Starkers (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-1202EX)
Starkers Royal Ballroom, Bournemouth, U.K. – December 2, 1971
(62:50) Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Black Dog, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Dazed And Confused (cut), What Is And What Should Never Be, Rock And Roll, Whole Lotta Love
The last known recording from 1971 is from the intimate 4,200 seat Starkers Royal Ballroom in Bournemouth, U.K. There exists a nearly complete good audience recording that, while listenable, has only seen a few releases. Heartbeat (H-Bomb Music HB-9616) features a 59 minute portion of the recording that ran too fast. Rock And Roll Magic (Electric Magic EMC-014 A/B/C) features the complete recording but suffered from heavy handed mastering, a trademark of several Electric Magic titles. This release from Graf Zeppelin makes use of the partial recording found on the H-Bomb title and was released as part of their “gift” series.
The recording from Bournemouth is a good audience source, the mix favors vocals, bass, and guitar with the drums being a bit in the background but become more discernible as the recording goes on. It is a bit muffled and there is a bit of distortion and tape hiss as one would expect but overall a very listenable and enjoyable document. Based upon Gerard’s review of the Electric Magic title, other portions of the tape are very distorted, possibly the reason it was cut down to a single disc. While the sound may be average, the 1971 United Kingdom tour was excellent, the band certainly coming off the high of playing Japan for the first time bringing that momentum back home.
I have the H-Bomb title, this new Graf Zeppelin is definitely from a better version of the tape and or better transfer. It runs at the correct speed and has a better range of frequencies giving a much fuller sound, it does have just a bit more tape hiss than the H-Bomb but this is to be expected from tapes of this age. Overall much more easier on the ears and a more faithful representation of the original tape. Sadly, Graf elected to only use the 62 minute version of the tape, I would have loved to hear the entire show as it is an excellent performance.
The recording begins as Robert sings “Come from the land of the ice and snow”, John Paul Jones’ bass gives a thundering backbone that stays true to the guitar riff, very powerful. There are cuts between the songs, you get an idea on the intimate venue as Robert introduces Black Dog to a rather restrained audience. The audience clap along to Bron-Y-Aur Stomp and sounds as if they are some distance away. Perhaps the biggest issue with this title is that Dazed And Confused is severely cut clocking in at only 8:18, bummer as you are listening to Jimmy’s bow solo it cuts and segues into What Is And What Should Never Be. Shame that the remaining 20 minutes are missing as both Luis Rey and Gerard comment on what a great version it is.
Thankfully 23 minutes of Whole Lotta Love is present as it is a great version with many rare songs being played. It opens with an interesting instrumental that leads into the iconic opening riff. The Gamblers Blues segment is really tasty, the medley gets into full swing with Cumberland Gap and Bottle Up And Go. There is a small cut that leads into a rare version of Buddy Holly’s Heartbeat followed by Ricky Nelson’s Hello Mary Lou and an Elvis Plant tinged Lawdy Miss Clawdy. I Can’t Quit You gets the nod in the blues segment, Robert’s vocals are great and does the lick trading with Jimmy and just as they begin to transition into How Many More Times. Shame, Shame, Shame, cutting this song here should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
The packaging is simple, a live shot of Robert on the cover, the pictures on the inside are Zeppelin receiving sales awards and the back cover is a picture of the Starkers Ballroom. While this is a wonderful upgrade to the older titles, we need a complete version of this show and would love to see Manchester and Dundee receive the Graf treatment. Again, average quality but incredible performances.