Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Then As It Was

On this day in 1979, Led Zeppelin's British homecoming was under full swing with the band offering fans a two-and-a-half-hour set at the Knebworth Festival.

Words I would write today would fail to capture the eloquence and the first-hand experience of a writer who was there. The following appears here and is reprinted from Dave Lewis's Diary:

Thirty years ago today, I and thousands of others, were in that field just outside Stevenage eagerly awaiting the live return of Led Zeppelin.

Thirty years on it's been like a lifetime ... but a second.

Think of Knebworth and the images remain vivid: The campsite, Tommy Vance's Friday night rock show filling the air, chants of "Zeppelin, Zeppelin," the early morning rush for the gates, the long wait during the day, Skynyrd's "Tuesdays Gone" fading from the PA, the screen unfolding ... and there in the light performing "The Song Remains the Same," Led Zeppelin live before our very eyes.

Thousands of eyes that still hold thousands of memories.

And it's those memories that make up the centerpiece of "Then As It Was," the book I've spent many hours over the past few months compiling. When I set upon the task of marking the 30th anniversary of Led Zeppelin's final UK gigs, I knew it was an event held in high esteem by many fans ... but I don't think even I was quite aware of how much this era means to so many people.

The reasons are manifold. It was for a majority of fans, their first and ultimately only opportunity to see Led Zeppelin perform live. It was also many fans first experience of attending a major rock gathering. Many of them travelled long distances to be there and suffered varying hardships to endure it all. And as an event from the buildup, the tension, the speculation, the giant screen, the laser effects, etc., it was pure Zeppelin theatre. And most importantly musically it was also a valiant renaissance.

Not perfect by any means but then Led Zeppelin live was never about perfection. There were undoubtedly some stunning moments that proved the 1979 Led Zeppelin was alive and well and still had new places to go.

Some of the intensity of 1975 and 1977 may have been missing but there was more than enough evidence at those shows to indicate that the muse was returning. It would surely all have come back given more road work. The Over Europe tour assisted that process, and the 1980s touring campaign would have cemented it.

Getting back to their audience in the UK with say a string of dates at London's Rainbow, Newcastle City Hall, Manchester, etc., would have been the beginning of yet another era.

Knebworth would then be viewed not as a glorious end but a glorious rebirth.

Somehow though, like Michael Jackson's ill-fated O2 shows, it was never destined to be. The untimely passing of John Bonham led to Knebworth forever remaining in the heart and soul of Led Zeppelin fans as the last hurrah in the UK.

As the book reveals, the memories remain intact. From long coach journeys made from the north east and beyond causing much parental worry, mysterious cries of "wally" on the campsite, the crush to gain entry, sleep and sanitary deprivation, the sheer wonder of seeing the band on stage, right through to the rather unfortunate story of a young lady who took a short cut coming out of the arena and ended up quite literally in the s***!

All this for the love of Led Zeppelin.

It's been a most cathartic experience for me writing the book. In these days of huge uncertainty there was strength to be gained in reliving the more innocent times of 30 years ago. Reading through the many recollections submitted had me laughing out loud and often moved to tears. They are a stark reminder of how events in our youth shape our thoughts and actions for years to come. Yes back then we were mere kids, and our sense of responsibility rarely wandered beyond the next pint, the next album, the next gig.

But events like Led Zeppelin at Knebworth defined who we were and what made us tick. Yes it's just a band and some songs as I sometimes try and remind myself but in truth it's so much more. Going to Knebworth in 1979 was an entry into a world of empathy and communication. Empathy for the music of Led Zeppelin and communication with like minded souls whose love for the band knew no bounds. Both those ethics are still very much intact.

"Then As It Was" is therefore a book about empathy and communication that occurred a long time ago. In a world that has changed beyond recognition.

But it's still important.

Of all the many words written by fans about their experiences, the final thoughts of Peter Anderson from Stockport stand out: "The journey back was a nightmare," he writes, "with our first real hangovers kicking in but it didn't matter. We were kicked out of the car at 6am and crawled to bed thinking we had witnessed history."

"Thinking we had witnessed history" -- that line says it all.

That's exactly how I, and thousands of others, felt too.

Thirty years on we now know we had witnessed history.

What none of us were aware of, as we came away from the park that night, was the fact that there would be precious [little] opportunity to be in Led Zeppelin's company in the future.

So then as it was, it can never be again.

Today, many thousands of fans will be remembering their Knebworth experiences of 30 years ago. It'll bring to mind a simpler time and the music of a great, great band that still means so much to so many.

And it didn't rain ...

As for me, tonight I'll be rounding up the local TBL gang, Cliff, Mark Harrison, Terry, Kam, etc., and re-connecting with the original Bedford Knebworth 4 -- Tom Locke and Phil Harris who should be in attendance here and Dec who I'll be ringing at around 9.40. The neighbours can expect regular cries of "Oh Jimmy!", a chorus or two of "You'll Never Walk Alone" and some rather loud music that "the people in Stevenage" might hear.

Later in the week all roads lead back to Knebworth for more 30th anniversary celebrations. Tickets are still available for the August 8th event; let me know if you can make it. The book should be ready for shipping out after the weekend. Order it now and you'll have the perfect companion for your own Knebworth celebrations.

Led Zeppelin were outstanding in their field all of 30 years ago today ...

and they still are now.

Dave Lewis
4 August 2009

Please visit this page for a sampling from Lewis's book, "Then As It Was," including some stories from other fans who were there for the Knebworth concerts. Also, Knebworth memorabilia can be purchased here through the online shop set up by festival promoter Freddy Bannister and family.

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