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18 June 2010 12,132 views 5 Comments


Above – On stage  Cologne June 18th 1980 – Photos copyright Tom Locke/TBL

To mark the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the final Led Zeppelin tour, this special TBL archive extract takes us back to the hot and steamy summer night of June 18th 1980. A night of rejuvenation that I was lucky enough to witness at very close quarters.

Being in close proximity during five of the gigs, there was a real sense of rejuvenation among the band and entourage. Even if the performances were an uneven blend of the great, good and mediocre, it was the tonic they all needed in rebuilding Led Zeppelin as a working band. Had they got to America in the fall, I feel this new impetus would have driven them through the next decade.

As it was, the Over Europe tour was the final bow. This is how it felt for this observer 30 years ago today.



The magnificent city of Cologne, a mixture of hustling German efficiency and enthusiastic tourism, looks dull and hazy as our train rolls into the station on a June Wednesday morning. It’s in the vicinity of the square that surrounds the impressive Cologne cathedral that the reality of what I’m actually doing here really hits home.  Along a side street adjoining the square are a row of blue and red bill posters, each proclaiming the same message. “Lippman Rau and Scheller present Led Zeppelin Concert 80”.  The slogan that spells out clearly that Led Zeppelin are once again fully operational as a working rock ‘n’ roll band.

Yes it’s true. Zeppelin are coming over to meet the 80’s.  Their first tour in three years is finally happening.

The decision to return to the European community after a 7 year absence had been taken as far back as April. The group booked in extensive rehearsals at London’s Rainbow and New Victoria Theatre, then switched to Shepperton in readiness for a number of European concerts, set up through Harvey Goldsmith’s Umbrella operation scheduled for late May.  However, the itinerary went through a series of revisions (in usual Zep style) before the final plans were laid for the groups return to touring with fourteen mid June and early July gigs across Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Belgium.  Following a further spate of rehearsals at Shepperton, the “Led Zeppelin Over Europe 1980” tour carnage was ready to roll.

So cut back to Cologne, June 18th 1980.  The second day of the tour.  The previous night the band had done the ritual, rust stripping in Dortmund, except this time around there hadn’t been a lot of rust to strip.  In Cologne’s plush Inter-Continental Hotel, Robert Plant is telling me that the first gig  had been, in his words “Brilliant!”, which for a Zep first night is nothing short of incredible. “I dunno about tonight being so good but yes, it’s great to be back” adds Mr Plant, clad in a good looking Brazil yellow soccer shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, looking a little tired but pretty much full of life.

Harvey Goldsmith, the man responsible for bringing the group over, is booking everybody into the hotel.  A very down to earth true blue English man, he’s probably the most powerful promoter in Britain.  He’s done them all – Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, The Who, I mean he even got Bob Dylan over.  And now Led Zeppelin.  This is one tour he personally wants to witness blow by blow.  With him is Martin Goldsmith, responsible for the tour merchandise.  He’s wearing the official, “Zeppelin Over Europe ‘80” T-shirt which depicts one of those war time lookout guards anxiously peering skywards awaiting the blitz to happen.   Over Europe – geddit?  “Hope the Germans see the joke” laughs Martin.

John Paul Jones has short hair again.  Similar to the 1975 model, making him look slightly younger maybe.  John Bonham looks as bold as brass in his “All Right Now” sweat shirt, his thick Midlands accent warm and familiar.  Jimmy Page looks weary in white.  Unshaven, unsteady and sweaty.  Any doubts about his fitness though are going to be completely dispelled a few hours from now.  The huge figure of Peter Grant, commanding respect, follows in with the rest of the security personnel.  They’ve got Phil Carson over from Atlantic Records too, a familiar figure of past Zeppelin tours.  It really is beginning to look like old times again.

About three miles away from the hotel, across the Rhine, is the Cologne Sportshalle.  Usually reserved for the local cycling club, tonight it’s accommodating the radically cut-down Zeppelin P.A.  Just a basic stage layout with a black backcloth, there has been little hassle in setting the gear as security chief, Dave Moulder, tells me emphatically, “This is the best crew in the world”, and you know he’s talking about the Showco team from Dallas, Texas, as much a part of the Zeppelin legacy as the Gibson double neck and Benji Lefevre himself.

