Saturday, November 6, 2010

Knives out to (Jimmy) Page and (Roy) Harper

On this day in 1984, Jimmy Page appeared on British television in one of the weirdest settings ever for an interview.

He was sitting on the mountainside of Scafell Pike, next to folk singer Roy Harper, both of them with acoustic guitars in their laps and getting ready to perform "The Same Old Rock" and "Hangman" for the show, just as they had in some performances since June.

Before they performed the songs, they were to engage in an interview with Mark Ellen about Whatever Happened to Jugula?, which was the album they were preparing to release in a few months, as well as discuss their friendship of the past 15 years.

At the interview's onset, Ellen introduced Page and Harper as "seventies rock stars" despite their objections. "Seventies?" said Harper, suggesting, "Eighties. Nineties!" A few seconds later, at Ellen's mention of the 2,000-foot altitude, Harper chimed in, "I thought you were going to say we're 2,000 years old!"

The next thing Ellen picked on after their status as aging musicians was their undesirable physical shape. Page, who is seen chain smoking, smiled silently as Harper replied with some self-condescending humor.

In the next segment, Ellen asked a series of rapid-fire questions without allowing time for either to answer. Harper chided him, saying, "I appreciate that you're trying to go faster than I'd like to go, Mark, but let me try and answer that question."

Harper spoke about his beginnings and then humbly refused to answer when Ellen asked who were some of the artists influenced by him; Harper said he preferred not to speak for anybody else.

Next, Ellen asked why stardom eluded Harper; in other words, why aren't you famous? Harper answered diplomatically that he can make a living without being a star and, by doing so, manage to make idiosyncratic changes in his career.

In the setup for his first question to Page, Ellen stated, "We've seen very little of you in five years." He asked what attracted Page to Harper, and Page's reply was inaudible behind the sound of Harper's noodlings on acoustic guitar.

Again, Ellen pointed out that little had been heard of Page in five years, so he asked what he wants to do now in re-entering the music scene. Page said, "I'm such a masochist. I'm trying to get as good as I was when I stopped."

Ellen had a big grin on his face as he asked, "Are you not as good now, then?"

Instantly, Page fired back, "No, I'm better."

"You're better," said Ellen, his grimace portraying his skepticism.

"Yeah. I'm actually working at it now, which I didn't then. Yeah. I mean, I didn't play a guitar -- I mean, I didn't touch a guitar for 18 months at one point."

Ellen asked if it was because Page had been "fed up with the whole thing."

Page said there had been "no sort of impetus for me to pick it up. And that's quite serious, I didn't touch one for 18 months. ... I mean, I wanted to, but I was afraid looking at it. And when I did pick it up, I couldn't even change chords properly, so I've been, sort of, moving --"

Ellen interrupted Page to begin on a series of combative questions on Led Zeppelin's latter years, challenging him on whether the band's sound on later albums left the guitarist wishing for more. Page was stoic in his responses, defending Led Zeppelin as always what he wanted it to be.

Harper came to Page's defense in dismissing the suggestions that latter-day Led Zeppelin music was any less satisfying or more excessive or overblown. He said if it weren't for John Bonham's untimely death, Led Zeppelin would have gone on tour again and presented their new material to audiences, thereby helping them appreciate it more.

In the next segment, Harper described the music he and Page were making together as "more live, and more human, more down-to-earth than has been seen for the last six or seven years." He painted a simplistic view of their collaboration as "something which anybody can do: You just sit down with two guitars and do it."

Page became sidetracked about his dismal opinion of modern pop music bogged down with computerized enhancements:
"The thing is, there are [still] verses and choruses like there were in 1960. And with all the technology they've got, and all the outspoken statements they make, I'd think they would come up with something special."
When pressed for examples of musical acts he's talking about, Page unleashed a generalization:
"Any of them! They all sound the same to me. Yeah, they've just got different singers. And the singers, if you want to listen to them, you can differentiate. They all sound the bloody same, you know. They've all got computers. Why don't they come out, you know, with their batteries?"
The interviewer, who has been muffling his laughter, then tried to cut off Page, who had started to raise his voice and wave his finger. He had a point to make, and he wanted to be heard loud and clear.
"Now, what I'm saying is -- I'll tell you what I'm saying is this. They, you know ..."
By this point, Page's speaking volume returned to the quiet side of normal -- almost inaudible in places -- as he clarified:
"They had a field day because it was quite fashionable to knock bands that really worked on their instruments, you know, as a craft, OK, and that's all it is because you're nothing more than that, you know. But the fact is, it really comes down to, well, what are they doing? Verses and choruses. That's the same as Herman's Hermits as far as I'm concerned. And the pop charts at the moment sound like that to me."
When the interview was broadcast on Old Grey Whistle Test, Depeche Mode members Dave Gahan and Alan Wilder criticized Page's expressed views on electronic music. Said Gahan:
"They've sort of done their thing at their time, and I think it seems a bit silly, you know, to put down what's happening now with technology. Now, you can do so much more, and it's enabling musicians to do so much more with their music now."
Wilder interjected, starting off almost with a conciliatory message:
"The thing is, he did talk some sense in that there is a lot of rubbish around these days, but the thing about computers is you're only limited by your imagination and ideas, you know? And I think people who knock computer or modern music are a bit scared that maybe they haven't got the ideas, you know?"
Gahan agreed:
"The thing is you've got to have an idea in the first place. It's not like, these things, you push a button and it will write the song for you."
Answering the moderator's next question, Wilder then denied that his concerts become staid and unchanging as a result of the programming.

But perhaps the big news of the day was an early announcement by Page that he was forming a new group and going out on tour. He didn't volunteer the names of the other people in it, but when Ellen asked if one was Paul Rodgers, Page said, "Yep." He said they'd been rehearsing for about 10 days, had about an hour's worth of material and were still without a name.

This would be The Firm, and they would kick off a tour in Stockholm, Sweden, the same month, with U.K. gigs following early in December.


  1. Mark Ellen labels them "seventies rock stars" as though they were part of the past, so he set the tone for what happened in this interview. He then rudely attacks one of the guys ex-bands calling it overblown, etc. You have to ask what kind of reaction did he expect? Page is tired of journalists attacking musicians who are proficient on their instruments - this had been going on for quite sometime since the late seventies in press and media. That's why Jimmy talks about computers being overused instead of people who had worked really hard and honed their craft on an instrument such as drums or guitar, etc. The human side was being taken out and replaced by machine. Much of the eighties music at that time did sound the same (same production, same loud snare, drum machines, etc, etc). I think Ellen is shocked to hear this as he wants to be considered hip to what the "now"was at that time. By attempting to say Page and Harper were irrelevant to the newer times, Mark only makes himself look limited. They proved him wrong by putting out What Happened to Jugula, which is a very good album.

    1. Totally agree with that comment. The music of Led Zeppelin that was apparently already thought of as dated back in 1984, has stood the test of time, unlike most of the electronic pap from the 1980's.


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