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LED ZEPPELIN AT KNEBWORTH AUGUST 4 1979 – SEEING WAS BELIEVEING – IT WAS 37 YEARS AGO TODAY – TBL ARCHIVE SPECIAL

4 August 2016 3,072 views One Comment

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It was 37 years ago today…

TBL Archive Special: Led Zeppelin at Knebworth August 4th 1979

Then as it really was…37 years gone…

To mark the 37th anniversary of the Knebworth August 4th performance here is an extract from the Led Zeppelin Then As It Was -At Knebworth 1979 book:

ZEPPELIN’S BLIND DATE: SEEING IS BELIEVING

By Dave Lewis

This is the original text written for Tight But Loose, issue number 3.Whilst much of it bathes in a rose tinted glow, it certainly succeeds in capturing the pure wonderment of the event as seen through the eyes of a starry eyed twenty two year old fan eager to put pen to paper before it all became a blur.

THE NATION ASSEMBLES

THURSDAY AUGUST 2nd 1979:

7am: Knebworth arena is already buzzing with the sound of Edwin Shirley Trucking Co., the massive assembly of the stage is well under way…Wandering down to the stage front and looking around the vast amphitheatre, that just two days from now will be packed with thousands awaiting the return, is an awe inspiring moment…Just to see the Zeppelin stage set up, Jonesy’s white grand piano, Bonzo’s metallic Ludwig kit, Jimmy’s symbolised amp, sets the heart beating in anticipation, it really is only a matter of days now… Already fans are beginning to descend upon the Hertfordshire countryside ready to settle in the camp site… The music papers hit the news-stands and Zeppelin is featured on the cover of three of them. Two include lengthy Jimmy Page interviews, the build up is well underway…

Kneb car pic

 

Late afternoon: the massive P.A. is ready for testing…It’s rumoured the band are due in for the soundcheck at around 6pm, probably arriving by helicopter, a rumour not exactly without substance …Robert opts for his own transport – Cherokee jeep. He is looking positively radiant, beaming, smiling and good humouredly acknowledging my over-enthusiasm. ”Which way to the stage?” he asks. I was happy to point him in the right direction -just another TBL service!…  The security guards clear the park for the soundcheck, a soundcheck that lasts not more than an hour…we go into Stevenage for a drink or two to calm the nerves.

FRIDAY AUGUST 3rd 1979:

Early morning: Hundreds of fans have battled a steady overnight rainfall on their journey to the Knebworth camp site…By 11am the tents and make-shift ranches are well in evidence…all manner of freaks of course, with the accent on denim, in fact lots of denim embroidery proclaiming the names of Gonzo heavy metal bands who have sprung up in Zeppelin’s absence, names that have no right to be uttered in the same breath as Led Zeppelin. Most of the kids brandishing such slogans look too young to have seen Zeppelin on stage, yet by Saturday night their priorities might well change…Everybody here is really good natured, even the changing weather from hot and sunny to showery and dull fails to dampen enthusiasm…By mid afternoon the Zeppelin nation is in full swing, thousands continue to pour in, it’s an incredible sight, all here to see Led Zeppelin; a four man legend that continues to demand the highest respect even after a four year absence… It really does make you wonder in awe of it all…

On the camp site the Zep merchandise ball game is underway; T-shirts, badges, scarves, official and otherwise, the queue for the official programme alone stretches three hundred yards and more… As dusk approaches, hundreds are attempting to gain a vantage point by the gates ready for the early morning opening…Camp fire smoke begins to drift across the air as fans from all over the world, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Germany, Canada and America (Hi Jimbo) gather around them settling in for the overnight wait…Tommy Vance does the Knebworth serenade on his radio show, kicking off with ‘The Rover’, amidst huge cheers as the airwaves reach the campsite…Repeated bouts of “Zeppelin”, “Zeppelin” chants fill the midnight air, I feel proud…

SATURDAY AUGUST 4th 1979:

This is where it gets a little bit silly…Thousands have assembled by the gates for the opening, due officially at 8.30am…rumours abound that it will be earlier…Then it happens, around 4am hundreds crash the fences and invade the park…By the time everyone has done the mile run to the arena entrance, a huge crush has developed that is quite frightening…It seems an age before the turnstiles start to click…it couldn’t have come too soon for me as I was near to crashing out completely – I mean, even Nick Kent said ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ was the last thing in the world worth dying for – and I had no intention of going, at least not until I had seen the band again… Thankfully, by 5am the arena is open and filled up, it’s a bit cold but no sign of rain… Throughout the morning the arena continues to bulge…The first canned music from the P.A. is Supertramp, and DJ Nicky Horne continues to warm-up proceedings with a rich cluster of classic cuts, perfect for the day…

The line up is duly announced; Chas and Dave have been added for the 3.30pm spot, Zeppelin are due at 9.15pm…Fairport Convention start the live music at around 11.30am. They play a listenable set to an uninterested audience…Nicky-the-H gives us a taste of what’s in store when he spins ‘Rock And Roll’ to a huge response…Commander Cody and his band hit the stage with their own brand of rockabilly, which does not a thing for me, but to his credit he gets an encore…

