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7 October 2012 4,542 views 4 Comments

To mark the impending momentous worldwide screening of the Led Zeppelin Ahmet Ertegun 02 reunion concert on October 17th, we are counting down to the day with a daily Celebration Day Newsletter post. This will feature relevant news and updates and archive features plus the TBL Countdown Collection – a  celebration of Zep moments, memories and artefacts.

Countdown to the Celebration Day…10 days to go.


Here’s a link to some quotes about the making of the Celebration Day film by director Dick Carruthers…

As we all know, one of the key performaces of the 02 reunion concert was the previously unplayed live delivery of For Your Life taken from the Presence album.

Today’s newsletter offers an overview of the making of  Presence drawn from the TBL Archive:


It was never Led Zeppelin’s intention to record a seventh album in 1975. Up until the summer of that year they were riding on a crest of a wave.  A lengthy two legged  USA tour spanning January to March – their first in over two years, had consolidated their position as the biggest draw on the planet. Although the early part of the trek was hampared by Jimmy Page injuring a finger and Robert Plant suffering the effects of flue, by the time they hit the west coast in March their performances were reaching new peaks of on stage creativity.

The tour co-incided with the long awaited relase of their sixth album the double set Physical Graffiti

This racked up record sales in the USA where it entered every US chart at number three an unprecedented feat at the time. The album was an instant number one back in the UK  just as three initial concerts at London’ Earls Court Arena sold out within a day of going on sale. A further two nights were added and also sold out extended the run to five.

A few weeks after Led Zeppelin completed their 1975 US tour with three sold out dates at the LA Forum, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and Peter Grant met in New York to discuss the group’s future plans.

The meeting with Grant and their accountants confirmed something they had known for a while. A period of tax exile was essential for them to protect their vast earnings. Grant quickly established a base for his operation, renting promoter Claude Knobs’ house in Montreux. A touring plan was drawn up that would see them return to the US to play a series of major outdoor dates in August and then move back to Europe and then onto South America before returning to perform in Europe in early 1976.

Page and Plant wanted to spend time travelling together during the summer before the American dates. In early May they returned to the UK to prepare for the forthcoming Earls Court stint. The subsequent London concerts consolidated Zeppelin’s position as the world’s top band as they delivered some of the longest most intense performances of their career. During those shows Plant threw in more than one barbed comment regarding their upcoming forced exile. “Somebody voted for someone and now everybody’s on the run. You know Dennis (Healey, then Chancellor of the Exchequer)… no artist in the country anymore… he must be Dazed And Confused…”

Led Zeppelin played their final night at Earls Court on Sunday May 25, Plant commenting somewhat ironically  “This is our last concert in England for some considerable time. Still there’s always the Eighties.” His parting shot was equally to the point. “If you see Dennis Healey tell him we’ve gone…”

The next day Plant and wife Maureen flew to Agadir. Three weeks later Jimmy met up with him in Marrakesh where they spent several nights at the local folk festival. They then travelled down to the Spanish Sahara looking to go to Tafia. Confrontations between Spain and Morocco at the time prevented them from going much further in that part of the country. So they travelled by car back up through Casablanca and Tangier meeting up with the rest of the group in Montreux. A date was set in mid-August for them to meet up in Paris to begin rehearsing for the US tour which would commence on August 23 with two massive dates at the Oakland Stadium in San Francisco.

Before then Plant and family took a holiday on the Greek island of Rhodes, planning to join Phil May of The Pretty Things. Page went to Sicily to view a farmhouse once owned by Aleister Crowley and returned to London for work on the film. “We were all going to meet up five days later… then there was the accident and we were just stopped in our tracks.”

The accident that would dictate a whole new direction occurred on Monday August 4. A hired Austin Mini, driven by Plant’s wife Maureen, left the road and crashed into a tree. On impact Robert suffered multiple injuries to his right leg and elbow, Maureen a broken pelvis and fractured skull. Plant’s children suffered minor injuries and Jimmy’s daughter, who was with them, escaped with bruising. Plant was taken to a Greek hospital where with the aid of an interpreter he tried to explain who he was. “I had to share a room with a drunken soldier who’d fallen over. He kept uttering my name and singing ‘The Ocean’ – it was bizarre”. Luckily Jimmy’s girlfriend Charlotte got word to Richard Cole in England who immediately flew out with two Harley Street doctors in a private jet owned by the civil engineer Sir Robert McAlpine.

