JIMMY PAGE - All Rise Please

To Cadogan Hall in Sloaney Knightsbridge where Jimmy Page has agreed to submit to a public interrogation by Guardian Music Editor Michael Hann, the exercise to promote the trade edition of his photographic autobiography which was first published four years ago as a very expensive signed and cased limited edition. Now priced at £40 - £26 on Amazon – it’s still a beautiful book, 512 pages, colour and b&w, large format, hard cover, the well-known passport photo by Neal Preston on the front cover, a live Led Zep shot from 1977 with JP in a white suit on the back.
         The Cadogan Hall was packed, a sell-out, and when I arrived half an hour before curtain up a long queue snaked around into Sloane Street, winding past posh shops where the handbags in windows don’t display the price, which would be vulgar of course. In the lobby a pop-up Waterstones is doing a brisk trade in JP books, but we have been warned that Jimmy will not sign them tonight. He arrives on stage promptly at seven, and takes his seat alongside Hann beneath a huge screen on which pictures from the book are projected as the interview proceeds.  
         These days Jimmy Page has the look about him of an elderly barrister, wise, very white, as if he has spent a lifetime avoiding the sun, and bewigged, his silvery hair drawn back into a short pony tail so that it resembles the sort of thing a QC might wear on his head while defending an old lag at the Old Bailey. He has bags beneath his eyes which, as ever, are slightly hooded, as if there’s a smidgeon of oriental blood somewhere in the ancestral line. He’s all in black, a bit rumpled, but looks comfortable, distinguished almost, and aligning himself with The Guardian confers a cerebral weight to both JP and the event itself.  
         And like a QC he’s also spectacularly good at dealing with cross-examination, an absolute master in the art of avoiding any questions he doesn't like and kicking into touch those that he feels might commit him to a precise answer when something vague is preferable from his point of view. Like an experienced politician he can subtly turn a question around by giving an answer that isn't really an answer at all, more a comment about something the question appears to have touched upon. He'd never have got away with this with Jeremy Paxman, of course, but Michael Hann is made of softer stuff though I suspect even he was aware of what Jimmy was up to from time to time. It wasn't even as if the questions he avoided were impertinent or unduly searching; nothing, for example, about his relationship with Robert Plant and evident frustration that the singer won’t join in a more substantial Led Zeppelin reunion or – heaven forbid – the excesses that Zep enjoyed on the road in their heyday. Nevertheless, we never find out what his favourite Led Zeppelin song is, which of their LP covers he likes best, whose records he might like to produce if the opportunity arose, whether the famous double-necked Gibson put a strain on his back or even if playing on stage in front of 70,000 fans presented a greater challenge than playing in a club. All these inquiries were batted away with the non-committal elegance of David Gower on the first day of a Lords Test.

Jimmy tries hard to be modest but every so often the obvious pride he takes in Led Zeppelin, their music and achievements, gets in the way so an immodest comment slips out and, because the crowd agree, he is cheered for it. But by and large he is very amiable and chatty, occasionally amusing, a raconteur not quite up to the standard of Michael Caine but better than most, clearly aware that the audience is 100% on his side and hanging on to his every word. Very few of them will ever have heard him speak before, at least not in person, so the event has a unique nature to it that creates an atmosphere of respect that, fortunately, never descends into obsequiousness. The photographs from the book beamed overhead run chronologically so the questions from Hann enable Jimmy to run through his entire career, from teenage bands all the way up to the Led Zeppelin reunion show at the O2, the lion's share devoted to Led Zep of course.
         My favourite pictures from his book are the early ones, the teenage Page with his hair in a quiff, playing a Futurama III guitar similar to one I used to play myself, and the few of him as a session musician before he joined the Yardbirds in 1966. He talks interestingly about this period of his life, paying tribute to Jeff Beck, before moving on to the formation of Led Zeppelin. Asked whether the only reason he formed the group in the first place was to honour those contracted Yardbirds shows in Sweden, he says he didn’t really have to play them at all. He’d have formed another group anyway, obligations or not. He did state that one of the pleasures of being in Led Zeppelin was that no two shows were ever the same, that none of the four were ever quite sure how a show would pan out, which is why he’s now an avid collector of Led Zeppelin bootlegs, an ironic state of affairs considering that manager Peter Grant did his utmost to prevent fans from taping their concerts. It seems now that Jimmy is glad Grant’s anti-bootlegging crusade wasn’t particularly successful.
         The end of Led Zeppelin was hardly touched upon, and he was amusingly self-effacing about the unsatisfactory reunions that occurred before 2006. He talked about Plant, including attending a show where his former singer had ‘three or four guitarists on stage doing the same thing I just did myself’, which raised a laugh, spoke about John (and Jason) Bonham in passing but never once mentioned John Paul Jones. For the last 15 minutes he answered written questions put to him by members of the audience, many of them answered in the same vague manner he has reserved for magazine interviewers over the years. And he certainly wasn’t going to tell us, as one questioner asked, what Zoso means. But no-one cared. At the end, after an hour, he was granted a standing ovation, deserved too.


Anonymous said...

time is a funny daughter
and the wind billow
a tentre
..moving one like a playful kitten

Then sometimes a lion full pack

My kitten amuses me like a reversed lightening bolt

...multitude of directions
One point

Anonymous said...

I think there is indeed some oriental blood in his lineage.

Anonymous said...

Lord of the Strings

Unknown said...

My first thought to myself was - no, not a review of Jimmy Page talking about his new book of photographs - seriously DC, you're not going to read all of this, are you?

But, of course, as it always does, your beautiful prose sucked me in, and I thoroughly enjoyed every elegant sentence, even though much of it was really about nothing, or rather, about Page adeptly revealing nothing.

And yes, I've always felt that Page had oriental eyes. Perhaps some of that eastern blood also manifests itself in his fondness for eastern scales.

Anonymous said...

"He has bags beneath his eyes which, as ever, are slightly hooded, as if there’s a smidgeon of oriental blood somewhere in the ancestral line."

"Oriental blood" is so 1970s as is this weird obsession with some fans.

It has been noted by Page himself in an interview that took place in Japan, in fact, to be untrue. He has talked about being teased about looking Asian when he was young.

Eastern scales refer to Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and Flamenco music not "oriental eyes."

Unknown said...

Dear Anonymous,

You are, of course, completely correct about the scales! I was being glib - I don't even believe that ancestry affects one's musical tastes. I think that's all environmental rather than genetic.

"Eastern scales refer to Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and Flamenco music not "oriental eyes."

As for having "oriental blood", it's entirely possible that Page has a far Eastern ancestor - we all have hundred of ancestors if we go back just a relatively few number of generations - the family tree widens rapidly in both directions, which is a fact often forgotten. Anyone, from any background, even with the most carefully traced family tree, could be 1/64 or 1/128 or 1/256 "oriental" without knowing it. And also, most family trees miss many "illegitimate" relationships which introduce unrecorded "blood".

But, having said that - yes, it's very likely that Jimmy's perceived "oriental appearance" is nothing to do with oriental heritage. Everyone has a very rich genetic mixture which can produce all kinds of phenotypes irrespective of their ancestry.

Uncle Gilly said...

Time has Page as a guitarist getting his due, but he always has, but on the plagirism questiion ,and it's not a question that stretches credibility that much , My interest has dwindled the old Zeppelin has sprung a nasty leak. yet the syncophants are out in full force still .

Uncle Gilly said...

Those bags maybe oriental ( is that word still kosher ? )that is,if all that smack he did came from the East.