Mid afternoon, the weather is on our side, very sunny with a hint of breeze to cool you down – perfect…Chas and Dave play a mildly amusing blend of their own songs; no doubt it goes down great in the pubs, but not a lounge bar with nigh on two hundred thousand stuck in it!…By now the arena is packed, and the sight is breathtaking to say the least…Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes, at tea time, are not…

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Early evening: the change over of bands is taking longer… the silly element amongst us are well into the now expected can throwing caper, with us encased at the front being the ones who are suffering…One such can bounces off my head…my head survives, the can doesn’t…Todd Rundgren and Utopia are on stage, and Todd instantly gets the whanger of the week award (nice one Dec) for his slip showing cat suit… The set is overlong and indulgent, but it does have its moments; the encore, ‘Love Is The Answer’, is one of them…

The Knebworth stage area is cleared completely …this is where four years of waiting is narrowed down to less than an hour…Led Zeppelin’s live return is not so very far away now…

The whole of Knebworth Park is ready. I’m certainly ready, but it seems that Led Zeppelin is not. The Zep equipment has been mechanically and clinically pieced together; Mr Jones’ keyboards (clavinet, white electric grand piano, mellotron) to the left of the stage, Bonzo’s Ludwig kit miked and ready for thrashing, Jimmy’s row of amps switched on with five guitars upright and gleaming, wired and waiting and stage centre, one solitary microphone – we all know who that’s for. Despite all this there is still much anxious hustling of roadies and backstage activity yet to go. The 9.15pm projected kick-off time passes. Then Peter Grant himself stalks onto the stage. This I haven’t seen before but there he is; the monster “fifth Zep” checking the set-up. He knows more than anyone that this is the big one and everything has got to be just…just so. Around him friends, wives and kids are settling into vantage points behind the amps. This somehow seems to add to the atmosphere – the Zeppelin family all ready and waiting too. Around each side of me the huge lighting towers look mighty impressive, and behind the stage, the long black curtain that has formed the backcloth for the day keeps slipping open, revealing a strong vivid green light. Something special in the air that one senses.

Indeed. That something special happens just around 9.40pm on Saturday, August 4th 1979. The canned music fades, the lights flash onto the stage. Unannounced, the four members of Led Zeppelin walk on stage. Bedlam, hysteria, chaos, phenomenon. Upwards of one hundred thousand people assembled go crazy. This is the cherished moment we have waited four long years for, and it’s happening…now!

John Bonham mounts the mini rostrum to the drums. Ah, Bonzo! First time I ever heard John Bonham thrashing a drum kit I thought my radio was about to blow several waves. He is the champion beer drinker in England – Robert Plant said that. He likes nothing more than a good old rave up. That’s what he said in 1970. Not much has changed. His incredible bass drum patterns and sledge hammer rock-steady percussion is still the best. He is our Bonzo and he is up there ready.

John Paul Jones is wearing a white pristine new fashionable suit, slightly miss-fitting in true JPJ style. John Paul, (“Jonesy”, to his mates), the calm one, he of the silly haircuts, the unassuming bass stance, the electric piano, clavinet, mellotron, three-necked guitar, the anchor man. Some say the unlikeliest member of the Led Zeppelin combo. In truth, quite possibly the most important. His contribution to the group is immense. His bass patterns, the pulse beats that Jimmy Page pumps his guitar technology onto. Tonight he is looking fitter than I have ever seen him.

Same can be said for James Patrick Page. Blue, thin-collared, baggy shirt, a pair of white well-fitting trousers, a 1973 haircut – a very modern man. Not to mention a living legend, a Crowley freak deep into the Occult – a white magician. Keith Relf called him “The grand sorcerer of the magic Guitar”, few would argue. He is softly spoken, articulate, frail, off stage, a giant on it. Duck-walking, twisting, turning, sweating, cringing, grinning. He lives for his music. Tonight his music lives for us…

Then there is Robert Plant. Long sleeved spotted shirt tied at the navel, black straight cords, usual white boots, golden ringletted hair, re-shaped mid ’76 style, overflowing. As far as I’m concerned the most human, friendly and warm rock ‘n’ roll star in the world. His voice is an instrument in itself. His on-stage preening dynamic. Once you’ve seen Robert Plant on stage in all his glory, there is no other who can touch him. He is the true master of ceremonies. His vocal ability is unique. At its height, its raw power can strike unlighted matches inside us all, and at its most emotional, its romantic qualities can spur a tear behind the eyes. Too often in the past this man’s glittering glow has been dulled. Tonight Robert Plant is shining brightly, dazzlingly so…

Jimmy Page straps on the double neck. Robert stakes the stance stage right. As Jimmy pulls out the opening ringing chord to ‘The Song Remains The Same’, the black curtains unravel, revealing a huge colour video screen flashing on film in sync…the sight is unbelievable…

When Robert turns to sing the opening lines (“I had a dream, crazy dream”) I feel my eyes wetting with tears, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. When you’ve lived every day of the last four years waiting, well…it does that to you. For a split second, my mind pictures all the rumours, highs, lows and tragedies of the past years – my life before my very eyes almost. It’s been so long but now it’s happening. I can hardly believe it. Jimmy’s shimmering twelve string work confirms it fast. By the time they are performing the second number, a long deleted stage favourite ‘Celebration Day’, the early sound muffles have been mixed out.

