September 8, 2014
Robert Plant on Led Zeppelin, his solo career and more…
Robert Plant’s excellent new album lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar goes on sale today [September 8], so it seemed like a good opportunity to post the full text of my Plant cover story from last month’s Uncut… Hope you enjoy it.
Recently, Robert Plant has been troubled by bees. “I’ve spent the whole weekend with a colony of honey bees,” he explains. “We had to cut through the floor into the passage between the bedroom and the sitting room, looking for the queen. Hundreds and thousands of bees.”
Plant’s revelation comes during Uncut’s photo shoot on Whitcliffe Common – an expanse of steep woodland on the southern edge of Ludlow in the Shropshire hills. Admittedly, a bee infestation does not immediately spring to mind when considering the misfortunes that might befall an international rock star of Plant’s standing. But even during Led Zeppelin’s imperial phase, Plant successfully balanced life aboard the Starship with more rustic and homely pursuits, like getting it together at the fabled Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in the tranquil Dyfi Valley. These days, you’ll most likely find Plant traversing these Welsh borderlands accompanied by his loyal companion: Arthur, a lurcher. “I like the idea of Arthur carrying down through the generations,” he admits. “As a sort of touchstone.”
Plant has maintained a home in this wild and woolly region all his life, but he has been living back here permanently again since September 2013. For the last few years, he has resided in both the UK and in Austin, Texas – his base of operations from which he masterminded 2011’s Band Of Joy album. Along with Raising Sand, its multi-Grammy winning predecessor, Band Of Joy was an elegant exploration of Americana, drawing together many of Plant’s wide-ranging musical obsessions. Critically, those two albums also served to distance Plant from the long shadow cast by Zeppelin. But even on this warm day in mid-May – with the remasters of the first three albums imminent – Plant is niggled by a recent comment from Jimmy Page. His erstwhile band mate has grumped to The New York Times about being “fed up” with Plant for not committing to a reunion tour. “I’m not my brother’s keeper,” shrugs Plant. “And he, really, as a pro, should know better than that.”
From the windswept Welsh Marches to the dusty plains of Texas and beyond, Plant has spent the last five decades on a wonderfully digressive adventure. “I have to keep moving,” he confirms. “Everybody laughs at me, my kids and everybody. ‘Jeez, why?’ And I say, ‘Because it’s there to go to it.’ When you go to Essouira in Morocco, or the Welsh coast… when you go to these borderlands here, get out of the car and just sit there and take it in, it’s the very pulse of life. All the old gods are long gone but still… I don’t wanna say that they’re in the hedgerow because somebody will come and take me away. But there’s something of the old magic that’s still around.
“I got nicked for speeding in Morocco, Tuesday last,” he continues. “Two cops said I was doing whatever it was. I said, in French, ‘I don’t think so. The sun was in your eyes.’ They said, ‘It’s 500 dirham. Go and sit in the car.’ It was 45 degrees. They dealt with everybody who came through the checkpoint. Finally, they called me over into the coolness underneath a stanchion and said, ‘How much do you want to give us?’ I said, ‘How much do you think you should be taking from me?’ They held the 500 that I’d given them and said, ‘Take what you want.’ I said, ‘No, you give me what you think you should.’ They’re looking at each other going, ‘He doesn’t seem like a bad guy.’ So I said, ‘The sky is blue and everything in the world is fine.’ As soon as I said that, 300 dirham came straight back. It was great, those moments where you’re just playing with people and they’re playing with you.”
For all Plant’s splendid travels round the world – more of which later – returning home to a setting he has known since childhood has turned out to be propitious. In the company of his latest musical collaborators, The Sensational Space Shifters – a regrouping of the Strange Sensation band who accompanied him on the Dreamland and Mighty ReArranger records – Plant has recorded lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar. It is an album, he says, that he believes to be explicitly linked to this mystical terrain itself. “It’s a blessed relief to be reconnected to a very familiar landscape I can read quite well. Having been around it for 65 years, you start to get the hang of it. Whereas the brittle, harsh limestone Texas hills were slightly hostile to me. So I came back to this. The thing is, you only need to spend a couple of minutes here. It’s formidable and beautiful. But the Shire, of course, it resonates as a name. Yet in reality, you have to study the smaller parts to make it one, composite emotional force. That’s what I’m doing. I’m thanking all the gods that I have landed safely.”
“Maybe it was all those stamps that told me about other countries and postcards I picked up of ruins and castles and hilltops and iron-age forts and all that stuff,” he muses. “But most of all it was the music that crackled through the radio from American Forces Network back in the early ‘60s that beckoned America.”