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11 August 2010 12,719 views 3 Comments

All photos Dec Hickey/TBL

To complete the TBL Knebworth Then As It Was Archive series , we present a  look back to the second Knebworth concert staged on August 11th1979  -31 years ago today. The very last show Led Zeppelin performed in the UK.

All text taken from the book Then As It Was – Led Zeppelin At Knebworth 1979. Limited edition hardback copies still available – the perfect summer read recalling those golden days of August 1979. Ordering details to the right of this page.


AUGUST 11th 979

Early morning….morale is quite definitely not at its highest….the hangover from celebrating our good friend and fellow Wallbanger Karl’s birthday last night in Bedford is kicking in… The long trek to the arena seems longer this week.  Maybe it’s something to do with the sprinkling of rain that descends upon us.  Inside the arena the rain gets heavier.  For over an hour it pours, this is no fun…

Above: ”Upon us all” – August 11th 1979 7.30am TBL editor gets wet.

But miraculously by 9am the clouds begin to clear and by 10am the sun is shining.  Thank you Lord.  Chas and Dave open the live music to nil reaction.  Commander Cody and his band follow and it’s loud – too loud, take a walk.  The site is filling up but nowhere near as fast as last week.  Southside Johnny And The Asbury Dukes arrive on stage and play (to these ears) a dull set.  The sun is beating down strongly, it’s hot…extremely hot.  By mid afternoon most of the punters have settled in the arena, some 80,000 this week.  The atmosphere is not quite so vibrant and expectant as last week but there’s still a lot of people here, many no doubt for their second week.  A few clad in Stones t-shirts here for the Barbarians – that’s a long way off though.

Tod Rundgren’s Utopia hits the stage, Todd in a less revealing jump suit his week.  He performs an erratic but professional show marred again by his over-indulgence.  Late afternoon still very hot, New Barbarians due at 6pm…6.30pm arrives and the stage set up is complete…still no sign of Ron and Keef though.  Nicky Horne appeals to the crowd to cease the trading of cans by air, but he’s clearly talking to a frustrated audience….7.30pm still no Barbarians.  8pm at last they arrive on stage. Frankly it’s all a bit of an anti climax.  Honest Ron proceeds to dominate the stage with his loony stage antics  while Keef restrains himself to a low key power-chording ’Honky Tonk Women’. ‘Before They Make Me Run’ and an encore of ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’ get the required response but really it was a fuss about a whole load of nothing as far as I saw it.  Nicky the H tells us we’ve got an hour and fifteen minutes to wait for the change over…well we’ve already waited longer for less…nearly time, the stage is set, my heart skips a few beats in anticipation.

After all, this is the Zeppelin’s first gig anywhere for a whole week…and it’s not often you can utter that statement is it?

It’s after 10.30pm when the canned music dies down and the lights flash on to the stage, the signal means they are ready.  Nicky Horne is the man who announces (not unlike the way he did at Earls Court) “Ladies and Gentlemen…Jones, Bonham, Page and Plant – Led Zeppelin”.

Once again the sight of them on stage again performing ‘The Song Remains The Same’ is incredible.  They go on to perform practically the same set as the previous week.  Robert is quick to backlash the music press when he states early on:  “Well it didn’t rain on us in the week from one or two sources ad we are just gonna stick it right where it belongs”.

The general atmosphere is not quite so electric as last week, and the band encounter one or two technical hitches early in the proceedings.  During ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ several speakers blow loudly just before the chorus and Robert is forced to swap mikes half way through.  To their credit they manage to plough on unaffected by this, but the last straw is when Jimmy breaks a guitar string during the closing bars.

The sound trouble continues through ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ but the band recover well, and things are back to normal with the next track, a peerless ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’. One other slight hitch occurs when the screen goes a bit crazy during ‘No Quarter’, but apart from that it’s all plain sailing. Robert is in fantastic voice, Jimmy is sweating and grinning cheerfully – playing a feast, while Bonzo and Jonesy are keeping it rock steady behind them.  Incidentally all the band are wearing the same garb as last week.