The sound is crystal.In fact, everything is exceeding excitement level. All the premature break-up rumours, all the pre-gig talk of them being washed up, all these illusions are shattered.The 1979 Led Zeppelin is alive and well…

‘Celebration Day’ brings back vintage Zeppelin memories. Jimmy is fluttering out chords in double-quick time. Robert is revelling in the limelight. All the old stances, the swagger, the cock-rock pout, the peacock preening, oh, and a new movement to cherish, a jack-knife arm action favoured to close the songs with. It’s just beautiful to see him up there again.

“Well – I said, well ! Good evening, good evening. Nice to see you again. I told Pagey that one or two people would be here, but he said he doubted it very much…Well, I can’t tell you how it feels. I think you can probably…you’ve got a good idea anyway…but it’s great.”

Robert seems genuinely touched by the reception. As he talks you can hear his voice quivering. Nerves maybe? Not many on display during ‘Black Dog’, mind. A powerful performance with pleasing echoed Plant vocals. Up on the video screen the cameras are catching the action blow by blow. In fact the visual quality is so good it makes the movie footage of The Song Remains The Same seem pretty lame in comparison. Towards the end of the song Robert leaves us to sing the verses and then Pagey winds up with a solo that upholds the adrenalin count.

“Thank you very much, Well, needless to say that ah, it’s been a long, it’s been quite a long time actually since we… yes I know, it’s our fault too. So we went to Munich and made an album called Presence, which er, which had a track on it Charles Shaar Murray really liked. He’s still taking the pills, and this is called Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

Jimmy clicks down on the Gibson to recreate the sonic intro. Everything about this track if perfection. Bonzo’s hammerings, Robert’s accurate vocal, great harmonica, and a lovely moment when just as Pagey hits a peaking solo Robert teases with “Oh Jimmy!….Ooh Jimmy!”

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“Nobody’s fault but mine….how is it, OK? This goes without a lot of saying, and it’s called Over The Hills And Far Away.”

Gorgeous revolving intro before Robert smoothes in. As they crunch down on the chorus the lighting is synchronised to great effect. Quite simply, a lesson in balanced dynamics. A track that never fails to please. A hard hitting no nonsense ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ follows with JPJ on electric piano. A song not performed in the UK since 1973. It’s good to hear old friends again. Love the echoed outro too, as Robert sings “I really don’t know, I really don’t know Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh.”

“Well…that was a topical thing if you work it out. This is er…so often we find we lean further and further into the blues as a musical form from which to borrow, or even steal and beg, and on nearly all of the stuff we’ve done in the past, in fact, even on the album that was out last week…ahh yes, something went wrong there as well. There’s always a little bit of blues, not booze, blues…You got the booze? Well, let’s hope to god we got the blues, Since I’ve Been Loving You .”

Another long lost friend. A slow tortured display with Jimmy pulling out a masterful solo, restrained, sustained, just the way the blues should be. Robert stretches the vocals at just the right moments, phrasing superbly (“I’ve been a working, been a working, been working…and I tried,tried, tried, tried, tried…”).

“Jimmy Page guitar. This next piece features the man from Casablanca, John Paul Jones. Some say a man in his own right, others say Royal Orleans…this is No Quarter.”

Radically cut down from the ’77 version, ‘No Quarter’ ’79 style is still slightly excessive. Of course, the quivering riffs still work well and Page still does the magic stances. Bonzo’s hi-hat jiggling and snare work helps the drawn out solo part and I still love Jimmy’s relayed wah-wah effects. For all that, Jonesy’s solo consisting of a boogie/classical section is overlong – (far better would have been a 1973-style version as featured on the live album). The ending is lengthy as well, but interesting because Jimmy is in there twisting and turning and flashing the odd grin. Robert finishes it all with an echoed “Dogs of doom are howlin’ more, more, more….”

‘Ten Years Gone’ is next dedicated to everyone from Newcastle, Kidderminster, Vancouver…all of us. John Paul on the three necked guitar, Jimmy switching to fuzzy telecaster. Robert’s vocal performance is breathtaking, all the romantic imagery accurately conveyed, “Never thought I’d see your face the way it used to be” – that line says it all.

“Thank you Caernarvon, Newcastle, Birmingham, Kidderminster, Freddie Bannister…So the album that came out two weeks ago got a bit delayed again. First it was a fortnight ago, then it was a week ago, now it’s next Friday, just goes on and on. This is a track from it that we should dedicate to trials in America….Yeah, how come you know what it’s called? You’ve been reading about the Swedish Inquisition – Hot Dog.”

The first peep behind the out door. ‘Hot Dog’ is a country honk reminiscent of a Presley Sun side – with Robert obviously enjoying the re-creation. Jimmy pulls out some tasty rodeo type licks as Robert encourages us to hoe-down. Not vital Zep but fun.

