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9 October 2017 1,255 views One Comment

TBL Countdown to the new Robert Plant album 4 days to go and counting….so it’s Robert Plant week on TBL..

To celebrate the release Robert Plant’s forthcoming album Carry Fire this Friday, over the next few days leading up to the release date, it’s Robert Plant week on TBL – with daily archive postings. Today I look back to his first post Zep solo album Pictures At Eleven.

Pictures at Eleven – Still vivid at  35

Robert Plant’s first solo album was a personal  career watershed to rival Led Zep 1 

For the former singer in the biggest band in the world, the post Zeppelin career rebuilding process can be traced along the highways and the byways of the North of England in the late spring of 1981. Stopping off at Bradford University, the R’n’B ad-hoc line up The Honeydrippers he had established performed on one of the larger stages of their infrequent itinerary. At the soundcheck Plant, sensing ±e bigger surroundings of the platform, begins warming up with a version of The Beatles. Day Tripper, spinning around at the end of the stage in a once customary manner now seemingly redundant, Guitarist Robbie Blunt comes out of that 6o’s skit and hones down on a descending blues riff… “Oh I dont know, oh I dont know, oooohh yeah,” repeats Plant over the riff. After two or three minutes they stop. “Hey that might be enough for a song” Plant laughs and turns to Blunt. “You never know,” comes the thick Midlands-accented retort.

Within a couple of months during that summer of 1981 Plant and his new writing partner -ad indeed sensed the possibilities of a creative partnership that had periodically reared r’s head in the lighter moments of The Honeydrippers.

As he recalled at the time, “The Honeydrippers had been great fun to do without the usual pressures. Slowly though Robbie and I began to look at each other and realised that it wasn’t going to be that serious so we started writing little bits and pieces in between gigs”.

Joining him at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth was ex-Ashton Paice and Lord bassist Daul Martinez and keyboard player Jezz Woodroffe who Plant had met when inquiring about buying a synth in a local music shop. His past credentials included a touring stint with 31ack Sabbath.

Plant, Blunt, and Woodroffe had already turned in some demos at Plant’s four track home studio – notably Fat Lip with the aid of a Roland drum machine and an excellent Blunt-led tiid-tempo rocker Far Post that strangely would not make the final album selection.

The problem of who would fill the drum stool was the biggest dilemma. After so many Plant chose to employ a variety of percussionists. Early demo work even included the then 14 year old Jason Bonham, and Bad Company’s Simon Kirke was another initial contributor.

The first recording sessions at Rockfield though employed Cozy Powell – the big hitting drummer who had previously backed Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore. Powell added the necessary backbeat ooomph to two of the more intense compositions – Like I’ve Never Been Gone and the full-throttled Slow Dancer. “Cozy came in like a typhoon. Everyone realised we were playing rock’n’roll. He came in at the middle of it and let fly” recalled Plant.

On a whim Plant then called a pre-mega solo fame Phil Collins – then jobbing Genesis front man and all-round reliable drummer for hire. Collins was more than happy to participate – later taking the drum stool for the first Plant band US tour.

For Plant the whole recording process as a solo artist proved to be an emotional one and there was one seal of approval that he was more than keen to gain. In early 1982 Plant took the completed tape of the album over to Jimmy Page’s Windsor home. “It was an emotional time. We sat there together with my hand on his knee just listening. He knew although about to embark on the first steps of a new career, Plant also found himself confronted with his past. Atlantic had been harbouring for a final Zeppelin album and in the autumn of 1981 Page began trawling the tape archive to assemble what would emerge the following November as Coda. Plant and Jones were both actively involved in the final selection and sleeve design. Plant attended some of the overdubbing and mixing sessions at the Sol adding a new vocal to the ’72 Houses Of The Holy leftover Walters Walk.

In the early spring of ’82, Plant handed over the master tapes of his own solo album and did a photo shoot with photographer Michael Hoppen for the sleeve design. The album would be known as Pictures At Eleven a wordplay on the TV news programme News At Ten.

