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TBL ARCHIVE WORLD CUP SPECIAL: ROBERT PLANT SUMMER 2002 –FROM ZEN TO NOW – HE’S ON THE BALL

11 June 2010 5,787 views 2 Comments

With the World Cup very much upon us, this TBL archive special takes us back to the heady days of June 2002. As the World Cup got underway in Japan, Robert Plant was back in the forefront again promoting the just released Dreamland album. Here in the UK we had a Storytellers TV recording and a one off London date in the space of a few days – all occurring at the time Sven’s England were attempting to triumph in the World Cup in Japan.

It actually seems longer than eight years back – and reading it back quite nostalgic but a lot has happened in between.

That summer of 2002 was something of a summer of love as our affairs with England and Robert combined to produce some real highs.

Looking back it was really good to have some fresh activity albeit with something of a retro songbook. There’s a parallel to the state of play eight years on as we await a new chapter with Robert’s Band Of Joy album and tour due.

So let’s go back to June 2002 -this is how it was back in the Dreamland era when our combined passion for soccer and music created some joyous June days…

FROM ZEN TO NOW…

HE’S ON THE BALL

Part 1: Solo rejuvenation followed by England’s win over Argentina…life’s good

Once again it’s been along time. A long time that is since I’ve witnessed Robert Plant perform as a solo artist in his own right. Sure we’ve had the Priory Of Brion diversions, and that bizarre evening at the Albert Hall earlier in the year. This though is altogether different. This is Robert Plant solo artist in his own right supported by his band Strange Sensation recording for VH1’s Storytellers.

You have to go back to 1993 for the last real Plant solo performances. Fate of Nations. Ah yes..Francis Dunnery’s shorts…I Believe…29 Palms….What is And What Should Never Be….those were the days and we were relatively happy with it really. And then came that meeting with Jimmy and they were back…and there was Unledded followed by the world tour and then the Clarksdale album and tour.

It’s easy to forget that Robert had carved a very credible if somewhat erratic solo career between 1981 and 1993. By that time he’d already spent more years as a solo artist than he had being a member of Led Zeppelin. On that Fate Of Nations tour he had entered the most fruitful period of that solo venture. The accompanying album was by far the most satisfying solo outing. Blending the familiar histrionics with a folk rock purity that can now be viewed as a definite reference point to where he would land post Page with Dreamland.

Musically that ’93 tour saw the call of the Zeppelin looming large. By the end of it, the Zep quota in the set list was 60 -40 in favour of Zeppelin with the likes of  Ramble On, Thank You, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, Going To California and Whole Lotta Love ever present.  In retrospect perhaps we should not have been too surprised when he opted to continue the evolution of Zep with Jimmy for the Unledded filming and subsequent tours.  Four years later came yet more re- evaluation and changes. No more led anything once again – and in it’s place the desire to reach back before Zep to go forward. The songs that he’d carried for years in ‘his back pocket’ as he wryly put it came out to live and breath again. First in the Priory and then with Strange Sensation.

Now it all lands here at the Westway Studios in London.The new album Dreamland is ready to go and the artist and record company naturally are keen to promote it. With his intelligent spieling always worthy of attention the opportunity to perform for VH 1’s  Storytellers is a perfect one. Which is where I once again pick up on Robert Plant solo artist for the first time in nearly nine years. Just as Unledded acted as a catalyst for the whole rejuvenation of the Page and Plant partnership, this similar low key filming will do the same to rejuvenate Plant as he unleashes the Dreamland campaign. Like Unledded it’s a privilege to be in attendance. And as with Unledded many in attendance have qualified by TBL association. At short notice we were asked to run a competition on the TBL Web with the first 100 receiving tickets for tonight’s show. Therefore there’s a lot of familiar faces as the TBL crew meets up in the afternoon. It’s also a pleasure to have the good lady Janet in attendance for a timely opportunity to see first hand just why her husband sustains the enthusiasm to still do all this still.

