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It was 30 years ago today…

4 August 2009 4,106 views 11 Comments

dlkneb30 years ago today, I and thousands of others, were in that field just outside Stevenage eagerly awaiting the live return of Led Zeppelin.

30 years on it’s been like a lifetime… but a second.

Think of Knebworth and the images remain vivid: The campsite,

Tommy Vance’s Friday night rock show filling the air, chants of ‘’Zeppelin’’,’’Zeppelin’’ , the early morning rush for the gates, the long wait during the day ,Skynyrd’s Tuesdays Gone fading from the PA. the screen unfolding…and there in the light performing The Song Remains The Same, Led Zeppelin live before our very eyes.

Thousands of eyes that still hold thousands of memories.

And it’s those memories that make up the centerpiece of ‘’Then As It Was’’, the book I’ve spent many hours over the past few months compiling. When I set upon the task of marking the 30th anniversary of Led Zeppelin’s final UK gigs, I knew it was an event held in high esteem by many fans – but I don’t think even I was quite aware of how much this era means to so many people.

The reasons are manifold. It was for a majority of fans, their first and ultimately only opportunity to see Led Zeppelin perform live. It was also many fans first experience of attending a major rock gathering. Many of them travelled long distances to be there and suffered varying hardships to endure it all. And as an event from the build up, the tension, the speculation, the giant screen, the laser effects etc it was pure Zeppelin theatre. And most importantly musically it was also a valiant renaissance.

Not perfect by any means but then Led Zeppelin live was never about perfection. There were undoubtedly some stunning moments that proved the 1979 Led Zeppelin was alive and well and still had new places to go.

Some of the intensity of 1975 and 1977 may have been missing but there was more than enough evidence at those shows to indicate that the muse was returning. It would surely all have come back given more road work. The Over Europe tour assisted that process, and the 1980s touring campaign would have cemented it.

Getting back to their audience in the UK with say a string of dates at London’s Rainbow, Newcastle City Hall, Manchester etc would have been the beginning of yet another era.

Knebworth would then be viewed not as a glorious end but a glorious rebirth.

Somehow though like Michael Jackson’s ill fated O2 shows, it was never destined to be. The untimely passing of John Bonham led to Knebworth forever remaining in the heart and soul of Led Zeppelin fans as the last hurrah in the UK.

As the book reveals, the memories remain intact. From long coach journeys made from the north east and beyond causing much parental worry, mysterious cries of ‘’wally’’ on the campsite, the crush to gain entry, sleep and sanitary deprivation, the sheer wonder of seeing the band on stage, right through to the rather unfortunate story of a young lady who took a short cut coming out of the arena and ended up quite literally in the s***!

All this for the love of Led Zeppelin.

It’s been a most cathartic experience for me writing the book. In these days of huge uncertainty there was strength to be gained in reliving the more innocent times of 30 years ago. Reading through the many recollections submitted had me laughing out loud and often moved to tears. They are a stark reminder of how events in our youth shape our thoughts and actions for years to come. Yes back then we were mere kids, and our sense of responsibility rarely wandered beyond the next pint, the next album, the next gig.

But events like Led Zeppelin at Knebworth defined who we were and what made us tick. Yes it’s just a band and some songs as I sometimes try and remind myself but in truth it’s so much more. Going to Knebworth in 1979 was an entry into a world of empathy and communication. Empathy for the music of Led Zeppelin and communication with like minded souls whose love for the band knew no bounds. Both those ethics are still very much intact.

‘’Then As It Was’’ is therefore a book about empathy and communication that occurred a long time ago. In a world that has changed beyond recognition.

But it’s still important.

Of all the many words written by fans about their experiences, the final thoughts of Peter Anderson from Stockport stand out: ‘’The journey back was a nightmare’’ he writes, ‘’with our first real hangovers kicking in but it didn’t matter. We were kicked out of the car at 6am and crawled to bed thinking we had witnessed history.’’

‘’Thinking we had witnessed history’’. That line says it all.

That’s exactly how I, and thousands of others felt too.

30 years on we now know we had witnessed history.

What none of us were aware of as we came away from the park that night, was the fact that there would be precious opportunity to be in Led Zeppelin’s company in the future.

So then as it was, it can never be again.

Today, many thousands of fans will be remembering their Knebworth experiences of 30 years ago. It’ll bring to mind a simpler time and the music of a great, great band that still means so much to so many.

And it didn’t rain……

As for me, tonight I’ll be rounding up the local TBL gang, Cliff, Mark Harrison, Terry, Kam etc and re-connecting with the original Bedford Knebworth 4 – Tom Locke and Phil Harris who should be in attendance here and Dec who I’ll be ringing at around 9.40. The neighbours can expect regular cries of ‘‘Oh Jimmy!’’ a chorus or two of ‘’You’ll Never Walk Alone’’ and some rather loud music that ’’ the people in Stevenage ‘’ might here.

Later in the week all roads lead back to Knebworth for more 30th anniversary celebrations. Tickets are still available for the August 8th Event, let me know if you can make it. The book should be ready for shipping out after the weekend. Order it now and you’ll have the perfect companion for your own Knebworth celebrations.

Led Zeppelin were outstanding in their field all of 30 years ago today…

and they still are now.

