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DAVE LEWIS DIARY: INTERVIEWING WHISPERING BOB HARRIS/HATS OFF/MATCH OF THE DAY/ JOHN BARRY/HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR FOY

9 February 2011 10,232 views 13 Comments

Bob Harris with Robert 2008

The bearded man I was sat across from last Tuesday lunchtime at the Heights bar in London, was directly responsible for enlightening myself and thousands of other Led Zeppelin fans, via his announcements from the TV screen on Tuesday and Friday nights back in the 1970s.

He was the man who introduced the stunning sequence that accompanied the premier of a new Led Zeppelin track on the evening of Tuesday, March 20th 1973. ‘’It’s the band’s use of dynamics’’, he said in that calm whispering tone, ‘’And their vision of mood and texture which to my mind along with their stunning musicianship, makes Led Zeppelin just about the best rock band in the world. Their fifth album is almost out and here is some music from it.

‘’This is Led Zeppelin and No Quarter.’’

Two years later on January 17th, 1975 he aired an interview he had conducted backstage in Brussels’s a week earlier with Robert Plant, closing the sequence with the words ‘’The singer in the best rock and roll band in the world.’’

He was equally enthusiastic when playing two tracks from Physical Graffiti on Friday February 21st, 1975 and again a year later on Tuesday April 6th, 1976 when he previewed Achilles Last Stand.  Six months later on November 2nd, 1976, the one they nicknamed Bomber got it spot on when he summarised the exclusive Whistle Test screening of Jimmy’s Song Remains the Same mountain sequence with the words ‘’That’s an incredible piece of film’’

Some 35 years on, his love of Led Zeppelin and in particular the recent work of Robert Plant was well in evidence when I conducted an interview with Bob Harris – the voice of the Old Grey Whistle Test and legendary radio DJ.

With the esteemed  Bomber – Band Of Joy gig – Mayfair One September 1st 2010

Our conversation recalled those Whistle Test years and much more – in particular his championing and empathy of the music of Nashville, Alison and Buddy, Patty etc which has had a direct influence on the singer in the best rock’n’roll band in the world. Their close friendship in recent years has been more than apparent. In 2006 Robert got up and jammed with Bernie Marsden at Bob’s 60th birthday party and it was Bob who together with Ibrahm from Tinariwen, introduced Robert when he received the Q Outstanding Contribution award in 2009.

Talking about the ingredients that makes the Band Of Joy work so effectivelyl Bob said ‘’What clearly has taken root in Robert’s mind is this idea of layering voices. First of all he finds his voice matches so beautifully with that of Alison. Now he has Patty who like Alison has a voice of an angel and additionally you’ve got Buddy and Darrell, both of whom are great harmony singers. So you’ve suddenly got this wall of voices and Robert loves working within that. At certain times he’s not the lead singer anymore as he has all these voices around him that are so strong. Those voices become a texture as much as anything.’’

Summarising his affinity with Robert, Bob had this to say:

‘’There are so many so many aspects to Robert that I think are amazing. He is one of the totally great voices of all time. He never stands still – he’s got this amazing mind. He’s fabulous company – he’s a very exciting person to be around on every level. Things happen when you’re with Robert, its incredible.  I’ve seen some amazing performances from him over the years – The Band Of Joy showcase in London last year, the New Orleans Jazz Festival with Alison and seeing them do Battle Of Evermore – that was very special, the O2 reunion concert -that had to be a five star concert and it was. He’s never been less than amazing every time, because he puts his heart and soul into it. He’s got such a stature and I have huge respect and affection for him. Robert is one of the big figures in my life’’

It was a joy to be in the company of the man who for me (alongside of the late John Peel and Alan Freeman) has been, and continues to be one of the most influential broadcaster of all time. The full interview with Bob Harris will be in the next issue of Tight But Loose and look out for a series of radio programmes later in the year celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Old Grey Whistle Test.

For details of Bob’s activities visit www.bobharris.org

Bob’s Saturday night into Sunday show airs on BBC Radio Two from midnight. Each week  he raids his personal record collection and plays overlooked and forgotten gems – including rockabilly, early rock and roll, 60s psychedelia and 70s album tracks alongide an eclectic mix of new tracks from the world of Americana, Alt Country, Indie, World, Nu-Folk and Blues. His country show Bob Harris Country airs on BBC Radio Two on Thursdays between 7pm and 8pm. Both shows are highly recommended.

