‘All the old gods are long gone. But still…” An interview with Robert Plant

Robert Plant on Led Zeppelin, his solo career and more...

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Later on, standing in the gift shop at Ludlow Castle, Robert Plant scrutinises the contents of a well-stocked bookshelf close to the tills. His eyes rest on a copy of Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s novel about the rise to power of the Tudor statesman, Thomas Cromwell. Plant says he recently saw the stage adaptation at Stratford-Upon-Avon. As we walk out into the grounds, he confesses that whenever he comes here as a paying customer – about once a month, he reckons – he nags the staff to stock books on Owain Glyndŵr, the 15th century Welsh prince who led a revolt against English rule. We’ve come here for part of the Uncut photo shoot. Standing in the outer bailey, Plant points out a solitary hawthorn tree growing close to the drawbridge. He extols the medicinal properties of the berries, then pauses and smiles. “The May Queen,” he gestures in the direction of the tree. “‘If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, it’s a spring clean for the May Queen’.”
In the pub garden a few hours earlier, Plant addressed the weird logistics of lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar being finished just as the Led Zeppelin remasters were starting to roll out. “You have to get it out,” he says matter-of-factly, referring to his own album. “It’s just what I do. Whatever happens, this will be one of the best records I’ve ever made.”
Does he see himself as competitive with Page and John Paul Jones?
“I don’t think so. Visually, musically and the drive and intention behind all these things are coming from such different angles. I’ve seen Jonesy playing in the last couple of years with Them Crooked Vultures, or with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, and he’s now in the final stages of writing an opera. That’s magnificent. Nothing gets in the way of anything. You just make music and keep moving.”
What about Page? Do you think he needs you more than you need him?
“I don’t know…”
What about The New York Times quote: “He’s playing games and I’m fed up”?
“I feel for the guy. He knows he’s got the headlines if he wants ‘em. But I don’t know what he’s trying to do. So I feel slightly disappointed and baffled. The only game I play really is making great music with people who are really vibrant and positive. It’s so easy, everybody’s cannon fodder if they’re not careful. Who cares? Getting up and being able to breathe is a good thing.”
Is there a Zeppelin song that reminds you of Page?
“‘Friends’,” he pauses, then a big smile. “Well, it’s a Monday, innit?”
A short while later, Plant revisits the question of his relationship with Page. “Jimmy’s like a clockmaker,” he observes, pausing. “A couple of years ago, I said, ‘If you’ve got anything acoustic, let me know. I’ll give it a whirl. It was hands across the water. But he walked away. Just walked away. But we couldn’t do anything proper. The weight of expectation is too great.”
We meet again a fortnight later in London at the playback for lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar. The date is June 2, the same day the Zeppelin remasters go on sale. In a newly opened hotel in Soho, Plant unveils his new album to a small audience of industry folk. Afterwards, he appears in the bar, stopping to share a few words with old friends who’ve travelled down from the Midlands, a representative of his long-serving legal advisor Joan Hudson and delegates from his new record label, Nonesuch. Does Plant ever feel anxious when letting a new record out into the world?
“I just want to take it into a corner and feed it milk and honey,” he admits. “I feel a traitor to it. Like I’m selling it down the river to put it in the hands of people who want to consider which is the best way to hike the fucking thing to its ultimate, maximum… But here I am, talking to you. You’re a nice guy, and so am I. But to give it on to other people, it’s a price you have to pay. You know, when I was 12, I had a paper round and I was sending off to America for things like James Brown Live At The Apollo. So. Records, records, music. I’m part of it. Do it, then let it go.”

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