Yes still got a sense of humour…amplifier blown up? Where was it made, Scotland? Hey Raymondo….well, get back to the wash-board. So we get all this way here and the equipment blows up. Never mind, it’s got to be better than Earls Court. (Howls from the crowd) OOOH.

Who’s the person who owns the goat and the wagon we saw two nights ago and camping out there? Must come around the back after and write an acoustic set with us. Are we OK? Are yer alright Jimmy (Scottish accent). This one is called the Rain Song, which it didn’t…”

The lighting is most effective here bringing back memories of Earls Court with Jimmy in blue again. His fluttering melodies from the double neck soar across the air, and the collective fusion of the song is one of dynamic balanced emotion.

“Thank you, Yeah I like that one myself. That’s bound to get me a slaggin’ isn’t it? This next piece, long time ago 1960 whenever it was, me and Pagey got together at his house. He had a little boat floating on the Thames, and played through a lot of material from the Incredible String Band, Joan Baez, Chuck Berry, Little Walter, all sorts of things, so many nice blends of music we managed to pull together. And this leads towards the land of milk and honey… the East, features on guitar: Jimmy Page.”

Stage centre: alone on a stool, a spotlight picks out Jimmy Page and one Dan Electro guitar. He performs ‘White Summer’ (first time in the UK for nine years) and blends in ‘Black Mountain Side’. Just at the point where on the studio album that track breaks into ‘Communication Breakdown’, live on stage it leads to ‘Kashmir’ with Robert leaping from the back stage wings to open proceedings. A moment of high drama.

His performance on this epic, both vocally and physically, is out of this world. Every verse sung with emotion, every move synchronised with the ever changing spotlights. Truly the world’s greatest live rock attraction. The song just keeps on climaxing…mirrorball spins aid the effect. “Let me take you there…”

“Let me take you there…Kashmir. Hello, congestion on the A1M I think. This is a small little up-tempo ditty, that we’ve been asked by some people in Vancouver – It’s all there in the end baby…. It’s called Trampled Underfoot, ready Mr Jones?”

Quick tune up on the clavinet and away we go. A definitive Zeppelin performance that has them pushing their collective talents to the outer limits. Bonzo thrashes, Jimmy wah-wahs, Jonesy runs riot across the clavinet and Robert struts his stuff…”Push, push, yeah, push yeah, OOOOOh”

“Push, push, push….song’s attributed to the moving parts of the motor car. Well….a lot of pushing. This is something about, built around, going to one of those weird hotels that you come across in Bradford or Southampton or Los Angeles. There’s all these strange people ligging around in the lobby waiting for Peter Grant our manager…coz we have to be in bed at 10 o’clock at night like good footballers. Relates to the experience of the lobby and going down to get some cigarettes at 10.30pm rather than being in bed…Sick Again.”

Two machete Zep riffs, a “Yeah do it” from Plant and they’re off again into a strident workout. With cascading Page riffs and Bonzo again well to the fore, taking care of business. “Ooh, that’s right,” taunts Robert, swinging his head back and forth in line with the riff.

“Thank you very very much. So we got the cigarettes and carried straight on up to bed. This is another piece from Presence. It’s the wheelchair piece. It’s called Achilles Last Stand”.

Opening with that meandering guitar from Jimmy before zipping into top gear via Bonzo’s kick start, and the stage is basked in white light. It really is so good to hear Robert sing the words to this masterpiece live, and somehow Pagey manages to re-create the five studio guitar parts in one – and it works beautifully. Again it’s the collective fusion of the four that pushes the song relentlessly to the finish. All four cylinders at full throttle. The output is monumental. Exhilaratingly so.

“Achilles Last Stand…..”

After that the other band members disperse leaving just James Patrick Page on stage. A few zaps from the amp, a quick re-tune then Jimmy reaps the most frightening sound from his Gibson.This of course is the cue for a part of Zeppelin legacy, the guitar played with a violin bow episode. The soundtrack is the middle section of ‘Dazed and Confused’. For this occasion this part is taken out of the realms of reality into a different world. The bow itself is glowing with green laser light. When you consider Pagey’s occult fascination, the sight of him standing there swathed in eerie light is even more breathtaking. The end of the bow itself glows silver, as the trademark feedback chords pierce the darkness and a green triangle of laser light forms around the magician himself. The effect is sensational.

As the lasers fade, Bonzo comes in on synthesised tympani…Jonesy takes to mellotron again…Jimmy throws in an eastern effect and as a silhouetted Mr Plant reaches the mike he screeches the words “In the evening”….and the band crash down on a riveting riff that forms the basis for the premier of the first track on the up-coming new L.P. This, even on one hearing, is a classic. Robert screams out the lyrics, repeating a chorus of “Oh I need yer love, Oh I need your love, Gotta have…..” whoosh! Jimmy hits the cascading riff again and every time it comes around it tingles the backbone. Just as they are heading for an apparent frenzied finish…the song slows and transcends into a mellow mystical passage with Jonesy achieving almost flute like sounds from the mellotron, while Jimmy jangles out minor chords and then woosh! It’s that riff again, achieved with the use of tremolo arm across the string of Jimmy’s blue Strat, and on it goes. Guitar solos all over the place, Robert screeching a frenzy, Bonzo crashing into the finish. God – this is classic grandiose Zeppelin, and my how it moves.