So less than 200 gather around the tiny studio area where the band are set up. There’s no stage and you are right in the eyesight of the singer. The deal for Storytellers is this – audience packs closely around the artist. Artist performs a selection of songs – unveiling stories surrounding the choices. Audience get to ask questions on camera ala those  ITV ‘Auduence With’ TV specials, artist wraps it up with more songs. VH1 producer Bill Flannigan comes on to explain a few background details on how the evening will run – and enthuses greatly on Robert’s album .”We are so pleased to have him here and the album well…..it’s going to be the album of the summer”

Around 8pm from our wonderful vantage point front of stage second row, the artist formerly part of P and P walks on accompanied by the band. He plays with the mike stand and laughs when he fails to  unravel the mic- ”Can someone adjust this or I wont be able to do my tricks”  All goes quit as the cameras begin to roll…and Justin and Skin pick out some minor chords…and very soon it becomes apparent that this is Ship of Fools for 2002.  I have to say the sheer thrill of hearing Plant sing the opening line ”On waves of love my heart is breaking”  just a few feet in front of me is nigh on a par with that moment when they broke into Thank you at the first night of the Unledded filming eight years back.  This is a rejuvenation….this is a solo re acquaintance. This is a re-assurance and boy life is good.

Ship is performed fairly faithfully to the original -unlike the meandering  ’93 version. Hearing this sparks instant Plant solo nostalgia. Always a stand out from the Now and Zen era it can rightly take it’s place as one of Plant’s best compositions in or out of Zeppelin. From there Robert begins explaining the origins of the journey of the next song from up that Delta via Bukka White. Justin takes to percussion and that neo Cajun intro that has resounded repeatedly out of the Totnes deck in recent weeks is alive and vibrant right in front of us as the Strange Sensation run down track one of  Dreamland Funny In My Mind (I Beleive I’m Fixing To Die) expertly performed with the eclectic drive of the studio version. Further roots are divulged before Arthur Crudup’s Win My Train Fare Home (If I Ever Get Lucky). Another already familiar Sensation signature tune. Robert wraps the aching vocals all the way around Justin’s mesmerising mantra.

More influences and roots are up for discussion prior to going way down inside. The bluesy You Need Love Willie Dixon intro is suddenly undercut by a razor burst of riffing from Skin and Justin and hey it’s welcome back that mother of all riffs that is Whole Lotta Love. As much as I love the original, live Page- less re-workings often leave me cold. At best they can sound  hackneyed, at worst they edge on self parody. Not so tonight  and not so in this new arrangement. The riff itself is played with conviction and for all it’s cock rock drama, Plant plays it straight and serious. This arrangement also benefits greaty from omitting the overplayed ”way down inside”call and response finale and instead the band spiral off into a sonic improvisation led by Plant which slows and slows to a point where Plant lowers the tone and himself to the floor and the song  just stops….and you can hear a pin drop. A knowing grin and  then it’s mass applause. Masterful.

From one rejuvenation to another.

Come in Tall Cool One for a similar overhaul. Back in ’93 and before that in ’88 this rockabilly pastiche was nothing more than a kitsch crowd pleasing stomper – memories of Phil Johnston uttering those immortal words ”I should be so lucky, lucky in love ‘ in mid song reference to Kylie in hindsight may not have the best moment of that particular partnership. The Sensation version I’m pleased to report has much more in common with Gene Vincent than Kylie. Diry and slick, mean and moody it rocks with a vengance Plant in his best Ral Donner/Evis mode. Totally authentic, totally believable. Who would have thought it.

Next up Plant takes to the stool camera centre to take questions from the audience. These questions have been filled in earlier from a cross section of the audience. Robert answers them with surprising candour getting put right on the spot from the start. ”Is there going to be a live Zeppelin set or will we be left with just The Song Remains The Same soundtrack ?” is the perceptive first question.  ”No… Song Remains won’t be the only thing” replies Plant going on to explain that Jimmy is searching out tapes not a million miles from here. ”Latest news is two more shows discovered” is Plant’s revelation ”I hope to be joining him soon”. Our own Phil T asks if there will be extra tracks on the album in foreign markets and Robert offers the record company market forces view. Other questions revolve around the chances of Honeydrippers vol 2 (Can’t see it no”) and his latest touring plans.