Peter Grant was immediatly informed and wired promotor Bill Graham to cancel the already out Oakland  stadium shows.  Additional dates lined up for Kansas City Louisville, New Orleans, Tempe, Arizona, Denver Atlanta and the Rose Bowl Pasadena for September 6 were also cancelled.

Cole arranged for the Plant family to fly back to England via Rome. Knowing a stopover in the UK would adversely affect his tax status, a plan was hatched to move Robert to Jersey. Heavily encased in plaster, Peter Grant ensured his flight would be as comfortable as possible. “I bought the seats in the front and then had them removed. There was a bit of a row, but I got the captain to make sure we could unscrew the seats before we took off. That way Robert got the space he needed”.

After recuperating at a house owned by noted Jersey lawyer Dick Christian, the entourage moved out to Los Angeles. it was here they made a crucial decision. Rather than spend the time wallowing in self pity, it was decided they would use this period to record a new album.

Robert’s own morale had been severely tested during the weeks since the accident and having to leave his wife behind made him understandably depressed. “Time goes very slowly when you get up every day and you can’t kick a ball… kick a roadie or even your drummer.”

On September 14 the entourage showed up at the Renaissance Pleasure Fair in Navato, 30 miles north of San Francisco. Plant was carried round in a sedan chair. They were eventually joined in LA by John Paul Jones and John Bonham. Full scale rehearsals were soon underway in SIR Studios in Hollywood.

The material they were constructing had an immediate edge to it.  It was back to basics. Page did bring in a few riff structures he had kept under wraps for some time (notably the riff pattern used on the then unreleased ‘Walter’s Walk’ which was layered on to ‘Hot’s On For Nowhere’) but mostly they started from scratch. The slow blues ‘Tea Far One’ began as a bluesy skit with Plant singing the lines to Hoochi Coochie Man and ‘Minnie The Moocher’. Old standards such as ‘Stop Me Talking’ were also used to warm up the rehearsals. With little material pre-planned, the lyrics for these new songs were heavily influenced by recent events. The lengthy ‘Achilles Last Stand’ was built around the travels Plant had experienced with Jimmy back in the summer. His depressive state in Malibu gave rise to the venomous theme of ‘For Your Life’. “That was a bitter treaty with rock’n’roll,” he commented later. “The girls who in ‘Sick Again’ had been wonderful were now suddenly… well they were hung on the balance of a crystal paying through the nose.”

Another new song ‘Hots On For Nowhere’ mirrored Plant’s anger with Page and Grant and what he saw as their initial insensitivity to his situation (“I’ve got friends who would give me fuck all”). As ever the quest for their roots was never too far away – this time in the guise of ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ – an old Blind Willie Johnson tune from the late 1920’s, given a new dynamic twist by Page’s guitar technology. As well as the familiar Les Paul he also began using a Lake Placid Blue Stratocaster (notably on ‘For Your Life’).

Talking about the strangeness of the times Plant recalled later, “l was just sitting in that wheelchair and getting morose. ‘Tea for One’ was very personal. I couldn’t get back to the woman and children I loved. It was like… is this rock’n’roll thing really anything at all?”

On a lighter vein there was ‘Candy Store Rock’. Plant again:“That was a saving grace and me being Ral Donner. The guy who wanted to be Elvis… and now was. The bridge section is pure Ral and Jimmy’s guitar playing is incredible. The whole band moved into another gear on that. Bonzo’s and Jonesy’s rhythm playing went beyond mere pop music beyond jazz and rock’n’ roll. It was just inspired.”

Whilrst Being in Los Angleles  They ventured out to see Donovan’s Santa Monica show and met up with Paul Rodgers and Boz Burrell from Bad Co. Jimmy checked out Michael Des Barres new band Detective and a deal was set up for them to sign for Swan Song. There were familiar reports of Bonham’s bad behaviour on the LA club circuit and drugs were never very far away.

