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JOHN BONHAM 31 YEARS GONE…

24 September 2011 3,968 views 13 Comments

On stage Mannheim July 2nd 1980 -photo from the Led Zeppelin Feather In The Wind -Over Europe 1980 book

John Bonham 31 years gone – and yes it does seem like a lifetime but a second. In the early years of the anniversary I always busied myself on the day. 30 years ago on the first anniversary, I  went to see New Order at Walthamstow Assembly Hall. I hooked up with the Bedford New Order clan led by my good friend Dec (who incidentally is readying an updated version of his New Order book From Heaven To Heaven). I knew the times were a changing when New Order’s entire set ran the same length as a standard Dazed And Confused. A year later on the anniverary, I completed in the Bedford half marathon. Today at some point, I will have some quiet reflection on the tragic events of September 25th 1980 – but as I always say…so much has gone but so much remains…

On the occasion of the 31st anniversary of John Bonham’s passing I thought it would be appropriate to publish the following piece that first ran in TBL 27 last September. It’s written by renowned lifelong Midlands UK fan Gary Davies. It’s a brilliantly evocative and moving overview of Gary’s personal lasting affinity for John Henry Bonham.(DL)

 John Bonham Remembered : How I wish the 1970s had never ended…

Gary Davies recalls his experiences and reaction to the tragedy of John Bonham’s death as a Led Zeppelin fan growing up in the Midlands area John hailed from.

Like many rock music fans of my generation I remember wishing that the 1970s would never end. For us it was an era of total immersion into the world of “rock” – nothing much else in life mattered in those days. For the denim-clad brigade of rockers aged between fifteen and twenty five, the mid to late 1970s was all about the Zep, The Who, Purple, Sabbath, Priest, Queen, UFO, AC/DC, Budgie, Rush, Scorpions, etc., all of whom were being blasted out on BBC radio by those two legendary champions of rock, Alan Freeman and Tommy Vance. So there I was back in the late 70’s earning twenty quid a week as a fork lift truck driver in a warehouse, going out most nights frequenting the rock establishments of Birmingham city centre. I’d have three quid in my pocket, enough for a live band and a few pints of “snake bite” at my favourite rock venue ‘Bogarts’.

Of course, let’s not forget that at that time we found ourselves in the middle of the punk revolution; the Pistols, Gen-X, Clash, Sham 69, et-al. The “filth and the fury” of it all, the spitting and snarling of the safety pin generation had well and truly arrived, and it was wonderful to behold. I never really was into Genesis, Yes, ELP, the opulence ofRick Wakeman’s ice skating Legends of King Arthur theatrical performances, and neither were the punks. In fact, they hated all the Prog-Rock hippy type of bands, and it was unfortunate that they tended to lump Zeppelin into that category, too. The Zep were all too aware of the perception of them as rock dinosaurs, but to their credit, instead of disappearing from view like so many of the established rock giants of the time, they actually engaged themselves with the likes of Generation X and The Damned, with Page, Plant, and Bonham having watched the latter perform at The Roxy club in early 1977. Punk and New Wave was all around and I, like many of my peers, indulged myself in the genre, and in 1978 I made my TV (audience) debut on ATV’s ‘Revolver’ programme! There I was watching The Stranglers and X-Ray Specs, and having a chat with Billy Idol at the side of the stage. Heady days!

Those were good times, but as a Zeppelin fan, for me it got even better. The next year, in April 1979, I got to see Page, Plant, and Bonham jamming on stage with Bad Company at the Birmingham Odeon. There I was at the very front leaning on the stage with Jimmy Page stood in front of my very eyes, no more than three feet away! I couldn’t believe this was happening!
And then came the gargantuan spectacle of those two shows at Knebworth; the ultimate coming together of the masses all at one in perfect synchronicity with the gods on stage. The Knebworth experience was simply incredible, and it served to underline time and again why I did not want the 1970s to end. I’ve never been one for toasting in the New Year, let alone a new decade, and the arrival of 1980 was no exception. Following the winter of discontent and the general election defeat of James Callaghan’s Labour government in May 1979, there was a feeling of trepidation of what would lie ahead under Thatcher’s Britain as we entered into a New Year. Still, I thought, as long as I had my rock music (especially Zeppelin), then things would be ok. How wrong I would be….

