Interview with Dave Lewis about the upcoming book Then As It Was – Led Zeppelin At Knebworth 30 Years Gone
Dave Lewis talks about compiling the new book
Then As It Was – Led Zeppelin At Knebworth 30 Years Gone
Q: So what’s the idea behind the book?
DL: I was looking to mark the 30th anniversary of these shows in some way during 2009 and I’d already gathered some material for my Tight But Loose magazine. It then grew from there. To do it real justice a book format seemed more appropriate, so that led me to plan producing a hardback limited edition book. I knew I had various angles from which to unfold the story and once I got going, the text began to expand quite rapidly.
The basic aim is to pay homage to this key episode in the band’s history, and provide a unique chronicle that recreates the atmosphere of that summer of thirty years ago – a period that is still held in high affection by Led Zeppelin fans all over the world.
Q: How long has it taken to come to fruition?
DL: Once I had seen this as a book project rather than a feature for the magazine, it was already early May and it’s been full on from then on because the aim was to publish in early August. This is the first project under the new Tight But Loose Publications banner, and I’ve been involved in all aspects of getting this off the ground, from collating the text, liaising with printers, planning marketing, setting up the launch etc. There has of course been some key assistance along the way notably the input of TBL designer Martyn Lewis who once again made it all come alive.
Q: Isn’t a book about just two shows a little restricting?
DL: Not when it concerns Led Zeppelin. The book encompasses the last eighteen months of the band’s existence so alongside the actual gigs there’s all the build up and aftermath. In documenting that you get the feel of not only the whole state of the band at the time, but the musical landscape in the UK.
This was a period of big upheaval. Punk rock had arrived and out of it grew the new wave .This movement was set to render dinosaur bands such as Zeppelin redundant. So what you have is the situation of Zeppelin attempting to re-connect with their audience again, in the face of much derision from the press and media. How they coped with that is an interesting story in itself.
Its’ worth noting that in 1979 there was still some confusion of where a band like Zep stood in the scheme of things. The music press found that hard to deal with. You only have to look at one of news pages from the time to see that. For example the announcement of Zep’s comeback in the NME was ran alongside stores about Rod Stewart, The Damned, Peter Tosh and punk poet John Cooper Clarke. A diversity of old wave and new. After 1980 there’s no doubt the emerging new wave acts were dominating the column inches. In that early eighties era the dinosaurs perhaps were extinct, but by then Zeppelin were no more.
Q: The UK press was very wary of them by then – how much of a pressure was that do you think?
DL: I think they found it hard to ignore, particularly Robert Plant. In the book I summarise both the press reaction to the Knebworth shows and the In Through The Out Door album. They did suffer some highly critical reaction – Plant himself made comment to that on stage during their second appearance. They were very sensitive to it all. Taken as a whole though, there were some very balanced views. To quote Phil Sutcliffe in his review in Sounds at the time ‘’How would you feel if you saw a dinosaur coming down the street? Surprise, fear, fascination, awe. All of these things. It’s by no means all bad to be a living fossil”
The fact is, Zeppelin was still a very powerful musical force and I think journalists seemed to have a job admitting that without losing face. In his foreword in the book, Ross Halfin makes a good point that the press didn’t really dislike Zep that much – not in the same way they derided say ELP or Yes
Q: What’s the general consensus of opinion about the band’s performances at Knebworth?
DL: There have certainly been mixed opinions over the years. What I do think has happened, is that time has been pretty kind to how Zep at Kneworth is viewed. In the early 90s the poor quality video footage from the second week that surfaced did I think lead to a negative view of the Knebworth event. That situation probably wasn’t helped by Plant himself, who often made public his disdain for their performances at Knebworth. The turning point came when Page unearthed the full multi track camera footage from the Knebworth shows when compiling the official Zep DVD. Yes they may have been rusty, but I think all three of them were surprised by the power that was so evident still. Subsequently the segment Page edited together for the official DVD in 2003 was clear evidence that when it was good, Zep’s performance at Knebworth was very good indeed. The event itself was pure Zeppelin theatre with the screen, lasers and lighting. The DVD segment highlights all that, plus of course the mass adulation from the crowd. It’s generally agreed that the first performance was superior to the second week. In his chapter in the book Larry Bergmann makes the point that the press reaction to the first show may have put them on the back foot leading into that second show. Overall though, Knebworth was a triumph and it put Zep right back in the spotlight.
Q: The centerpiece of the book is the first hand recollections from fans who were there – how did you go about collating this feedback?
DL: Zep at Knebworth was almost as much about the fans as it was the performances. My objective was to mirror that fact, and to that end I put out a request on the TBL web site for fans to send in their recollections and experiences from being out in the field. The response was excellent, and these first hand accounts form the core of the book.
