Posts Tagged ‘Whole Lotta Love’

Recently I took one one of those Facebook ‘challenges’ where one posts various pet picks every day. This one was ‘7 Songs in 7 Days’ – selecting songs or pieces of music which are significant to you.

Of course this could be interpreted in almost infinite ways, so I thought I would keep it simple and post seven songs that shaped me over the early part of my life as a fan and musician. I also included a song which shows that I continue to be shaped, maybe a little less cataclysmically, by music I hear up to the present day.


#1: ‘Spirit in the Sky’ by Norman Greenbaum

1970. I was 13, very geeky and more interested in model hot rods and Marvel comics than music.

Then this thing came on the radio.

To this day I wonder what possessed the producer to underpin this sappy hippie-happy-clapper song with such a malevolent, heavy, fuzzed out boogie. Spirit of the times I guess.

Whatever… I was hooked. Something about the sound of the guitar on this song – beyond the lyric (daft) or melody (perfunctory) – just got inside me and made 13 year old me feel strange, a little scared and yet, good. (By the time I took drugs a couple of years later, I had already felt their delicious disconnect through musical and visual art experience).

I dreamed about this song and waited and waited for it to reappear on 2SM and when it did, I stood before the radio in a trance for 3:47. There was nothing else like it on the radio, there was nothing else like it in the world.

Of course, as with most drugs, you need more, and more, and stronger. So the search was now on for The Sound. I didn’t have to wait too long…


#2: ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin

Through a strange quirk of misread marketing, disc jockey taste and the wrath of Odin, Led Zeppelin’s five and a half minute ‘Whole Lotta Love’ also came out of our radios in 1970.

Intended to be the B-side of the one vaguely ‘pop’ single on Led Zeppelin II, ‘Livin’ Lovin’ Maid’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was (strangely) preferred by radio station programmers. Once again, spirit of the times. Soon there was a trimmed down version being played but not before the full heavyweight opus had done irreversible damage to my child’s fragile eggshell mind.

A toughened up reading of Muddy Waters’ ‘You Need Love’ (or callous racist rip-off, your call), ‘Whole Lotta Love’ remains to this day, the template of hard rock for me. A full, phat and badass bottom end of bass drums guitar, with sky scraping vocal and nothing much in between (which is why I prefer Maiden to Metallica any day, and love working with women vocalists in my current bands).

Too much wonder in this mini-symphony: the scraping slide guitar figure in the chorus, the kick in the balls when JPJ’s bass enters, Jimmy Page’s scratching and spitting guitar break, Robert Plant’s animalistic howls and choir-girl sighs and John Bonham, just John Bonham.

And the middle bit. You know, the bit where your mind splits in two and sonic magma runs out.

The whole thing roars like a machine: dead on in purpose, yet frightening in potential. Chills me to this day.

Did its European-ness awaken some Germanic race-memory in me? Did it clad a scared schoolboy in Asgardian armour to do battle with Trinity Grammar School? Maybe – all I know is it knocked my fucking socks off.

After ‘Whole Lotta Love’ I was gone. What would the wond’rous radio ensnare me with next? It was about to get strange…


#3: ‘All Along The Watchtower’ by Jimi Hendrix

Still too young for a record player, I depended on the radio for my moments of musical satori. And there, among the Mary Hopkin and Brotherhood of Man pop fluff would come some dark jewels that made me shiver in my boots.

Jeff Beck’s ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ (if mainly for the grinning sarcasm of his overloaded guitar break), Melanie Safka’s ‘Candles in the Rain’, The Move’s ‘Blackberry Way’ and The Four Top’s ‘Reach Out’ made life worth living, but it was ‘All Along The Watchtower’ that really made my hair (short, back and sides that it was) stand up.

Jimi Hendrix came to me fully formed, godlike and alien. His name alone was future-primitive and his music was something I had strangely always known, down in my bones. Ancient, flamboyantly filigreed and above all, fucking trippppppy. When I finally saw a picture of him, I loved him even more.

