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TBL ARCHIVE – KNEBWORTH THEN AS IT WAS SPECIAL: THE NATION ASSEMBLES…

3 August 2010 8,168 views 6 Comments

To mark the 31st anniversary of the final UK Led Zeppelin concerts, here’s the first of the series of TBL Archive Special retro features on Led Zeppelin at Knebworth.

All text is taken from the book Then As It Was –Led Zeppelin At Knebworth 1979 – if you haven’t indulged in this as yet, now is a timely moment to do so.

The  limited edition hardback edition is still available but hurry as the stock is selling down. All books are individually numbered and personally signed by the author – see the ordering link to the right.

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 Led Zeppelin’s 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 are featured on the covers of three of them, two include lengthy Jimmy Page interviews, the build up is well underway.

Late afternoon: the massive P.A. is ready for testing.  It’s rumoured the band is 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.  By sheer luck  we see him drive up to the house He is looking positively radiant, beaming, smiling  “Which way’s the stage?” he asks.  I was more than happy to oblige.

The young DL points R.Plant in the direction of the Knebworth stage – just another TBL service…photo by Tom Locke.

The security guards clear the park for the soundcheck, a soundcheck that lasts not more than an hour.  Jonesy tinkles ‘No Quarter’ style.  Bonzo, likewise in the ‘Moby Dick’/’Levee Breaks’ vein, Jimmy plays the blues while Robert limbers up with a 1950’s do-wop number.  A relaxed, confident, dummy run through that bodes well for Saturday.  The nerves are beginning to tell on me though, I go into Stevenage and drink the night away…

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 may 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 Zeppelin 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 Jumbo) gather around them settling in for the overnight wait.  Tommy Vance does the Knebworth serenade, kicking off with ‘The Rover’ –midst 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 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 100,000 stuck in it.  By now the arena is packed, the sight is breathtaking to say the least.  Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes at tea time are not.

Early evening: the change over of bands is taking longer… the silly element amongst us are well into the now expected can-throwing caper, us encased in the front are the one’s suffering.  One such can bounces off my head, my head survives, the can doesn’t.  Todd Rundgren and Utopia are on stage. 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 Led Zeppelin are not.  The Zep equipment has been mechanically and clinically pieced together.  Mr Jones’ keyboards (clavinet, white electric grand piano, GX 1 keyboard set up) 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. 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 on 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 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….

Copyright Dave Lewis 2009. Not to be reproduced without prior permission.Taken from the book Then As It Was – Led Zeppelin At Knebworth 1979 (Tight But Loose Publishing)

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6 Comments »

  • paul webber said:

    it was the best concert i have ever been to in my life, i actually burst into tears when they came on stage………..paul webber.

  • andy said:

    Without doubt the greatest and best gig I ever attended, and there were some great ones. This ranks only behind the birth of my children in the life changing momemnts of my life.
    Before Zeppelin i was a callow 16 year old who liked lots of different music but there was no focus for it. I had not been able to get all of the bits into one thing. When zeppelin were on I finally got it, most of what I like all in one band, no limits no restrictions, and nothing has ever been the same since. Zeppelin were MY band, and that has never changed and I think it never will.
    They are still and I believe will always be not only the greatest rock and Roll band ever but as Jonesy said so much better than whoever was number 2 that they are not even playing the same game.
    I love music and lots of really good modern bands but there will only ever be one Led Zeppelin and I am proud and happy to say that I (along with thousands of others) saw them live, wow, I get the shivers still whenever I say that, what other band can do that to you.

  • Chris Wright said:

    I would echo John’s words about Dave’s wonderful book. In many ways it’s a new direction in rock writing – taking one gig (albeit over two nights) and dissecting every detail – it’s a superb read from cover to cover. Essential. Then As It Was amply demonstrates why Knebworth has become a major highlight in the lives of all who were fortunate to be there. It wasn’t the perfect Led Zeppelin set, but it was most definitely the perfect Led Zeppelin spectacle. Perhaps the only time when their musical majesty has been matched by the sheer enormity of the audience, especially on August 4th.

  • Dave Lewis (author) said:

    Steve and John thanks for that
    it’s amazing how with each passing year, the memories of Led Zeppelin at Knebworth become even more precious, even more mythical – a bit like England World Cup 1966 – the fact that 31 years on we still remember every little detail says it all – it wasn’t just about seeing a mere rock band – it was a way of life and being at Knebworth in 1979 helped shape our life and who we are today. The neighbours had better watch out tomorrow night as I’ll be reliving it on screen loud and proud – and I won’t be the only one for sure…

  • Steve Jennings said:

    I want to go back in a time machine 🙂 I’ve tried to explain to my kids the enormity of Knebworth 1979. Was it as HUGE as it really felt at the time? it was wasn’t it? No other concert / event and I’ve attended 100’s over the years, from music, to sport, to Royal stuff, etc comes close to 11 August. Hmmm, time to search Google for ‘how to build a time machine in a weekend’ I guess I’ll have to make do with the boot CD and video 🙂

  • john west said:

    Can’t believe its 31 years gone! It was a fantastic day to remember Stoke to Knebworth Im relivin the memory now, all set to replay the gig tomorrow. If youhaven’t got Dave’s fabulous and informative book on that great day you need it!A fantastic recall by all concerned!

    John…then as it was

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