The album was released on June 25 and entered the Music Week UK chart at number 2 and quickly climbed to the top 3 of the Billboard US listings. The UK chart position was a remarkable feat considering there had been no pre-release single and Plant only gave one UK press interview to Kerrang prior to release.

Though he had yet to formulate any live touring plans he did perform at the Princes Trust benefit show at London’s Dominion Theatre in July turning up with Robbie Blunt to perform Worse Than Detroit from the new album. Plant spent the next few weeks on a promotional tour taking in New York in the summer – his first visit to America since 1977.

He conducted a round of interviews including an MTV chat with long-term Zeppelin DJ associate JJ Jackson.

His whole persona defined the new fresh thinking. The bouffant hair, the casual suits -it was all a long way from the cock-rock poses of a few years back. Then there was his new-found eagerness to court the media – always a no-go area with his former band.
Now there were TV and radio interviews and even a guest spot as a panellist on Mike Read’s Pop Quiz TV show. The visual media age was upon us and Plant was more than happy to embrace it.

Back in the UK he shot a low budget video for Burning Down One Side for Dave Robinson’s Stiff Films which was aired on the Old Grey Whistle Test in September alongside a studio interview with Mark Ellen and David Hepworth.

Though the single made little impression, the album continues to rack up healthy sales on both sides of the Atlantic. It was the inspiration for Plant to retain the momentum and begin recording a second album The Principal Of Moments which was released the following June. Plant then embarked on a lengthy world tour kicking off in the US in August ’83 and taking in the UK, Australia and Japan. His solo career was well and truly up and running.

On the eve of that first tour he reflected on the past 18 months. “One thing about being a member of a close-knit family is that you can never imagine being without it. So when you evaluate your position and what it takes to make you function, you find that the most important thing is to express yourself with whatever the god’s have given you. To that extent Pictures At Eleven will always remain a major part of my life, symbolically if nothing else.”

My Pictures At Eleven

Pictures At Eleven bust into my life amidst the 1982 World Cup. I’d been keenly anticipating its arrival for months. At the time I was ensconced in collating the best material from the first six issues of Tight But Loose which would emerge as my first book The Final Acclaim. I’d had a firsthand report of the album from Robert himself after he had rung me to request I attend a meeting with Jimmy and Robert in Swan Song in March. At their request I brought in various cuttings and pics for them to mull over for what would emerge as the Coda sleeve. “My album is finished and it will be ready in the summer. It’s a new beginning and a re-birth,” he told me that memorable afternoon.

The Warner’s record company rep that called on the record outlet where I worked kept me informed of the release schedule showing me a preview of that new stylish image on the cover. A pre-release white label would be with me shortly he promised. He was as good as his word for after calling into work late on the afternoon of Friday 18 June (coincidentally two years to the day that I’d seen them in Cologne) there it was. It was with bated breath that 1 stuck the stylus down on this precious vinyl and awaited the new birth as he had put it. Out came the reassuringly potent Burning Down One Side to usher in a new era.

Initial impressions were most favourable. Moonlight In Samosa and Like I’ve Never Been Gone carried familiar emotional qualities and Slow Dancer was a definite nod back to that field in dim quivering liquid light of the hi-fi flickering, Plant’s re-assuring vocal cutting the air “In the darkness, in the darkness, yeah yeah”.

Further excitement arrived with the publication of Kerrang with a cover story interview with Robert and the distribution of the limited edition promo Interview album which came my way via the Warner’s rep.

The album was duly released on Monday 25 June. A week later the Warner rep called in to tell me the album had entered the chart at number 2, a fantastic result – a call to Sain at Swan Song confirmed the triumph. As for the World Cup, suffice say England did not share such triumph exiting-left two days after the UK release of Pictures with Kevin Keegan missing that last minute header against the Spanish – curses!

However, there was a major silver lining ahead.