Kneb 14

“Alright, well that was another track from the new album, and that was called In The Evening. You what? Well, all you people who’ve come so far, it’s been like a kind of blind date if you like…ooh we’re even loosening up and laughing! This song I guess we should er…so many people who’ve helped us over the years, and no people more important than yourselves who came here on a blind date, this is for you…all of yer…”

It takes two chords….that’s all, then the whole arena is rising as one for the anthem, ‘Stairway To Heaven’…sung with breathtaking intensity by Robert. We cling to his every word. He smiles as we await the line, “Do you remember laughter” and he lets us sing it instead. As ever the song is full of his own ad-libs…”Oh, I don’t know, now wait a minute.” He sings “Dear PEOPLE can you hear the wind blow?” and on this occasion it’s “YOUR stairway” that’s on the whispering wind, (next week it’s to be “OUR stairway”). Jimmy pulls out a note-perfect solo on the double neck and Robert does his classic tambourine pose.

The final verses are sung like messages from Mount Olympus. The sound of one hundred thousand people singing as one the final lyric “And she’s buying a stairway to heaven….” is one I will never forget. A moment of true magic.

“Thanks a lot…too much…its hard to say…goodnight.”

The boys take a bow swathed in white light. The crowd go crazy to win them back. Repeated chants of “Zeppelin”, “Zeppelin”, “Zeppelin”, the like I’ve never heard before at a Zep gig, fill the midnight air. During the wait for an encore the video cameras turn to the masses, capturing the sight of thousands of lighted matches, up on the huge screen. An awesome scene.

The hysteria (only word for it) continues until the band reappears several minutes later:

“Good evening. This is ah, talk about being frightened, this is fantastic!”

‘Rock And Roll’ is the encore of course – Robert lets us sing the “lonely lonely…time” bits and it’s on into a frenzied finish. Exit triumphant band part two.

What happens next is truly amazing. The crowd step up the “Zeppelin”, “Zeppelin”, chants….and they launch into repeated choruses of “You’ll never walk alone”. I’ve never been part of anything like it.

The atmosphere is one of joyous, moving celebration.

When they return for a second encore they are genuinely taken aback at the sight and sound of the assembled. “John Paul Jones – John Bonham, – James Patrick Page” – Robert – re- introduces the band and actually joins in with “You’ll never walk alone”. So it goes on…eventually Jimmy crashes out the riff of ‘Whole Lotta Love’. This version is really a revelation. Stripped of the excess of previous versions, cut down to size, and including a revamped middle section riff from Jimmy – delightful stuff.Robert struts the stage singing “Oh you need love, you need love, way down inside – you need love…” it’s a gas to hear it like this. Of course we all join in the “woman, way down inside” bits:

“ I don’t think the people in Stevenage can hear yer, I said woman…

I don’t think the people in Newcastle can hear what I say-ya, I said, woman…way down inside….” And it’s on to a climactic finish.

Thank you…I don’t know what to say…thanks for eleven years.”

Robert, so obviously moved by it all, leads the band off stage again, smiling and turning to applaud the masses, and they’ve gone again.

Of course the audience want……more. The video screen has picked up a shot of the near full moon (looking as it did during the ‘Dazed and Confused’ Song RemainsThe Same movie segment) – cut to the fans still going crazy for the band…and they get what they want…a third encore.

Oh, they come again…and a shattering version of ‘Heartbreaker’ leaps from the speakers – including a dynamic Page one-handed solo. Really, I didn’t think they had it in them to do anymore. Exhausted, sweating and smiling, Jimmy, Robert, Jonesy and Bonzo leave the stage for the final time well after 1am.

Sunday morning: The Knebworth Zeppelin nation begin to shuffle towards the exits. Leaving a buzz in the air…a buzz you can feel right through you… a buzz that sums it up…their return here at Knebworth on August 4th 1979 was quite simply Led Zeppelin’s pinnacle of achievement.

Dave Lewis August 8th 1979

Extract from the book Led Zeppelin Then As It Was -At Knebworth 1979 -written and compiled by Dave Lewis. Above photos taken from the book by Phil Tattershall, Dave Lewis and via TBL Archives.

The book is readily available price £10 plus postage and packing from this link:

http://www.tightbutloose.co.uk/?page_id=1962

………………………………

RECOLLECTIONS FROM OUT IN THE FIELD:

MY KNEBWORTH

Joseph Whiteside

Vancouver – Canada.

‘’This is a small little up-tempo ditty, that we’ve been asked by some people in Vancouver – It’s all there in the end baby…. It’s called Trampled Underfoot’’

‘Robert Plant from the Knebworth stage August 4th 1979

‘’Some people from Vancouver’’

My friend Roger Grais won the radio station competition on CFOX-FM our Vancouver rock music radio station. Although we had only got to know each other that summer he told me I was going with him as I met the two requirements – I was over eighteen and I liked Led Zeppelin. His girlfriend met neither requirement.

