The second part of my 1976 interview with Robert Plant.
Far from being frustrated at the necessity for inactivity, the rest of Led Zeppelin were merely relieved when they heard that Robert Plant would not be limping for life. In the weeks before the accident – the time between Zep’s Earl’s Court concerts and August 4 – Plant and Page had covered thousands of miles together, travelling in desolate Arab countries by Range Rover, visiting Southern Morocco and, incidentally, introducing Bob Marley & the Wailers’ music to those regions.
“I was idly researching the possibility of recording various ethnic groups of different tribes in Morocco, just checking out how hard it would be, not so much the actual recording, but cutting through the ridiculous bureaucracy in Morocco. They were governed by the French for so long that they have a lot of the French traits on efficiency which, of course, are absolutely nil. The Moroccan version of that is even sillier.
“On the Monday morning after the last gig at Earl’s Court I was on my way to Agadir with Maureen, and three weeks later Jimmy flew out to meet me in Marrakesh where we spent several nights at the folk festival. That gave us a little peep into the colour of Moroccan music and the music of the hill tribes. Once you get off the normal tourist path and have the right vehicle, so long as you know a little bit of Arabic, which I do, then you discover they are quite fine people. They’re very warm people and they’re overjoyed when they find you have taken the trouble to learn their language.”
Plant and Page’s journeys took them on pretty dangerous routes, especially in view of the growing tension between Spain and Morocco which was bubbling up at the time. “One day we had lunch with a local police chief and received his blessing before travelling on, and we showed him on an old map where we wanted to go.
“He called round one of his friends who was a tourist guide and the guide told me and Jimmy he had been that route once in his life but wouldn’t go again because he was a married man. We still went, driving for hours and hours and the further south we went, the more it seemed like a different country. Gone are the people who can take the back pocket off your Levi’s without you knowing it, and you’re into a land of nice, honest people who find a Range Rover with Bob Marley music very strange.
“Wet tried to get down as far as the Spanish Sahara at the time when the war was just breaking out. There was a distinct possibly that we could have got very, very lost, going round in circles and taking ages to get out. It’s such a vast country with no landmarks and no people apart from the odd tent and a camel.
“We kept reaching these army road blocks where we’d get machine guns pointed at us and we’d have to wave our passports furiously and say we were going to bathe at the next beach. Then we’d go on 30 miles to another roadblock and claim we were going along to the next beach again.
“We wanted to get down to a place called Tafia which is not very far from the border of the Spanish Sahara. We got as far as we could but eventually the road got so bad we had to turn back.”
From Africa, Page and Plant journeyed to Switzerland for a pre-arranged group meeting, travelling by car up through Casablanca and Tangier. “It was devastating leaving Morocco behind and suddenly finding ourselves in Europe. For two months I’d lived at a Moroccan speed which is no speed at all, and then suddenly I was in Spain being frisked.
“We saw the jazz festival in Montreux, living on top of a mountain in a total extreme of climate from what we’d had for the past two months. After a while I started pining for the sun again, not just the sun but the happy, haphazard way of life that goes with it, and Rhodes seemed a good idea.
“I knew Phil May was going to be there so down we went. Jimmy came down with me but he left to go to Italy the morning before the accident, and we started rehearsing. Then there was the accident and... well, we were just stopped in our tracks.”
Plant was taken to a Greek hospital where, with the aid of an interpreter, he tried to explain that he was who he was. “I had to share a room with a drunken soldier who had fallen over and banged his head and as he was coming around he kept focusing on me, uttering my name.
“I was lying there in some pain trying to get cockroaches off the bed and he started singing ‘The Ocean’ from Houses Of The Holy. I can remember a doctor working on me for 36 hours nonstop because there was no one else there. My brother-in-law and Maureen’s sister were there, so he managed to get things together pretty fast. As soon as the news got through I was whisked out of there quick.
“The doctor in London told me I wouldn’t walk for at least six months and he gave me some odds of various possibilities about the future, so we had another group meeting, cancelled all the tour plans and decided to make an album instead. We’ve always taken so much time making albums, but we thought that this time we’d take a totally different attitude and cut one as quickly as possible.”