TBL ARCHIVE EXTRACT:THE MAD MONTH OF MARCH 1998: PART ONE
Now this one is a bit of an epic. This was first published in TBL 13 – It’s an on the road chronicle of the TBL crew’s adventures in pursuit of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant across the month of March 1998. This took in two dates in Istanbul – something of a zenith in my own ‘’Crazy things I’ve done in the name of Zep’’ portfolio, followed by the superb Shepherds Bush Empire gig which in turn was followed by successive TV recordings at Top Of The Pops in Elstree and TFI Friday in Hammersmith.
As Gary Foy remarked to me recently, this was one of the last real on the road assaults we undertook – there was a second UK leg of gigs in the late autumn which was also a real buzz but after that it got harder to just take off at short notice. Jobs, children and other priorities began to take precedent. This was definitely the period when if they were playing somewhere and we could get there, we’d be off. Great days and definitely crazy days. There some incendiary Page & Plant live performances in 1998 and we saw a good fair few of them. Read on to soak up a blow by blow account from the era when ‘’Walking into everywhere’’ was their motto and ours…
Part One has all roads leading to Istanbul for the beginning of another new chapter….so reach for those P & P ’98 CD’s and here we go…
More strange tales from the road: Crazy taxi drivers in search of the Bostanci Centre, power failure before the show, repeated chants of ‘’Zeppelin’’ ‘’Zeppelin’’ from the Istanbul faithful, How Many More Times back after 23 years, Saturday morning queues in Tottenham Court Road, the Empire strikes back in Shepherds Bush, Yes it’s number one it’s Top of The Pos, building a House Of Love in Elstree, followed by Rock And Roll on a Friday night TV show in Hammersmith…it all happened during the mad month of March 1998…
Thursday March 5 1998
This is a moment that crystallizes yet another rejuvenation. It happens towards the end of Thank You which is being performed in a slightly differing arrangement to last time. As they come out of the final verse, Robert as is customary picks up the tambourine and stands in that classic pose. Jimmy swings around with the Gibson – low slung as ever and they’re both primed for the finale… Robert glances at the guitarist expecting the solo to hit in, Jimmy for his part hesitates for about three seconds. Robert is momentarily knocked off guard and then it happens. Page takes a few steps towards Michael Lee and Crunch! He scrubs those strings’ like there is no tomorrow… like it just might be the final solo ever. Robert gives a knowing grin, picks up the flow and checks in for the final pleadings. “You’re my heart and soul, I still love you so, I wanna Thank You, oh oh oh ooh’.’
The song grinds to a halt and there’s the singer shaded by the golden spotlight soaking up the applause – and to his left the guitarist happy and smiling, knowing the joy he has brought to the audience.
And Istanbul surrenders. Just as in the past, Mannheim has surrendered… Sydney has surrendered… Los Angeles has surrendered… Wembley has surrendered… Sheffield has surrendered… You name the location – their music has touched every culture and country they’ve come into contact with.
Surrendered to the sheer power and glory, that these two musicians have been championing for nigh on thirty years. From the earliest days of Led Zeppelin through to this latest and long awaited new incarnation. And right now it still feels and looks so utterly convincing. Dancing Days are here again? Too true they are.
Yes it’s been a long time. To be precise, it’s been 949 days since I’d last heard that final cry of Thank You ring out aloud. Back then it was in the confines of Wembley Arena in July 1995 – the final night of the Unledded UK tour. Since then they’ve gone through some changes… and we have to. Back in January though, the wheels began to roll again with the announcement of an eight date Eastern European tour.
Initially I had little thoughts of going over. The expense and logistics seemed to halt any such notion. Gradually as I kept writing out the tour dates for the TBL Newsletter Extra, it began to get a little exciting. Unsurprisingly, others were feeling the same way and various options opened up. There was the offer of a drive from the UK to attend the Prague and Katowice date (thank you Steve and Jan!) – That proved too difficult in terms of how long I’d be away.
