Led Zeppelin Knebworth Park 11th August 1979
Line-up: Led Zeppelin, New Barbarians, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes, Commander Cody Band, Chas and Dave. Master of ceremonies: Nicky Horne
Led Zeppelin played two shows at Knebworth Park, on 4th and 11th August 1979. The shows were promoted by Freddy Bannister. Zeppelin had not performed live for two years, and it was four years since they had last played in the UK, at Earls Court. This was big news at the time, and was seen as the eagerly awaited comeback. The first show, on 4th August was announced first. The demand for tickets for the first date was enormous, exceeding all expectations, leading to a second date being added on 11th August. There was a whole new group of fans who had never seen Led Zeppelin, had heard about them from their older brothers, sisters, and friends, and was hungry to see them live in concert. Add to this all of the existing fans, who hadn’t seen the band since Earls Court or the 1972 UK tour, and it was a hell of a lot of people. Expectations were high; to say the least, and the band’s fee for performing was reportedly the largest ever paid to one single act at that time. Sadly Bannister and Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, ended up in dispute over the number of people who attended the two concerts, and the gate takings, and Bannister ended up winding up his festival activities as a result. I applied for tickets by post, and got tickets for the first day. However, when I saw that the The New Barbarians (featuring Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards) were playing only at the second concert on August 11, I swapped my ticket with a mate for one for the second gig. This may have been a mistake, as the first gig is often reported as the better of the two; it was certainly much better attended. In hindsight, I wish I’d gone to both gigs, which is what my mate Dave did. The rest of the line-up for the 11th August was Todd Rundgren and Utopia, Southside Johnny, Marshall Tucker, Commander Cody, and Chas & Dave. The Festival involved the largest stage ever constructed, attracted at least 200,000 people over the two weekends, and these were the final shows Led Zeppelin performed in the United Kingdom until 2007.
I drove to the gig with a group of mates, four of us crammed into my little yellow mini. We left early on the Saturday morning, arrived around lunchtime, pitched our tents and went into the arena, which was already crammed. I remember little about the support acts. Todd Rundgren was good, as usual. I saw him play a couple of the Knebworth events and he always went down well with the crowd. The New Barbarians were OK, but not as good as I had hoped. The Barbarians were led by Rolling Stones members Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards, and also featured bassist Stanley Clarke (replaced by Phillip Chen at the Knebworth gig), Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, Rolling Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys and drummer Joseph Zigaboo Modeliste from The Meters (who had supported the Stones on their 1976 UK tour). Their set consisted of Ronnie solo songs from the lp he had out at the time, a couple of Stones songs (Honky Tonk Women and Jumping Jack Flash), and Keith’s Before They Make Me Run. They opened with Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller. I’m glad I saw them.
There was a long wait before Zeppelin took to the stage and it got quite cold. They opened with The Song Remains the Same, and played quite a few new songs; I remember that there were several songs which were unfamiliar to me. Highlights for me were Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Kashmir, and Stairway which was accompanied by thousands of raised lighters. The crowd was quite reserved at first. There was some clever use of lasers with Page being surrounded by a laser pyramid. It was never going to equate to being a few feet away from the band as when I saw them in the early 70s, but it was a great concert, and moreover a great event. Reviews at the time were mixed, partly because, given the emergence of punk, Zeppelin were seen as last year’s thing by some elements of the press. But overall, it was seen to be a triumph, and a fitting showcase for the Zeppelin legend.
Robert Plant said of the concerts: “…..we weren’t ready to do it, the whole thing was a management decision. It felt like I was cheating myself because I wasn’t as relaxed as I could have been. There was so much expectation there and the least we could have done was to have been confident enough to kill. We maimed the beast for life, but we didn’t kill it. It was good, but only because everybody made it good. There was that sense of event” and in an interview in 2005, he added: “I was racked with nerves. It was our first British gig in four years and …. we went back in such a flurry and a fluster to 210,000 people in a field, surrounded by Keith and Ronnie and Todd Rundgren. Nobody’s big enough to meet those expectations. But because there was some chemical charge in the air, it worked….it was fantastic for those who were there.” Indeed, it was fantastic. There was a massive sense of occasion about the event. We all felt that we were witnessing something historic. Sadly a year later, John Bonham was dead, and what was arguably the greatest rock band ever was no more.
The last memory I have is of walking out of the arena towards our tent, watching a lighting tower going up in flames….
Setlist: The Song Remains the Same, Celebration Day, Black Dog, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over the Hills and Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, Hot Dog, Rain Song, White Summer ~ Black Mountainside, Kashmir, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Achilles Last Stand, Jimmy Page solo, In The Evening, Stairway to Heaven, Rock and Roll, Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown.
Thanks to John for the photo of his poster of the event.
Archive for the ‘New Barbarians’ Category
Led Zeppelin Knebworth Park 11th August 1979