1980 had barely got into its stride when on Tuesday, February 19th, the shocking news came through that AC/DC’s frontman, Bon Scott, had died. He’d been drinking heavily the night before and had fell asleep in the back of a friend’s car, only to be found dead the next morning. The cause of death was reportedly acute alcoholic poisoning. He was just thirty three years of age. I couldn’t believe it, and neither could the local AC/DC fan contingent who gathered at Bogarts that Tuesday night, openly sobbing their hearts out at the sad news. I remember being a bit bewildered at the sight of witnessing grown tattooed rockers openly displaying such levels of grief. I mean, they didn’t know Bon Scott, did they? It wasn’t like that he was
family or anything. I really thought that type of open expression of emotion only happened in the States, like when Elvis died back in ’77. However, as the days went by I actually felt very sad for my AC/DC mates and I grew to understand where they were coming from – it was THEIR band after all, and everything seemed to have come to a grinding halt in their lives when Bon died. I imagined how I would’ve felt if such a tragedy would ever befall a member of Zeppelin, the mere thought of which made me feel quite sick. So I really did feel for the AC/DC fans, and it’s true to say that Bon’s untimely death did cast a dark cloud over the world of heavy rock for a while, particularly in the weeks and months that followed.

It didn’t end there though, because three months later the twenty three year old lead singer of Joy Division, Ian Curtis, committed suicide. Two months after that, in July, the lead singer of The Ruts, Malcolm Owen, died of a heroin overdose. He was only twenty five years of age. The air of gloom, which was all too apparent in the immediate aftermath of Bon Scott’s death, returned once again. Still, for me, business eventually got back to normal and thoughts turned to acquiring cassette tape audience recordings of some of Zeppelin’s recent over Europe campaign shows. They started filtering in as the weeks passed by, and as the summer months drew to a close the handful of recordings I’d managed to get provided many an evenings’ worth of entertainment for me as the dark evenings gradually returned. However, unbeknown to me things were about to get even darker…

On the morning of September 26th, I got up and headed out the door to go to work. There was a newsagent’s shop around the corner from where I lived, and it had probably been six or seven years since I’d been into this particular shop. However, for whatever reason I decided to go in to buy a packet of cigarettes. As I walked in, I looked around, and it was like as if I’d been transported back in time to the mid 1970’s; same decor, same smell, and same selection of sweetie jars on the counter. As I approached the counter the couple who ran the shop recognised me straight away and they both smiled and started talking to me, saying that they hadn’t seen me in there for a while. Then, as I asked for my packet of cigarettes I glanced down at the counter and saw all the newspapers displaying pictures of John Bonham against the various headlines i.e. ‘Led Zeppelin Drummer Found Dead in Bed’, Numbness, dizziness, and complete and utter shock, were what hit me. I looked back up and the nice couple serving were still happily chatting to me but I couldn’t hear a damn word they were saying. I
grabbed a couple of the tabloids, got my ciggies, settled up what I owed and I was out of there. I’ve never been back into that Newsagent’s shop since then, and I never will. My memory of that morning of September 26th, is pretty much a blur. I went to work that morning but I just couldn’t focus on anything. My so-called work friends found the whole “dead rock star” episode quite a source of amusement, especially one young punk pretender who had been persecuted himself (by others) some twenty months before when Sid Vicious died. In his
mind it was now payback time, and I had to suffer various jibes from him during the course of the morning – he knew I was a big fan of Led Zeppelin. I’d had enough, and by lunchtime I made my excuses that I wasn’t feeling well (which I wasn’t) and went home. I slapped Presence onto the turntable, blasted out ‘Achilles Last Stand’ and cried my little heart out.