The German people like their rock, no mistake about that.  The arena, one of the smallest on the tour, holds about 4,000, certainly not much bigger than our Hammersmith Odeon, and fills up pretty quickly.  There are a sprinkling of American servicemen present, but nowhere near as many that attended some of the later gigs on the tour.

So it’s just after 8pm, 170 days into the eighties, when Led Zeppelin collectively come out to face them.  The lights dim, the canned music fades and I get that familiar (but not experienced since last August) below the belt surge that travels through the whole body.  No-one introduces the group, but then again no-one needs to.

Bonzo is the first man to be seen, moving up to the rostrum followed by John Paul Jones, dressed in white crochet patterned shirt and jeans.  He picks up the Alembic bass and strides stage left.  Robert Plant and Jimmy Page walk to the front of the stage to greet the mass applause.  Robert’s hair looks shorter than Knebworth and probably more like pre’69 length than at any time since.  He’s clad in a non flashy cap sleeve silk T-shirt, straight legged denims and Rod Laver tennis sneakers.  (His uniform throughout the tour).  Jimmy Page, his hair nearer the length of the ’77 tour than last year, is wearing the most incredible blue/grey pin striped baggy suit.  On anyone else it would look like an Oxfam reject.  On the frame of James Patrick Page it just looks so right.  Black shirt, white scarf and blue slip-ons complete the attire.  There is an air of non excessiveness and lack of self indulgence about the appearance and from the first number it is apparent that this transcribes itself into the music.

Raymondo straps on Jimmy’s Gibson.  The audience are already in near frenzy as he steps on the wah-wah pedal and tunes up.  Robert, straight to the right of the stage with both arms held aloft, is holding the microphone lead in that usual outstretched pose. Jimmy continues tuning up and eventually this becomes the chords for the opening bars of Train Kept A Rollin’ an old Yardbirds number and a track that was used as the set opener on the first Zeppelin US tours all those years ago. As Jonesy and Bonzo crash in on cue, Robert at once is alive and totally immersed in the song.  Let me tell you it was a moment that crystallised the essence of rejuvenation this band has obviously undergone.  The power even for them is awesome.  Train Kept A Rollin’ stops and Nobody’s Fault But Mine starts.  Minus the sonic intro but including some marvellous Plant phrasing (“Nobody’s fault but maahyyne….”) and harmonica wailings and with the now expected cry of “Oh Jimmy….Oh Jimmy….”  Before a shuffling, twirling, twanging solo from James Patrick.

Two songs in and a further shock.  Jimmy Page speaks! Yes folks, it’s true.  For the first time I can recall, Jimmy greets an audience.  A bit muffled, but it’s there alright – Good evening. Good evening! Don’t believe me, do you? Fuckin’ hell. Nice, well a little ditty from the past. Not so far back, but still from the past, and it’s called, no it’s ‘Scvahtsund.’

Yes Jimmy, an oldie but goodie.  Robert is outstanding on this one.  All the old poses – my it’s loud.  It’s obscene, it’s beautiful.  But Jimmy too, more than I’ve seen, wants to share the spotlight.  No longer content to confine himself to the left of Bonzo’s kit – No – he’s everywhere. I’ve never seen him move so much.  Playing up to the crowd, cringing, grinning – you know the stuff.  I mean, we’ve already got one amazing front man, but this time around Jimmy is almost playing off him.  The spectacle of the two is something else.  Hey, can John Paul Jones too seems to be more upfront these days.  No longer slipping into the shadows next to Bonzo.  No, he’s more prominent nearer the front of the stage, not moving too much of course, but jigging a merry dance up there with those amazing fluid bass runs that undercut Jimmy’s slippery guitar work.

Since we were last here many things have happened to us. The last thing that happened of any great importance was the last album that came out, In Through The Out Door. This is one track from it. It’s called ‘In The Evening.’