By late October they were ready to record. Knowing the American tax situation was now likely to catch up with them they ventured back to Europe, selecting Musicland Studios in Munich as the place to record.

Once underway (they were a week behind schedule when one of them turned up late) the Munich sessions went supremely well under the guidance of engineer Keith Harwood. In just a mere 18 days they had the whole thing complete. Page: “We hardly went out from the studio. ‘For Your Life’ was made up there and then on the spot. So was ‘Hot’s On Far Nowhere’ and the structure for ‘Achilles’. I built it piece by piece and got it in one. I’m really pleased with the solo on ‘Tea For One’. It’s so held back. Seven minutes long and at no point does it blow out.”

There was a moment of drama when Plant slipped over a wire in the studio landing on his bad ankle but luckily he was OK. “I’ve never known Jimmy to move so quickly. He was out of the mixing booth and holding me up, fragile as he might be. It was a bit rash of me to be bopping about but the track we were doing was so brilliant.”  With The Rolling Stones due in to begin recording after them Page asked Mick Jagger for two extra days to finish the project – putting in one 14-hour session to finish the overdubs before their time was up, much to the Stones amazement. “That was the ultimate test of that whole lifestyle. It was incredibly fulfilling. The band went away leaving me and Kieth Harwood the engineer to do all the overdubs.We had a deal between us:whoever woke up first woke the other up and we’d continue the studio work” The new album was completed the day before Thanksgiving. The next day Plant called the Swan Song office in New York to tell them the news – even suggesting they should title the album Thanksgiving. That idea was later dropped in favour of Presence after consultations with Hipgnosis on the artwork.

With the album completed it was back to the serenity of Jersey. However the performing bug was beginning to kick back in. On December 3 Bonzo and John Paul Jones sat in with Norman Hale, the resident pianist at Behan’s Park West , a local niterie. Hale was a former member of The Tornados. They promised to return the next week with the whole band. So on December 10, Led Zeppelin made a surprise 45 minute appearance at the club with Hale on piano. Their last show at Earls Court had been seen by some 18,000. Just 350 witnessed this return to something like active duty.

Reflecting on this surprise gig a few weeks after Plant commented ”No one really knew who we were and we had this great piano player. After about 15 minutes of Eddie Cochran and Little Richard repertoire, we got right into a long blues thing. Suddenly all the stops and dynamics we subconsciously activate on stage came out. We were very happy with each other. I was sitting on a stool and every time I hit a high note I stood up but not putting any weight on my foot. I made sure I sat almost behind Bonzo wedged beween the piano and the drums, but then I felt myself edge forward a little bit….then after the third number I was wiggling the stool past the drums and further out. Once we got going we didn’t want to stop. They kept flashing the lights on inside the place…’Get them off they’ve done enough!”

This impromptu appearance fuelled rumours that they would soon be back on stage in a touring capacity. Plant however was still in the early stages of a full recovery. In Paris on New Years Day he took his first steps unaided. “It was one small step for man,” he said soon after, “and one giant leap for six nights at Madison Square Garden.”

In January he was in New York giving interviews looking very fit with a restyled haircut. “I know it’s a real punk thing to say but it’s just good to be alive. This is the longest, most pensive period of my life. I had no choice but to question everything after the accident. My mind, which at first was taken up with repairing the physical, was then taken up with the musical. As such there’s a lot of determination on this new album.”

Page and Bonham were also over for the trip – a boisterous Bonzo bursting on at the end of Deep Purple’s show at the Radio City Hall to proclaim to the crowd in an inebriated state, “Hi, I’m John Bonhamn from Led Zeppelin and we’ve got a new album coming out soon!”. With the glint now firmly back in Plant’s eye, the entourage journeyed to their old hunting ground of Los Angeles checking out, amongst others, the all girl group The Runaways. With the infamous cover art now complete, Jimmy returned to the UK to give a round of promotional interviews upon the album’s early April release. “The whole testimony of the new album is that it proved to us once and for all that there was no reason for us to split up. I can‘t think of many groups who have been going as long as we have who still have that spontaneity about them. I’m very optimistic about the future.”