Interviewing Bob was a great way to start the month of February – of which this mantra I read a few years back somewhere always gives me a lift:

‘’January is a 31 day hangover but February brings lambs, daffodils and the air fills with a magical quickening that tells you spring is on the way.
”February is short so whatever you’re trying to stretch, whether it’s your salary, your calorie intake or your booze units, February’s unique compactness helps you spread it just that little bit thicker. A good enough reason to raise a glass”.

I’ll drink to that little notion

Yes February is here and there is a lot to do. In amongst trying to pin down the answers to such Over Europe ‘80 topics as the occasion the UK singer Toyah met up with the band at an aftershow party, the gig when Robert Plant linked the 18th century writer James Fenimore Cooper with Jimmy and the assessment Robert gave of England’s 2-1 win over Spain in the European Championships (all of which will eventually be revealed in the forthcoming book if I ever get it finished!), there’s has been a couple of days out.

Couple of weeks back ticket legend Cliff Hilliard took Tom and I over to Leighton Buzzard where we met with Phil H and Mark Harrison – the latter just back from five weeks in Australia. The occasion was the third ever gig of tribute band Hats Off To Led Zeppelin at the excellent Wheatsheaf pub. It was good to see a very strong turn out for Simon and the Hats off lads (Hi Michaela and Jez and Geoff and Linda).

Tom was a little worried when we got there to see a couple of people playing darts on the stage before the band set up (‘’Wouldn’t want to be the drummer tonight’’ was Mr Locke’s appropriately dry comment). Luckily said dart board was removed when they set their gear up.

Hats Off  went down a storm.  Wisely the band kept the set to a hit packed selection with no overlong pieces. So Good Times Bad Times ,Communication Breakdown, Living Lovin’ Maid, Out On The Tiles, Black Dog, Kashmir,Whole Lotta Love etc were delivered in a no messin’ style –Simon on drums getting the old Bonzo trademarks pretty spot on..

And what’s not to like? Well absolutely nothing judging by the audience response where young and slightly older (that’s us) got our collective Zep rocks off in a packed pub on a Friday night deep in the heart of Bedfordshire.

This reaction reminded me of that old adage, conjured up by the esteemed writer and film maker Cameron Crowe in the sleeve notes to that Led Zep publishing promo CD set.

‘’To anybody who’s ever thrown a party, or a DJ who’s ever searched for the perfect music to galvanize and audience. It’s no secret –Play Led Zeppelin. To any band who ever needed a sure-fire cover song, or any musician looking for clues on how to mix textures, cross musical boundaries or just plain rock ,there’s no substitute – Play Led Zeppelin.

Play it they did and rock we did.

Hats Off To Led Zeppelin are back in action at the Shootpool club in Aylesbury this Saturday February 12th. They are due on stage around 10pm.

Well worth a night out. For details see www.hatsofftoledzeppelin.co.uk/

A couple of Friday’s back, I hooked up with the esteemed ex Wallbanger footballers Tom, Dec, Phil and Max for our annual outing to the public houses of darkest Islington. Sexist comments in the nature of Andy Gray and Richard Keyes were kept to a minimum of course. (Note to overseas readers: Thye are a couple of football commentators for Sky Sports TV who have been removed from their duties for various inappropriate comments)

The Wallbanger 5 – Islington January 28th 2011. The scarves remain the same. Combined Led Zeppelin/Robert Plant gigs attended between us – 132

Talking of the disgraced Keyes, he was responsible for one of the more bizarre moments of Robert Plant’s 1980s solo career. In 1985 the new media friendly Plant made an appearance on the national morning channel TVAM to plug the Shaken N Stirred album. He lined up on the sofa with Irish radio DJ Gloria Hunniford and was interviewed by Keyes. In a surreal moment they cut to an advert break with the on screen slogan ‘’Back soon with Honni and Heavy’’. Honni and heavy…oh yes, you had to see it to believe it! Heavy as in metal or heavy as in led? Who knows – hope the aforementioned Keys didn’t ask if he’d smashed it. Note to Gary Davies – is this one in your archive? It needs you-tubing!