Producer Chas Chandler’s vision for this nightmarish Dylan tune was widescreen with sets by Dali and lighting by Cocteau. And Hendrix does it to perfection – his Dylanesque droop at the end of every line, his stoned but wise delivery, his space-ace blues lines throughout.

His guitar break seems to be a show-reel: whammy bar dips, wah-wah retorts and Curtis Mayfield-style lead-rhythm chops. Like the best late-period Beatles, Hendrix and Chandler fit almost too much in and it all works, every note.

A couple of years later, my mother threatened to jump out the window if I played ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’ again, that loud. It made me renew my vows to Hendrix, as I have done regularly my whole life.

Oh, and it also made me want to get a guitar. But first, I would have to own a small Dansette-size record player. And a David Bowie LP…


#4: ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ by David Bowie

Bowie was our Beatles.

I was born a little too late for the first flush of Beatlemania and only came upon them after they had gone ‘serious’ and split up. The void was filled by Bowie.

Bowie, like the Beatles, was such a perfect Pop creation, and so utterly of his time that he became an iconic object of adoration for an entire generation, equal in fame and influence to the Fab Four.

Importantly, as with the Beatles, his art not only was blindingly brilliant and challenging, but also consistently led the pack, effortlessly breaking new ground with each new quantum release.

It has been said that Bowie was not more than a clever bower-bird, picking through the Twentieth Century and modelling the scraps and bits into new and shiny shapes. Even if that is true, which it may well be, those shapes blinded us to all else and gave us an almost religious hope.

I finally had a tiny, mono record player and my second album was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, for Christmas. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’, from the Ziggy Stardust album, has that disconnected, collage feeling. Bowie sings from a Ballardian dead-night dystopiascape, yet, as the song rises, the feeling of hope rises.

Even though I was a straight little schoolboy and he was something from another planet, I felt – as i lay in the dark, playing this over and over – that he was speaking directly to me, and me alone. It is what I have in common with One Direction fans and indeed anyone who has become besotted with a Pop artist. Musical worth really comes a distant second to such ecstasy.

But soon I would have a Guitar. And my days as a shining-eyed fan would be numbered, as I would become a Musician. Sadly, after that, I could never really listen to music again the same, simple and sweet way.

Of course, it was all Frank Zappa’s fault…


#5: ‘It Must be a Camel’ by Frank Zappa

Studying jazz and jazz-fusion guitar with Australian guitar shaman, John Robinson opened me up to music that buzzes me to this day.

All I wanted to do was play like the guy in Steely Dan but Robbo put me through the ringer – Boulez, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg. Heavy shit, Jim. And I greedily gobbled the lot and begged for more.

He also got me listening deeply into Frank Zappa – not the ‘comedy group’ stuff that had us in stitches as we loaded the next bong, but Zappa as a composer and musical mind.

‘It Must be a Camel’ is from the Hot Rats album and when I first ‘got’ it, it moved me deeply and fundamentally, as it does to this day. It is extraordinarily beautiful, yet of a beauty that only exists in its own world. If the mark of genius is to envision and create something that has not existed before, then ‘It Must be a Camel’ is that.

Rhythm, harmony and melody are pure Zappa and the band play it as if they jam this shit every day (gold star to drummer John Guerin, Joni Mitchell’s beau at the time – dig his drum break: tuned tom deeeeelite).

Zappa’s personal quirks and curdled world-view seemed to make him shy away from writing more swooningly beautiful music like ‘Camel’ in favour of jarring or shocking his listeners – but when he did (‘Watermelon In Easter Hay’) he could bring you to tears.

Through listening to this stuff, I became infected with that malady called Jazz. It took me a long time to fully recover…


#6: ‘Funky Tonk’ by Miles Davis

I really took to jazz while I was studying with Robbo – I loved the harmonies, scales, rhythmic mathematics of it all. The stars of jazz blew my mind – Coltrane, Monk, Bud Powell, Wayne Shorter – and turned me into a kind of jazz zealot who would sniff dismissively at rock music and berate people for not knowing who the drummer was on ‘Milestones’. Yep, a royal pain in the jazz ass.