That evening I went into the city centre and into Bogarts. All my friends were there and we ended up all slumped on the floor by the bar in one emotional heap, clutching our pints and the tears flooded out once more while the resident DJ dedicated the whole evening to Bonzo. It was Zeppelin all night. My vision that night was mostly blurred by a mixture of endless tears and the alcohol taking effect, but I do remember seeing those tattooed AC/DC rockers present that evening in Bogarts, these being the same guys who cried openly for their hero some seven months previously. Now I could really identify with tragedy of how they all felt back then. Tears for Elvis, tears for Bon, and now tears for Bonzo…

The air of gloom returned once again, darker than ever before. The days and weeks that followed were truly miserable, mainly spent in my bedroom playing Zep non-stop and looking through all my Zeppelin scrapbooks of the hundreds of cuttings I’d collected over the previous few years. Unfortunately there were now a few more newspaper cuttings to add to my
scrapbook collection.

On a wet dank morning of October 10th 1980, five of us crammed into my mates’ sister’s mini and we headed off to the Parish Church of St Michael in Rushock, near Kidderminster. It was the day of John’s funeral and we went along to pay our respects to him. When we arrived, my mate’s sister carefully removed the small three-circled wreath from the car that the five of us chipped in to buy. When we proceeded towards the church we came across two other young fans that had travelled just a short distance from Droitwich, and they were there to also pay their respects to Bonzo. As described in Howard Mylett’s Led Zeppelin biography (second edition) all those years ago he mentions about “seven drenched fans standing in the rain outside Rushock Church…”. As we all made our way towards the church we saw a TV crew outside. ATV had despatched one of their local reporters, Rob Golding, to cover the funeral of John Bonham. Rob approached us and asked us if he could do an interview with us for that evenings’ local news programme, ATV Today. After a bit of debate between us we all agreed. I hadn’t expected that my second appearance on TV in as many years would be under such tragic circumstances. We were asked if we could wander back up the lane a little so the camera could take a wide shot of the seven of us walking towards the church grounds with the wreath. We did this and Rob then conducted a short interview with us, only to be cut short due to the noise of an aeroplane flying overhead. I figured that maybe it was the Starship doing a fly-by in its own tribute to Bonzo! “Errr, I’m sorry, but could we do that again please?”, asked Rob. So, cold and a little soaked, we wandered back up the lane and did the whole thing again. The filmed piece was then despatched off to ATV studios and was broadcast that evening. We caught glimpses of the other band members and family going into the church for the service, and then we waited outside for the duration, just stood there in our own silent tribute to our fallen hero.

A while later after the service was finished, the church emptied and family and friends got into their cars. We spotted Roy Wood, who got into his Range Rover, which was adjacent to where we were parked, and we followed him all the way to the crematorium in Worcester. When we arrived, quite by accident I found myself walking beside an inconsolable Jimmy, and
Charlotte, who were flanked by two minders. As we advanced towards the crematorium, there was about one hundred or so fans and press waiting outside. The whole area was awash with flowers and wreaths, including one sent by Paul and Linda McCartney. Their floral tribute spelt out the name JOHN. Just under three months later on December 8th, I remember thinking how sadly ironic that wreath design was. As my five friends caught up with me, we all walked into a packed crematorium. When inside, I stood right at the back of the hall crushed up against Cozy Powell. We exchanged a glance and a nod as I took my position next to him. Straight ahead seated about ten rows in front were the other three band members and Peter Grant. At the front sat the Bonham family. The service proceeded with everyone focussing on John’s coffin at the front of the hall. It was then time for the actual cremation to take place. John’s mother, Joan, was totally overcome with grief  and understandably – tragically Joan who died earlier this year, would find herself going through this agony again when John’s brother Mick died in 2000.

John Bonham’s death was a gut wrenching life changing event for me personally, and I can honestly say that I have never ever truly got over got it. Although many fans have travelled far and wide to visit the final resting place of John Bonham I have never been back to Rushock cemetery myself, even though it’s only a few miles away from where I live. Why? Well, I have always thought of John’s final resting place as a private place for family to visit a lost loved one, not for fans, but also because I’ve always thought that if I ever did go and visit his grave it would unlock all those terrible tragic memories I have of what I personally experienced 30 years previously. Such is the depth of raw emotion I still feel about his passing and, I guess, the love I still have for him. He was a remarkable man, and he was only just thirty two years of age. Bonzo, thirty years ago and even way before, was always my hero, my favourite member of the group just simply for his incredible drumming. It was a fitting tribute to him that thirty years after his death John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham was crowned as the UK nation’s favourite drummer on BBC TV’s ‘I’m in a Rock ‘N’ Roll Band’.

