ROBERT PLANT AT ROCKFIELD - PT 2
ROBERT PLANT REUNION AT ROCKFIELD Part 2
Robert plant arrives at Rockfield to meet his former band-mates for the albums Pictures at Eleven and The Principle of Moments 25 years on from the recording of those albums in Wales. He's agreed to be interviewed for a book I am writing on the rock legends who have recorded at Rockfield. It'll be published by the University of Wales Press in Europe and the University of Chicago Press in the US summer 2007.
This is the second part of the story of Robert Plant's return to Rockfield.
Monday Rockfield Studios
1pm Having gone for lunch to allow Robert Plant and his friends -- Former Black Sabbath keyboard player Jezz Woodroffe and Robbie Blunt (Clannad, Julian Lennon etc etc)-- to catch up, the three of us now settle down to talk about their days at Rockfield. We sit down on three green sofas in the living quarters for the Coach House(SEE ANDREW PRITCHARD'S PICTURE ABOVE). On wall to the right is a huge old map of Monmouthshire, covered in old coats of arms. There's a wooden floor with a big terracota rug while in front of us is a lovely old wooden coffee table.
Robert Plant is wearing a blue T-shirt with the flag of Morocco on it and the Arabic word Maroc scrawled across it, jeans and white trainers.
Jez Woodroffe is dressed in black tracksuit bottoms with a grey jumper and a blueish green disc on a necklace around his neck, while Robbie Blunt is wearing a green short sleeved shirt and black trousers with his hair slicked into a ponytail.
(SEE ANDREW PRITCHARD'S PICTURES ABOVE).
All three are relaxed and in a chatty, humourous mood having spent the past hour catching up on the latest with each other's friends and family. Me and my friend Andrew Pritchard - who is taking photos of today's reunion for the book - join them.
We start by reading out a note from Phil Collins. He played drums on Robert Plant's first two albums but can't be here today as he's in New York publicising the Disney musicial Tarzan which he has written the music for. He's sent me and email to read to the band.
“Dear Lads. Oh the memories, I remember it like it was 25 years ago. If you ever want to do it again, call me. I can still play drums, but I’m better on the slower songs!!! Love you guys and remember it all with serious affection. Wish I was there!” Phil Collins xxxx.
“Well”, laughs Robert Plant, “having played in Genesis, being with us had to be good fun after that, didn’t it?”
“The thing about Phil was he didn’t pull his punches”, remembers Plant. “He really did have an opinion and a lot of heart. I remember I used to think it was great whenever there was a discourse between Robbie and Phil, because they were both so concerned about it being right. So we got things done pretty quick”.
The Genesis front man hadn’t met Plant prior to recording in Wales. But he was a big admirer having seen Zeppelin’s first UK gig at the marquee club when they were still gigging as The New Yardbirds. Collins had to learn the drum parts quickly. His drum kit was set up in the table tennis room, rather than the studio as the band thought it would give them a better live sound.
Two of the eight tracks on Pictures at Eleven, though, had already been completed by former Black Sabbath, Rainbow, and Whitesnake drummer Cozy Powell.
Plant had turned down the chance to return to Zep’s old haunt Headley Grange to start his solo career. He was after that elusive fresh start and found it in Wales - at Rockfield Studios.
“I mean at the age of 32, when your career is finished, anything that came after that was a bonus really. After all that wild stuff and momentum in Zeppelin, this place was an absolute dream because it was pastoral, funny and it had a history."
The conversation turns to stories post Zep, how the album was written and how the personnel were recruited.
The lyrics of the hit single Big Log also crop up. They've been the subject of much discussion down the years. Are they about the death of John Bonham? Is it a discussion between Plant and God? Jezz Woodroffe says it's not about any of those things:
“Big Log was inspired by that time we were at Roy Harper’s house and we’d run out of fuel for the fire. Do you remember that?” He asks Robert and Robbie to make sure his recollection is not faltering. “Benji LeFevre came back with this big log that was about eight foot long and hollow. He put one end in the fire and all the smoke was billowing through it and out the other end straight onto us in the room. Do you remember that?”
“I remember our bass player Paul Martinez rolling a big spliff!” says Robbie Blunt returning to the theme of joint smoking and unhelpfully offering no credence to the keyboard players’ curious giant, hollow log story.
Robert arrived with some rare live tracks which were going to be included on the 9-CD box set to be released in Sept 2006 called Nine Lives. The tracks he brought to Rockfield for his former band mates to hear were taken from a show at the
Houston The summit on Sept 20th 1983
1 – In the Mood (Principle of moments)
2 – Like I’ve never been gone (Pictures at Eleven)
3 – Lively Up Yourself – A cover of a bob Marley song
4 – Thru with the two step – (Principle of moments)
Here's an extract of the converation that followed about those songs.
ROBERT PLANT: "I was so glad to take Warners up on their offer to remaster these albums because its not about the money. They wanted to put our back catalogue out bit by bit. And they’ve decided it’s a good idea to start it off with the box set of them all called ‘Nine Lives’. I was really quite fearful of what it might sound like but its wonderful. I know what we were driving at even if at times it was quite painful to do it."
I remember poor Robbie had to play this awful guitar synth. "
ROBBIE BLUNT: The problem was recording it. Because it had this delay, so in your head you had to play ahead of everything so it came out right, and then you’d get this horrible screeching noise because it wouldn’t track properly. Well it was tough but I have listened to ‘Sixes and Sevens’ the track I played the guitar synth on and it is good."
QUESTION: Have you been involved in the whole remastering process?
ROBERT PLANT: Me? I’m involved in everything pal. We did them at RACK in London, because they’ve got a great desk with a good outboard EQ and you can trust the monitors. The guy is finishing them off now. It’s hard in a way because each album sounds so different. People still say to me though that they sound very good. I mean the guy who’s been doing this at RACK he’s dealing with real up to date contemporary stuff. He’d say to me ‘Listen to this it sounds great’ and the live stuff we’re putting into the package sounds terrific as well. It’s spectacular. When we were on the road playing we extended the songs. I said to the guys "you know ‘In the mood’s’ like eight minutes long., we should edit it." And they said ‘No it’s a live track from the time. Just let it go where it goes’.
ROBBIE BLUNT: It seemed to evolve more as it went on when we were on tour. We would have these jump off points and we didn’t know where it was going to go some nights. And there would be jump back in points which was a cue --- and some of those areas were just fantastic. It was fantastic. It was an unknown quantity almost every night.
ROBERT PLANT: I suppose really at that time – of all the people who have recorded here - we probably took our Rockfield music in a big way to America because we were doing really well there. It was big time. So it almost wasn’t English if you like. It smacked of leaning toward American stuff.
ROBBIE BLUNT: I think what was really good about those first two albums was there was five parts – Great vocals, keyboards, bass guitar and drums – that stripped down you could take on any sound. Because those five great parts were there it worked. Whereas the third album when we had a different line-up it didn’t seem to work as well to me".
After and hour or two Robert announces he has to leave to head to Brecon where he and his new band are rehearsing.
A good day is had by all at Rockfield - the home of Rock Legends.
ROCK LEGENDS AT ROCKFIELD by Jeff Collins is out summer 2007 on University of Wales Press