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Eight things we learned from Robert Plant's Desert Island Discs (BBC)


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Eight things we learned from Robert Plant's Desert Island Discs

Robert Plant is a singer and songwriter perhaps best known as the lead singer and lyricist of the band Led Zeppelin. Their arrival heralded a new force in British music and the band went on to sell hundreds of millions of albums. After the band disbanded in 1980 Robert released several solo albums and collaborated with a series of other musicians including his former bandmate Jimmy Page and the bluegrass singer Alison Krauss. Here’s what we learned from his Desert Island Discs:


1. His mother was an early singing inspiration

Robert remembers his mum, who he describes as “suitably and joyously combustible... like a big fizzy bottle of pop... She loved song and she had a great voice. She used to dance around the house, twirling and swirling and singing these remarkable songs, whether it would be Kathleen Ferrier or the Skye Boat Song and she was hysterical. She was very funny. Good Black Country stock.”


2. He takes a notebook everywhere

Robert says it’s an essential tool to his song-writing: “All the time I carry a book with me. The front side of the book has got detail and reminders of what I've got to do, and then I flip the book over and anything that I see, or feel, or find slightly ironic, or ridiculous, or funny, or really sad I just write [it] down. So, my imagination is like a tinderbox. Just suddenly I hear another element or another contribution within whatever zone that I'm in, and it just lights me up.”

3. Birmingham Town Hall played a key role in Robert’s musical education

As a young man Robert was hugely influenced by American Blues. As he says: “Birmingham Town Hall had several years of these remarkable visitations from musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter... Howlin' Wolf to me, he's... magnificent, strong, powerful and his lyrics - I think a lot came from Willie Dixon to make his songs absolutely otherworldly.” Robert went on to play the Town Hall himself with Led Zeppelin in 1969 and 1970.

Robert’s third musical choice is Howlin’ Wolf’s I Ain’t Superstitious.


4. Robert got on his bike to bridge the generation gap

Robert’s father disapproved of his teenage son’s growing interest in the music scene, and would have preferred him to become an accountant – but Robert found one thing that brought them together. His father was a very keen cyclist, and Robert recalls that “before the war he did several tours of the British Isles.”

“As I got older, I used to cycle alongside him, and he taught me how to conserve my strength. Then I started track racing, which was a fixed wheel racing. It was really good... in a way to share the same fascination and attraction to something when you have this generational thing, which was radical then - I mean not so much now between me and my kids at all - but it did help us to discuss the meaning of life together as well.”

5. Elvis Presley sang for Robert – in a backstage corridor

Robert went with Led Zeppelin to see Elvis performing and they headed to his dressing room after the gig.

As Robert explains: “He was talking to us and he said, ‘Well, how do you get on with sound checks and stuff?’“

“Led Zeppelin didn’t really do a lot of things like that, but when we did try out new equipment, whenever it might be, I'd want to sing an Elvis song. So he said, ‘Well, what is it?’ And I said it's a song called Love Me.”

“Which is like ‘Dreaming like a fool, Treat me mean and cruel but love me...’ So we talk about things and say goodnight. We’re walking down the corridor and suddenly I'm hailed, and I turn around and Elvis is swinging out of the room, on the door frame, and does an Elvis to me - which we all do - and starts singing this song. So the two of us are like the ultimate pub singers that night!”

6. His introduction to Bollywood soundtracks came from neighbours in West Bromwich

“My family was in a little street in West Brom and there was a Gujarati family who lived the other side of the doorway,” says Robert, “and they were busy cooking dhal, frying up onions and spices and listening to this music. So I used to knock on their door… and they’d bring me in and give me a bowl of a ghee-laden dahl and I’d just sit and listen to this music.”

“It just epitomises the extravagance of colour and goodness knows what else about this era of Indian Bollywood music. It's just insane - listen to this orchestration and stuff - it's just magnificent and the food was great.”
The track is Raha Gardishon Mein Hardam by Mohammed Rafi.

7. He still misses John Bonham

In 1980 Robert’s friend and bandmate John Bonham died of alcohol poisoning. Robert remembers that time: “I drove down with him on the day of the rehearsal, and I drove back without him.”

“He was an incredible character and so encouraging for me, despite the fact he was always sending me up and taking the mickey out of me and all that. I loved him desperately.”

"We were really kids and we grew up not having a clue about anything at all. Just the two of us, sort of loud, confident and mostly wrong. It was really good. We covered most of the squares on the board as time went by, so I do miss him.”

8. Looking back during lockdown, he made an amazing discovery

During the recent national lockdowns, Robert spent some time archiving mementoes from his career. He was surprised by what he uncovered. “Perhaps the big, big one of all,” says Robert, “is I found an unopened letter from my mum from 1968. It was before we got Led Zeppelin together. I opened the letter and she said: ‘Dear Robert, I know you're out there somewhere. We've had a word with the accountancy company and your job is still available and your girlfriend would like to know when you're coming back.’ It was just so beautiful."


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9. I was asked to join a band in 1968. They were relatively successful. Can't remember the name of them but my mate John Bonham was in them. We sold a few albums and toured the US a lot of times. What I do remember is that I didn't enjoy it at all. All that screaming and endless guitar solo's. I never went with Groupies or took drugs or anything like that. I'm glad it came to an end so I could play really bad 80's music and then teamed with a much better set of musicians playing Moroccan music and/or Country and Western. 



Edited by chillumpuffer
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