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  • Pete Anderson said:

    Hi Dave – well thanks for highlighting my recollections in a great taster for the book – I can’t wait to receive it and relive the event. Thanks too for all the work and love that has clearly gone into producing it and the Knebworth get together – very sorry I couldn’t make it. Cheers Pete Anderson

  • Andy Pittam said:

    To you all. Have a fantastic night tonight,would love to have been there but have other commitments. Looking forward to the book and all the fantastic memories. Keep up the good work guys. Make sure all the people in Stevenage can hear you.

  • andrew said:

    being a 14 year old lad in New Zealand i can remember scouring the music mags for articles and pictures and any information about the Knebworth shows that year. No youtube in those days. Remember thinking how cool JPJ looked in his white suit surrounded by his white keyboards haha.

  • Brian Hardie said:

    Great intro to the book , it will i am sure be read with our headphones on and some wine . Better than the cans of Party 4 we watched the gig with …

    Sorry not to be there but live in Cyprus now , missus would brain me to return for a book launch .

    Cant wait to see it should be both a laugh and moving in equel measure for all us oldies who “WENT ON A BLIND DATE ”

    30 YEARS GONE (but not yet ) . Well done !

  • Steve Way said:

    what a great taster for the book to come, i just hope that people that were not at those knebworth shows, can thru your amazingly descriptive narative-capture the atmosphere and headinesss of those (for sure) much more innocent times.
    i still havent given up hope in cutting away from cambridge, to join up with you on saturday for yet another lewis/zeppelin celebration day.

    i think the whole zeppelin community should toff their cap to you sir…

    mines a pint……wally!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  • Chris Wright said:

    30 Years On and I now find myself living over 5000 miles from where it all happened, and yet I still feel totally connected to it, in a way no other gig has ever, or ever will, affect me. As my entry in Dave’s book says, it was all about “being there”. In their years away from the spotlight, the stock of Zeppelin had continued to rise and rise. It’s hard to get over to anyone who wasn’t there just how special it was, at a time of, for many us, an unwelcome music scene revolution. They were back, on the biggest stage of all. It was the gig we all wanted and when it was announced it completely took over our lives. If we had known that, for the vast majority of us, it was the only time we would ever see them, then goodness knows if we would have got any sleep at all in the weeks and days leading up to the 4th!!! In the end, the weight of expectation could never be matched by what we saw and heard on stage that night. But the special significance of it all was set in stone forever on the sad, sad day we all lost Bonzo. This turned out, by far, to be the biggest single concert audience Zeppelin ever played in front of. For me, it was the high point of the Zeppelin years simply because more of us physically connected with the band than on any other occasion. It was just glorious and, as Dave says, it didn’t rain either! How wonderful too, that the real fans who were prepared to queue for tickets got priority over the prawn-sandwich brigade and hangers-on that make large gigs a total pain in these days of hideous vip enclosures and golden circles. We didn’t know it then, but we were not only witnesses to history, but the dying embers of a simpler time in music, and life in general.

  • Jock Joyce said:

    I went to both Knebworths ‘cos Zeppelin were on, went with my brother Mike, Mack, Dease, Andy, Brian and others, camped down there between concerts in woods just off a dual carriage-way after the coppers kicked us out of knebworth on the Sunday and told us long hairs to p!ss off home ! Met 2 scouse lads who shared there food and stuff with us until we got some more money as all our gear and food should have been at the Sounds tent, delivered by Ray Tarrant (the great man who introduced me to the love of my life…Led Zep) but Zep had fallen out with Sounds and there wasn’t a Sounds tent so we had no chance of meeting Ray (no mobiles don’t forget). I was 17, it was brilliant…would love to meet up with the 2 scouse lads again who camped with a few mancs for the days inbetween the concerts ! We were so skint for so long afterwards we had 4 rolls of film that never got developed….If I only regret one thing in my life….!
    Thanks again Ray Tarrant…

  • Mark said:

    omg I was there too…as I write this !1

    It is so spooky, I had no idea. I was playing some zep boots and stumbled across this site only to see it was exactly 30 years ago ))

    Those were the days ))

  • Steve P said:

    What great memories. I too had the same sort of experiences. No sleep lots of beer first big outdoor gig, parents unaware of my whereabouts. Piss being thrown. The fade out of Skynyrd and the start of ‘The Song Remains The Same’ still to this day makes the heart pump and the hairs stand on end each time I hear it.
    I did not get the time to write & submit an expanded version of my weekend but will one day, and I am looking forward to receiving the book.
    A number of e-mails have been sent and received today in recognition of the 4th Aug ’79. My brother still hates the fact he never went (too young) I am still meeting people who went to one or both of these gigs, and some who claim to have gone, but clearly did not. Life changing maybe, maybe not either way the best band and the best gig.
    Great site keep it up sorry can not make Saturday but will be watching the DVD.

  • Colin Barnett said:

    I was there 30 years ago today. Thanks for the memories guys – the best ever. It was 2 months before my 17th birthday so thanks Mum and Dad for even letting me go in the first place, and thanks also to Uncle Ron who somehow found us and picked us up on the hard shoulder of the A1 in his Vauxhall Cresta at 4.00am!

  • Lorraine said:

    Happy 4th of Knebworth !!!!
    thanks for sharing the memories – now I feel I was actually there !!!
    ….what a band indeed
    Lorraine x

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