As for football, well Spurs are just managing to hold in there in their fifth place though it’s been the usual ups and downs – the Fulham FA Cup exit being the latest downer –Niko Kranjcar’s last minute winner against Bolton a considerable upper. I have been watching Match Of The Day since 1966 and I have to say last Saturday’s edition was one of the finest. 41 goals, Newcastle’s comeback against Arsenal from 4-0 down (sorry Cliff!), eight goals at Goodison Park between Everton and Blackpool and Man United ‘s unbeaten run coming to an end against Wolves (bet that caused some joy for the Band Of singer). It was indeed a wonderful advert for the beautiful game.

I am not a big watcher of films but I am certainly a big admirer of film themes. It was therefore sad to hear the news of the death of legendary composer John Barry. Before meeting with Bob Harris I zipped into the excellent JB’s vinyl store near Oxford Street and flicking through the singles box chanced upon the seven inch single of John Barry’s Theme From The Quiller Memorandum /Wednesday Child on CBS.

This in turn led me on a search of  E-bay that resulted in the purchase of his 1967 album John Barry Conducts His Great Movie Hits on vinyl. Those lush sweeping orchestral scores from You Only Live Twice to Born free are a timeless reminder of more innocent days. The young session man Jimmy Page shared a studio with John Barry on more than one occasion during that era and I am sure he contributed to the Goldfinger soundtrack. John Barry’s iconic compositions will certainly be the backdrop to the many hours ensconced in front of this screen in the next few days.

Vinyl excellence!

Other stuff offering inspiration on the player: A lot of Over Europe 80 shows appropriately enough – I love the almost ghostly feel of the Stairway To Heaven delivery of that tour –and while we are on that subject – thanks for all the votes that have come in for the TBL Stairway at 40 TBL Poll – keep em coming (Jose your list was brilliant!).

Jethro Tull’s Aqualung as purchased at Fopp on the Wallbanger day out – (some comments on Ross Halfin’s site about the merits of this 1971 classic prompted this purchase), obscure early 70s singer songwriter Bill Fay’s album Time Of The Last Persecution and a neat Ronnie Lane compilation (than you John P.) and an Old Grey Whistle Test CD compilation given to me by Bob Harris and his wife Trudie and signed for me by Bob. My good friend Dec and I had a bit of fun assessing the contents of this one in the pub when I met him after the interview. The expected 70s classics are there such as Lynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama, Patti Smith’s Because The Night, Al Stewart Year Of The Cat in amongst some lot gems such as Todd Rundgren’s I Saw The Light ,The Faces Ooh La La  Curved Air’s Back Street Luv and Television’s Marquee Moon – the latter of which Dec and I saw at the Hammersmith Odeon with Blondie supporting back in May 1977.

That was around the time Swan Song Records was the place to be seen on the Kings Road in Chelsea. Dave Cavanagh’s piece on the rise and fall of the Swan Song empire in this months Uncut is an enjoyable read though I spotted one or to omissions to the story. I was lucky enough to be in the confines of number 484 Kings Road a fair few times back in that period. It was a pretty amazing place to be for this impressionable ace Zep fan – I took it all in at the time and I have a host anecdotes stored up ready for the memoirs.

I’ve also been catching up with the barrage of latest Band Of Joy You Tube clips, including Robert’s appearance on the David Letterman show. Billy Fletcher who has been over for the New York shows sent me a text that read ‘’New York shows were fuckin’ brilliant Dave, Band Of Joy just get better and better’’. Praise indeed for a man who has seen the man sing live more than most. I’d love to have been there.

The feature and interview with Robert in the Observer review that ran a couple of  Saturday’s ago was (alongside the recent Rolling Stone piece) one of the best overviews of his current standing. This observation from the singer was particularly poignant I felt.

‘’Yes I do have to do this. It’s exactly what I have to do. If you’re a singer you can never say this is where the voyage ends, the job is never done. Once you have got it you cannot sit on it. I have to try and change the landscape, whatever it is. I have to find a new place to ply my trade, to get lost in another place, and locate myself again. I am an older man now and it’s even more important.’’