In The Evening is played next with exceptional intensity.  The drama of the intro itself is masterful.  Spotlight on Bonzo as he rolls on the tympani, Jimmy crouched over his blue Strat clawing at the tremolo arm to achieve that drone and Robert, arms upheld, slowly walking up to the microphone and holding the opening line for several bars until the moment all four crash down collectively on that cascading riff.  Taken at a slightly slower tempo than last years gigs, it still rates as a classic in the Zep stakes and as a testament to the power of the new Zeppelin sound.  Another magic moment is, of course, the point where the song slips into the slower passage, guided by Robert’s outstretched arm in the direction of John Paul Jones, who plays a beautiful keyboard passage (not featured on the studio version) over Jimmy’s jangling out-stretched tremolo chording.

This is a song from, I think Houses of the Holy time. It’s called ‘The Rain Song.’’ Robert tells the audience and a blue spotlight picks out Jimmy playing the opening chords to The Rain Song A song that has some of Robert’s best lyrics (“you are the sunlight in my growing”) and also featuring some controlled tympani from Bonzo.

Well that was a little bit of a love song about things that go right. Some times there are loves that go wrong, and this is a song about one of those recipients. It’s called ‘Hot Dog.’ Cue for the hillbilly cat workout of Hot Dog for which Jimmy switches to red Telecaster.  Funny old track this.  As much as I find it undistinguished on record, on stage it always delights as a fun clapalong.  It also gives Robert the opportunity to hoedown with some delightful foot stepping.

The next song is also from the last album.  Unannounced it still gets one of the best receptions of the night, the moment Jonesy plays the opening string symphony notes of All My Love.  As on record this is beautiful.  Jimmy plays some memorable chords on the Telecaster and Robert’s singing is full of sincerity. When John Paul Jones gets the middle classical solo off to a tee, Robert looks over and gives him a knowing smile.  It was just perfect, and the outro too, with Robert extending the “ I get a bit lonely, just a little bit, oh just a little bit lonely” lines to maximum effect. Thank you very much. That featured John Paul Jones on keyboards then, and so too does the next one. Careful. This is called ‘Trampled Underfoot.’ Complete with side stage revolving beacons, this remains a definitive high energy Zeppelin improvisation number. On that extended solo Jimmy seems to reap forth the most incredible guitar lines and Robert does a delightful two step strut across the stage shaking his head back and forth until he swings round and screams “Push!”, “Push”, “Push yeah”.  Vibrant stuff indeed. (“Eye Thank Yew”).

They slow the pace with the next track Since I’ve Been Loving You where naturally Jimmy leads the way with some amazing smooth lead guitar.  Robert’s vocals too, soar out this painful tale, holding and bending the notes in all the right places.  John Paul Jones aids the mix on electric piano.   Towards the finish Robert really excels, “Ah I get down on my knees for yer, yer fill my heart with pain don’t make me lose, don’t make me lose…..” We got the booze, they got the blues remember?

From there it’s another high-spot.  White light and smoke (one of the few effects employed) greet the intro of the epic Achilles Last Stand.  Jimmy uses feedback to great effect, throwing his arm out in tune with the sound.  Robert, meanwhile, is at his preening best unleashing the tale of where it all meets.  “Where the mighty arms of Atlas hold the heavens from the earth”.  For the “Ah-ah ah ah_ repeat refrain, Robert and Jimmy cluster together in classic rock ‘n’ roll pose, swinging their heads back and forth showering in each others sweat.  Raymondo brings on a chair for Jimmy’s White Summer/Black Mountain Side segment, where he sits down with the Dan Electro.  He gets so carried away that at one point he even drops his pick.  On cue, the last refrain of Black Mountain Side is the moment when the band collectively leap back into action via a couple of flash explosions stage front and we are into Kashmir. This is glorious.  Robert does some incredible spontaneous choreography with Jimmy who is crouched menacingly over the Dan Electro guitar.  Towards the end Bonzo leads the way out with a series of unbelievable drum fills, each one just a little more frenzied that the last, beating up to an incredible climax.

