Friday, October 19, 2012

A Celebration of Led Zeppelin

'Celebration Day' - The film of Led Zeppelin's show at London's O2 Arena in 2007, is a real treat and worth catching on the big screen if you get the chance. It captures the band at their majestic best, turning in a performance that defies the fact they hadn't played a full live show for almost 30 years.

It was Friday night and there was plenty of clapping and whooping in our movie theatre, which for once was quite appropriate. The film takes you into the crowd and onto the stage, giving a sense of what it was like for both audience and band on the night. And it really does capture the spirit of classic Led Zeppelin. At one point, Robert Plant says, "It still feels pretty good up here" and there are several moments where you see them look at each other, as if to say "we've still got it". I was at the Knebworth show back in the day and I think the 02 performance stands shoulder to shoulder with that 1979 vintage.
We're gonna groove - backstage before the show
I was also at Earl’s Court in 1975 and while that was really the band at their peak, for anyone coming to 'Celebration Day' without knowing more than a couple of the classic albums, this film gives you a good representation of what Led Zeppelin were about. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones are both on fine form here and Robert Plant manoeuvres his way round the difficult registers without losing the spirit of the original songs. There’s so much to enjoy. The material is nicely varied and really blows away any notion that they were just ‘Hey hey mama and squeeze my lemon’ big haired posers. The best musical moments are the ones where they show their roots but also their sophistication: In My Time of Dying, No Quarter, Kashmir. And if you have ever liked Stairway to Heaven, you will love this version.

Jason Bonham did a great job of driving the band, especially on things like Kashmir. As his father did at the Knebworth shows, Jason allows the band to ride on top of his monumental groove. Similarly, In My Time of Dying stays true to the spirit of the original recording. Jason really channels the spirit of Bonzo at times. It’s true what Jimmy Page says; they couldn’t have done this with any other drummer. At no time, do you feel like he’s throwing them off – his appreciation of the music is total. What a proud moment for him.
Another great thing about the film is how it shows the many warm exchanges between all of them, when they know they’ve nailed a tune. Like on Black Dog, you can sense their elation at having not just got through it, but really rocked it. JPJ talked about the over-riding feeling being one of relief, that they got to the end of the show without any train-wrecks, and as long-time fans we share in that relief. But what makes this show special is they reminded themselves, and us, in the best way possible that they were an incredible and quite unique band. You don’t see musicians playing with this level of respect for their music and their legacy – not rock bands anyway.
 I'm glad they didn't take it out on the road though. This was a one-off.

I was curious to see how the film would look on my phone, so towards the end I took this clip of 'Kashmir'. It came out pretty well. The original file size was 290mb! For less than 3 mins.
But there's a much better clip that someone else has posted from the screening at Hammersmith Apollo:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Elton John and Rod Stewart at Watford FC, 1974

May 1974. Elton John was already an international star and Rod was about to become one. Watford Football Club, my home team, were in need of funds and Elton, newly installed as a director of the club, decided to put on a benefit concert. Tickets were £1 and it was billed as Elton John and guests. 
Nazareth opened the concert. We were actually big fans of their album 'Loud 'N Proud' which had their version of Joni Mitchell's 'This Flight Tonight' as well as a  cover of the Little Feat song 'Teenage Nervous Breakdown'. 
We held back during Nazareth's set but then a couple of us moved right to the front for Elton's set. This was the classic EJ band, with Dee Murray, Nigel Ollson and Davey Johnstone, plus new member Ray Cooper on percussion. Watford are known as The Hornets and so Elton naturally arrived on stage in a hornet costume. You can see from the footage of the concert here that Elton's colourful outfit was a contrast with the long hair and denim of most of us in the crowd (I'm down there at front centre). There were a few glammed-up Rod-alikes and by the sound of the screaming, quite a few girls. It was a good-natured crowd - and I remember at least one streaker. Elton's set included recent classics like Candle In The Wind and Daniel. They debuted a new single, a cover version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.  I'm not sure if we knew that Rod was going to appear, but his appearance certainly added an extra element of star quality. He appeared wearing a white silk suit and matching scarf and his trademark haircut - every inch the rock star. This was pre-Atlantic Crossing, the point at which he focussed on making it big in America, so he sang a mix of Elton material that he had covered on his early solo albums. 
Melody Maker's front page story about the Watford gig and rock's football fans
The second video clip shows Rod's entrance and the run-through of Country Comforts. It's just a shame the sound balance has his vocals way down. There are no official release clips from this concert, so this is all we have to go on. I remember the Elton John Band being really professional and excellent musicians. It was a treat to see them up-close. The photo here, taken from the front page of the following week's Melody Maker, is pretty much the view I had. 
The article in the MM - 'How rock gets its kicks' was about how people like Elton, Rod, Ian Hunter, Rick Wakeman, Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters were "confirmed soccer freaks". 
This was 10 years before Watford had their period of success in the old first division under the management of Graham Taylor. At this point, they had made it up from the third to the second division and were holding their own without ever really looking like being promoted to the first division. They had a brief glory period in the 1970-71 season, beating Liverpool 1-0 in the FA cup quarter finals before being trounced 5-1 by Chelsea in the semis. Chelsea went on to win the cup that year, beating Leeds Utd in a replay at Old Trafford. Having stood on terraces as a 12 year-old through my mid-teens, I drifted away and only rarely ventured back to Vicarage Road. I returned recently to watch them playing Spurs in a pre-season friendly. The ground is looking much better now, apart from the old players entrance stand, which was condemned and is yet to be rebuilt. 
Rod Stewart joins Elton John on stage at Watford Football Club, May 1974