A month later there was an opportunity to see the man on the boards. Robert was added to the Princes Trust charity show at London’s Dominion Theatre alongside Pete Townsend, Madness and Jethro Tull. It was another memorable evening for resident TBL crew member Tom Locke and myself -not least for the opportunity to meet Prince Charles.  Robert did a scorching version of Worse Than Detroit with Robbie Blunt on guitar and a house band that included Pete Townshend. It was more than evident he could still command a stage with ease.

There was further activity in the early autumn with the release of the Burning Down One Side 12″ with the brilliant Far Post on the B-side. Plus the screening of the video on Whistle Test. Far Post was top of my play-list in the weeks leading into the winter to be finally side lined by the arrival of Coda… but that’s another story.

Pictures At Eleven was definitely the sound of the summer all of 30 years ago – on the deck before every visit to the pub and in between all those World Cup matches. Snapped in to the Walkman that sometimes accompanied me on my training runs for a half marathon I was then undertaking. From the adversity of the disablement of Zeppelin, Robert had emerged with fresh new music-and a firm indication that the new phase of his career was going to prove very fruitful, it was a reassuring time for Zeppelin fans the world over.

35 years on

So all these years later I still have much affection for Pictures At Eleven. It retains an innocence and purity somewhat lacking in subsequent Plant solo efforts. Being his first post-Zeppelin music to be released it was an absolute landmark release. It could not have been easy trying to escape the shadow of the past.

The actual recording marked Plant’s first proper studio work since the final Zep album In Through The Out Door three years earlier. In starting anew there was nothing too radical in his approach.

Lining both album’s up side-by-side there are still obvious parallels. Burning Down One Side possesses the rumbling robust pleading of In The Evening. Both Moonlight In Samosa and Like I’ve Never Been Gone carry the melancholy feel associated with All My Love. Worse Than Detroit was the sort of blues-rock-stomp Zep did in their sleep while Slow Dancer offered the epic and dynamic flavour that characterised the likes of Carousalambra.

Elsewhere there were new places to go. Bonzo would have given short shrift to any use of a drum machine -but its deployment on Fat Lip sounded just right for the tune. Saxophones too would not be heard on a Zep album but Rav Ravenscroft’s Baker Street-like solo considerably lightened the load on Pledge Pin.

The main difference from ’79 to ’82 was of course the lack of Jimmy Page. Gone were the plangent glides and swooping wide-screen riffs to be replaced by the more refined guitar style of Robbie Blunt. More Chet Atkins than Scotty Moore, Blunt brought his own finger-picking style to the proceedings offering up a more polished sheen courtesy of his use of the Fender Stratocaster

The Kidderminster born ex-Bronco guitarist proved to be an inspired foil for Plant. Blunts no-nonsense pretension-free approach to both his playing and his role as Plant’s new sidekick and writing partner diverted any comparisons with his former partner.

Blunt excelled in providing a free flowing style that allowed the singer to breathe and interpret the songs entirely as he saw fit. Gone was the competitive edge of the Zep era -Plant was now in control and to his credit Robbie Blunt had no problem with that.

Listening to it now Pictures at Eleven still carries a cohesion lacking in subsequent Plant albums. The main criticism I’d harbour is with the actual recorded sound and overall production. Even for the pre-digital techniques of the early ‘8o’s the production sounds incredibly thin. Was it the studio? Plant’s own inexperience in now being hands-on, in the recording process? Clearly he could have benefited from some of Page’s influence as the sonic architect and master producer of all those Zep sessions.

That said, the actual songs stand up very well. Lyrically Plant reflects the vulnerability he must have been subject to at the time. There’s a lyrical starkness about many of the songs that mirror the events and feelings of the time. A rare glimpse into the psyche of the once, and soon to be again, confident front-man. His ego would soon be refuelled via the touring success of the next few years – leading to far less introspection in his writing mirrored in the likes of Doo A Doo, Big Love, etc.

