Led Zeppelin and Denmark

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A very familiar photo – but no less jolting nearly 50 years on. The Zep Back In The Day

Yes, we know. More long monastic silences here, occasionally punctuated by blogging stuff. We like to think that the silences are actually worth something. I mean, if John Cage could write one of the most renowned musical works of the 20th century predicated on silence then maybe silent blogging could assume a certain artistic merit. Then again, maybe not.

To cut to the chase. Led Zeppelin and Denmark. We’ve been back on a Zep bender recently with a certain amount of intrigue as to why the band chose Copenhagen for their secret comeback gigs in the summer of 1979 ahead of their two appearances at the Knebworth Festival. But then, I guess, one could equally ask: why not?

For a start, they’d had plenty of previous in the country: Denmark was where the band kicked off their first concert tour in 1968, with a gig in school gymnasium in Gladsaxe. It’s where they had one of their rare-as-the-blue-moon television appearances, with a half-hour gig purposely for Danmarks Radio early in the following year. If they were trying to assign some special significance to Denmark, they were helped by others, most notably Countess Eva von Zeppelin, who spat (figurative) blood at them in person after hearing them and denouncing them as a desecration of the family name. As such, for one gig (and one gig only) they appeared as The Nobs in Copenhagen in 1970 in order to avoid a tricky lawsuit (we still don’t really get the total randomness and one-off of this one but if they really wanted to sail close to the wind they could have called themselves Led Nobs or Led Zepnobs in order to see what happened).

In total the band played 10 gigs in Denmark and 11 in Sweden in their career span. To get this into context, they only played six times in France, just once in Italy and never in Spain: Anglophone markets such as New Zealand, Australia and Ireland also saw scant action in comparison.

The reasoning behind the attraction to the Nordic countries notwithstanding, what seems to stand out as a common thread in terms of the Denmark music – and the circumstances in which it was played – is the unpretentiousness. Zeppelin seemed to spend at least the latter half of their career running up against the charge of being pretentious (especially following the advent of punk), but it’s genuinely difficult when appraising the various Denmark sojourns to understand why. The bootleg of the 1979 gig, which took place just after punk had been at full throttle, actually sounds remarkably blistering and insouciant and danceable and bouncy, all full of musical majesty but still inflected with riotous joie de vivre like a bag full of kittens let loose in an unattended full-fat milk dairy. And it certainly doesn’t sound leaden. I suppose Bounce Miaow Zeppelin doesn’t quite have the same gravitas as a band name though. Arguably the same goes for The Nobs one-off nomenclature, which is all a bit William Hogarth meets Monty Python (ribald and randomly subversive), and hardly pompous.

For what it’s worth, I remember seeing the 1969 television concert on BBC in the Christmas holidays in 1989/90, and being captivated. It’s the final years of monochrome television but that somehow makes the visual spectacle all the more arresting: the black-and-whiteness of the broadcast lends it an arthouse quality, but the overwhelming, once-in-a-hundred-years feverishness of the music makes you wonder if the band themselves are going to alchemically turn the screen lurid, ebb-and-flowing, purple-loon-pant technicolour at any moment. This is truly a cultural tipping point in every sense. It’s fun to speculate on why Led Zeppelin chose Denmark for so many landmark events (and it would enhance our Scandifriend credentials to do a bit more research on this), but I guess the whole point is that they just knew how to make an event out of an event in any instance. Repeatedly and consummately.

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The revolution will be televised and Robert Plant threatens to turn into total hair in the process. Led Zeppelin, Danmarks Radio television gig, March 17th 1969

 

 

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