The evening’s concert is at the Greensboro Coliseum where Robert, now partially recovered and having taken a commercial flight direct from Chicago, awaits us. The usual convoy of black Cadillac limousines greets the Starship on the runway, five in all, a slightly enlarged party now alighting to occupy them. Everybody is tired, the group aren’t really up for the show and, to make matters worse, outside the venue a shortage of tickets has caused violence to erupt. About five hundred fans have attempted to storm the rear of the building, throwing broken bottles, stones and pieces of scaffolding. Three of the five limousines, those parked outside, become severely damaged.
The show, not one of Zeppelin’s best, goes on. It being January, the building is cold, which dampens the atmosphere, and the acoustics are awful, the sound a great wash of impenetrable noise. Firecrackers are set off amid the audience and as Zep wade through their catalogue I get an uneasy feeling that things might turn ugly; that the mood in this hideous great place is not sympathetic to the emotions of those on stage nor to the music they are trying to play. It’s difficult to maintain your concentration before a restless crowd like this at the best of times, and tonight is amongst the worst.
For an hour or so I watch the concert from the side of the stage alongside Peter Grant. The din is so great you can hardly hear yourself think, let alone speak but at one point Peter yells something in my ear, a comment about how unusual it is for the group not to perform ‘Dazed And Confused’ in their set. A manager from the old school who worked his way up the hard way by tour managing rock’n’rollers from the fifties, he is hands-on in everything he does and probably the only manager of his era who never misses a show by his number one client. I get the feeling he enjoys a confrontation as it gives him a raison d’etre, a chance to take matters into his own hands and resolve issues by force of will, and I soon find myself witnessing the kind of confrontation that is meat and drink to him.
It occurs about two-thirds of the way through the concert after Peter is called away to resolve a problem involving two of tonight’s limousine drivers. I decide to follow him down the steps to see what’s happening. Evidently the drivers of the three limos parked outside, fearing further damage to them, have removed their cars and the other two drivers, whose cars are parked inside, want to take theirs away too. This, of course, would leave the Led Zeppelin entourage stranded when the concert is over and this realisation prompted whoever was manning the back doors to decline to open them until Mr Grant gives the OK.
Mr Grant is having none of it and a confrontation quickly ensues. “You can’t take ya fucking cars away. We need ‘em,” he shouts into the faces of the drivers.
“We’re sorry. We have to take them away. They’ll get damaged.”
“You’ll be fuckin’ damaged, ya cunts.”
“We have no choice.”
Grant looks at the drivers with contempt. “Alright, how much do you want for ya fucking cars. How much are they fucking worth? Forty thousand dollars each? I’ll fucking buy them from you right now ya cunts.”
Grant carries with him a large briefcase and I am left in no doubt that there is sufficient cash within for him to honour this offer.
The drivers protest. “We can’t sell them. They’re not ours to sell.”
Grant dismisses this argument as if swatting a fly, and beckons to some of Zep’s road crew who gather around. “In that case, I’ll fucking steal them. I’ve offered to buy them and if ya can’t fucking sell them, I’ll just fucking take ‘em.”
The drivers protest further. “You can’t do that!”
“‘Don’t be fucking stupid,” says Grant derisively, moving towards them so that his massive bulk acts as a buffer, pushing them backwards into the crew who stand their ground. “Of course I can fucking do that. I can do what I fucking want, can’t I?” By this time Grant is yelling into their faces, mere inches away. “I’ve got twenty fucking men working for me. There’s only two of you ya cunts. Ya can’t fucking stop me, ya’ fucking cunts.”
The dispute concluded in Grant’s favour, a compromise of sorts is reached while the music blares on. The members of the group and Cole, with Grant at the wheel, will occupy the first of the two limousines; all the rest of us, with a visiting road crew member nicknamed Magnet at the wheel, will occupy the second, something of a squeeze as it turns out. The drivers will pick up their limousines at the airport later. Our exit will be speedy.
“We don’t fucking need you, ya’ cunts,” says Grant to the dispossessed drivers, bringing the issue to a close. “We’ll drive the fucking cars ourselves. So fuck off, just fuckin’ fuck off.”
Grant turns away and resumes his position at the side of the stage for the remainder of the show which ends, as always, with ‘Stairway To Heaven’. The four members of Zeppelin leave the stage but, instead of heading for the dressing room for a quick cigarette and swig of booze, they are immediately appraised of the transport situation and advised to wait out of sight of the audience for less than two minutes before returning for a perfunctionary encore: ‘Whole Lotta Love’.
As Robert does his best to re-excite everyone with every inch of his love Cole hustles us hangers-on, about ten of us, into the second limo and, as the final notes disappear into the cavernous auditorium, Page, Plant, Jones and Bonzo tear down the steps towards the first limo. Cole hands out the large, red, hooded towelling robes to them as they jump into the car with Grant at the wheel, already revving the engine, and leaps in himself. The applause is reaching a crescendo as our cars start to move. The huge stadium doors open and the angry mob of fans who didn’t make it into the show surge forward into our path. Grant blasts a way through, his horn blaring, we follow, and the crowd parts like the Red Sea. Our truncated convoy reaches speeds of up to 70 mph in a heavily built-up area with Grant leading the way, driving his car through red lights and on the wrong side of the road through the town of Greensboro. Our car, crammed, follows in hot pursuit. Good grief, I think, this is far more exciting than any rock concert.
Then, when we reach the point at the airport where the Starship is waiting, a funny thing happens. Instead of stopping as we have done, Grant drives round and round the huge aircraft, tyres screeching, faster and faster, burning rubber. When he finally skids to a stop the four members of Led Zeppelin tumble out, hysterical with laughter. Someone asks him what he was playing at.
“The band were placing bets on whether I dare crash it into the fucking plane,” shouts Grant, equally hysterical. “Fucking useless pile of fucking junk!” he continues, kicking the limo hard, denting a door. “Way off tune... my Bentley goes twice as fucking fast!”
And so we all stand there laughing into the night... totally exhilarated by it all. Then, happier than we’ve been all day, we board the plane and fly on up the East Coast to New York, drinks in hand, relieved that this long day is finally over. Unforgettable, though. When you ride with Zeppelin you ride high and fast. The only way to fly.
(Led Zeppelin’s website and various books contradict my memories of the sequence of shows on their US tour during the last week of January 1975. A concert in St Louis was certainly cancelled due to Robert’s illness and reinstated at the end of the tour on February 16, but I maintain that my version of events is correct, that other shows were rejigged and that Greensboro followed Chicago with the trip to LA in between while Robert recovered. One other thing I recall, oddly, was that staying in the same hotel as us in Chicago was a Japanese soldier who’d been stranded on a Pacific island after WW2 and who until the previous year believed the war was still going on. He was on a media tour and the press had gathered in the lobby to photograph him. Led Zep thought they were there to photograph them!)