So two weeks later we head to London for a week, airfare, hotel and two concerts tickets in hand. Roger even got a passport on three days turnaround. We arrived on August 1 probably and spent two days doing the tourist thing and visiting as many pubs as possible. We lost count of the number of Green Man pubs in the environs of our hotel – The Whitehouse near Regent’s Park.

On the Friday afternoon we took the Tube to train station and headed out to Stevenage station where we got off( I think). We were loaded with three dozen beers, food, binoculars, a blanket and a crummy portable cassette recorder. Grabbing bootleg t-shirts we headed into one of the massive campgrounds. We wandered about chatting with people who couldn’t believe how we made it to Knebworth from Vancouver, Canada. As darkness fell we guzzled beers and chatted with two lovely girls from Leeds. After midnight we discovered that people were already gathering near some huge wrought iron gates. Around 4:00am the gate came down and the mad rush along dirt paths began to the main concert site. I lost a shoe and nearly lost Roger in the scrabble and charge but we made it and survived the jostling for what seemed like hours before we got in arounf 6:30 AM. Roger refused to surrender his ticket stub and retains his complete ticket to this day.

We charged down the hill and found a good spot, we thought, slightly stage right and well in front of the mixing board. The cool day (who said it was warm?) past quickly as we absorbed the building tension. Hopes of a mid afternoon acoustic set sadly evaporated. Fairport were excellent especially Swarbrick’s violin playing and Rundgren in his yellow jump suit was quite good we thought. And then dusk came on, the gradual darkness engulfed the area illuminated by torches, matches and camera flashes.

Our anticipation was so tense as we watched the myriad of stage hands finalize the stage prep and the light and video crew ascended the ladders to the upper light trusses.

9:30PM and the cheers and applause kept building as we awaited the event. I had seen Zeppelin in Seattle on the ‘77 US Tour but this would be even more special.

9:40 and the hand held torches signalled stage activity. Guitar notes and drum rolls sent us into a frenzy and then the opening sustained note of The Song Remains the Same began and what seemed like every light came on and bang there they were, our four heroes on stage again at last and sounding awesome. Plant dressed in black and Page in slacks and the soon to be sweat-drenched shirt.

The massive backstage screen was amazing as close ups of Page, Plant Bonham and Jones flashed across.

Plant’s quip about Jimmy doubting people would come at all was warmly received. For us the early highlights of ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’, ‘Black Dog’ and ‘The Rain Song’ were special indeed.

‘Hot Dog’ was well received as the first new number but when they brought out the stool and Jonesy’s triple-neck I knew what was next. ‘Ten Years Gone’ was amazing and Jimmy’s phrasing on the overlays was sublime. Regardless of the beer cans and wine jugs flying in our area we were all rivetted to the stage and the stunning audio and visual spectacle before us. Roger snapped pictures frequently, and I tried my best to keep the lousy mike in the air to record it all.

Then our special moment arrived. Plant said this next song is for “some people from Vancouver”. We were ecstatic – our request had gotten through. The radio station had given us Danny Urweider of Atlantic Records as a contact if we needed help. We phoned him as a courtesy and he asked what he could do. So as Zeppelin had not played ‘Trampled Underfoot’ in Seattle, I asked if he could ask them to play it for us. Special thanks forever to Danny for getting the request passed on and to Robert who remembered us – Two guys from Vancouver.

So with “a ready Mr. Jones” it began and Page’s solos on ‘Trampled’ were amazing indeed. ‘White Summer’ segued into ‘Kashmir’ as every light came on as that opening ‘Kashmir’ note was struck and there was the sway back from the audience and ‘Kashmir’ just blew us over.

Page’s violin bow solo heading to the drum intro for ‘In The Evening’ was another highlight. And then probably the best song of the show a truly unbelievable Achilles Last Stand. Bonzo’s drums on that one were in a different class, and Page by that time joyous but exhausted, just kept pushing it on. There is smile from him mid point on that song that just exemplifies for me Page at his best.

And then ‘Stairway’ with the clock now well after midnight.

To get three encores was astounding and as Plant over 100,000 people in a chorus of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is was spine-tingling.

So after a final bow from a clearly very satisfied band, the stage lights changed, ‘Communication Breakdown’ came over the sound system. We gathered our stuff, and bid farewell to the people we shared the day and the experience with and headed toward the exits. Surprisingly we met up with the two girls from Leeds who somehow and ended up a short distance from us. They invited us back to their tent but we thought it best to head to the train station – big mistake in hindsight.

After train delays we headed back to London and talked about the show with everyone. Roger a drummer raving about Bonham’s powerhouse effort and me revelling in Page’s guitar genius. Into London late Sunday morning we then staggered into our hotel -dishevelled, lacking sleep, and me hobbling on one foot as the other lacked a shoe. We slept and then phoned the radio station to report on the best concert ever.