The opportunity to attend the first date in Zagreb also proved impossible due to work schedules. Then the ever enthusiastic Mr. and Mrs. Foy came up with the Istanbul package, by no means cheap, but viable in so much that I’d only need to be away from Janet, Sam and Adam for three days. Permission from the Totnes HQ was granted (Janet in at number one, yet again, as the Most Understanding Wife of All Time). With Turkey not being so very far away from the projected air strikes, I did have a rather worrying time when the unrest in the Gulf blew up (any projected Istanbul bootleg being jokingly forecast as being titled The Human Shield by one wag) but thankfully that all died down. Frantic arrangements were drawn up, many an international call to Istanbul logged and before I knew it, I was waving the family good-bye yet again in search of the musical inspiration that continues to be a reason for being – rather than having been – as the singer once so astutely put it.
So it is I find myself on a plane bound for Athens over night leading into March 5 with Gary and Carol. What with coping with my work schedule over the past few days to free up these days, I’d had little time so far to get really excited about it. The three and a half hour flight provides time to reflect. This is the seventh night of the tour. So far the reports have been enthusiastic – though not without some reservation. Like many others I was a little disappointed at the set list structure being very much along the lines of the ’95/6 jaunt. On closer inspection it’s apparent that there are nine songs being performed that I have yet to see Page and Plant play live. I’d been lucky enough to receive an audience video of the Budapest show so I had a good idea of the set list and stage set up. Burning Up and Walking Into Clarksdale? Bring them on…
Reading matter on the way over includes the NME which has a full page ad for the Uncut magazine. And there they are on the cover… “The Old Devils Are Back” is the cover boast. They are back but not quite in our sights yet. The Foys and I have to endure a three hour stop-over at a deserted Athens airport at three in the morning. Finally we are on the hour long flight bound for Istanbul and we duly arrive in the city at 9am. The first perilous taxi drive follows. The traffic out there is quite frightening with constant horns being tooted and pedestrians darting in-between the cars. Give me my push-bike back in Bedford any day.
Eventually we check in and get settled. In the afternoon it’s over to the Merit Antique Hotel for the Press Conference. The Turkish press is afforded a playback of the album as they await the arrival of the pair. Around 3pm Jimmy and Robert saunter in apologizing for being late and for the next forty five minutes fend off the most inane questions.
Above: P & P arrive for the press conference at the Merit Antique Hotel- DL looks on in reporter mode.
One of the first is “Where is John Paul Jones?” Understandably this irritates them immediately. “Believe it or not that’s not the first time we’ve been asked that question” is Plant’s reply. Jimmy only becomes interested when someone asks about the Puff Daddy Kashmir project. “We set up a studio satellite link with LA and it sounded really good.” At one point, Plant takes a few pictures of the assembled with his own camera. Having fielded the questions they’re off to the venue to prepare for the show. We strike it lucky by (and I kid you not!) seeing a sign on the main road a few hundred yards down that proclaims “English Pub”. It wasn’t quite the Fox and Hounds back home but it’ll do nicely as the adrenaline pumps up.
The venue itself is situated a few miles over the city in the Asian area of Bostanci. The gig is scheduled for 8.30 so one for the road around half five seemed well in order. We couldn’t have been more wrong! The taxi drive over to the centre was nearly enough to make me want to take up smoking.
Stress levels were at their highest as we battled traffic congestion that made the M25 look like a B road. The poor taxi driver was also having trouble trying to find the place. Several times he snatched up one of our tickets and rushed out to passers-by.
Cue visions of the ticket being snatched away and leaving us in a state of limbo! Eventually, after viewing the sights of down-town Istanbul at length, and after nearly two hours, the dome-like building that is the Bostanci Centre draws into view.
Old songs, new songs and hot songs
Outside there are lengthy queues to gain entry and much scurrying around. Soon we are in the arena and the excitement really begins. The Bostanci Centre holds around 4,000. Already there are a number of fans huddled around the front. The actual structure of the building reminds me of the St Austell Coliseum. There’s terracing around each side and even the far back terracing is in close proximity to the stage. The audiences are a mixture of young Turks grateful for any kind of rock event in their vicinity and older looking fans weaned on Zep 4. The average age I’d say is around 25. There’s also quite a strong young female presence. Amongst all of these of course are some old friends.