I had fallen in love with the Miles Davis Quintet’s albums Working, Steaming, Cookin’ and Relaxing and for Christmas asked my Dad for anything by Miles Davis – thinking that it would be more of the same: toughly swinging post-bop, elegant and sharp.

It wouldn’t be the first time Miles would throw me for a loop.

What Dad unwittingly bought me (at our local record shop!) was LIVE-EVIL, a cauldron of wigged-out electric, free rock that could not have been further from ‘Relaxing’. I still remember the jolt it gave me: I was all-at-sea, with this music thrashing and crashing around my ears.

Miles plays his trumpet through a wah-wah, the band leaps across hot coals. He had said to them “If I hear you playing any of that jazz shit, you’re fired…’

The utterly wildness and ‘fuck you’ element in this music shocked something out of my system: after I heard it, I was never the same again, musically, or personally – it seemed to express a permission to truly do your own actual thing. In spades.

My jazz nerd self realised I wasn’t in Kansas any more, and for the rest of my life, I have gone wherever Miles has led me…


#7: ‘Pyramid Song’ by Radiohead

The last band that blew me away with any great force was Radiohead. And mainly the two very inspired albums they made within a few months of each other in 2000-2001, Kid A and Amnesiac.

The sense of adventure I took from these incredibly creative and idiosyncratic albums was the same as I felt from when I first came across Pink Floyd.

Radiohead seem to use every trick in their trick-bag, musically and production-wise on Kid A and Amnesiac: they both crackle with electronica and whim. And it all works exquisitely and elegantly.

‘Pyramid Song’ does not go for any sort of electronic palette, but simply uses piano, bass, drums and orchestral strings. Its stately grandeur rises from the urban space-port of Amnesiac like a cloud-castle.

I finish my seven days with this anthem to sorrow and beauty.


Daniel Algrant’s Greetings from Tim Buckley is a feature of this year’s Sydney Film Festival – a festival humming with music-related films. From portraits of The Warumpi Band’s George Rrurrambu Burarrawanga and a Flemish bluegrass family to a doco on an orphanage in Angola where hardcore punk helps war-shocked kids release their angst, there is music everywhere this year.

In many ways – not least the casting of Gossip Girl heartthrob Penn Badgely in the lead role – Greetings from Tim Buckley is maybe the most conventional of the lot. Centred around the 1991 New York tribute concert to 60s cult-hero Tim Buckley that launched the career of his estranged son, Jeff Buckley, the film often looks almost a little good to be true.

Even though Jeff Buckley was one handsome bohemian, Badgely’s geometric jaw and stratospheric cheekbones are almost too much. The same goes for co-lead Imogen Poots (28 Days Later) as NYC art-chick Allie – in fact, everyone in the movie who isn’t a grizzled old hippie muso is just a liitle bit too clear-skinned and fair-browed.

Penn Badgely as Jeff Buckley

Penn Badgely as Jeff Buckley

Beyond that, Algrant’s screenplay (written with David Brendel and Emma Sheanshang) builds a simple story of a son who missed his father as he was growing up. Asked to perform his father’s songs at the 1991 tribute staged by Hal Willner at NYC’s Church of St Ann, the then-little-known Jeff agrees. As rehearsals grind on, the perpetual comparisons with Tim Buckley wear Jeff down and deep-scarred resentments rise to the surface.

Pop culture rarely lets the facts get in the way of a good story – and so it is with the story of Tim and Jeff Buckley. Jeff only met his father twice in his life – once when he was one and again when he was eight, briefly. Much is made in Rock history of their remarkable (spooky!) similarities: the fact they looked so alike, and sounded so alike etc etc. Rock history, like many convenient histories, seems to ignore the plain facts – in this case the plain facts that they actually looked nothing alike and sounded nothing alike (even though, coincidentally, they were both astonishing vocalists).

Imogen Poots as Allie

Imogen Poots as Allie

The only undeniable similarity between the two is the adventurous nature of their music. Tim Buckley’s late 60s prolific output (nine studio albums prior to his death at 28) ranged from humping and pumping Stones-flavoured barroom rock to the ‘unlistenable’ (and quite brilliant) avant-garde experiments of albums such as Starsailor. Almost thirty tears later Jeff Buckley only put out one album – the era-defining Grace – which was brimming with jaw-dropping originality.