Oh, how I still wish that the 1970s had never ended. But now, as the years have passed and having learned so much more about him, I also admire the type of guy he was i.e. not just a rock star but also an ordinary builder-type down to earth bloke from the Black Country out to have a good time in life, have a few beers with the lads and earn a decent crust for his kith and kin who he loved so dearly. He was a decent bloke, was Bonzo, and he remains my ultimate hero on so many levels.

Head, heart, and hands: John Henry Bonham. You will never be forgotten.

Gary Davies

First published in TBL issue 27 –September 2010.

Copyright Tight But Loose Publishing. Not to be reproduced without permission

TBL 27 is available as part of the special back issue bargain pack -order here  http://www.tightbutloose.co.uk/?page_id=11348

Postscript: September 25th, 2011

One year on from the thirtieth anniversary of John Bonham’s passing I recall a bright Saturday morning one year ago this weekend when I finally plucked up the courage to make an emotion-filled return to Rushock.   The journey there was short and fairly straight forward, and I drove carefully so as not to disturb the floral tribute which was carefully positioned on the backseat.  With the windows down and the car stereo blasting out the 1978 Polar drum session outtakes driving along the very same country lanes that Bonzo was seen speeding along on his motorcycle in The Song Remains The Same film, I must say that it proved very difficult to resist the urge not to put my foot down and accelerate at speed around the twists and turns of the beautiful Worcestershire countryside. Getting the floral tribute there in one piece had to be the priority.  The flowers were absolutely beautiful, and the floral message to Bonzo written by Dave on behalf of TBL and “Led Zeppelin fans everywhere” was a simply wonderful.  I laid the floral tribute next to the ones from Zoe and Pat Bonham, and I stood in silent reflection for a few moments at his final resting place.

On the approach of the 30th anniversary I debated long and hard with myself whether to visit John’s graveside, but in the end the return to Rushock for me was the right thing to do and I must say that it was indeed a great honour to represent the Led Zeppelin fan community in this way.

We all still feel the pain of John’s passing but his star still shines as bright as it ever did, and his glorious incredible beats will remain with us all every single day.
For me personally John Henry Bonham’s beats provide the soundtrack to my life.

God bless you Bonzo.

Gary Davies – September 25th, 2011

Rushock – one year ago on the morning of September 25th, 2010

Many thanks to Gary Davies for sharing those personal experiences on this, the 31st anniversary of John Bonham’s passing.

Here’s some visual evidence of why he will never be forgotten….watch, be amazed and remember him this way… (DL/GF)

Albert Hall 1970 – We’re Gonna Groove

New York 1973 – Celebration Day

Highlights From The Song Remains The Same

Knebworh 1979 – Sick Again

New York 1973 – The Ocean

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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13 Comments »

  • Teodoro Wheat said:

    Tight But Loose » Blog Archive » JOHN BONHAM 31 YEARS GONE… … Wow man I want the idea service. It’s the very first time that I actually stumbled on it however I Adored it.. Most certainly will be back, you actually gotten many of content articles in at this site 😀 ok back to tasks immediately 🙂

  • Steve Marx said:

    September 25th began as any other day for me at the time. 17 years old, just started my 1st class at my high school. Just then a drummer friend of mine came in and told me the terrible news. Was absolutely shocked for the rest of the day. As said, couldn’t focus on anything. I also took some from the punks and new wavers. That didn’t bother me all that much though, I was too consumed with grief. What began as a wonderful fall anticipation for seeing Zeppelin for the first time on their “80s” tour came to an absolute screeching halt of sadness and emptiness. Bonzo was and still is my all time favorite drummer. He was a good, honest down to earth kinda person who loved his family. He truly will be missed for all time.

  • Peter Aquino said:

    RIP John…”and I wanna Thank You…”

  • mikebravo said:

    The greatest rock drummer!!!!!!!!
    Achlles last stand the greatest performance!!!!!

  • jim farmer said:

    It was a shocking morning when i awoke on sept.26th 1980.My father woke me early,telling me the news but i didn’t believe him.So it wasn’t until later that i believed the news.It was great to read your experience,It really touched home.Not to mention the devastating, couple of years that followed with a musical void.cheers to you gary

  • André Cruz said:

    Great reviews, congratulation people from TBL !!!
    Not the Zep fans but all rock fans will always miss you Bonzo !

