January 2, 2023

Even today, the phrase ‘Zeppelin at Earl’s Court’ is a byword for legendary live performance … with this sumptuous and luxurious tome you can get as close as ink and paper can get you to feeling as if you were there. If you actually were there, mind you, well then, prepare for the mother of all nostalgia trips…

Out of the thousands upon thousands of great live shows performed over the decades, there are a small number which can be described as genuinely ‘historic’ – milestones in the grand tapestry of rock if you will. Hendrix at Woodstock. The Who at Leeds. The Beatles at Shea Stadium. ELP at the California Jam. Even Yes in the unlikely surroundings of Queens Park Rangers football stadium for their 1975 filmed performance. On a slightly different musical tangent, Bob Marley’s breakthrough UK appearances at the Lyceum, recorded for the first Wailers live album, marked themselves out as similarly groundbreaking and significant. To many classic rock fans, however, there may well be one such event which stands tall above all of this esteemed competition: Led Zeppelin’s five-night stint at Earls Court in 1975. All of the stars aligned for it: the band hadn’t played their home country for several years, these were the only UK shows played at the time, they were just coming off the back of perhaps their greatest recording, the Physical Graffiti album, and most importantly they were at the absolute peak of their powers as a live band.

Deciding to go all-in on the ‘let’s make this a real event’ score, trains from all over the country were laid on, all named ‘the Zeppelin Express’, carrying hordes of fans down to the mecca of Earl’s Court, and the whole light and laser show extravaganza was such that it laid the foundation for arena shows to follow for decades to come. It also didn’t do any harm that Earl’s Court as a venue had an undeniable cachet of its own, being an imposing building with a similarly imposing name, and a large capacity to go with it – Pink Floyd of course staged their own iconic series of gigs there twenty years later, when they played an astonishing set of shows there on their Pulse tour. Zeppelin, though, did it first and broke the existing mould in style. Even today, the phrase ‘Zeppelin at Earl’s Court’ is a byword for legendary live performance. Like me, you might not have been there (I started going to live gigs the following year, and so just missed out), but with this sumptuous and luxurious tome you can get as close as ink and paper can get you to feeling as if you were there. If you actually were there, mind you, well then, prepare for the mother of all nostalgia trips…

Dave Lewis – Zeppelin archivist and long running editor of the Tight But Loose fanzine – was one of those fortunate enough to attend all five of those sold-out nights in May (two later added ones over one weekend, and the three originally scheduled ones the next). What he has done here is to not only pull together the most extensive pictorial record of all five shows ever collated, but also include plenty of fascinating text, including reviews of the time, interviews and Robert Plant’s sometimes surreal and often very funny on-stage banter. It’s all extremely skilfully arranged for maximum visual impact, but that’s not the whole story, as this is not just another collection of admittedly spectacular photos. For what we have here is a wealth of shots from a host of noted lensmen in attendance, both colour and black-and-white, all arranged not only by each particular night in turn, but also in order song by song as the shows unfolded. It’s this which more than anything turns these photographs (some familiar and famous, many others previously unseen) into such an effective tool to draw one’s attention into the performances as if unfolding in real time. It’s a remarkable translation of sound and visual motion onto the printed page.

After some introductory scene-setting pages by Lewis, along with a foreword by DJ Nicky Horne (one of the men who introduced the band onstage, along with Bob Harris, Alan Freeman, Johnnie Walker and – surprisingly enough – David ‘Kid’ Jensen), the main body of the book is divided into five sections, one for each night of the run. Each follows the same format: the setlist of the show (including snippets of other songs inserted in the likes of Whole Lotta Love, Dazed And Confused and Trampled Underfoot), a photo of a ticket and the text of the stage intro. There is then a page of notes about what went particularly well or perhaps wrong with each performance, which gives you an insightful idea about how each compared. From there, it’s the photos, presented as closely as possible, given layout issues, in sequence with the show itself. Alongside many of these are quotes from Plant’s onstage announcements and also snippets of reviews from the time. One of the nights (May 23) has previously produced very few notable photos, but digging on this occasion has unearthed a host of excellent new ones. It’s an absolutely immersive experience, and beautifully compiled.

To conclude, the book wraps up with interviews with key figures (promoters, photographers etc), facts about the shows, a look at what happened to the band subsequently (including, of course, Plant’s serious car accident in Rhodes which happened very soon afterward), a look at the then-current Physical Graffiti album, and a gallery of ticket stubs, magazine covers, different editions of Physical Graffiti itself, and even a host of images of bootleg albums from the gigs. It all adds up to a massive 320 pages – concluding, fittingly, with an image of a smiling John Bonham at his kit.

The book was previously published in its original form in 2015, but this new revised and expanded edition has been revamped to include 32 extra pages and a large selection of new images, making it particularly welcome. There have been a lot of rock ‘photo books’, and there have been a lot of Led Zeppelin books. This sits somewhere near the very top of both of those categories, and can be unreservedly recommended to fans. It’s a thing of beauty.