Robert dedicated ‘Hot Dog’ to the Texan road crew and makes a very interesting statement following that song, maybe hinting at something? “I’m never gonna Texas anymore…but we will go to Manchester.’ Round Christmas should be good, and Nottingham you’ve got a lot going for you already up there, and Worcestershire, and Wolverhampton, yeah, I know”

They leave out ‘Ten Years Gone’ (shame) this week but do a magnificent ‘Rain Song’ and as they hit the home straight the power of the performance just keeps on climaxing. ‘Kashmir’, ‘Trampled Underfoot’, ‘Sick Again’, ‘Achilles’, Jimmy’s violin bow episode and ‘In The Evening’ ) still fantastic second time around leap from the stage…and of course Robert’s introduction of ‘Stairway’ is full of sentiment.

“And it comes the time now when we really gotta thank you for hanging about for four years, you English folk, and you French People, for hanging about since – Oh I dunno when.  And I’d like to thank everybody who’s come from everywhere to create the kind of atmosphere we’ve had…The other bands who’ve been with us – Commander Cody, good, good, good, er…Todd, Keef…Peter Grant (come on)…Thanks everybody.”

‘Stairway to Heaven’ is an incredible finish tinged with sadness (this week’s ad libs – “I’d like to say I hope so…Our stairway lies on the whispering wind…Sometimes that’s all you got”.)

The encore with ‘Rock and Roll’ (“Good evening can you do the dinosaur rock?!”) and return a second time to perform the re-vamped ‘Whole Lotta Love’ that this week segues into ‘Let That Boy Boogie’. Finally an old chestnut is re-roasted…’Communication Breakdown’ crushes everyone.  It’s that sort of performance and it’s a fitting end. With that Robert turns and with the rest of the band leaves the stage.  Led Zeppelin at Knebworth is over.

“It’s been great, thank you very much indeed…We’ll see yer soon…very soon. I dunno about the Marquee but somewhere soon – Goodnight – Bye.”

A triumphant return…no doubt about it.  Of course the majority of critics slammed it, but Led Zeppelin don’t play for critics…they play for their fans, and 270,000 came to see them at Knebworth and it’s their reaction that mattered.  Everyone I spoke to loved it.

Led Zeppelin returned to the stage with a performance that didn’t rest on their laurels, this was no exercise in going through the motions, they set their own standards and pushed them to the limits with a display of dynamic emotional rock and roll energy. The very nature of the material they chose to play made it a joy to listen to.  Gone was the excess and self indulgence of the past.  I for one, was not sorry to see the omissions of marathons like ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Dazed and Confused’.  What we did get was a balanced programme that included just a little spice of everything that is Led Zeppelin.  A performance that took you to the highest high, at its mightiest, able to rock you till your bones trembled, while on the other side of the spectrum, also move you near to tears.

And all this talk of being old and dormant…I just fail to see it, Zeppelin more than lived up to their reputation and not only that…actually bettered it, one of the best performances, ‘In The Evening’, being a track previously unheard… proof that it was not a case of trading on former glories. Enough of this though.  I don’t have to justify Led Zeppelin’s performance at Knebworth.  They did that themselves, and in doing so, created a little bit of heaven for everyone to share, and after four years they can still do that…give thanks.

Dave Lewis – August 1979 -Originally written for TBL3


Above: TBL Bedford Knebworth 3 Dec,DL and Tom keep on truckin…


This tme there’s no sleeping bags required…


“Mum…” I recall testing the water to see if she was asleep or not that night. “Can I go to see Zeppelin in August pleeeese?”

Negotiations had begun. Living in the backwater of Goole meant that I’d had a pretty sheltered existence and going to gigs hundreds of miles away was by parental permission only. Over the ensuing week Mother undertook a deal of research; phoning my uncle in Welwyn Garden City to gauge his opinion on Knebworth (positive) and checking amongst her friends at work to see if any of their sons were going. Fortune smiled. My mum and Richard Bramham’s mum were kindred spirits. We were going to Knebworth…’’(Andy Balcom)

‘’After a raucous evening in a local hostelry we settled down for a long sleepless night by the perimeter fence like a small platoon of eager commandos. Around 4am word got around that a hole had been found a few hundred yards away, and sure enough on arrival, we found a scene similar to ‘The Great Escape’ with shafts of light illuminating figures running hell for leather. So off we went with all the enthusiasm of a bunch of cub scouts only to find yet again our hopes stalled by the reality of the tall corrugated interior fence that would not let us enter for some hours yet.’’ (Alex Machin)

