MELODY MAKER, 1970 - Part 3

This is the final part of my memories of my first few weeks on Melody Maker, It was all written in 2000, not long after MM had closed down, a sad moment for many of us who’d worked on the paper, though we all agreed it was a pale shadow of what it once was and needed putting out of its misery.

The biggest assignment I covered during my first summer on MM was the Bath Festival at Shepton Mallet over the weekend of June 27 & 28. Compared to the National Jazz & Blues Festival at Plumpton that I’d attended the previous year, this was just huge; perhaps as many as 150,000 people stretching away up a hill almost as far as the eye could see. The reason was that Led Zeppelin was appearing, taking pride of place on Sunday, the final day. I arrived on the Saturday afternoon, having driven down from London, typewriter in the boot of my car, all set to report this major event like the trusty reporter I’d trained to be. I parked my car backstage and wandered around, eight weeks into this job and feeling unusually privileged to be inside the inner sanctum at a major festival. The weather was fine, though it wouldn’t stay that way, and for longer than seemed necessary I was entertained by a chap with a guitar called Joe Jammer, evidently someone’s roadie, who was filling in while Frank Zappa readied himself to face the crowd. Frank came and went and was followed, curiously, by Maynard Fergeson, an ageing (by Bath standards) big band leader who’d taken a left turn into jazz rock to appeal to a younger audience. The highlight of the evening, though, was Pink Floyd, whom I was seeing for the first time, premiering their new work, Atom Heart Mother, the album with the cow on the front. I listened to them in wonderment and awe then retired for the night, driving to Bath and a nice warm bed in a B&B, unlike everyone else who slept beneath the stars.
The next day I drove back to the site around midday and was astonished by the scenes in the village of Shepton Mallet. There was a phone box with a queue that stretched for over 100 yards. I calculated that if there were three people in the queue for each two yards, there were 150 people waiting, and that if each call lasted ten minutes, the last person in the line would wait for 25 hours before making their call. There were similar queues for toilets and food on the site; indeed, the contrast between the conditions endured by the fans and those enjoyed by the artists and their guests brought a sharp intake of breath. Backstage huge tepees had been erected to serve as private quarters for artists while a marquee served as a dining room in which waitresses dressed in traditional black dresses with white aprons served three course meals and a selection of fine wines.
In the adjoining bar I met Led Zeppelin for the first time, introduced by my new colleague Chris Welch. Jimmy Page was dressed as a yokel in an old coat and scarecrow’s hat, and John Paul Jones had arrived by helicopter. Robert Plant, affable as ever, autographed a pink backstage pass for me*, and later in the day I passed this memento on to a girl I knew who was in the crowd and whom I had arranged to meet later that night. I actually got DJ John Peel to make an announcement from the stage: “Would Lorraine meet Chris by the backstage gate in 15 minutes”.
         It was my introduction to Led Zeppelin. They played just as the sun was setting behind the stage, and mighty impressive they were too, even though my view was restricted by being too close to the high stage and having to crane my neck to see what was going on up there. But I could certainly hear them. Good grief! They opened their set with the hitherto unreleased ‘Immigrant Song’ which they attacked with all the ferocity of the marauding Vikings Robert was singing about. Drums and bass reverberated like cannon fire, and Page’s guitar cut through the twilight like a broadsword. Every other band on the bill sounded decidedly limp dick compared to this onslaught. The reception was phenomenal, and they returned to the stage for multiple encores. It was a coming of age for them, their first really huge British show, a triumph, and there I was lapping it all up. Serious competition for my beloved Who, I remember thinking.
         Aside from the mighty Zeppelin, Sunday’s stars were Donovan, Santana, Flock, Hot Tuna, Country Joe, Jefferson Airplane* (whose set was aborted amid pouring rain due to fear of electrocution), The Byrds, who played a truly delightful all-acoustic set and, closing the show, Dr. John. Sunday’s music at Bath that year started at midday and finished at about 6am on Monday morning. I saw it all and in the misty dawn light drove immediately back to London, parked my car behind Fleet Street, rode the elevator to the MM office and wrote my story.
It wouldn’t be the last night without sleep that I willingly endured in seven years service on Melody Maker.

* I hadn’t been on MM long enough yet to realise it was dreadfully uncool for rock writers to ask for an autograph. Now I wish I’d asked them all, all the hundreds I eventually met, for their autographs.
* I even interviewed Grace Slick, she of the Jefferson Airplane, when her group cut their set short and dashed from the stage in the pouring rain. I followed her into their tour bus and, much to her surprise, did a quick on-the-spot, off-the-cuff interview before the bus pulled away.

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