It's not easy being a living rock legend, the former Led Zeppelin wild man Robert Plant tells our critic
It's not been a good year for rock legends. Two Ramones, George Harrison, and now The Who's John Entwistle are all new additions to that great rock 'n' roll band in the sky. And Robert Plant, the voice and golden locks of Led Zeppelin, wonders if he's next.
"Maybe it's written in the stars that I'm going to expire before the autumn," he says. "Because there's a dramatic swing towards people coming along to have a look at me. But that can be quite a let-down, you know? When you're really into people a lot, sometimes you just don't want to see them later on."
What the public want and what Robert Plant wants is not necessarily the same thing. At a recent London gig the evening was punctuated by shouts from the audience for old Led Zeppelin material. After all, the Seventies rock goliaths did sell 200 million records, as well as being the most celebrated exponents of debauchery on tour since the Vikings. Plant stuck admirably to his game plan and material from his latest solo album, Dreamland, which entered the charts at number 20 last week.
Essentially a collection of cover versions, Plant feels justified in his decision to make it. "They were songs I've always loved and I didn't see them as covers because I was there when they were being written," he explains. "It was just this period in American music that I'd never really got near to vocally in my adventures up to now. My ability and vocal chords are all in good shape but I haven't really felt substantially relevant as a lyricist for a long time, so I thought, I'm dry as a bone but these songs are still vibrant."
Fortunately Plant's new record company Mercury (he recently left Atlantic after 34 years) was equally enthusiastic. "Expectations of shipping out truckloads of Robert Plant albums are a bit far-fetched," he says. "I don't know if Johnny Cash has trouble shifting units but I know that Peggy Lee lost her contract at Capitol after being there for 40 years, and she still sang good, but there was nobody to sing to any more. So I'm neither one of the Gallaghers nor am I quite Peggy Lee."
Plant began singing when he was 14, filling in for a school friend. "The singer got ill one night and we played an old ice-skating rink in Swanlicote," he remembers. "I could actually sing and ad-lib bits I'd heard on Dion and the Belmonts tracks in the middle of the song."
Now 53, he is still instantly recognisable as the bare-chested, preening frontman with the biggest and baddest rock band of them all. Though his face looks well lived in, the goldilocks are still in place, as is the voice that inspired generations of big-haired, tight-trousered, heavy metal screamers.
He's due to tour in the States later in the summer then here in October. After that he doesn't rule out another instalment of Page and Plant, his collaboration with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. A reunion with the band's bass player, John Paul Jones, remains unlikely though. "My relationship with 'Jonesy' is hampered by one misinterpreted word, and that was at the first press conference that Page and I did to go with the 'Unledded' stuff. The first question to me was, 'Where's John Paul Jones?' I said, 'He's parking the car' - and that was it. No cards, no hellos. I apologised and went to one meeting and got on one knee as he was walking out, to tie my shoelace as well, and said, 'John, surely now we're way too old for this?' But he just sidestepped me and walked out. "But I love him and want you to know, John, that if you have me back we can go back to the one card a year."
Unsurprisingly, his recollection of the Zep days are a little hazy. "I don't remember a lot of it," he admits. "And I don't know whether it was a chemical excess that obliterated part of the memory. But then again excess can be quite humdrum when there's no end to it. You read about Lenny Bruce - people who have lived in a 'condition', from Fatty Arbuckle to Shelley, Yeats, all these guys who were out there - in the end there's nothing to remember; it's all burnt out."
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