Greetings from Tim Buckley sees Jeff three years before Grace, and is intercut with flashbacks to Tim Buckley’s rise in the 60s. Boho dives such as the Café Wha are beautifully recreated, as is the 1991 tribute concert in St Ann’s.

Small details divert and irk, though. During a scene where Jeff and guitarist Gary Lucas (coolly played by Frank Wood) jam on what would become Grace’s title track, the headstocks of their guitars – a Stratocaster and a Telecaster – have the ‘Fender’ logo taken off, due apparently to brand protection.

In a record store, digging for vinyl with Allie, Jeff hugs and kisses a copy of the Led Zeppelin III LP before falling to the floor and singing garbled almost-lyrics from the album. He tells her everything from the 70s was ‘big big bullshit – except for ONE thing’. That One Thing is obviously Led Zeppelin (Buckley drowned in 1997 after walking into a river at night singing Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’) but he can’t say it – the Zep lawyers might be circling.

In this litigation-stupid world, this product un-placement pokes some holes in the veracity of the story. This may be trainspotting but anyone who is moved to go and see a story about a 60s freakout cat and his Boho genius son just eats up details far, far more trivial than this.

The heroic arc of the story culminates in the Tim Buckley Tribute Concert which Algrant nails down on all levels: musically, theatrically, emotionally – watch out for Frank Bello thoroughly enjoying himself as NYC proto-punk Richard Hell.

Ben Rosenfield as Tim Buckley

Ben Rosenfield as Tim Buckley

Penn/Jeff’s rendition of the beautiful Tim Buckley song ‘Once I Was’ is a time-stopping moment in an otherwise slightly too-neat dramatic climax.

In fact, one of the finest features of the film is the heavy use of Tim Buckley’s music – spacey, deep, 60s fragrant and unlike any other singer-songwriter before or since – in favour of Jeff’s more hard-edged 90s mojo. Let’s hope a whole new generation is turned on to his back catalogue – ‘Song to the Siren’, ‘Morning Glory’ and so much more by Greetings from Tim Buckley.

Greetings from Tim Buckley will be screened on Friday June 7, 9:45 pm at Event Cinemas George Street 4 and on Saturday June 15, 4:30pm at Event Cinemas George Street 8.

Published May 2013 on


Firmly established in its 24th year as one of the premier music festivals of the world, the Byron Bay Bluesfest continues to top its already heady highs. The lineup for this year’s festival was a dream program for lovers of blues and roots music and anything else festival director Peter Noble decided to throw our way.

Criticised in the past for veering too far from its original blues brief, Bluesfest has outgrown these criticisms purely by booking the biggest acts in the world, and some of the most interesting – over the past few years headliners have been Bob Dylan, B B King, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Yes, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty, Paul Simon and (almost) Roger Daltrey performing Tommy (even though Daltrey didn’t show – next year maybe?).

Noble’s knack for picking the greats, blues or not – and a demonstration of the power he wields on the world festival circuit in doing so – was vindicated by this year’s record attendance: capacity crowds of 17,000 per day which adds up to 85,000 in toto.

And I was one of those fools dancing in the rain. And the smile is still on my face.



Taj Mahal

Accompanied by Gaz T, my intrepid local tracker and native guide, my 24th Byron Bay Bluesfest experience started on the Friday with the wonderful Taj Mahal. Mahal was one of those bluesmen – like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee – that the 1970s hippie freaks took to their hearts back in those fragrant days. His popularity has remained undiminished since then. As is often the case, I expected a creaky veteran, tottering on a chair – but what we got was a big man, standing tall, whipping his trio through modern blues, pre-war country blues and even calypso flavoured blues. Yeah!

And if Taj Mahal surprised me with his age-denying vigour, reggae and ska legend Jimmy Cliff utterly floored me. Cliff was already a star in Jamaica while Bob Marley was merely learning his trade, and at 65 he has lost nothing – twisting, dancing, leaping through his set. It is this pin-sharp showmanship that reminds us of the huge influence classic 60s Motown had on pre-Marley Jamaican artists. Slick, soulful and bang-on, his beautiful songs had heart, message and groove.