In a week where the death of Gary Moore has shocked and saddened the rock fraternity (TBL contributor Stephen Humphries’ obituary of the Irish legend was a beautiful testament), it was a stark reminder of how precious the talent of our heroes is, as they apply themselves into an inevitable twilight era. I will certainly be giving the singer a big cheer when his name comes up on the screen as a nominee at the Grammy’s and Brits ceremonies over the next week. In my book he is the winner every time.

Last but not least I am sure you will join me in wishing Gary Foy a happy birthday today.

Our paths first crossed in the darkened confines of the Marquee Club in London on the late afternoon of February 3rd 1988 prior to Robert Plant’s showcase gig. Hi innocuous question ‘’Are you Dave Lewis?’’ has led to a friendship that flourishes and inspires on a daily basis. He is the absolute cornersone of the TBL operation and has done so much to make the ongoing TBL appreciation of all things Zep and beyond happen in the way that it does.

I am hoping to hook up with him on Friday night as he comes over to Bedford for a whistlstop tour. A beer ot two will be drunk and the toast will be ‘’Happy Birthday Gary Foy – fellow keeper of the flame’’

Happy birthday mate – sorry about the pics!

With Howard Mylett – Brighton Janaury 18th 2011

Outside 96 St. Marks New York – April 1995

With the singer in the best rock’n’ roll band in the world – Cropredy 1993

Cold and tired on the way back from Istanbul via Athens airport – March 1998

Hats off to GF – Istanbul – March 1998

In the Totnes  Close TBL HQ Garden – double neck guitar shaped swimming pool just out of view.

Tired and emotional in Shepherds Bush -December 30th 2010 – Happy birthday mate!

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13 Comments »

  • Pete Leigh said:

    i miss bedford

  • RichardG said:

    Belated birthday wishes (or maybe they’re early for next year!) heading your way Gary, hope the hangover is wearing off by now?!? 🙂

    Thanks for all the hard work, you deserve one night off at least!

  • David Linwood said:

    Happy Birthday Foy-Boy!
    A fave Foy-Boy Quote from Poole-95: “I don’t care what curry you had, its F*%king £10”

  • Nic Crawley said:

    Hi Dave,
    great read from another ex Wallbanger fantastic to see pictures of the rest of the guys would loved to have been there.But i guess it was nobodys fault but mine that i could not be !!!

  • Kam said:

    Happy Birthday Gary

  • Gary said:

    Thanks for all the kind birthday wishes…looking forward to seeing you all sometime this year…xx

  • Jez said:

    Happy birthday Mr Foy. Fantastic pictures, Mick and I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing you again soon.

  • russell ritchin said:

    BRILLIANT READ AS USUAL DAVE GREAT TO SEE THE LEGEND THAT IS GARY FOY
    OH YES AND A COUPLE OF OTHER GUYS ROBERT PLANT & WHISPERING BOB
    ALL LEGENDS REALLY.

    LOVE ALL THE PHOTOS GREAT TO HAVE THOSE MEMORIES ALSO GOOD TO SEE
    HOWARD AS WELL.

    HAVE A GREAT ROCKIN BIRTDAY GARY THANKS FOR YOUR EFFORTS ALONG WITH DAVE IN KEEPING THE ZEP CANDLE BURNING BRIGHT.

  • Kathy Urich said:

    Dave as always a great read. A very Happy Birthday to Gary, may the next year bring continued Zeppelin magic. Thanks for all you do to keep the fantastic TBL alive and well.

  • Terry Boud said:

    Hi Gary

    Have a great day mate. See you soon.

    Terry

  • STEVE WAY said:

    yep…happy birthday Gary
    just wondering why no Kensington roof top gardens pictures though

  • Lorraine Robertson said:

    A fantastic read as ever Dave….
    Happy Birthday to Gary and I love the pics…hmmm especially one of them!!! All the best to you both…x

  • Michael Rae, Australia said:

    Happy Birthday Gary!

    Many thanks for your efforts that play such an important part in keeping the fantastic TBL show on the road. I hope to catch up with you and Dave in the UK sometime in 2011 and shouting you a belated happy birthday pint.

    Cheers,

    Michael

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