Robert then remains on the stool for a sensative rendering of another Dreamland staple Morning Dew followed by an equally intense and superbly sung Song to The Siren. Darkness Darkness completes a trio of Dreamland extracts and like the album version this is an absolute stand out performance. Justin takes up the mandolin and there’s no surprise to what’s coming next – the plaintive chords of a simple arrangement of  Going To California signals a welcome Zep revival.

Sticking with Zep 4 the band then takes it all back up with a real storming Four Sticks. The memory of the former lead singer of  Led Zeppelin screeching out that ”Oooooh yeah” finale directly in front of me at eye level is another one to be stored right up there with the highest highs this thing has provided me with over the last 30 plus years.  The band walk off stage left but there’s no way we want this to end. Repeated calls of  ”More more” bring them back on for a scorching A House Is Not A Motel – hey my brother who is next to me saw this played by the original composer just last night at Arthur Lee’s gig in Milton Keynes. The middle section with Justin again to the fore makes considerable more sense than at did in the heady atmosphere of the Albert Hall earlier in the year.

VH1’s Bill Flannigan comes on to talk to Robert and notifies him there’s a couple of retakes required. ”We have to do Morning Dew again Robert tells us. That’s no hardship and neither is a repeat run through of the revamped yet again Whole Lotta Love.  Robert smiles continually as Bill Flannigan thanks him and us for making it quite a night.

Lights up and way. We excitedly relay the events in the nearby pub. It’s been a great night and the good vibes prevail throughout the next 12 hours.

Next day around 2 pm, as I’m walking to the pub to celebrate post match I take a call on the mobile from Mr Linwood. Amongst the babble of noise from the London bar he’s watched the game from, I can just about make out his excited banter. England have just beaten Argentina 1-0. ”Plant last night England today! How good was all that” relays the ecstatic TBL webman. How good indeed.

From the solo rejuvenation in the most intimate of suroundings…to the stirring Beckahm led three lions victory against the Argentinians. Over those 18 hours of June joy, both Robert Plant and the England eleven were defintely on the ball.

It couldn’t last….could it?

Part 2: Tentative Plant London work out before the nervy England Nigerian encounter…

CALM AFTER THE STORM

Robert’s Astoria London gig had been organised some weeks before but the official announcement was embargoed until after the Isle of Wight Festival. Unfortunately that co incided wth the double bank holiday of the Queen’s Jubilee. Ticket details were hurriedly announced via ticket agencies and the TBL web – with the short lead time to the gig on Monday June 10 the decision was made that all tickets would be call collect.

So it is that a snaking queue greets us on arrival at the Charing Cross venue. This prompts a rather extended visit to the nearby Royal George where the usual faces are located so it’s high to various Simple Led’s, a Whole Lotta Led or two,Luis Rey, Andy Adams, a near full complement of TBL crew and after the  partner filled VH1 treat this night is somthing of a stag. So beers are drunk, memories revived and debates such as ten solo numbers you never want Plant to play live again (come in Messin’ With The Mekon, Billy’s Revenge, Mystery Title to name three definite’s on my list), we attack the queue and shuffle in.

It has to be said that the arrangements to call collect is a  wholly unwise one – many punters are still in the queue as Plant and band get ready to come on. The late arrangements have done little to affect the actual attendance. It’s well full in the downstairs arena and on the balconies too. The actual attendees made up of a cross section of invited guests and the usual enthusiastic crowd. It’s good to be amongst the converted once again and though it’s clear that this will be an altogether different experience to that of last Thursday’s VH1 bash, this is still a big night. A launch night for Dreamland as is evident by the hugh album sleeve backdrop that covers the stage. This is Robert’s first headlining London solo appearance for nine years.

The band arrive onstage – new man Skin to the left – Justin to the right and the moody swirl of Win My Train Fare Home (If I Ever Get Lucky) signals the arrival of the white shirted Plant. An ugent techy 7 And 7 Is follows before the first departure. Down To The Sea that bizarre second track from Fate Of  Nations gets a live rendering. With it’s stop start construction it does pose a difficult challenge live – a quaint delve into the old solo songbook that needs a few more run through before really clicking.