From these recollections, you can detect the air of wonder that this event created. For many young rock fans it was there first gig and the first (and in most cases last) opportunity to see Zeppelin perform live. The prospect of how the band would fare in the post punk musical climate of the day proved irresistible. The fans faced long coach journeys, primitive camping facilities, poor sanitary conditions and long queues for food and drink. Not to mention a very mediocre support bill. Reading through them, it’s evident the esteem Zep were held in at the time. There’s over thirty such reminisces – all very vivid, some humorous, some quite moving. It tells the story of much simpler days. Zep at Knebworth was not the corporate affair that today’s big festival gatherings have become. There was innocence about it all.
Q: Can you provide an insight into some of these recollections?
DL Well without giving too much away, there’s a view of the band’s second warm up show in Copenhagen as told by a then 15 year old fan….an hilarious and superbly written account of one young lady fans quest to see if Jimmy was at home at his Boleskine Highland address the week before Knebworth. As for the two Knebworth shows, tales include stories such as how one guy averted a potential flooding of the site by fixing two large hoses together that were causing water to slide into the crowd, there’s the innocent fan who was baffled by the repeated cries of ‘Wally” at the campsite thinking it might be some new drug or obscure Zep song title (it’s actually an old English rock festival tradition), the enterprising fans from the North East who hired their own coach to get too and from the show, a moving account of the two Canadian fans who won a radio contest to fly over and ended up getting a name check from Robert Plant on stage with their request for Zep to play Trampled Underfoot (‘’This is a little uptempo ditty we’ve been asked to do by some people in Vancouver”), and the rather unfortunate story of a young lady who took a short cut coming out of the show and ended up quite literally in the s***. All this for the love of Led Zeppelin!
Q: What can you reveal about the photo content of the book?
DL: Again what I’ve tried to do is offer a fans angle of the event so there is a good sprinkling of shots taken by fans at the time. These really capture the atmosphere of it all. They encapsulate everything from the setting up of the stage, through the soundcheck, to shots of the crowd assembling. There’s lots of denim and hair prevalent of course. Despite the punk explosion looking at the crowd photos you realise that in 1979 it was rock music that still very much held sway. As for photos of Zep on stage, again I’ve tapped into fans archives plus top photographers such as Ross Halfin and Neal Preston. There’s also extensive use of the Knebworth photo collection of Alan Perry who took some very good shots from both weeks.
Q: The book contains your original review from the Tight But Loose magazine, how do you look back on that?
DL: There’s no denying it’s a rose tinted view but maybe that’s not too surprising. Back then I was 22 year old and my whole world revolved around Zeppelin. I lived and breathed it, so Knebworth was a very big deal. My Zep magazine Tight But Loose was in it’s infancy and obviously I wanted to offer extensive coverage in the next issue. The review of the August 4th show was a virtual transcript of the tape I had, complete with Plant’s in between patter. I’m not the only one I’m sure who can still reel off verbatim whole chunks of what he said on stage. I arrived early on the morning of August 2nd with the prospect of a 60 hour wait before they came on stage.
It’s a shame however that I missed out on spreading the TBL word. In the desperate rush to get near the stage as the gates went down at 4am during the first gig, I dropped the leaflets I’d had printed up to hand out in the crowd. Not a great marketing move!
Q: Knebworth has always been something of a controversial episode
In Zep’s history. Not least because of the disagreements between promoter Freddy Bannister and Peter Grant. Does the book chronicle that?
DL: I do touch on the controversy of the attendance figures. Clearly there was a problem with Peter Grant and Freddie Bannister which has been addressed in other books -notably Freddy’s own autobiography.
I also document the whole build up to the event and the aftermath to offer a clear focus on the state of play within the band at the time. As I state in the introduction, it was a very different Led Zeppelin that approached the Knebworth shows to the one that walked off stage after the triumphant Earls Court shows four years earlier. The setbacks and tragedies had taken their toll. In undertaking a comeback of Knebworth size proportions they had a lot to lose. That air of expectancy was very tangible leading up to the first show.
Q: Who else has contributed to the book?
DL: As I mentioned, the renowned rock photographer Ross Halfin has written a foreword which documents his experiences in shooting the second show. Chris Charlesworth, one time Melody Maker writer and one of the few journalists accepted into the Zep camp, has contributed a very perceptive opening preface overview.
There’s also a very interesting retro view of the whole Knebworth episode from the perspective of an American fan Larry Bergmann. Zep was still a massive deal over there in the late 1970s – there was no punk rock explosion to harm them and In Through The Out Door was a massive seller and number one for weeks. It was sighted as being something of a saviour to the flagging US music industry at the time. So it’s good to gain a view of how it all appeared from across the water.
