2015 - The Burning Questions: Will Jimmy Page Ever Make A New Album?
Looks like it. With the Zep reissues out of the way, stand by for some "tricky", "unusual" new music soon.
On a grey November afternoon, in a private room at the Gore Hotel in well-to-do Kensington, West London, one of the most famous rock stars in the world is explaining how it goes when people recognise him – in a street, at an airport, wherever he happens to be. “It’s this,” Jimmy Page says. He rises from his chair and does an impression of a Led Zeppelin fan, one hand outstretched for a handshake, the other hand reaching into a pocket for a phone and then arcing around for the inevitable selfie.
If you think back to the period immediately after John’s death, were you grieving not only for him but also for the band?
Oh, without a doubt. Everyone played so brilliantly individually, but as a band it just went up and up and up. We played uniquely as a band, you know? And it was such a joy for us to play together.
Was there a defining moment in the band’s career when you thought that what you had created in Led Zeppelin was everything you’d ever dreamed of?
The first album, because I knew how groundbreaking it was. The way the whole thing was put together, the way that it was layered and mixed, and the way that the drums were to the forefront – the big, complete stereo picture – I knew that nobody had ever done this. We were touching so many areas. We were touching the blues, we had what people would call rock, and we’d got avant-garde stuff going on, with the bow on the guitar and the recording techniques that were on there, the backwards echo, so many things that hadn’t been approached that way before. So yeah, a defining moment.
Is there one song from that album that really stands out for you?
Babe I’m Gonna Leave You. At that time, it was such a movement forward. And Robert’s singing on it is just fabulous. But that whole album was a complete barrage of ideas. It’s got so much energy to it, and yet there are so many colours in there too.
Was there a strategy in how the music was developed from one album to the next?
I did have a sort of game plan that I hoped would work, and it did work. And it was all pretty brave and risky stuff. With the first album, that sort of blueprint gets laid down. The second album, to actually record some of it while we were on tour, to get the energy from being on the road, I thought was really cool. And after all that high energy – after that inhale – you hear the exhaling on the third album with all the acoustic stuff. The plan was to expand and open up, and we went right over the horizon…
When you’re the leader of the biggest band in the world, selling millions of records, playing in stadiums, can it get lonely?
At that time, I was just living it. Living what it was, and really enjoying it. It was so exhilarating being part of something like that – something that was even changing the way people listened to music, let alone how they played and constructed it. But I had a yin-yang sort of life. I lived in the countryside, and that was my retreat when I came off the road, so the pendulum would swing completely the other way. It was so crazy on the road, the whole adrenalin of it, the sleepless nights and all the rest of it. That’s how it went – at least it did for me. So I welcomed the tranquillity of being off the road, being with my family or whatever. But it wasn’t like I switched off. I kept going, writing things, always thinking towards the next stage. I was consumed by it, all the time.
At the height of it, did you ever feel you were losing your mind?
No. But I’ll tell you what it was like: it was like something exploding that keeps expanding. It just didn’t shut off.
Is there one Zeppelin song, above all others, in which you can hear that explosion in your head?
I’ve never been able to put on Achilles Last Stand without thinking, “My God. I really was on fire there.” The power in that song is just amazing. There’s a great narrative in the story that Robert was telling. And Bonham’s drumming is out of this world.
Isn’t it difficult to listen to that stuff, hearing the band at its peak, with Bonzo thundering away as only he could?
Yeah. When I was working on the reissues, there were times when I felt melancholy, in so much as I couldn’t call John and say, “Hey, have a listen to this!” But to hear his playing, this amazing musicianship that has inspired millions, that’s a wonderful thing.
It seems like the only man on Earth who didn’t rate John Bonham is Keith Richards.
Really? What did he say?
The gist of it was this: “Jimmy Page is a brilliant player… but with John Bonham thundering down the highway in an uncontrolled 18-wheeler… I always felt there was something a little hollow about it.”
Hmm. You know, Keith can say what he wants. He’s Keith Richards. I think he’s done some amazing work. I respect his playing. And he has a solo album out. But if I was promoting a new album, would I be more caustic? The answer is… no.
It could be worse. He described the Grateful Dead in two words: “Boring shit.”
That’s funny. But I’m not sure what he means by calling Led Zeppelin hollow. I think he’s got his tongue in his cheek.
And really, Led Zeppelin didn’t do too badly.
[Laughs] No. What we did was really cool.
That last comment might just be the understatement of the year, something to go along with Reissue Of The Year. But for Jimmy Page – for now, at least – Led Zeppelin is a thing of the past. Ever since the band reunited for a one-off performance at London’s O2 arena on December 10, 2007, with John Bonham’s son Jason on drums, Page has been frustrated by Robert Plant’s refusal to engage in a full-scale comeback tour. Eight years on, nothing has changed. Plant remains dedicated to his solo career. And for Page, this is also the way forward. In a sense he’s back to where he was in 1980. Led Zeppelin is over. It’s time for Page to move on. And now, at last, he says he’s ready for that challenge.
You said in 2014 that you would be back playing live again in 2015. Why didn’t it happen?
What happened was this. I’ve been busy with the Led Zeppelin stuff over quite a number of years. If I’m going to pay live, I really need to be seen to be playing with, I guess, other musicians. And if I’m paying musicians, I don’t necessarily want to be sitting in a studio going through loads of old stuff – I want to be doing what’s current.
Where are you at now, in terms of a new band and new music?
It’s not like I’m a year behind. I’m a few months adrift, because I really hoped to actually be up and running at this point. But I will be next year.
Definitely. I’ve got to. That’s exactly what I’m about – I love playing live. But there are so many different aspects and characters to my playing, so many areas I can go – acoustic, electric, experimental – that I’m just working on the guitar, to work out what way I’m going to go.
I won’t ask for names of musicians…
I haven’t got any names.
You haven’t got anyone confirmed?