Four Sticks has already been well honed though it’s evident that Justin is having some tec trouble with his guitar as the band wait for him to come in on the intro ”This is where you need an harmonica” states Plant realising there’s a problem. He then begins scat singing ”oh baby..oh baby…” before Justin finally comes in. They recover as best they can but there’s a couple of  disjointed breaks mid song.

If  Down To The Sea is yet to be honed they have well and truly nailed another Fate highlght Come Into My Life. Another of my all time fave Plant solo moments it’s a real joy to hear this one live for the first time. Plant soars here and Justin takes on the exquisite Richard Thompson licks with considerable aplomb.  Hey Joe is performed in the now familiar eccentric arrangement and it’s around  here that Robert seems to be having a little trouble of his own. Just slightly hoarse towards the end, he seems to recover with a fine Going To California and  the now equally familiar Morning Dew.

So far it’s been something of a muted affair with sound problems perhaps hampering the overall effect but the best is yet to come. The home straight is where proceedings really take an upturn. First up there’s Calling To You, yet another Fate revival and it’s plangent Eastern riffs come tailor made for a Sensation update. The closing coda receives an intense Sensation re write as Justin and Skin veer for the spotlight and Plant gets in some typical vocal traits. The stripped down Tall Cool One retains the momentum led by Skin’s grunge like wah wah work.

Next an old favourite. Zep 3’s Celebration Day – played in England my reckoning for the first time since….is it Knebworth ’79? It might well be but it’s just great to hear this old flame played with real gusto and sung superbly by Plant. The utter conviction he displays here is proof if it were needed that this is a man who still cares immensely about his fabled back catalogue. Led Zeppelin still means a lot to this audience and it would appear on this showing it means a lot to the singer as well.

A House Is Not A Motel rounds off a great half hour last blast. Their back for two encores Babe I’m Gonna Leave You is up first – the semi acoustic blend suits the Sensation sound but I personally find this song a little overplayed now. Song To The Siren is a gracious final step and the band walk off. The lights are quickly up and the taped blues tracks echo out of the PA and it’s alla rather low key finale  – a far better conclusion may have been achieved by shifting say Tall Cool One to the close or a bluster through Whole Lotta Love. It’s not to be.  Overall the post match verdict is that this has been perhaps an average night .There were moments of real magic: Come Into My Life and Celebration Day displaying both sides of the coin. The former a delightful delve into his solo songbook, the latter a Zep a crowd pleasing blast.

As a London album press launch it may have not been entirely spot on – indeed of the eleven tracks on the album only  four were aired -hardly a full representation of the album. Darkness and Fixin’ To Die being conspicuous by their absence. The resulting press coverage is well positive so as an exercise in gaining the required column inches it has done the trick. Robert himself looked happy enough at the post gig lig holding court on a stool with well wishers a plenty. Overall these two Dreamland influenced evenings have offered more than enough evidence that this project has new places to go and the journey ahead is never going to be less than interesting.

On the way home attention turns to England’s nervy encounter with Nigeria that lies ahead on Wednesday morning.  As we know a nervy performance ensued though it was enough to set up that meeting with Brazil. We all know what happened after that. Before that ultimate disappointment well life was good ….very good indeed and musically with Plant and Strange Sensation entertaining and educating in equal measures it’s going to be very good again come the autumn when they head back our way.

For two early summer weeks we really were on a roll. Hearing that ”In the summertime… in the summertime” refrain on Darkness Darkness will always instantly recall these joyful June days when our passion for soccer and music collided to create something of a Dreamland in itself. After all the highs and lows of the past couple of years, right now it’s so good to have had first hand evidence that Robert Plant as a solo artist can still be so utterly captivating

Dave Lewis June 28th 2002

Copyright Dave Lewis/TBL

First published in TBL 16 – back issue still available –see back issues link on TBLweb.

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2 Comments »

  • russell ritchin said:

    GREAT ARTICLE DAVE GO ENGLAND !!

  • Ming Li said:

    Go US!

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