In the UK the album went gold on advance sales alone and was the fastest selling album in the Atlantic group’s history up to that point. It was an instant number one. In the US it made the biggest leap in Billboard’s then chart history moving from 24 to the top spot in its second week of release. By and large it was also favourably received by the critics and fans alike.

On May 23 Page and Plant were back on stage at the LA Forum jamming with Bad Company for an encore performance of ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’. “I want to get back on stage so much,” said Plant after the show. Despite constant rumours during that summer of 1976 Grant declined all offers, awaiting Plant’s full fitness in the new year. The attention instead turned to the long awaited release of The Song Remains The Same movie and soundtrack. These events seemed to somewhat overshadow the Presence album and as the sales drifted off. it did seem that the majority of fans were content to store the strange looking sleeve away, preferring the thrill of the film and its accompanying live album.

When it came to rehearse for their 1977 tour though, it was the number that in his Sounds review John Ingram said would be “A Motherfucker live” that they immediately got to work on. ‘Achilles Last Stand’ went on to become a centrepiece of their comeback US tour which commenced in the spring of 1977. “Presence was our stand against everything. Against the elements and chance,” Plant told the NME’s Roy Carr from the Manticore rehearsal studio early that year.

With such enthusiasm for the new album, it’s somewhat surprising that they hardly plundered Presence for live material. Only ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ and ‘Achilles’ were adapted for live performance. Perhaps Robert felt that some of those songs were too personal to perform repeatedly. It’s a shame that the riff numbers, such as ‘Royal Orleans’ and ‘Candy Store Rock’, were never given the opportunity to develop in a live setting It was to be a situation they would repeat with their next album In Through The Out Door. Their reticence to approach newly recorded studio material in the latter touring era was in hindsight perhaps an indication of the weariness amongst the group in the latter stages of their career.

At the time Jimmy Page certianly saw the album as a watershed. “All our pent up energy and passion went into making it what it was. That’s why there was no acoustic material there. The mechanism was perfectly oiled. We started screaming in rehearsals and never stopped.”

On reflection 36 years down the line it’s more than evident that Presence was on extraordinary chapter in the Led Zeppelin saga.

There’s little doubt that it was overshadowed t the time by the speedy follow up release of The Song Remains The Same Album and film. Time though has not diminished it’s aggressive stance -three decades on it’s time it’s position in the Zep canon was elevated.

A soap opera of events surrounded its emergence as they turned inner turmoil into something constructive. The atmosphere that surrounds the whole record is one of urgency and fight. It needs to be listened to with the knowledge of just exactly what they were going through at the time. Then its true power is undeniable. This isn’t the Led Zeppelin record for musical diversity. But it is the record for sheer out and out muscle and thrust.

The urgency and spontaneity made little time for the experiementation of the past.So there were no boogies with Stu,no hat’s off to Harper’s.No funk or reggae parodies mellotrons or synths.

The result of the basic/bass/drums/guitar/vocal approach was to give the record a very live feel – leading to the conclusion that in my view Presence is the nearest they got to capturing over a complete album the unpredictable edge and power of their on-stage performances within a studio

Perhaps Presence was perhaps Zeppelin’s lesson in immortality. In a year that had seen them taste immense success in both the US and the UK, they suddenly found themsleves in a postiton of rare vulnerabilty and out of it made a record that once again saw the original catalyst of the group back at the helm. Presence is stock full of Jimmy Page’s gutar rages. Rarely before or since, has he dominated an album so convincingly. For that reason alone it’s a vital part of the story. It may never enjoy the high profile of Zep 4 or Physical Graffiti but 30 years on, Presence still portrays the real heart and soul of Led Zeppelin more vividly than anything else they released.

Dave Lewis   

 More Presence to follow

Until tomorrow…keep reading – keep listening… 

Dave Lewis/Gary Foy

October 7th , 2012

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  • Bob Flux said:

    Norman Hale . . . yeah . . .

  • Graeme said:

    Great piece on presence Dave. I’ve always had a special spot for Presence in my heart. Such an intense and dynamic album. Great to read again the history of this often overlooked and under rated Zep classic. Rock On!

  • Phillipss said:

    Now there is a movie poster worth buying. Anyone know where to buy them.

  • David Estrada said:

    Thank you for this nice sunday morning read 🙂

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