It would not be until the more organic content of Fate Of Nations a decade later that he would return to the more sensitive composition style of this debut album.

Musically too there’s a stark, welcome simplicity in the arrangements. Ahead lay Plant’s perhaps unavoidable, but often uneasy on the ear, preference for 8o’s recording techniques, which would bring forth beat box remixes, sampled percussion, multi-layered backing , vocals, and synthesiser effects that often came out sounding not unlike a whoopie cushion. Pictures retained the power of his past work but not in a glaringly obvious fist clenching way. The songs have an effortless feel throughout but quite complex in terms of construction.

Compare the arrangements on this album to the over-cluttered approach that would rear its head on The Principal of Moments (eg, Stranger Here) and reach something of a crisis with that most difficult of third albums’ Shaken’N’Stirred (eg, Kallalou Kallalou).

Burning Down One side is thankfully devoid of such distractions. It’s straight rock, pretentious rock at that with ample evidence that he could still push his chest out and attack the vocal.

Moonlight In Samosa is built around Blunts acoustic picking – a mid-tempo ballad sung with affection. Pledge Pin hinted at new directions – sparse, urgent and edgy with masterful vocal phrasing, (“As the cavalcade begins to thin do you stop and look around…”) and the best live number bar none of his early tours.

Slow Dancer marks one of the few occasions in that early 8o’s period that Plant faced the shadow of Zeppelin face on, emerging relatively unscathed. What it lacked for in Page finesse, it made up with sheer effort and bravado. “Look I can still do this,” seemed to be the underlying message.

To side 2, track one, and Worse Than Detroit. Clearly Robbie Blunt’s triumph – finger-picking masterfully and chording as required over Plant’s familiar harmonic growl. A blues-rock stomper honed as noted previously on the byways of the North and amongst the backwaters of the Midlands clubs they had frequented when the “Honeydripper was on his way,” to paraphrase the lyric.

The drum machine may have had no place in Zep but it fits perfectly here for Fat Lip which still carries a texture and atmosphere all of its own – and marvel still at that elongated last line “round and round its gonna spi-i-i-i-in”. Blunt again is to the fore putting in strange arpeggio runs with lots of finger stretching.

The anthemic Like I’ve Never Been Gone quickly elevated itself to the main set closer of the early Plant tours. This emotive ballad has worn well with Plant at his pleading best with The nondescript Mystery Title is the album’s one real flaw. A jumpy multi-layered guitar romp which proved if nothing else that this type of arrangement was best delivered in the hands of James Patrick. A far better bet for inclusion on the album would have been Far Post. Somehow relegated to the position of the B side to Burning Down One Side. This rollicking Dire Straight-ish swinger with Jez Wodroffe’s piano well up in the mix and some great harmony guitar, remains a delight. If the Plant catalogue ever gets an overhaul this track is a dead cert as an additional track to the Pictures CD – as it falls entirely within the feel of the album.

35 years on, it’s a timely moment to get re- accustomed with this 1982 first solo release. In terms of the whole Plant career overview, it’s as vital a landmark in the scheme of things as Led Zep 1. Akin to that Zep debut, Pictures represents a breakthrough but on an entirely different level. It was the solo album Plant had never really intended to make. Out of the confines of the Zep safety net it was the moment he had to confront the future on his own.

Whilst it may have been low on production values, the debut Plant solo set clocked in well high in terms of performance and delivery.

He still had it – he could still project it. Pictures At Eleven retains a sense of innocence and purity before the big business kicked back in. It’s an innocence and purity that three decades have done little to erode. That’s why it remains one of Robert Plant’s most durable recorded statements.

Dave Lewis

First written for TBL 16 –Copyright Dave Lewis/Tight But Loose

Carry Fire (Nonesuch/Warner Bros) is released this Friday October 13.


Robert on Later With Jools Holland:

Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters are lined up for this week’s Later with Jools Holland show – appearing on the live show on Tuesday October 10 at 10am and then on the extended show, which airs on Saturday October 13 at 10.30.