Jimmy Cliff

Shuggie Otis

Shuggie Otis

While everyone headed to Steve Miller in one of the big tents, I moved towards the smaller Jambalaya stage and blues guitarist Shuggie Otis. Otis was a child prodigy of the blues guitar, the son of rhythm-and-blues bandleader Johnny Otis. After a few semi-hits in the 70s he faded from view. After a 40 year hiatus for whatever reason, he is back touring the world and I could not miss him. Rail thin and now with the angular almost-Latin good looks of his father, Shuggie seemed troubled and ill at ease. But when he found his zone and soared, he soared higher and higher. His beautiful playing took my breath completely away. In a way it was more exciting to see an artist who could easily miss, but hit it so well; compared to all the other in-the-pocket coolly-pro bands at Bluesfest, Otis’s set had that element of danger. Sublime and edgy.

Then the rain hit and my Bluesfest experience sprung a leak. Not having brought a raincoat or wet-weather gear I was soaked to the skin in minutes. Not being able to squeeze into the Steve Miller tent I stood in the rain and watched him play ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ – rain will come and go, the beautiful epoch-defining voice of The Space Cowboy (some call him Maurice…) singing this glorious freedom song was here and now. Around me, teenage fans danced in the rain to Miller’s golden period hits, singing every word to ‘Rockin’ Me Baby’ and ‘The Joker’. It’s only rain, it can soak our skin but it can’t dampen our spirit.


Carlos Santana

Keeping the San Fran psychedelic vibe going – albeit in a very very different way – Santana’s set began with cosmic interstellar graphics fading in and out of the two huge screens either side of the stage. Then it was a brief drum roll from drummer Dennis Chambers and the Santana band roared into 1971’s ‘Toussaint L’Overture’. As well as Chambers, the percussion backline was made up of long-time conguero Raul Rekow and Karl Perazza on timbales – who together propelled the music like a freight-train, but a freight-train which skips and dances lightly along the track. Of course the main voice of this band has always been the elegant guitar playing of Carlos Santana – always lyrical, always going for the emotional connection over the empty dazzle of technique. Which ultimately makes him, above and beyond his Latin and jazz phrasing, one hell of a great blues guitarist – as we heard from a short (and all too rare) snatch of Santana playing some straight blues during the set. Can music reviewers still use words like ‘celestial’? I guess I just did, because it is the only word I have left to describe Santana’s unearthly performance.

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi

The day ended with a truly soulful set from The Tedeschi-Trucks Band. The absolute highlight of my first ‘Fest two years ago, the band of slide ex-wünderkind Derek Trucks and his wife, vocalist Susan Tedeschi never fails to amaze. For their 2013 return they brought their three-man horn section along and their firepower went up a notch. The thrilling ‘Midnight In Harlem’ – a song that is built on an almost sexual upward curve – had Trucks’ solo coda taking it up and up into that region that Carlos Santana used to (and I am sure still does) call ‘spiritual orgasm’.

I was saturated with rain, good vibes and killer music. And I still had two days to go.



Allen Toussaint

Saturday we eased in with the once and future king of the Big Easy himself, New Orleans magus Allen Toussaint. The man’s CV is virtually a history of modern R&B, soul and funk and his urbane cool belies his immense impact in shaping these musics. As if his beautiful, artfully funky music (and stunningly virtuosic piano playing) wasn’t gift enough, he threw Mardi Gras masks (and green and yellow AFL footballs?) to the crowd. A charmer in every way.

After a while cruising the human river and people watching (a Bluesfest pastime in itself) I chanced upon Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. And it was one of those wonderful music moments when seeing a band live makes you an instant fan – all subsequent listening experiences filtered through that thrilling ‘Eureka!’ moment of discovery. Wilco’s music seems to beat with the same American-classic heart at the centre of the songs of Neil Young and the darker Bruce Springsteen material. The band (especially guitarist Nels Cline) seem to be able to paint perfect soundscapes behind any of Tweedy’s songs, be they dark rockers or sweeter country-tinged ballads. A revelation.