It never fails to amaze me this devotion to the cause – and how certain enthusiasts (or loony’s!) decamp to whatever country, state or town Page and Plant inhabit.
Tonight the Bostanci is quite full but comfortable. We endure the half hour support act onslaught of progressive rock (i.e. what Marillion would sound like if they’d been born in Turkey) which actually goes down well with the locals. There’s the usual milling around the stage from the roadies – and it does begin to get very exiting when Jimmy’s Theremin is tested – and when the guitar tech straps on the Gibson for testing.
Above -The Bostanci Four – Gary and Carol,Dardo and DL
I’ve worked out that this is something like the 60th occasion I’ve been privileged to watch Page and Plant perform live either as Led Zeppelin, on solo tours or as part of the Unledded project. That’s 60 shows, across 26 years. And here we are again. How will it be? I mean how long can they continue at this pace? It’s a re-occurring question these days. Being far from home in a completely foreign country only goes to heighten the excitement and anticipation as the lights go low and the familiar Egyptian intro music booms out.
The answer to the above questions arrives in just about the time it takes Robert Plant to whip the microphone off it’s stand and strut in regal pose seconds into the opening number Wanton Song.
I get a mental flashback to the sense of awe at the opening of previous Zeppelin events – notably Cologne in 1980. Because, this is another rejuvenation.
As they stomp through the opening number it’s immediately apparent how much more focused this 1998 set up is. This is Page and Plant functioning in a four piece rock band again and boy does it rock. And they look good too. I’d had reservations about Plant’s earlier appearance in the tour with the baggy pants, but tonight he looks every inch the veteran star front man. Long sleeved pattern shirt and leather pants tucked into boots; Page with black T-shirt, perhaps a little paunchier, but hey, this lot have a combined age of 104! It could and maybe should look faintly ridiculous. But somehow it just doesn’t. It just looks like it should do – two superb musicians performing with an enthusiasm that simply defies the years.
They don’t need to justify being up there. The crowd reaction does that as they leap up and down in time to Robert’s pogo-ing. The opening salvo of Wanton Song, Bring It On Home, Heartbreaker (first time I’ve seen that played live since August 4 1979) is an immensely exiting segment. It’s Plant who is the immediate eye opener. In 1995 he was content to often hug the mike stand and recoil from those old poses – perhaps rendering them relevant only to a bygone age. Not tonight. He’s up there agile as ever and strutting mike in hand with supreme confidence. Jimmy shares that confidence playing with a fluency that we could only have dreamed of a few years back. It may not be note perfect and there are one two early fluffs but nothing that blows the momentum. The PA sound is also a revelation – crystal clear and exposing the quality of Plant’s vocals.
“Good evening Istanbul. Tonight we’d like to do some new songs, some old songs and some hot songs.”
Ramble On inspires more pogoing down the front – and it’s still a great tune. There’s a switch of guitar (a new addition to the guitar army: a PRS model with tremolo arm) for the new Walking Into Clarksdale. Another delight with its rockabilly guitar and deft change of tempo. Here Page lays back and shoots out the first real solo evoking memories of The Yardbirds latter days with its fluttering style.
It’s worth explaining at this point the stage lay-out and lighting. Gone is the big cloth backdrop. The stage rig relies on the lighting alone to shadow it. The lighting itself is really impressive. Clever uses of solo spot-lights are supplemented by on stage spots that are often used to illuminate the crowd. Simple but effective. From our vantage point up on the terracing by the left hand side of the stage it provides many visual flashbacks as the silhouetted figures wallow in the light.
The next number evokes a great cheer from the crowd but it’s a controversial moment. We’re hearing the familiar electric keyboard motif of No Quarter played · la Zeppelin circa 1973. Opinions will be divided on the merit of this inclusion which is perhaps a little close for comfort. I’m sitting on the fence here because they pull it off very well. Jimmy’s solo is very spirit of MSG ’73 and his grin seems to confirm his pleasure at dishing that one out again.