    “31 Years Gone” and, curiously, in the same weekend, a humble new proof of the forever power and talent of John Henry Bonham. The fourh edition of Rock In Rio started and two songs by Led Zeppelin were played in the… pop night, last friday. Yeah, that`s it. Led Zeppelin rules even where “should never be”. Living Loving Maid (intro only) / Black Dog finished the excelent (and wrong schedulled) show by singer Ed Motta and five guitar players, the two most knowed Andreas Kisser (Sepultura) and Rui Veloso (from Portugal). But the point is: Cláudia Leitte, a singer from Bahia, the one that all the rock fans said that never deserves be in a Rock In Rio, did a cover of D’yer Ma’ker.
    A song that shows that Zep could do any kind of music in high quality. And one more proof that what they did from 1968 to 1980 will never been forgotten. And none of this should be the same without you John. RIP

  • Kam said:

    I only got into Zeppelin after 1980, my brother who was always a huge fan had recorded the Tommy Vance show on cassette and was listening to it the following day. I remember hearing Achilles and asking who it was, from there I was hooked.

    It was the drumming that did it for me.

    How many bands have a ‘lead drummer’ ?!

    Probably the greatest ‘live moment’ I ever witnessed was during Unledded when Micheal Lee came thundering into Gallows Pole, and that had always been one of my favourite Zep moments. I still think at gigs these days when I see a drummer what it would have been like to have seen him live.

  • Denzepp58 said:

    Still remember all too painfully hearing the news… went to my room, played all 9 discs in a row as loud as my stereo could go and cried. 31 years later it still astounds me my feelings for this band and Bonzo…I know they were “just” a rock band but they were and are such a huge part of my life it was like losing family. Not only did I grieve for myself but I grieved for his family and Jimmy,Robert,and Jonesy. His star does indeed still burn bright and he will always be the GREATEST drummer in the GREATEST band ever. Thank you for the music and the joy you still bring to all of us who share the passion for great and timeless music, John. Take pride in your son who is the only one who could possibly hold your sticks and obviously still loves and misses you very much and pride in your bandmates who would not go on without you….God Bless you Bonzo….Peace….

  • Jez said:

    Dave II was stood next to his headstone Friday cried my heart out.
    Hope you are all ok look after Mick for me when you see her. Regards

  • Richard G said:

    Today’s playlist:

    Good Times, Bad TImes (statement of intent of what was to come…)
    Achilles (obviously!)
    No Quarter (SRTS version – follow the hi-hat shuffle, awesome)
    Since I’ve Been Loving You (Jimmy’s solo elevated by the dynamics of JB’s incredible talent for power with restraint)
    The Rover (that intro – so simple, so effective)
    In My Time Of Dying (’nuff said!)
    Fool In The Rain (even off top form, could still outperform everyone else)
    Wanton Song
    How Many More Times (the groove machine in full flow!)
    Levee…(plundered for a thousand samples down the years, the original is still untouchable)

    Thanks JB for all the good times…

    RG

    ps – Footage of Robert in best Elvis-mode… http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4BliitzctOY – sounds very promising!!!

  • Marcel Gootjes said:

    I always celebrate the life of John Bonham on this day, now with my Over Europe T-shirt on, the whole catalog in my mediaplayer and a few beers!
    Cheers Bonzo and thank you once again for your powerful and melodic drumwork!

    “…In My Time Of Dying, I Want Nobody To Mourn…!”

  • MARK WILLIAMS said:

    Great article Dave.

    But will someone please have a word with Robert. From John Bonham to….Dony Wynn. This foray into Bluegrass/Country needs to come to an end.

    63 and ‘Slow Dancer’, well maybe these days but that’d be a lot better than Hayseed Dixie versions of Black Dog.

    Robert – the Fate of you Nation is in your hands !

  • Kathy Urich said:

    This anniversary never gets any easier. A lovely tribute for a wonderful man and the worlds best drummer. R.I.P Bonzo you will always be alive and well everytime I hear you play.

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