Here’s Jimmy Page, reminiscing about Led Zeppelin’s 2007 reunion show at the 02. “We wanted to go out there, stand up and be counted,” he said at a press conference held earlier today in London. “To show people who maybe didn’t know Led Zeppelin but had heard a lot about us why we were what we were. And not only that, we had had a really good time that night. We made a lot of people very happy.”
We’re in the swish conference hall of a high-end London hotel. Page – lightly tanned, dressed in black, his hair in ponytail and a slim, black scarf tied loosely round his neck – and his bandmates Robert Plant and John Paul Jones are here to launch Celebration Day, their concert film, Blu-ray/DVD and album commemorating the 02 show. (Forgive me, incidentally, if this blog slips between news report on the press conference and a kind of ‘highlights’ preview/review of Celebration Day itself.)
Anyway, back to the press conference: why release it now?
“Five years is five minutes in Zeppelin time,” said John Paul Jones, soberly dressed in a charcoal grey suit jacket, dark t-shirt and trousers. “I’m surprised we got it out so quickly.”
Robert Plant, in a loose, blue shirt, spoke of how the show “was very rewarding for all of us.” Plant’s presence here today was arguably a surprise. He’s the one who’s moved on professionally the furthest from Zeppelin, and found himself blessed with a very successful second act career. Accordingly, he came across as the most mischievous of the three today. He talked about arriving at the 02 by boat, seeing visions of Arthur and Guenièvre emerging from the Thames, and later digressing into a yarn about having to get Jason Bonham out of bed on his wedding night to play with Zeppelin. “I struggle with lyrics from particular periods in time,” Plant admitted at one point. “Maybe I’m still trying to work out what I’m taking about. I know every other fucker is.”
When asked about the possibility of more Zeppelin shows, the band were unsurprisingly evasive. A question about whether the 02 show had excited them enough to regroup once more, Page answered, “Can I just ask you all if you enjoyed the film?”
When pushed for an answer, Plant replied, “That would be kiss and tell.”
Celebration Day “will be part of the legacy,” acknowledged Page. “It is what we managed to do for one day. However, what needs to be stressed here was that when we played the 02, the idea wasn’t to make a DVD or film. It just so happened that we had all this material going on behind us [on the screens], and some very fine production and camera work, so it made the utmost sense to record it. Don’t forget, we were only doing one show. We didn’t know whether we were going to have half a dozen train wrecks in it. But at least we could record it, even for our own collection and amusement.”
Read into all this what you will. But certainly the journey from the 02 to Celebration Day has been as epic as you’d expect from a band with Zeppelin’s credentials. The statistics for the show itself briefly bear repeating: out of the 20 million people who applied for tickets to the 02, only 18,000 were lucky enough to see the band’s first headline show in 27 years. After Celebration Day gets a theatrical release on 1,500 screens in 40 countries, it will then be available across no less than six formats – from a 2 DVD/2 CD Deluxe Edition, including footage of the 02 rehearsals at Shepperton, to an old-school 3 LP set.
Page is rumoured to have spent five years working on this. When he’s asked, however, whether there’s been any fixes to the sound, he replied: “If I say there might have been a handful of fixes, what I’m really saying is the minimum to what other people would do. The concert was what it was. There was very little that needed to be messed about with. Because we’d already done it well in the first place.”
So, what do we get? Celebration Day is directed by Dick Carruthers, who’s worked on videos for the White Stripes, Oasis, McFly and Take That. Carruthers worked with Zeppelin previously on their 2003 DVD set. Regardless of whether or not Page and co had their eye on recording the show for a future commercial release or simply their own “amusement”, Carruthers has presented a commendably fit-for-purpose film. If you were one of the disappointed 19,982,000 people unlucky enough not to get a ticket to the show itself, you will be relieved to learn that Carruthers puts you in the thick of the action. You can see the white of Page’s plectrums, and you might notice that he’s scrubbed out certain letters on his Orange AD-30 amp so it spells ‘OR GE’. There are no gimmicks to speak of – apart from a handful of freeze-frames, or cuts to super 8 camera footage filmed in the audience, Carruthers presents the 02 show as it happens, his crew catching every one of Page’s grimaces as he wrings another solo from his guitar, or John Paul Jones’ unexpectedly hypnotic runs along the fretboard of his bass guitar.
The band play in a tight formation, centred around Jason Bonham‘s drum kit, facing in and often playing to each other. The differences in performance style is enhanced by Carruthers’ tight-up camerawork. There’s Page, tearing through some ferocious slide guitar on “In My Time Of Dying”, the sweat beginning to seep through is shirt, and opposite him is John Paul Jones, a more discreet presence, certainly, but completely in tune with Page’s histrionics. A thrilling “Trampled Underfoot” finds Page and Jones – on piano – duelling solo against solo.
Unlike, say, Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones’ concert film Shine A Light, Celebration Day isn’t looking to say anything profound or particularly meaningful about Led Zeppelin. Curruthers’ proficient film is a testament to the physical endurance of these men, and a satisfying reminder of the brilliance of that show in 2007.
Celebration Day is released in cinemas on October 17, and then on November 19 on these formats:
Standard Editions – 1-DVD/2-CD set and 1-Blu-ray/2-CD set
Deluxe Editions – 2-DVD/2-CD set and 1-Blu-ray/1-DVD/2-CD set featuring exclusive bonus video content including the Shepperton rehearsals, and BBC news footage
Music Only CD Edition – 2-CD set
Music Only Blu-ray Audio Edition – Blu-ray Audio release featuring high-resolution 48K 24 bit PCM stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound audio only, no video
Vinyl Edition – 3 LPs, 180-gram, audiophile quality vinyl