Saturday, December 10, 2005

Planted on a stool: part 1 of 2

On this day in 1975, the members of Led Zeppelin performed an impromptu onstage set for a crowd of no more than 350 unsuspecting people at a dance hall. Robert Plant, normally the unrelenting dancer and showman on the stage, spent the entire 45-minute performance glued to a stool.

The toughest thing for Plant that night, he said, was dealing with his temporary physical limitations. An auto accident four months earlier had severely damaged the singer's ankle, rendering him unable to walk without the aid of crutches. It would still be until the first of January that Plant walked again for the first time.

The evening found Plant still able, however, to belt out rockabilly cover songs without a problem. Jerry Lewis and Elvis Presley tunes, he could handle. It was the ankle that kept Plant on his toes -- figuratively speaking, of course. He later said of the experience, "Every time I went to hit a high note, I stood up, not putting any weight on my foot, but just sort of standing."

That one-off show was actually the first Led Zeppelin concert since five astonishing performances at Earl's Court in May and a huge tour of the United States. "It was a really exciting experience -- rock 'n' roll in the most basic sense," said Plant.

The appearance came about as the result of a promise one week earlier. While the group was stationed out of Jersey, a U.K. island in the English Channel that prided itself on being a tax-free haven, its members were taking in the local scene.

On Dec. 3, John Bonham and John Paul Jones happened upon a place known as Behan's Park West, also known as West Park Pavillion or Inn on the Park. The house pianist there was Norman Hale, who had been a member of the Tornados in 1961 and 1962 when the British were crazy about instrumental bands (more about this in part two). Bonham and Jones said they would drag Plant and Jimmy Page to the dance hall the following Wednesday. And they did.

But not without some resistance from Plant, who said the conversation went like this: "Bonzo said, 'C'mon, man, let's plan on going!' And I said, 'Look, I can't even walk for God's sake. Don't embarrass me. I can't hobble across the dance floor and onto the stage.' He said we'd go through the side door and then up the back steps. And with amazing grace, that's what I did, and I found myself plunked on a stool."

Hale joined the group on piano, and the set included numbers like "Blue Suede Shoes," "My Baby Left Me" and "It'll Be Me." Page showed off his brand new guitar for the first time at this gig. He sported a Lake Placid blue model Fender '60s Stratocaster, which he'd been using in the Munich recording sessions for the album released the following spring under the title Presence.

Careful not to put any pressure on his healing ankle, Plant stayed on the stool. The previous month at Musicland Studios in Munich, West Germany, he had fallen over in a wheelchair trying to dance while singing a song with the group. Surely, Plant didn't want a repeat of that.

"Of course, I made sure I sat almost behind Bonzo, wedged between the piano and the drums," said Plant. "But then I felt myself edge forward a little bit. Then after the third number, I was wiggling the stool past the drums and further out. And once we got going, we didn't want to stop."

He said he was impressed with the atmosphere at Behan's pub. "It was like a dance hall that was like some place 10 years gone by, in the best old English tradition," he said. "Guys with dickey bows and evening jackets ready to bang your head against a wall if you stepped out of line, and chairs and tables lined up in escalation. Chicks wearing suspenders and stockings -- and a lot of rock 'n' roll."

But, like all good things, the show had to come to an end after three-quarters of an hour. "They kept flashing the lights on inside the place," Plant said. "'Get them off stage, they've done enough!'" Led Zeppelin apparently wasn't the only hot British rock band to grace the stage at Behan's West Park around that time. "Bad Company played the same place after us," said Plant. "So this tiny little dance hall is getting the pride of English musicians for nothing, just for the hell of playing!"

The story of the two consecutive Wednesday appearances by members of Led Zeppelin comes from the newest edition of Led Zeppelin: The Concert File by Dave Lewis and Simon Pallett. This 2005 revision, printed only last month, contains several other stories that took me by absolute surprise. At 374 pages, it's teeming with great episodes chronicling the band's collective live career and the various solo projects right on through 2005. In addition to first-hand accounts of concert memories, anecdotes like the one recounted here, and glimpses into every show the band performed, the book also has a healthy dose of live shots of the group in action, plus photographs of memorabilia that only hardcore Led Zeppelin collectors have seen before. For ordering information, check out www.tightbutloose.co.uk -- a site I hope you've been checking out anyway for the latest in Zeppelin-related news. Where else are you going to find out where you can see a live clip of Robert Plant on Oct. 11 performing "Fool in the Rain" with Pearl Jam at Chicago's House of Blues?

The second part of this newsletter edition contained information on some of John Paul Jones's activity in the music scene of 1964, including his involvement at the time with one of Hale's fellow acts in an instrumental band.

2 comments:

  1. "On Dec. 3, John Bonham and John Paul Jones happened upon a place known as Behan's Park West, also known as West Park Pavillion or Inn on the Park. "

    The venue was named Behans in 1975 (and was never called Behans Park West). Prior to that it was West Park Pavillion and after that it was the Inn On The Park.

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  2. Thanks for reading and commenting. Sorry for butchering the name. I'm just glad to read a comment! Who's writing, and how do you know all of these names?

    ReplyDelete

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