Just about the only song that could follow that is our anthem.  Unannounced the opening chords of Stairway to Heaven get the expected response.  Robert’s phrasing is as ever spot on and the tempo of the song is just slightly more speeded up than usual.  He sings “Do you remember laughter, laughter”, and takes up a classic tambourine pose for Jimmy to weave the way out with a soaring double neck solo.

“Goodnight – It’s nice to be back on the road again.”

With that they’re gone.  Ten minutes later they’re back with arousing encore.  “Good Evening!  Never fails does it?” comments Robert adding the statement – “So this is what it’s like in a rock’n’ roll band’’ before Bonzo thrashes the intro of Rock and Roll which has Robert doing his pogo bit, and Jimmy leaping around the stage firing the Gibson at the audience. After that, there is more than enough response to require a second encore which they get.  A compact no nonsense Communication Breakdown which remains faithful to the version on the debut LP clocking in at no more than three minutes of energetic action.

‘See ya! Good night! Good night! Good night! Thank you very much. It’s been great.’’

That’s Robert’s final statement.  That’s the second night of the tour.  That was hot.

So how do you sum that one up?  Folks – I’d say Led Zeppelin have gone full circle.  Tonight in every aspect of their performance it was almost a ‘back to the roots’ approach.  From the use of an old Yardbirds number to open with, right through to the choice of a twelve year old cut that still sounds good, to close with.  In between was what I would consider to be just about the best set I’ve ever witnessed Zeppelin play. There was a definite lack of self indulgence. A lack of excessiveness too.  Five years ago it was exciting and relevant to include marathon numbers, the bow episode, the lasers, the effects, etc, but really they took that trip as far as it could go.  The pendulum has swing in the other direction now.  The throwback of the compact set Zeppelin performed tonight still had enough spice and vitality to satisfy and I applaud their conviction to do it that way. It’s also a much needed return to feeling audiences again.  By reducing the scale of the whole operation, Zeppelin have once again regained contact with the people.  With the stage only six feet away from the nearest punter, it was a true platform of communication.

Another point – Knebworth was a magic event last year, there is no doubting that, but the size, grandeur and emotional experience of them appearing on a stage again, maybe glossed over the true spirit of their musical presence a little.  Judging by the smiles on the faces of Robert, Jimmy, Jonesy and Bonzo all through the Cologne gig, that spirit is well in evidence on this tour and that’s an important aspect.  The fact that they’re really enjoying playing together again.  I mean, I’ve never seen Robert sweat so much on stage.  They really want to please and it’s a great feeling to witness that.

Led Zeppelin have impressed me in may different ways over the years.  As musicians, as performers, as writers, as people.  Tonight they impressed me as a working rock ‘n’ roll band – above everything.  After eleven years that’s a remarkable achievement.

Tight But Loose? – you ain’t joking….and this is only the second night of the tour….

Dave Lewis June 1980

Copyright Dave Lewis/Tight But Loose Publishing. Not to be reproduced without prior permission.

Taken from the forthcoming book Led Zeppelin Feather In The Wind –Led Zeppelin Over Europe 1980

To be published as a deluxe limited edition volume. To reserve a copy email

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  • Shayne Smith said:

    Dave- I’m so glad you were there so you can bring it forward for those of us who werent. I discovered Zeppelin in 1979 when I was 11 with In Through the Out Door. So this book you are working on will be very special to me as it is the short period when I was a fan while they were still a band. I know it will be very special and I’m hoping I will be able to get it!!! Keep rocking!!

  • Led Zeppelin t shirts said:

    Wow, very insightful and in-depth Dave…thanks! I am really looking forward to when the book will be released!

  • Dave Lewis (author) said:

    Gerd and Julian – many thanks for those inspiring comments. The book is going to be an intensive job and some way off yet as there is real scope to present the final days of the band in great detail. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

  • Julian Walker said:

    Wonderful memories Dave, captured for all time by your very special knowledge and understanding of this stunning band. Can’t wait for the book to come out!

  • Gerd Zaunig said:

    Nice insight into the upcoming book. Thanks Dave!

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