Here’s the Later website preview:

Robert Plant returns to the studio to perform songs from his 11th studio album Carry Fire, which he will be touring in the UK in November. Album and tour find Plant teamed up again with his band The Sensational Space Shifters, in a set of songs that combines some haunting tribal rhythms with Plant’s customary inventive flair and sense of urgency.

He is also lined up for an appearance on the BBC One show this week.


Led Zeppelin News Update:
In conjunction with the Led Zep news site, each week I will be re- producing highlights from their weekly email update news summary. This goes out every Sunday. Sign up details are below. Many thanks to James Cook.

Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page

Robert Plant

Robert Plant performing a show for the BBC on October 6 (Twitter/BBC6Music)

Here’s the setlist:

What Is and What Should Never Be
Turn It Up
New World…
Misty Mountain Hop
The May Queen
Carry Fire
In the Light
Bones of Saints
Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down
Whole Lotta Love
The Lemon Song (broadcast separately)

Upcoming events:

October 11 – Redditch Council will decide on plans for a statue of John Bonham in the town centre.
October 13 – Robert Plant’s new solo album “Carry Fire” will be released.
October 23 – Jimmy Page will speak at the Oxford Union.
November 5 – “Yardbirds ’68” by The Yardbirds will be released.
November 16 – Robert Plant will perform in Plymouth.
November 17 – Robert Plant will perform in Bristol.
November 20 – Robert Plant will perform in Wolverhampton.
November 22 – Robert Plant will perform in Llandudno.
November 24 – Robert Plant will perform in Newcastle.
November 25 – Robert Plant will perform in Liverpool.
November 27 – Robert Plant will perform in Glasgow.
November 28 – Robert Plant will perform in Perth.
November 30 – Robert Plant will perform in Manchester.
December 2 – Robert Plant will perform in Belfast.
December 3 – Robert Plant will perform in Dublin.
December 6 – Robert Plant will perform in Sheffield.
December 8 – Robert Plant will perform in London.
December 11 – Robert Plant will perform in Portsmouth.
December 12 – Robert Plant will perform in Birmingham.
February 9 – Robert Plant will perform in Raleigh, North Carolina.
February 11 – Robert Plant will perform in Charlotte, North Carolina.
February 12 – Robert Plant will perform in Norfolk, Virginia.
February 14 – Robert Plant will perform in New York.
February 16 – Robert Plant will perform in Boston, Massachusetts.
February 17 – Robert Plant will perform in Toronto, Ontario.
February 20 – Robert Plant will perform in Chicago, Illinois.
February 22 – Robert Plant will perform in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
February 24 – Robert Plant will perform in Denver, Colorado.
February 26 – Robert Plant will perform in Phoenix, Arizona.
February 28 – Robert Plant will perform in Oakland, California.
March 2 – Robert Plant will perform in Los Angeles, California.
March 30 – Robert Plant will perform at the Byron Bay Bluesfest in Australia

Many thanks to James Cook.

The complete Led Zeppelin News email goes out every weekend. To receive it each week sign up here:

Led Zeppelin News Website: Check out the Led Zeppelin news website at


Look out for another Robert Plant TBL posting tomorrow…

Dave Lewis  – October 9, 2017  

TBL Website updates compiled by Dave Lewis

with thanks to Gary Foy and James Cook

Follow TBL/DL on Facebook:

The TBL/DL Facebook page has regular updates and photos – be sure to check it out.

And follow TBL/DL on Twitter

You Tube Clips:

Robert Plant – Burning Down One Side:

Pledge Pin Live 1983:


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One Comment »

  • Simon said:

    Bit concerned about seeing Planty on this tour. Liked the previous live re-workings with Juldeh, on the whole, which often built into big psychy work-outs. But new version of Misty Mountain Hop with new fiddle man is ‘orrible. In The Light a bit dodgy too. All a bit quiet…

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