In last month’s UNCUT magazine – we delved back into the photo archives to bring you Simon Fowler’s memories of recording the sell-out record-breaking attendence show – now with Led Zeppelin about to do it all again, here we publish your memories from 1979.
So over to you for part 1 of your recollections…come back tomorrow for another batch from the front-line.
I covered the two weekends of Knebworth for Sound International, a sadly now defunct musician’s magazine that sent me north to check out the remote recordings that had been organized by the band and Swan Song. My contact for the Knebworth concerts in August 1979 was my pal George Chkiantz, who was one of the recording and mixing engineers, who during the late-Sixties, worked on Led Zeppelin II and other albums at Olympic Studios, Barnes. Jimmy Page and Zeppelin’s management had hired George to record the Knebworth concerts using the world-famous Rolling Stones mobile recording truck; George invited me along to prepare a ”behind-the-scenes” article for Sound International.
As the weekend matured, the atmosphere within the mobile became increasingly fraught. There was some inevitable conflict between fulfilling the rigid requirements of the live-sound crew, who had erected a huge sound system designed to deafen anybody within 200 feet of the front of the stage area – and satisfying the more exacting needs of the multitrack recording process. I slunk off to find a beer, and ended up out of harm’s way on the roof of the mobile truck, from which vantage point I could see the comings and goings backstage.
Robert Plant arrived mid-morning with a glamorous retinue, looking very relaxed – he impressed me immediately as being in total control of the proceedings; nothing was going to happen until he was sure that he and the band’s gear were just the way they wanted it. Everyone within his immediate circle was moving like a shoal of fish; turning and moving off to anticipate his next physical move, and emotional requirements, as the ensemble made its collective way through the gathering throng backstage.
Plant came to visit with George and his recording crew, checking that they had everything they needed, and ensuring that his exacting requirement were being met.
He was obviously distracted by a lot of external – and maybe chemical – influences, but dazzled everybody close by when his face broke into an all to rare smile, as he joked with his minders. But beneath the surface, you could sense that Page was a force to be reckoned with; quixotic in temperament, you just knew that he could move with lightning speed from an easy-going guitar player and music producer, to somebody that could render you incapable, if provoked, of even simple bodily functions.
I recall almost colliding with Keith Richards and Ron Wood as they came sprinting out of their trailer, obviously in a viciously altered state of mind, and charging off for one of their few live performances as The New Barbarians. Their combination of flowing, medieval garb and high-speed crouching-sprint – and what blazing eyes – reminded me more of a demonic Groucho Marx than two guys who proved that the Stones was a better performance experience than their brief flirtation with whatever The New Barbarians were supposed to achieve.
The shows, of course, were major success, proving that Zeppelin could outperform anybody – it just took a lot of audio and video paraphernalia to complete the illusion. I was again fortunate enough to spend most of the second weekend’s concert backstage, rendered speechless both by the sound volume that the bands’ instruments could produce – John Bonham‘s double-handed stick work could waken the dead – and the sheer concentration of the show crew. For months, everyone involved had been working towards this event; that is should be marred by even a simple oversight was unthinkable. When the band came off stage at the end of their long set, and sprinted to the waiting limos that were to speed them off to wherever speeding limos eventually end up, you just knew that they’d had a great time. And who can blame them?
David G Connell:
Two reasonably fresh-faced 20-year-olds from Huntly managed to get tickets for Knebworth and enjoyed basking in the glorious sunshine – Zeppelin coming onstage I remember just as the sun was setting.
Many have talked about the concert but I have never heard anything about people getting home afterward Nervous about getting back in London and back to our digs in Chelsea, we left I think as the first encore was being played – I certainly remember climbing out of the vast natural amphitheatre to the sound of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.
We boarded probably one of the first trains out of Knebworth that evening and set off, but within maybe 20 minutes our train ground to a halt in a shower of electric sparks as the power cables came down around us onto the roof of the train.
As the temperature started to rise we sat and waited for probably an hour or two before railway staff came to lead us out of the carriages – and led us, Gulag like by torch light along the tracks to the nearest station where we boarded a second train.
On getting back to Kings Cross we realised we would never get a taxi so took it upon ourselves to walk back to Chelsea – arriving just in time for breakfast. I have often wondered if others share this memory of the wonderful day but equally epic night getting home from Knebworth?
Worth it? ‘Course.
Slim,Wild man of the Accordion:
I was both surprised and chuffed to see a picture of my younger self in your crowd shot from Knebworth. At the time of the gig I was hanging out with the Blockheads, having won the NME Champion Blockhead competition the previous year, who were playing a whole week of gigs at the Hammersmith Odeon. I’d already bought a ticket for Knebworth, so I gave the Blockheads a miss for the night and sloped off to Knebworth. I wasn’t particularly into Led Zeppelin at the time, and had mainly gone along to see Keith Richard‘s band, the New Barbarians.
I must admit that I don’t remember much about the gig, but I did manage to get down the front for long enough to be photographed. I got into Zeppelin much later having met Robert Plant a few times when he came down to the Saturday lunchtime Rockabilly gigs at Dingwalls for which I was the doorman. He was always very pleasant and knowledgeable the music. He never once came across as a big rock star, and, I think, enjoyed the fact that he could hang and listen to the music there, without being hassled.
The Knebworth article brought back fantastic memories, and it is far from nostalgia that places the Led Zep performance as one of the highlights of my gig-going years. They were stunning, and I’m sure that everyone there will always remember the explosion of sound and light when they came on.
A lot to be said for those early festivals. A hot summers day, fed by plastic cup lager, and the no-nonsense pleasure of sitting in the grass just waiting for each act to make an appearance. I remember little of Southside Johnny or Todd Rundgren. The New Barbarians came on late, and we assumed at the time that they had been on the helicopter which flew in 15 minutes before they took to the stage.
Strange, however, that my recollection of Knebworth is book-ended by the sublime and the ridiculous. My mate and I had travelled down overnight from Fife, catching a morning train to Stevenage before arriving at Knebworth to set up our tent. Who started the show? As the tent pegs went in we were graced by the distant swirling sound of “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit”. Sad to say, apart from the Zep set, its the only song I can remember from the whole day.
I was fortunate to have access to a restricted area at Knebworth 79 and I had a chat with Todd Rundgren and a very nice guy he was – so much so that he was very polite when the only thing I could remember was ” I Saw The Light” (I hadn’t realised his Meatloaf connection yet). I also spoke to Nicky Horne, who tried to tell me that it was not pLemmy standing next to us, he changed his mind when a guy came up and embraced him and said “How are you, Lemmy?” When the gig started I was standing next to Johnny Fingers – can’t remember if he had the trademark jim-jams or the trews were LOUD!
After the dust had settled from this epic I went to see Zep get into their mothership, which turned out to be a kind of people carrier thingy except Jimmy Page he got into the back of a Volvo with two “handpicked babes”. I was left with a 450 mile trip home but could not wait to tell my mate what a day he had missed. He was holidaying in Ibiza with his girl, and when he got home his first words were, “I bought Robert Plant a drink in Ibiza” and he’d also done a couple of songs in this bar in Ibiza. Anyway, we all lived happy ever after
PS I thought yellow made Todd look fat!
www.uncut.co.uk will be publishing more of your recollections tomorrow, as part of our countdown to the reunion show this Monday (December 10).
Pic credit: LFI