Floating on the beauty of Wilco’s music I was yanked back down to earth by Status Quo. Britain’s answer to AC/DC, the indestructible Quo have been playing the same song for over 40 years – a variant on 12-bar pub boogie that has sold 118 million albums (think about that figure for a minute). Watching their flawless set, with mainstays Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt rocking hard before banks of white Marshalls, I could (almost) forgive them their awful Coles ads. Some bands are simply a force of nature and Quo are a blast of the simple joy of undiluted rock’n’roll.


Robert Plant’s Sensational Shape Shifters

The straight-from-the-botttle thrust of Quo was perhaps a good brain-scourer –  an astringent appetiser – for the almost too-rich feast that was Robert Plant, which followed next. The fabled Led Zeppelin vocalist has been the main obstacle to any Led Zep reunions, as he has always moved forward with his music, taking his former band’s world-music aesthetic to greater heights than they ever did. His new band, The Sensational Shape Shifters, are the best version of Plant’s patented future-primitive groove – to one side of the stage we have Juldeh Camara working a Gambian wooden banjo, to the other side keyboardist John Baggott (ex-Massive Attack) sits in a nest of synths and laptops. Plant acknowledged the faithful with a few Led Zeppelin tunes, but messed with their anthem ‘Whole Lotta Love’, bedding it in a chugging African drum figure. Unlike almost every other ‘legendary’ act at Bluesfest he made no attempt to recreate his past, instead giving us a show we would think about for many months to come – a show driven by the restless creativity and often contrary nature of a true and uncompromising artist.


Sunday we awoke to clouds and gray skies over the succulent green of Byron Shire. At the ‘Fest, Tony Joe White’s Swamp-Fox baritone conspired with the dull skies to lull us into maybe too deep a state of ‘relaxation’. We needed a wake-up!



And we got it in the shape of Melbourne nine-piece Saskwatch. Bursting with chops and youth – and fronted by their not-so-secret weapon, vocalist Nkechi Anele – the band mixes soul, funk and Afrobeat horns to great effect. Like Mayer Hawthorne in the US they also take the bouncier, pop-soul side of Motown and do great things with it. Last year it was The Eagle and The Worm that assured me music is in good hands for the future – this year is was the snap, crackle and (soul-)pop of Saskwatch.

My 2013 Bluesfest experience wound to a finish in a mix of rain, muddy dancers and 1970s progressive rock classicism. Jon Anderson, the vocalist of perhaps the greatest of all Prog bands, YES, played an intimate solo show for us that was quite sublime. (Oddly, YES played Bluesfest last year with –surreally – a replacement vocalist who was drawn from a YES covers band). Listening to Anderson peppering his set with acoustic, folky versions of YESsongs made me realise that it was in this form these tunes were written and presented to the band – who then proceeded to inflate them to Prog size. Unadorned with pomp, they are lovely songs, Anderson’s voice is one of the sweetest in all Rock and the man is once of our most beloved space cadets.

My prize for 24th Bluesfest Festival Moment goes, however, to the experience of standing in the teeming rain, with my 5 dollar poncho disintegrating on my back as I listened to Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson singing ‘It’s Raining Again’ (with not a drop of irony from what I could gather). But of course, the magic of his songs – one beautifully uplifting hit after another – sung in his spacey tenor blew away the rainclouds in my head and warmed the souls of all who listened. Once again, it’s only rain; this was bliss, a good reason to live right here, right now.



Beautiful people

So that was it – right there, right then. Bluesfest 2013 – a festival beyond belief in so many ways. Criticisms? Around me I heard faint grumbles of over-selling and over crowding, and yes, it seemed fuller that previous years. But it is never anything like a problem – considering the logistics of an event that has grown to such proportions, artistically and attendance-wise.

