Robert Plant Reunion at Rockfield (Part 1)
10am - I Start tackling chapter eight of my book on Rockfield. This one focuses on Robert Plant's time at the studios. Plant arrived at Rockfield in Monmouth in Wales only a year after the break-up of Led Zeppelin following the death of his close friend John Bonham. 25 years on I decide it would be a good idea to reunite Plant and his first solo band at Rockfield. The first task: getting them altogether. It feels a bit like the film the Dirty Dozen - except without Nazi's, without a major global theatre of conflict, without convicted murderers and, of course no Telly Savalas. Actually it's not much like the Dirty Dozen at all now I reflect on it. First I put in calls to Plants' guitarist Robbie Blunt and Bass player Paul Martinez. Both are happy to meet up at Rockfield. Next up is Jezz Woodroffe - former Black Sabbath keyboard player. He featured on their excellent Technical Ecstasy album (its really much underated) Jez is likewise happy to come down from his home in mid-Wales to Monmouth but warns me I've little chance of persuading the man himself to make it as he's extremely busy.
Next I get hold of Robert Plant via his agent. I decide to tackle things one stage at a time. Secure the interview first and then put forward the idea of going to Rockfield. First Robert agrees to see me in person. Great! The venue. His Midlands home? No. He's going to be in London for a while. London then? No how about Rockfield he suggests. Bingo!!! 'Well actually', I say, 'I've already arranged for your band to be there'. Robert is delighted by the thought of meeting up with his old colleagues and friends and the so date is set. Mission accomplished. Rockfield is to be the venue to the 25th anniversary reunion of the team that made Pictures At Eleven and The Principle of Moments.
11am This chapter is pretty much writing itself. It was a magnificent day at Rockfield. I travelled up in my friends Andrew's car. He was up from London to take a raft of photos from the day for the book. We belted it up the short distance from Cardiff to Monmouth playing some loud Zep tracks on the way. The rain that had made it a miserable start to the day in Cardiff gives way to beautiful sunshine in the Vale of Gwent. The sun is now out and our fears about shooting everything indoors, because of the weather, fade. Jezz and Robbie are the first to arrive and tell me that Paul Martinez is unable to make it because of a family bereavement. We're sat in the accomodation block for the Coach house studio. (See picture above) Rockfield has two studios. The Coach House, which was built first, and the bigger Quadrangle studio in the main courtyard. The accomodation block is amazing. It is a seven-bedroom house with all modern conveniences, including satellite TV and whirlpool bathtubs.
Then the Quadrangle accomodation includes three self-contained apartments, as well as half a dozen more rooms with bath.
We chat as we wait for their former singer to arrive (See picture of me and Jezz above). Jez tells us how his two favourite bands as a teenager were Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and how he amazingly ended up playing with both his former heroes and playing at the legendary Madison Square Gardens with both.
Here's an extract from the raw interview i did with Jezz as we waited for the band to assemble:
Q: How did you get involved with Robert?
A:Well, when the Sabbath thing folded and Ozzy Osbourne left, I went and did a solo album at Dave Anderson’s studio (the old bass player from Hawkwind). I did this solo album and then David Vern (Graduate records) heard it and he signed me up for that first solo album. And Roy, who was working at Graduate records, was a friend of Robert Plants. And Robert was looking for a keyboard player for his first solo album. And Roy said to him ‘You should listen to this’. So that was part of the connection. I also understand that David Vern was on the train from Wolverhampton with a copy of my solo album when Robert got on the train in the same compartment. Those two things made it happen I think. Robert though ‘This is the bloke I should be going to see.’
The Woodruffe’s music shop, which is a big music shop in Birmingham, was where I was centred then and Robert came in the shop one day. And that was it really. He asked me to come down to Rockfield.
Q:Did the band first meet up at Rockfield?
A:The first thing we did was Robert invited me round his house. And Robbie Blunt (guitarist) was there, Because Robert and Robbie go back a long way. I think Robert used to pick Robbie up from school to come and play guitar with his band at the time
Back in the mid-sixties. So Robbie was messing about in Robert little private studio and immediately Robbie and I had something that was very deep and special. It came straight away as we really liked each other. And it kind of developed from that. So we spent quite a bit of time at Robert’s house and then we came down here to Rockfield and we stayed at the old Mill – Rockfield rehearsal studio.
It’s brilliant – it’s a massive old place. And we set up a lot of stuff there and then we were trying to get drummers and bass players to make up a complete band.
And we had quite a few interesting things happen. We had Simon Kirke from Free and Bad Company who came down. That didn’t work out to well. We had some young bass players who played kind of ‘Level 42 style’. That also didn’t work. And then Cozy Powell came down. And he was around for quite a while. What a smashing bloke he was. Me and Cozy were great friends. It was very sad what happened to him. It developed from there really. And we got a few songs together and we recorded them in the coach house studio. That became the first part of ‘Pictures at Eleven’.
Q:Had Phil Collins arrived by then?
A:Phil came in at the last minute really because Cozy was a very heavy drummer. A really really amazing time keeper but he couldn’t do the lighter more intricate stuff. And Jason Bonham was doing it for us. He lived just around the corner from Frobert.He used to come to rehearsals. And a lot of the time when we were writing the songs Jason was the drummer a lot of the time and he was only about 15. He was still better than anybody else though! But he hadn’t got the experience to do an album. So Phil came in to do the album and had such a laugh he did the second album as well and then came on the tour.
So the Band didn’t tour after the first album ‘ Pictures at Eleven’ but waited for the release of the second album ‘The Principle of Moments’?
That was because Robert didn’t want anybody asking him to do Led Zeppelin songs. And we hadn’t got enough material to do a two hour show. And the place to go was America and it was obviously we needed a fair substantial amount of new material before we could put a show together, so we waited until the two albums we done by which time we had a number one album.
Q:Do you have a favourite memory from that time?
A:The very first gig we did in America was really scary because we didn’t know if we could pull it off. We’d never done a big gig before and it worked. Playing Madison Square Gardens I think had got to be a highlight. But then as a kid that’s what I always wanted to do. I wanted to play at MSG which I did with Black Sabbath. As a kid the two bands I used to listen to were Black Sabbath and led Zeppelin. So it was quite strange that this teenager ended up playing with his musical heroes, because I also played with Jimmy Page and john Paul Jones at different gigs.
Half an hour later Robert Plant strides in. (See third picture above) His first words to me and Andrew are 'Something's wrong here! Can you leave us alone!' Me and Andrew are gobsmacked. Is the legendary singer chucking us out of our own interview? Have we done something to upset 'The Golden God'? Then a big smile breaks out across his face - and Plant explains that he wants to catch up with his friends and is sure we don't want to hear all about which schools there kids are attending and what holidays they've been on recently.
So Andrew and I retire to a nearby pub for an hour for lunch and Andrew reviews the photos he has taken so far of the studios and Robbie Blunt and Jezz. Out comes his laptop as he looks back at the morning's shots. How very flash! I ask him if any of his photos are in focus!!! He gives me that 'If looks could kill' stare.
12pm --- Hopefully I can finish the Plant chapter tomorrow. I let you know all about the interview in my next blog - (or possibly the one after that!!). Tonight I'm off to St David's Hall in Cardiff to see Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman live doing an evening of Yes music. I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be a nice break and as a bonus Classic Rock Magazine want me to review for them as well. It should be a good night.