Robert Plant

Reeling in the Years – a few gig stories


Over the past few weeks, as my journey home from Derry has got longer & longer due to the bad weather, I’ve started to devise new ways to pass the time I spend in the car.  A recent ongoing theme has been trying to first of all remember all the bands I’ve seen in the last 35 years and then to put them into chronological order.  I managed to remember the first & last bands (the late Desmond Dekker & Robert Plant’s Band of Joy for anyone that’s wondering) but I’ve mothballed the task pending future imprisonment (solitary confinement) or hostage seizure when I may have time to revisit.  What the exercise has done is remind me of many, many fun nights out over the years and here are a few of the highlights/oddities:

·         I saw all sorts of bands when I was a teenager in Doncaster.  My friends & I used to frequent the Outlook Club which sadly (?) no longer exists.  It had a very short space between the stage & the ceiling and that meant that Johnny Ramone had to do his entire set in 1977 with his head bowed & his hair hanging down.  The Ramones were supporting the Talking Heads or vice versa – that was a good night.  I’d never experienced anything like the Ramones.  We didn’t have the internet at school in the 1970s, no-one really travelled long distance and New York was to us like another planet.  I love the way that other bands have adopted Gabba Gabba Hey as one of their anthems and Belfast band the Sabrejets do a good cover.  Hearing those early Ramones songs now always reminds me of pogo-ing at university parties.

·         My friend & I hitchhiked from Nottingham to Leeds in 1982 to see the Rolling Stones in Roundhay Park.  It was a sunny day & we managed to get near the front.  We got a lift home with a VW transporter van full of hippies – which was great until the girl driving asked whether there was anyone else in the van who could drive but hadn’t dropped any acid.  Ah well – she was a trooper & managed to get us home ok without any mishaps.

·         Blondie played our Fresher ball in Lancaster – none of us had ever heard of them but they were good on the night.  Saw loads of great bands at university and some awful ones too (Bob Geldof’s dreadful Boomtown Rats stands out) but as it was the late 70s, there was always a lot of other stuff going on in parallel – mainly fighting it has to be said between the “posh” uni students & the punks from Preston who used to come up for gigs.  I kept out of the fighting but it always caused a lot of “noise”.

·         My friend sent me money in 1985 to buy Tom Waits tickets at the Dominion.  I failed to realise how popular Tom was likely to be & left ticket purchase to the last minute.  There were none left.  Obvious to me now!  I put upon all my London friends to ring everyone & anyone they knew with “music biz” contacts.  There were no Tom Waits tickets to be had for love or money.  It was ok though – I didn’t tell my friend, we turned up on the night of the gig & I blagged us in at the Dominion – although we had to stand at the back.  Yep – I must have always been manipulative.

·         Think the most surreal has to be Jayne (formerly Wayne) County at the Fridge in Brixton.  The men on the stage were naked except for policeman’s hats and they were dancing energetically.  As we were at the front that resulted in a lot of “movement” right in our eyelines.  We were truly spoilt for choice in Brixton between the Academy & the Fridge.  Mick Jones’ dad used to drink in our local in Brixton Hill.  Conversation went like this “My boy’s in a band – you might have heard of him”; us to middle aged man, “oh yeah – who’s that then?” (thinking to ourselves it was gonna be someone awful & we’d have to pretend whoever X was was ok) “It’s Mick Jones – he plays a lovely guitar – he used to be in a band called the Clash – have you heard of them?”  Silence fell as we gazed at the father of one of our gods…

·         Seen the late Link Wray at the Garage in London & self nominated King of the Surf guitar Dick Dale a number of times in various locations; also went all the way to Spain to see Davie Allan & the Arrows – which completes that particular holy trinity.  Caught both Slacktone and the Neptunes at a Hillbilly Surf Stomp in San Luis Obispo during the week following 9/11 when I was stranded in California – most memorable thing about that day apart from the music was the number of Americans that asked me why people in other countries hated them so much…which was a hard question to answer tactfully.

·         Saw Mark Lanegan & the Screaming Trees at the Astoria & attended the after gig party.  Whilst the band was on stage, someone had stolen all their credit cards.  Ah well – kept Mark out of trouble for that one night at least.  Along the same lines, we were on the guest list for Faith No More at the Astoria and one of the bouncers came by and told us we’d have to give up our seats if Eric Clapton showed up.  Lucky for him he didn’t as we weren’t for moving.

·         More recently moved furniture with Jonathan Richman when he was in Belfast, rubbed shoulders with Leonard Cohen in the Do-Lab at Coachella (he was the only person formally dressed), met Steve Earle in Derry with some of the Learning Pool team (that’s us all in the photo – Steve Earle looks almost like part of our team in this pic) and travelled down to Dublin with Janet Harkin to see Robert Plant’s Band of Joy.

Every one of them a good night – hopefully there’ll be many more.  Looking forward to reading your gig stories in the comments.



A Whole Lotta Love…


That’s certainly what the audience was feeling for Robert Plant and to be fair the rest of his fabulous Band of Joy on Monday night at Dublin’s intimate Olympia Theatre.  Janet Harkin and I were there too – diehard Led Zep fans both – and we had a truly momentous evening – even though we had to run from the theatre via the back door on the stroke of 10.30pm like a couple of latter day hard rock Cinderellas (last bus back to Derry was leaving Busaras at 11pm and we needed to be on it – even though it did appear to have a bullet hole in the front windscreen).  We did stop briefly on the pavement outside just to jump up and down on the spot for a minute with excitement and remark to each other how buzzing we each were from the gig.

Last time I saw Robert Plant was in Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown, California.  He was next to me in the audience, jigging about & singing along to Wanda Jackson’s version of “I Saw the Light” – and shouting out “Worcester” when Wanda asked “Where y’all from tonight?”  Just a normal guy enjoying a night out at a local music venue admiring the legend that’s Wanda.  I chatted to him of course & listened to him talk to the musicians in the band after the gig, which he did at length.

There’s no doubt he’s a force to be reckoned with and a legend in his own lifetime.  When I think about all the bands and performers I’ve seen in the last three or five years (and believe me there have been a few) Robert Plant and Leonard Cohen are the two that for me have ridden the waves of time most successfully…Cohen because there is such substance to him as a poet and Plant because he keeps going on to do new & interesting projects.  The Band of Joy’s certainly one of those.  The gig was like being at a party where a few friends pick up some string instruments, start jamming and find out they’re actually quite good together – so they keep going and it gets better and better.  It was like peeking in at a gang of good friends having a great night together or it was like dying & waking up in Hillbilly Heaven.  Buddy Miller & Patty Griffin were as good as we hoped they would be and Plant didn’t hog centre stage all night – when it was someone else’s turn he was happy to blend into the background, sing backing vocals & play his harmonica.  He also told stories, entered into a bit of banter with the audience and even answered a few of the comments that were shouted over to him.  I liked his story about how he and his friends at school in the West Midlands in the 60s used to listen to Howlin’ Wolf and the Reverend Gary Davis – it was all Motown and northern soul by the time I went to school.

So – the big question – did they play any Zeppelin songs.  They did – but not in a way you would straight away recognise – they Nashville-ised them and played Tangerine, House of the Holy, Misty Mountain Hop and Gallow’s Pole – Plant parodying his 1970s on-stage persona a little – curling his still impressive mane into ringlets with his finger.  Everyone in the audience sang with him – it was like being part of a religious experience – and you really could feel the love – you could almost reach out and touch it.

Robert Plant – thank you and long may you reign.  Nothing else is getting a look in this week in the Fig – Band of Joy is all I need.