What will Peter Noble conjure up for us next year? Being the 25th Bluesfest, he and his intrepid team will need to go beyond the pale to top the jaw-dropping line-ups of the last few years. The Jimi Hendrix Experience? The Beatles? Elvis Presley (pre-Hollywood of course)? I am just putting it out there – and knowing Noble’s almost supernatural powers (coupled with the soul of a true music fan), I really wouldn’t entirely put it past him.


Published April 2013 on

People seem amazed when I tell them that I saw Led Zeppelin at Sydney Showground in 1972, when the four rock deities descended from the sky to perform for us and then returned to Asgard (or maybe London) – could it ever have truly happened? The Led Zeppelin hagiography has enlarged to almost mythic proportions as the years have gone by, but in 1972 they were another hard rock band – albeit one of the globe’s biggest and most innovative.

Upon the death of their astonishing drummer, John Bonham in September 1980, Led Zeppelin split and went their separate ways. It seemed the only thing to do: without Bonham’s thunder and lightning, it was not and never would be the same. The remaining members – the leonine Robert Plant, the savant John Paul Jones and the truly visionary Jimmy Page – individually produced music over the years, much of it very very good but none of it matching the vast scope – from Middle America hoe-downs to Middle Earth musings to towering Middle East anthems, all with lashings of the Blues – that Led Zeppelin could conjure.

And despite their prolific and unmatched recorded output – each new album pushed the boundaries of rock into new lands – it was live that Led Zeppelin could work magic. The improvisational jazz/blues ethos behind their music, coupled with an almost preternatural chemistry, produced hours of astonishing musical trip-outs, pulling audiences along in their sparkling wake.

On 10 December 2007, the band came together for a one-off show at London’s O2 Arena as part of a tribute concert to Ahmet Ertegun, founder with his brother Neshui of Atlantic Records and the man who signed Led Zeppelin to the label in 1968. It was the first time the band – now with, touchingly, John Bonham’s son Jason in the drum seat – had played together for 27 years, bar brief appearances at 1985’s Live Aid and Atlantic Record’s 40th Anniversary in 1988.

Worldwide, 20 million fans bid for the reunion tickets with around 20,000 witnessing the show. The rest of us had to make do with YouTube clips and bootlegs. On October 17 this year, the film of the concert – named ‘Celebration Day’ after the Led Zeppelin III track – was released worldwide with cinemas screening it across Australia for one day only.

And from the opening two-beat salvo of ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ – cleverly the first song of the concert and the first song of their 1969 debut album – it was plain fans of rock were in for a treat. Virtually devoid of special effects, sweeping audience shots or heavy production, the film put us front and centre, Dick Carruthers‘ direction never diverting from the sheer power and animal grace of the band.

The sound was loud and clear and pretty much at chest-thumping gig volume level. As it should be – listening to led Zep at polite volume would be as wrong as listening to Erik Satie’s French piano miniatures through a Marshall stack. The enormous dynamism of modern cinema sound systems, having to replicate shattering glass, tinkling rain or a train wreck, is perfect for the huge wall of sound that rock puts out. These cinema concert experiences are quite something.

All the Zep classics were there – ‘Dazed and Confused’, ‘Black Dog’, a never previously played live ‘For Your Life’, a shimmeringly beautiful ‘No Quarter’. Jason Bonham seemed a little in awe and restrained for the first few pieces, but by the heavily funky ‘Trampled Underfoot’ he seemed to attack the drumkit with the same joyously unbridled ferocity of his late father.

Joy was all around – that same ferocious joy went through every tune. Jimmy Page says “Our DNA is in these songs” and the enjoyment and love leapt from the screen. Indeed, the versions of ‘The Song Remains The Same’, ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ and ‘Kashmir’ were the best live recordings I have ever heard – ‘Kashmir’ especially was entirely transporting, with Robert Plant conjuring minarets and desert winds before a swirling Arabic sun, one of many astounding, yet never distracting, visuals that played behind the band.

A double encore of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ – showing that intense improvisational aspect of the band – and ‘Rock and Roll’ (“Been a long time since I rock and rolled…”) and it was over. There was sadness that it was over for ever now, but the joy at the magic we had witnessed outshone that by far.

There will never be another band like this. I am thankful that there ever was.

Published November 2012 on