We enjoyed our last few days in London talking through highlights and listening to our terrible recording. On knowing we were going, we promised ourselves a visit to the Marquee Club to see some band – any band. Luckily it turned out that that Monday August 6 was Simple Minds first London gig. Our music tastes have always been very broad and to the see the best band ever – Led Zeppelin, and a very good up and coming band was great.

We returned to Vancouver with great memories of a great time. Roger and I remain steadfast friends and music compadres. We have been to hundreds of shows since (from the Grateful Dead to Dream Theater), but nothing has come close to that wonderful August night in a field in England.

It was special indeed, and to see video of it today brings back so many good memories. With a special thanks again to Danny Urweider and to Jimmy, Robert, John Paul and John (so sadly missed) thank you thank you.

By the way, who were all those lucky people on the stage riser to the left of Jimmy’s amplifiers? They must have been deaf by the end of the night.

Joseph Whiteside and Roger Grais.

“Some people from Vancouver”

……………..

MY KNEBWORTH:

Dave Lewis, Bedford.

The announcement of Knebworth was my first (and certainly not last) experience of the perils of magazine deadlines. I’d wrapped TBL 2 in the first week of May. Repeated calls to Swan Song had revealed nothing in the way of gig news in that early Spring. They were being tight lipped about any thing at that time. Under the headline “No news is bad news” I stated that Swan Song have no details to reveal on gigs or the new album. Adding that “Surely it can’t be too long before something is decided”.

Indeed it wasn’t. Copies of that primitive TBL were still being despatched when the announcement came. And where was I went it came through? – in the pub! Tuesday night was football training followed by a drink in the local. When I got home after 11pm that night my dad mumbled to me that “Your group has been mentioned on the programme that has that whispering man on”.

Anxious to find out exactly what was going on I called fellow TBL crew member Tom Locke who luckily knew the details. During that evening’s edition of The Old Grey Whistle Test Annie Nightingale had announced that Led Zeppelin were to top this year’s Knebworth Festival in August.

This was truly momentous news causing little sleep that night. In the morning I called Swan Song and sure enough the details were confirmed. The music press duly announced the event – the NME deployed the biggest news headline I’d ever seen them use to proclaim “Zep Are Back”.

I was actually a little surprised they had decided on Knebworth and just mildly disappointed that it was to be only one show and not a tour. Plus the sheer size of Knebworth would make it quite difficult to see them in anything like close proximity. Still, as Peter Grant would tell me years later, if they were still the best band in the world what better way to prove it than by playing to the biggest audience possible.

The next quest of course was the tickets. Nowadays tickets for a major festival are available on a variety of websites online or at the dial of the credit card booking number. Not so back then. There was a mail order facility but the TBL Bedford crew needed to be certain. Tickets were going on sale at various Harlequin Record shops across the country from Sunday June 3. After a Saturday night pub crawl, Tom, Dec and I made the trip to Cambridge to stake out at the Bridge Street location of Harlequin (incidentally, many years later the shop traded as Our Price and then V Shop the retail outlet I worked for). When we arrived at 2am there were about 60 fans already camped out. I got around three hours sleep, woke with a raging hangover, sold a few TBL’s and waited anxiously in line for the 10am opening. The tickets themselves were a superb design – it was great to come away with something so tangible to the event – not like the computer printed designs of many of today’s tickets.

The following Saturday, June 9, I listened excitedly to Radio One’s afternoon Rock On show. They aired the first Robert Plant interview for two years conducted by Trevor Dann backstage at a Dave Edmunds gig. His statement that “Heroes were in books… old books” could have come down on a stone tablet from Mount Olympus such was its impact on this particular junior TBL editor. Knebworth was going to be the big one.

In the weeks leading up to it, events hurtled along… various changes of bill: Out went Dire Straits, Joni, Van Morrison, Marshall Tucker. In came Commander Cody, Todd Rundgren etc. A second date was added (we got tickets by mail order for that), the new album, as yet untitled, was scheduled for release around the time of the shows. I had planned a pre-Knebworth TBL3 but decided to wait until after the gigs. I had a flyer to distribute at the shows using South Bound Suarez as the likely title for the album – I’d got the track listing of the album and had a hunch that may be the eventual title – I was wrong!

So it was we found ourselves in front of the stage in a pretty deserted Knebworth arena on the morning of Thursday August 2nd. The game plan for the TBL Crew being to get there early (three days early!) and stake out for the soundcheck and get the best possible spot in the arena for the show.

Sounds simple enough but it was not to go entirely to plan. The early copies of NME, Sounds, Melody Maker and Record Mirror were on sale in Stevenage – all carried major Zep stories. In this Internet driven instant communication ’90’s age it will come as some surprise that this was the first I’d heard about them playing two warm up dates in Copenhagen the week before. Swan Song had given nothing away on that one – curses! If I’d known I would have made an effort to get over there, thus keeping up with my new found principle – if they’re playing somewhere, anywhere, I want to be there!

“I wonder what on earth they’ll be wearing?” enquired Dec during one of our speculative pre-gig conversations. A hint was on hand with the first publication of the official Knebworth photo call shot in the NME. And hey, they looked cool… somehow contemporary and looking well ready for action.

