It’s impossible to say It’s a long time ago and I’m dealing with the present and the future now. And if I look back it’s all a long way back. I think there are some things you just grow out of. Led Zeppelin was very instant and motivated and you can’t keep that going forever. It really was a very big exciting animal. And maybe the animal had gone to the zoo . . .”

The other media cat and mouse game surrounded the Coverdale Page project with Robert again mixing some guarded replies with a few unsubtle and unnecessary snipes. When it comes to such matters, he should really let the music do the talking.

And it was the music that was the real focal point of this return to the people. And for me the most striking factor through it all, has been the quality of his vocals – with performances such as Thank You’ and ‘I Believe’ recalling the purity of those early teenage Atlantic recordings of nigh on a quarter of a century ago.

In fact some 20 years after he first introduced us to the ethic on the ‘Houses Of The Holy’ album, Robert Plant is still singing to an ocean . . . and judging by the reaction to this European tour. . . the ocean hasn’t lost its way…..

 Dave Lewis  – July 1993

First published in Tight But Loose issues 8 and 9

Copyright Dave Lewis/TBL –not to be reproduced without prior permission  – Compiled via the TBL Archive with thanks to Gary Foy

Postscript 2012:

The ocean still hasn’t lost its way….


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  • Michaela said:

    Just home from Gloucester gig ……amazing!!! Such a privilege. I wont spoil it …. Just an amazing night ….and to top it all ….perfect rendition of the haunting ‘Siren Song!’

  • Kam said:

    I still have the lyrics sheet to ‘nirvana’ stashed away somewhere safe from the kings head gig. All written in big felt tip pen and sticky tape on the corners.

    Can’t remember taking it but remember those two dates clearly, in the public bar for most of the afternoon for the first one, turning round and seeing nigel Kennedy standing behind me during the show, talking to doug boyle at the end of the second show and then in the queue on MTV.

    The Kings Head is called something else now, the interior and exterior have all been refurbished. I drive past it every now and again and it’s not what it used to be.

    All these years later and can’t get to Gloucester or London… work and life changes things, back then it was different priorities!

    Must try and find that Nirvana lyrics sheet!

  • André Cruz said:

    Plant in another new project. Sounds good but it`s another one without Jimmy.
    When one of them passes away, the other will think: “Now it`s really gone, I will never work again with my music soulmate…”
    It´s completely stuppid !!!
    I wish Page would release a new album at least.
    Zep fans can see Plant every year but fail to see the Lord of Strings on a tour again…
    Just a fan down here in south-america, happy to almost complete the 1998 Page & Plant last tour boot`s collection.
    14 years gone, 12 without a single Page tour.
    It´s enough for me !

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