Q: What’s your take on the In Through The Out Door album – isn’t it generally viewed as one of their weaker albums?
DL: It probably is viewed that way. There is some filler notably Hot Dog, but overall I think it still had enough high points to make it a successful record.
It certainly carries a high level of John Paul Jones led invention, which for a band in their eleventh year was pretty admirable. This is evident on the likes of Fool In The Rain and Carouselambra. Track such as In the Evening, All My Love and I’m Gonna Crawl have also all stood the test of time well. As Nick Kent at the NME commented in his review of the time, the good qualities were worthy of investigation. He stated ‘’There are potential points of departure on this album that deserve following through. The doctor orders a period of intense activity.” It’s just a shame they never got an opportunity to heed such advice.
Q: There are some interesting Knebworth period interviews given by Robert Plant and John Paul Jones transcribed in the book. Wasn’t one of these going to be a promo interview album?
DL: That’s right – it was an interview conducted by J. J.Jackson, a long time supporter of the band. He interviewed Robert and Jonesy after the second Knebworth show, and there was a plan to put this interview out as a promo interview album to promote In Through The Out Door in the US. A sleeve was mocked up and a title set ‘’Robert Plant and John Paul Jones Talk About Led Zeppelin Past Present And Future” . For reasons unknown it was cancelled. A handful of covers are known to exist and at lest one promo pressing. The book provides the opportunity to hear the contents of what is regarded as one of the rarest Zep albums.
Q: Wasn’t there a similar situation with a planned Knebworth commemorative single?
DL: Again that’s correct. In the UK, Jimmy had the idea of issuing two tracks Wearing And Tearing coupled with Darlene both of which were left off In Through The Out Door. This would have been pressed as single to be made available exclusively at the Knebworth shows. Time ran out on that idea and the tracks eventually surfaced on the Coda album in 1982. Ironically Wearing And Tearing was a high energy speed rocker that might have given the punks a run for their money at the time.
Q: What does the appendix sections in the book offer?
DL: This area will certainly interest keen collectors as Graeme Hutchinson has drawn up an extensive list of the bootleg CD’s that have emerged from the shows. Bootlegs have of have always played a part in any era of the Zep story and Knebworth is no exception. The lengthy nature of the set list lent itself conveniently to be packed on multi CD sets and subsequently the two Knebworth shows have been extensively bootlegged. In fact Graeme logs around ***different versions.
On the same lines, UK collector Nick Anderson also offers a comprehensive world wide In Through The Out Door discography. This includes details of the differing promo pressings that came out and the singles that were issued from the album. There’s also a spotlight on memorabilia from the Knebworth event, honing in on the Brian Knapp Collection which includes the shirt Jimmy wore at both shows and the violin bow he used with laser effects during his guitar solo showpiece.
Q: When is the book available?
DL: It’s being launched a special 30th anniversary fan get together at the Lytton Arms Knebworth on Saturday August 8th. I thought it would be quit fitting to stage the launch back at the exact location where all this history unfolded. The Lytton Arms pub is just a few minutes walk from the Knebworth House estate. On the day there will be various Knebworth video playbacks, tribute band Boot Led Zeppelin will be doing a special acoustic set and I’ll be signing copies of the book. They’ll also be guest speakers spots/quiz/ charity raffle etc.
Entry by pre admission only is £10 including buffet (full details go to see http://www.tblweb.com/)
The book can be ordered on line at http://www.tblweb.com/via pay pal and at the Wymer UK book site at the link *********
The first run is a strictly limited hardback edition individually numbered and signed by the author.
Q: Finally where do you think the books appeal lies?
DL: Well it will certainly appeal to anyone who attended either of the Knebworth shows – on a nostalgic level it’s an affectionate reminder of the way thing were in that field all of thirty years ago.
For Zep fans that have come on board since, or were elsewhere at the time it provides the opportunity to find out what it was all about. The many aspects that the book covers: from the build up through to the gigs themselves, the aftermath, the interviews of the time, and of course the fan recollections – all adds up to what I hope is an engaging read that chronicles the final days of Led Zeppelin and the simpler times of the last great festival gatherings of the 1970s.
One thing’s for certain -this time there’s no sleeping bags required.
Then As It Was – Led Zeppelin At Knebworth
30 Years Gone (Tight But Loose Publishing ISBN 978-0-9540764-2-9) is available from August 8 2009
For further information:If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)Interview with Dave Lewis about the upcoming book Then As It Was - Led Zeppelin At Knebworth 30 Years Gone,