‘’I remember the merchandise finally going on sale late in the afternoon with huge queues. Choosing the Swan Song T-shirt, buying the programme, badge, poster, anything Zeppelin that was on sale.  The sound of  Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show filled the campsite and the cheers went up when anything Zeppelin related was mentioned or played. I also remember hearing everyone shouting “Wally!” and wondering what on earth this meant – was it a new drug? A Zep reference that I had missed somewhere along the way?. The title of their new album? Whatever it or he was – he was mighty popular!’’ (Mick Bulow)

‘’The imminent arrival of Zeppelin was the cue for me to open my last remaining booze of the day – in those innocent teenage days we’d probably downed no more than a couple of cans of cheap lager each during the day but this was the cue to hit the hard stuff, a bottle of red wine and that was the start of my chemical-induced Zeppelin experience.   Spurred on by the sheer
excitement of the unfolding gig, my intake spiralled out of control.  By the time Jimmy Page picked up his violin bow and began his long-anticipated, laser-strewn guitar solo I was on another planet.
The journey back was a nightmare with our first real hangovers kicking in but it didn’t matter – we were kicked out of the car at about 6am and crawled into bed thinking we had witnessed history.’’ (Peter Anderson)

‘’The lights bathed the band in clear vision and the audience went crazy. When things settled down you could sense a new found confidence, they knew at this point they were still the biggest and best band in the world, and here were a hundred thousand fans agreeing, and at the same giving punk and the UK music press an almighty one fingered salute.’’ (Stuart Whitehead)

‘’Then they finally appeared. I remember the pitch black… the anticipation and then the notes from Page’s double neck that launched into ‘The Song Remains The Same’. Every time I see that at the start of the video I can vividly remember the excitement I felt at that moment.’’ (Ian Avey)

‘’ During previous twenty six hours, I’d suffered sleep deprivation, asphyxiation, sunburn, dehydration, been soaked to the skin and trodden on (Trampled Underfoot?) and towards the end of the set, I remember thinking that although this was a great show, I’d never do it again, well, not for anyone…… other than Led Zeppelin of course.’’ (Phil Tattershall)

‘’There was an element of near religious pilgrimage about the whole day. It was a kind of thanksgiving to what they’d given us over the past eleven years. I’m just grateful I took the opportunity when it was there.’’ (Gary Simpson)

‘’ I have an abiding image of Jimmy Page enveloped in a laser beam pyramid, a lone figure to the right of the stage, thrashing the bow across his guitar and bathed in blue light. Amid multiple encores, Rock And Roll’ and ‘Heartbreaker’ saw them out and left us ecstatic, wondering when we would see them again.’’ (Dena Zarans)

”By the time the final notes of Heartbreaker had died away we were all ready to just lie down and recover but it was only then that our last minute chauffeur announced that we had to leave immediately because he would be in trouble with his girlfriend if he didn’t get back before morning.  So instead of being allowed to gently sleep off the alcohol our young bodies were entirely unused to we were frog marched on extremely unsteady feet back to the car.   All I remember is feeling that we were completely surrounded by fire, as various campfires had sprung up on the site during and after the show.  I remember the walk back seemed to be along ridiculously narrow paths and involved crossing a wooden bridge over a river that many people just decided to wade across but really it’s all a bit of a blur.  The journey back was a nightmare with our first real hangovers kicking in but it didn’t matter – we were kicked out of the car at about 6am and crawled into bed thinking we had witnessed history”. (Peter Anderson)

”I remember when they left the stage all the fires burning under the night sky, an amazing time. My last memory of that night is walking back to the camp site though the fields and somebody started to sing a song that had been in the charts by Jilted John and on the bit where he goes “and you know who was with him” everybody shouted “Yeah  Julie!”.Absolutely hysterical. Knebworthand Led Zeppelin – A fantastic mad time a very long time ago”. (Phil Hasler)

”I’ve seen many great bands since but none will match Zeppelin they still remain the greatest band ever. That day was so special. The crowd at the end singing You’ll never walk alone” was just so emotional.  It was a special time, it will never be repeated but there legacy lives on. (Jon West)

‘’There was an amazing buzz around the place and it was astonishing to witness what a pilgrimage this was for so many people.  We met fans from Italy, and even America.  At such a tender age, I was amazed at how someone could travel all that way for a gig!  I’ve done it myself since, but we were certainly young and naïve.’’ (Jerry Bloom)