The acoustic interlude follows with Plant on a stool and Page sitting down with the acoustic. Keyboard player Phil Andrews supplies the mandolin. Going To California garners a huge audience response and is followed by a wonderfully nostalgic Tangerine (first time I’ve heard it played live since May 25 1975)- Plant off the stool, dragging the mike around.
Thankfully Robert avoids the “In olden days” spiel for Gallows Pole, opting for that tale of how the song travelled up the Mississippi Delta to the UK story. This is a track I got played out on during the ’95 tour. it sounds fresher in a more simplified arrangement and both of them are well animated for the speeded up finale.
It’s back to the full force of the riff infested Burning Up from the new album. Page excels here as he churns out the smoldering riffs that lead the song. Michael Lee is also impressive underpinning it all with a solid time honored tom-tom fills. Only Plant suffers a little – sometimes straining on the chorus although he is supplemented later by what appears to be some sampled backing vocals · la the album. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You follows and is a real highlight. Faultlessly delivered, with all the required dynamics and a twist in the arrangement that allows Page to turn in a very bluesy Since I’ve Been Loving You type solo.
“Do you like Jazz?’’ is Plant’s odd request that makes more sense when they enter the Coltrane like beginning of How Many More Times. Now this is really something. They haven’t played it in full since 1975 and the audience soaks it up with perhaps the younger element very familiar with it as part of the BBC set. Page wields the violin bow for the eerie middle section and then it drifts into a delivery of In The Light (· la the Calling To You/Whole Lotta Love medleys of last time out). There’s a great moment when they both cluster together in Achilles like tandem before the pressures back on for the up tempo ending which again raises the crowd to a frenzy – a fact highlighted by the spot-lights that engulf the audience in bright light.
“This is our new single, and it’s one of my favorite new numbers,’’ announces Plant over the looping Arabic intro to Most High. This is already becoming something of a ’98 tour signature tune. Page’s revolving guitar riff kick starting them into an infectious trek through some proven ground. It’s a track that carries all the pomp and extravagance of past Arabic adventures and the crowd immediately clue-in on it’s infectiousness.
“Thank you for your hospitality in your country – we’ve got to say goodnight.’’ Page keeps the sparkle Trans performance Gibson on to fire out the riff of the hit single that wasn’t. Yes it is Whole Lotta Love. It’s over familiarity could easily grate on me – but it never fails to have us pumping the air with it’s barnstorming riff which in turn leads to the Knebworth revamp section “1234 da da da dadadum” – you know the one. Then Page stalks over to the Theremin for a last bout of expected showmanship. Lights up, handshakes, hugs and farewells. Then they are gone.
And then it starts, a slow rumble first then building to a crescendo: “Zeppelin… Zeppelin… Zeppelin… Zeppelin”. The repeated cry goes up. It’s along time since I’ve heard this sort of eager reception.
They return for a beautifully restrained Thank You. Performed in a new arrangement that finds Page hanging on to every solo. Then there’s that great moment of hesitancy before he scrubs out the final run. More exits left, more chanting and then it’s welcome to Rock And Roll. (“This is how we say… Oh no not again…’’); Page has saved up the energy for this one as he duck walks across the stage pausing for a couple of mini jumps (at least 4 inches off the ground!) while Robert milks the crowd for the “Lonely lonely” parts. In fact there’s one great final visual image – Robert goes down on one knee and then jumps up and grabs the mike in a pose that’s identical to the Neal Preston photo to be found on page 104 of Cross And Flannigan’s Heaven And Hell.
There’s a real warm glow about the audience as they shuffle out. And something of a mini Zepp Convention ensures as the UK central Europe clan gather excitedly. From the UK there’s Roly, Steve Jennings, Dave Fox, Dave Rigg and the larger than life Dardo Simone in from New York – who incredibly has parked his hire car right outside the venue . I point out a young lady of around 18 who I had seen dancing enthusiastically throughout the show. Led Zeppelin had clearly played their final American tour years before she was born. But that’s always when it really hits me. To see a new generation inspired by this music just as we’ve been inspired years before. Yes the wheel rolls. It’s enough to make you feel bulldog British proud.