We were able to see just how Robert looked when by sheer chance we happened to be at the Knebworth house car park when he drove in for the soundcheck at 6pm. He asked us the way to the backstage area. We duly obliged wishing him well. He looked on top form with his hair styled in a way that made him look younger. Bonzo sped in soon after.

At this point things went a bit pear-shaped for us. We must have looked a bit too conspicuous hanging around by the stage. We were asked by JB – one of the key Zep security man to leave the arena while they tested the PA. Everyone, bar officials and the crew were also asked to leave. So it was we heard only a muffled version of the soundcheck from a few fields away. It was then into Stevenage for a much needed drink and an overnight sleep in the car.

Friday was just incredible. Watching the camp site gradually fill up was just awe inspiring. All those people who had come so far… all here for one group. Repeated chants of “Zeppelin, Zeppelin” filled the air. When Tommy Vance played The Rover as part of his Knebworth serenade Friday Rock Show a tremendous roar went around the site. I can still remember the feeling of immense pride as if it were yesterday.

kneb79camp800

Originally the gates were due to open at 8.30am. As it was around 3am the fences began to go down and a huge crush developed around the turnstiles. We hastily picked up our gear and ran to the barriers. Looking back now in this post Hillsborough era of crowd control, there could have been a major disaster at the front of the crush similar to the 1989 soccer ground tragedy. I for one was feeling the strain down the front and had to be pulled out by a security guard. It was a frightening experience. Thankfully the turnstiles opened and we were able to run down to a very strong vantage point near the front of the stage.

I do remember one rather unfortunate mishap in the drama to get in. I somehow lost the bag of leaflets I’d got prepared to hand out – missing out on informing 200,000 potential subscribers of this new found platform of communication. Oh well. Dent’s Road would never have coped with the rush of post!

From there on much of my Knebworth memories have been well chronicled in TBL3 and The Final Acclaim book. That particular review earned me the rose tinted glasses label from Sounds writer Hugh Fielder. Looking back now it was incredibly gushing in it’s praise but let’s face it, we were mere kids really and to see your favourite group and in that sort of setting… well it made an amazing impression. I stand by what I wrote back then – it was some of my most passionate prose and to understand all that, well, you really you had to be there.

To be there when that screen flashed on and that opening chord of The Song Remains The Same cried out. I taped the show on my cumbersome Phillips portable – unfortunately the batteries ran out by half way through but I still have the first part, that tape captures our manic excitement as they came on including Tom bellowing “They’re on the fucking stage!!!” If I ever need to explain why it meant so much to anyone, well, one listen to that moment they came on as captured on this old Memorex tape would surely go some way to demonstrating the effect it had on their audience at the time.

Little did I realise that years later that same Phillips portable would capture the voice of Peter Grant as he told me personally what he thought of that period and many more in the two days I spent interviewing him in 1993.

Kneb 15

And to be there when that shot of laser light exploded from Page’s violin bow, the incredible drama of In The Evening, the first inkling of the new Led Zeppelin… and of course, there to hear that “It’s been like a kind of blind date” Plant’s speech before Stairway… and be there when we all erupted into You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

“Thanks for eleven years.”

Then it was all back for a repeat performance the next week. The ensuing days inbetween found me on a high comparable to that Indian summer week of May 17 to 25 four years earlier. We didn’t go down on the second date until early on the Saturday morning – again after a night of Friday night revelry. We still managed to get fairly close to the front. The day was slightly marred by the endless delays between acts and the long wait for the New Barbarians. There was less anticipation than the previous week, although they and us were a lot more relaxed. Whilst not carrying quite the same emotional highs as the first date it was a hugely enjoyable show rounded off by a vibrant Communication Breakdown. Plant’s final comments as he left the stage are etched in my mind for all time

.“We’ll see you again soon… very soon. I don’t know about the Marquee, but somewhere soon.”

As we exited from the field in under the Hertfordshire moonlight little did we know that we had just witnessed Led Zeppelin’s UK Swan Song.

When I got back to Bedford an advance tape (thanks Russ!) of the album awaited. The excitement did not let up for months…years…decades…

Looking back 37 years on there’s no doubt in my mind that that whole summer of 1979 was one of the best times of my life. Central to that was a band and some songs…and a few thousand like minded people out in a field.

And yes they were outstanding in that field…and 37 years on they still are.

Dave Lewis, Bedford.

MORE KNEBWORTH RECOLLECTIONS TO FOLLOW …

………………………….

YouTube clip:

9.40 pm approx. Saturday August 4, 1979: ”They are on the fuckin’ stage…!

The reaction of myself, Tom Locke and Dec Hickey as taped by me as Led Zeppelin came onstage…warning – it might get loud – and crazy…

To be continued

Until next time…

Dave Lewis/Gary Foy – August 4, 2016.

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One Comment »

  • Mark Carroll said:

    Got these shows on Empress Valley DVD’s, wasn’t particularly impressed with either shows. They certainly didn’t compare with the two Earl’s Court shows (24th & 25th) that I have on DVD….

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