”It’s hard to pick highlights as the entire performance was my ultimate concert highlight however a few things stand out; the opening with ‘The Song Remains The Same’, Jimmy breaking a string break at the end of ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’, everything about ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’, the power of ‘Kashmir’ , the intensity and bright white lights of ‘Achilles Last Stand’ (and another broken string), Jimmy’s bow solo and the revolving green laser pyramid and the finale of ‘Communication Breakdown.’ What a night. What a day. What a band!” (Graeme Hutchinson)

‘’The concert had finished and everyone was piling out of the fenced off arena. Spirits were high, and we were in a hurry to find our tent and crash. It was pitch black and the cigarette ends lit up the queue going to the camp site which stretched ahead curving in a right angle after 100 yards or so round to the left. Why wait in line? Sparky decided we’d cut across the right angle and join the queue further down. I dithered as usual thinking through the fog of booze and joints there must be a reason for the dog-leg in the queue. He grabbed my hand and started to run. We got up quite a speed until the earth gave way beneath our feet.

There has been a reason why no one had ventured across that bit of the grass…

Have you guessed?


Yes the organisers of the concert had removed the wooden cubicles and my dear partner had dragged the pair of us into the open cess pits. We were thigh deep in human waste. It was like quicksand the more you struggled, the deeper you sank. And the smell…

For some reason no one would come near us on all night and as for the 100 mile train journey back to Suffolk, via London Liverpool Station…well you can imagine…’’(Louise Clarke)

‘’God they were fantastic. Not only the best band I had ever seen (and will ever see) but so much better than any other band. At the end I slept in a ditch, I couldn’t talk as my throat was gone with the cheering, and I was tired. By September I had all of the albums and life was never the same again. In that one day my music taste formed around one band, and although I love other music, lots of other music, nobody else compares. Thirty years on Knebworth in 1979 seems like both yesterday and in another life. The fact remains that other than the birth of my children this was the most important day of my life.’’ (Andy Griffiths)

All text taken from the book Then As It Was – Led Zeppelin At Knebworth 1979 (Tight But Loose Publishing)

Copyright Dave Lewis 2009 – not to be reproduced without prior permission.

And when it was all over all that was left was to catch up on sleep – Tom Locke and DL dreaming of a cool pint and a bucket of KFC back home…



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  • russell ritchin said:

    EXCELLENT DAVE how well i remember some of the events i can practically smell that damp grass (not only the type you were crashed out on)as i do not drive i remember friends of mine who were all older coming to collect me and my father opening the door and giving them all a very disapproving look as this sweet sort of fragrance hung in the air around them,i also remember the gates opening and
    the mad rush for best possible viewing (although we were still well back) i also remember we had all split carrying different parts of food/drink and the guy who had the sandwiches tripped and a lot of our sarnies go flying and tramped upon by a few thousand people &
    then of course once you found your posistion and made it your own by spreading out blanket or plastic sheet you risked life & limb by trying not to tread over people all doing the same with there coffee/drinks etc splayed out all around you and going to loo and back was a expedition in itself then of course you had to find your friends again which was intresting (the days before mobile phones)cant remember too much of support bands (think i slept as much as i could to save myself for zep) but when THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME KICKED IN it was surreal i was somewhere else and just remember i wanted them to KEEP ON PLAYING ALL NIGHT & THE NEXT DAY & THE DAY AFTER etc etc.

  • Jim Sloane said:

    Excellent !

  • Chris Wright said:

    Thanks Dave for all the great memories your various Knebworth posts have evoked this last week or so. Each passing anniversary brings with it a deeper appreciation of what we witnessed in August 1979. This summer has seen poor concert ticket sales due, by common consent, to the appalling avarice of bands and promoters who thought they could milk their audiences dry by touring as often as their bank manager desired. In this atmosphere, it is nice to reflect on the best £7.50 ever spent by any of us who made the pilgrimage to that field over the two Knebworth ’79 weekends. In Zeppelin’s case, this was a concert borne out of the need to get back on stage, promote a new album and to satisfy the outrageously high audience demand built-up since Earl’s Court over four years earlier. It was a great example of a band judging their own needs and the clarion call of their fans to perfection. The affection and respect between band and audience was completely mutual and genuine and in great contrast to the present day, where you can expect your ticket to cost several times more than the entire recorded works of the artist in question. To say nothing of the hideous practice of selling meet and greet tickets. Yes, in spite of the hardships endured, we were privileged to have lived though The Zeppelin Years.

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