Above -The only Zep fan with a tie in Istanbul – Dardo and DL
Friday March 6 1998
A few hours later we are outside a very wet and miserable Bostanci Centre. After yesterday’s pleasant weather it comes as something of a surprise. In fact I’d have been well advised to have worn the new leather coat that one of the eager local tradesman had hoisted upon us when we checked out the local McDonalds earlier. The rain coupled with some unfortunate stress I’m having to deal with makes the morale somewhat low. (NB This involved the inadvertent hijacking of the tour bus – the full story of which I’m saving for the memoirs! DL)
Still, the show must go on. Well nearly. Tonight it’s evident that there are many more in attendance. It also seems to be a younger age group overall. Things begin to get a little bit scary when around 8.30 the whole place is plunged into darkness. This does no favors to those trying to gain entry by the main door. A series of heavy pushing and shoving results in a few people being carried out for medical assistance.
The lights come back on partially. And announcement from the stage informs that the area has been hit by a power cut and the PA is being powered by an emergency generator (shades of Copenhagen ’79). Thankfully the lighting improves and the support act kick off around 9.30. By the time the stage is cleared ready for Page and Plant the arena is packed to over-flowing with little room for maneuver. I’d say at least 2,000 more are in tonight, which makes for some uncomfortable viewing but luckily I manage a good spot to the right of the stage.
Around 10.15 PM the lights go down and we’re off again. Page retaining the black T-shirt garb; Plant has switched to the dark with white trim T-shirt he’d worn on earlier dates with the leather trousers.
The show runs very much to last night’s structure. If anything Robert’s performance is even more impressive. During Heartbreaker he does one classic shimmy across the stage that ignites the crowd into a huge roar. “This is the last night of the tour… so let’s have some fun.’’
On Burning Up he hits the notes perfectly sparring with Page’s trademark licks and riffs. Tonight’s crowd offer up most response to No Quarter, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (especially the final Stairway tease) and How Many More Times (“Do you like jazz… Liars!’’) Robert throws in a quite breathtaking accapella verse from In My Time Of Dying before the In The Light insert.
Most High is also enthusiastically received spurring Plant to raise the tempo as they hit the finale. Prior to delivering the new single, Plant had welcomed over various record company people who had come here for the weekend. During Whole Lotta Love Jimmy does a quick guitar change mid song from the red sparkle Trans Gibson to the light brown model.
“We’ll try and see you in the summer when we’ll play outside and the tickets will be cheaper,’’ explains Robert as they re-appear for the encores of Thank You and Rock And Roll. “I guess this is why we’ve been doing this for 30 years,’’ is Robert’s comment as he surveys the adulation. It’s obviously a moving moment for him as he hauls up Ross Halfin on stage to photograph the crowd, for perhaps his own posterity.
The usual bows and waves… and the 1998 Eastern European Tour is over.
Above: Cheer up lads – Shepherds Bush,Top of the Pops and TFI Friday beckons…
Saturday March 7 1998
Reflections on the plane journey back. Well as I’d hoped this Page Plant project has moved on.
It really does feel like a four piece rock band again and the focus is clearly on the two principal players. There are definite parallels to the rejuvenation Zeppelin attempted in Europe all those years ago.
This is very much a stripped down show from ’95 in the same way that the Over Europe tour was very much stripped down from the Knebworth shows. Seeing all this in a foreign country has been a real eye-opener and confirmation once again that this thing is an international phenomenon that shows no sign of waning. The flight back is a little tiring – I pass the four hours by managing to finish off an excellent novel by Charles Higson called Getting Rid Of Mister Kitchen.
It takes over an hour to recover our baggage through Heathrow and finally it’s home and back to reality with Samantha’s evening school disco to attend.. Here the plaintive tones of Aqua, All Saints and The Spice Girls replace the likes of Most High, Burning Up and Walking Into Clarksdale. Suddenly Istanbul seems a million miles away….but London is a whole lot nearer and that’s where we will be ”Walking into” next…
PART TWO TO FOLLOW: Queuing by the sick, Shepherds Bush, Top Of The Pops and TFI Friday.
First published in TBL 13 –Currently out of print – re print planned.
Copyright Dave Lewis/TBL 2010 – not to be reproduced without prior permission.