Growing up in our 3 bedroom house in Isleworth (that’s Isleworth west London, not Isleworth where Tiger Woods lives), I was surrounded by music and the vinyl that belonged to my parents. Locked as I was into my love affair with Adam and the Ants, I never paid too much attention to the music contained on that vinyl. But the record sleeves of certain artists certainly caught my attention. For example, I can remember the prism reflecting endlessly into blackness on Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, I can remember the eerie feel to a photo of Gary Numan, stood mute in a room, his image reflected through a window. That was Tubeway Army’s “Are Friends Electric?” album (I’ve just checked that and it’s actually the Replicas album).
I remember the Tubular Bells record, incidentally, that’s one my mum would be quite happy never to hear again, as my dad apparently played it to death on release. Equally incidentally, despite Mark Kermode’s insistence that The Exorcist, featuring the music from Tubular Bells, is the greatest movie ever made, I always picture my mum and dad leaving the cinema in hysterics. And not the kind of hysterics the makers of the film would have wanted to induce. Anyway, the other abums covers that I remember from childhood are the those that housed the Led Zeppelin LPs, particularly III and Physical Graffiti. In other words, the pretty impressive- especially when you’re six- die cut jobbies.
As I said, I wasn’t paying too much attention to the music held within these album sleeves, but years later I would discover that the Led Zeppelin albums were just as mystical, magical as their sleeves suggested. I suggested here last week that hearing the otherworldliness of Maxinquaye as a suggestible teenager- I’m just as suggestible now although a 30 something- was life changing experience. But I couldn’t have imagined, when agreeing to house sit for my boss in the baking summer of 2003, just how much my life was about to change and change, ultimately, for the better.
In 2003, having left the city of Leeds the previous September distraught at the end of a relationship, I was working for a small marketing company called the Ops Room. Starting out on the telephones, I was fairly rapidly progressed into an admin support role by my team leader. Very astutely, I thought, he had spotted my dislike of having to make 200 phone calls a day. He, like me, was a huge Arsenal fan. His name was Geoff and he was just about the best boss I ever had. We were close, that’s all I’m saying. Anyway. Summer came, he was taking his wife and kids to stay in my uncle’s villa in Cyprus and he needed someone to feed his cats. He asked me, I said yes and so spent the majority of two summer weeks lying on his sofa wearing only my pants. Whilst chatting up a girl (Jo) I had yet to meet- ah, internet romances!
If he reads this now, discovering that fact could not, could not, could not be any more startling to him than the one I made when, looking for something to watch, I chanced upon Geoff’s copy of the Led Zeppelin “DVD” for the first time. Two discs and about five hours of musical majesty. The first disc is almost entirely comprised of an early BBC concert. Notable to me now only because the wonderful Dazed and Confused is present on that disc but not the second one.
But what treats are held on that second disc; kicking off with the violent Immigrant Song (although the audio is taken from an LA show and the audio from elsewhere), through Madison Square Garden , ’75 shows at Earl’s Court (my mum tells me she was there), to the crowning glory, the piece de resistance, an hour of footage from their late ’79 shows at Knebworth. Shows that Jo’s dad attended but my mum didn’t as she had just given birth to my sister, Maria, when they took place. These were, although the band couldn’t have known it at the time, the last that they would all perform together in the UK. The hour of footage contained on this dvd can only be described as a fitting epitaph to their career. Or, as Geoff said, “an hour of God like genius!”
The power of songs like Achilles Last Stand, Kashmir and Rock and Roll, not to mention Robert Plant’s vocals and the late John Bonham’s drumming, still resonate with me today, as I suppose they do people who were there at the time and still see Zep as the only band worth listening to- no names! So impressive is this performance that they even instill In The Evening with a passion and power entirely lacking from the recorded version. As Geoff was fond of observing, it’s amazing to think that Jimmy Page was in the throes of a heroin addiction. You can see it in his face, but it didn’t seem to be effecting his fingers too much.
I was on a pretty self destructive course myself, habitually getting hammered at weekends and spending at least a couple of weeknights in the pub. But it was out of this that my relationship with Jo blossomed. Okay, so it blossomed on the phone but still… One Friday night, I came home from the pub, whacked Zeppelin on as loud as I could whilst still being able to hear her on the other end of the phone and proceeded to spend 5 hours on the phone to her. Despite the fact that I was pissed, I think I knew then that this was a woman that was going to play a pretty big role in my life. She has. But I wonder now what might have happened had I been listening to, say, Roots Manuva rather than the yearning Zeppelin high point, Since I’ve Been Loving You. How could you not fall in love to that song? I even texted some of the lyrics to her once.. Once I had fallen in love with both Jo and the dvd, the rest of Zeppelin’s back catalogue followed rapidly.
Jo would take a little longer…
Since I’ve Been Loving You