Vol 5, No. 14, Jul '94
THE 1994 LED ZEPPELIN CONVENTION Royal National Hotel, London, May 1994
©1995 Proximity/HJR Productions
(From Proximity #14)
The 1994 Led Zeppelin Convention in London was, by all accounts, a smash success. The event was conceived and organized by Andy Adams of the British fanzine Early Days & Latter Days, with help from Dave Lewis (also publisher of a British Zep fanzine, the venerable Tight But Loose) and a large cast of other enthusiastic U.K. Zep fans too numerous to mention by name here.
This was the second London convention, and like it's predecessor in 1992, Dancing Days drew an impressive array of fans, collectors and dealers from all over the world. From close to home in England came people like Zep biographer Howard Mylett, Led Zeppelin Live author Luis Rey, long-time collector and author of Led Zeppelin & The Press Steve Jones, and fanzine editors such as the aforementioned Andy and Dave (who of course is also a well-known author), as well as Wearing & Tearing's Mark Archer and The Lemon Tree's Liz Hames.
The American contingent included Live Dreams author/photographer Laurence Ratner, fanzine editors such as myself and Oh Jimmy!'s Susan Hedrick, noted dealers such as Samuel Ketenjian and Rick Barrett (who was unable to attend in person; he was there in spirit via a table of goodies helmed by Susan Hedrick), and a handful of serious collectors such as Brian Knapp, who organized the U.S. Led Zeppelin convention in New Jersey back in 1990.
Canada was well represented by The Only One editor Grant Burgess, and although Bob Walker of Hot Wacks Press was sadly unable to attend, he too was there in spirit via a table full of books manned by Luis Rey. Europe, Japan and undoubtedly some even more remote parts of the globe were also represented by the fascinating array of fans and collectors who streamed through the door and milled about for the better part of two days, shopping the tables, perusing the exhibition room and sipping beer while they sat watching rare videos and listening to panel discussions and question-&-answer sessions with the likes of Tim Marten, Chris Charlesworth and members of the Bonham family.
Aside from being a commemoration of Led Zeppelin and their music and an opportunity to look at and purchase some fabulous Zep rarities, Dancing Days was a celebration of comradarie between it's participants. It was a reassurance to those of us who care so passionately about this band that there are like-minded people out there, and it was a chance to prove to ourselves and to others that collecting doesn't have to be a hermit-like, solitary obsession; a love affair with ones tape decks and mailbox in an anti-social world where communication is only through letters and lists.
Dancing Days was an illustration that there can be a social side to this obsession, and in fact some of us even managed to chat about things other than Led Zeppelin at various points - and new friendships and alliances were formed and cemented all over the place. In the time-honored tradition of slagging Zeppelin and anything connected to it in the press, Sundays London Observer chose to focus on the negative, quoting an off-handed statement made by one of the organizers that . . . there are some sad people here. Perhaps it was a bit like an AA meeting, except that no one was looking to beat their addiction; rather, we spent two days reveling in it and strengthening our resolve that yes, this band is worth it and yes, this is incredibly fun!
But enough rhapsodizing, you say, what was it really like? Read on. . .
Upon entering the main doors, the attendee found themselves in a large room crammed with 6-foot tables (or stalls, as the Brits call em), inhabited by approximately 25 different dealers. Most of us have been to record conventions or rummage sales; thats exactly what this was like, except that it was all Zeppelin. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven!
After the Dancing Days T-shirt and programme table right at the entrance, one encountered items ranging from standard-issue Zep books and magazines to rare foreign picture sleeves, incredible vintage Japanese magazines, Zep album test pressings, posters and photographs of every variety and vintage, copies of almost every Zep fanzine thats been published and of course the one thing everybodys looking for - unauthorized Zeppelin CDs. And there was a plethora of those, if you could get through the crowds at those particular tables to browse them!
Prices ranged from affordable to outrageous, but there were some good deals to be found for those who looked hard enough, and really, with such a huge array of items, there was something of interest available in the price range of every collector, as well as considerable opportunities for trading.
Adjoining the dealers room was another, larger space, set up with a small stage and an enormous video screen. Live music was provided by a young man named Graham Clews, who performed solo on electric and acoustic guitars and did creditable versions of a few Zep tunes such as White Summer and Tangerine. The best live music of the weekend came on Sunday afternoon when Debbie Bonham got up and belted out a few tunes to acoustic guitar accompaniment, including Piece Of My Heart and a few Zep chestnuts as well.
The guest speaker forums provided some entertaining moments, in addition to revealing some interesting facts. Saturday afternoon found a triple-threat lineup of Mick, Jason and Debbie Bonham sitting at the forum table fielding questions from the crowd. Jason, somewhat incongnito in shades, stocking cap and van dyke-style beard and moustache, did most of the talking and proved to be an interesting - if somewhat off the wall orator.
He talked about being extremely nervous before mounting the stage with Page, Plant and Jones to perform the Atlantic 40th Anniversary reunion set in 1988, though he drily joked that he was the only one who really knew the material they were about to play! Jason also revealed that in 1978, when Zeppelin's future was in question due to the death of Robert Plants son, Paul McCartney approached Bonzo with an offer - which was seriously considered to join Wings! The Bonham familys pride in John and their pleasure at seeing Dancing Days take place as a testament to his achievements was obvious, and Jason stated how deeply moved he was by the whole thing, thanking everyone for their continued enthusiasm and support.
On Sunday, Jimmy Page's ex-guitar tech Tim Marten took the microphone and divulged some interesting tidbits from his tenure with Jimmy and the Zeppelin organization. Marten was working as a repairman at Andys Guitar Workshop in London when he got a call from Swan Song offering him a job on the 1980 Zeppelin Tour Over Europe. According to Tim, "I sat in this small basement [repairing instruments] for about two-and-a-half years and when they called looking for somebody to go on the road I immediately said yes." He stayed on with Jimmy after Zeppelin's demise through the A.R.M.S. tour, Live Aid and the Firm's first tours, finally moving on again in 1987.
Marten talked about the Coda album and what a rush job it had been, accusing Atlantic of being singularly insensitive after the death of Bonzo in pushing Jimmy to fulfill Zeppelin's contractual obligation to provide one more album. He specifically remembered being sent away to find Walter's Walk, which Jimmy knew was in the can somewhere, apparently as an instrumental at that time. While Marten didn't comment on this, there is speculation in other circles that the vocals for that 1972 track were actually overdubbed onto the instrumental in 1981, specifically for the Coda release. A close listen to the track supports this theory - does that sound like Plant's voice circa 1972?
Another topic Tim Marten discussed was the rumored XYZ band - a collaboration of ex-Yes & Zeppelin members Page, Alan White and Chris Squire - which according to Marten was definitely in the planning stages in 1981, but was abandoned after the press got a hold of the information and let the word out.
Late on Saturday afternoon there was a lighthearted U.S. vs. U.K. trivia quiz, in which I was a reluctant participant along with Brian Knapp and Keith on the U.S. team. Set up in the form of an English TV quiz show called A Question Of Sport, the competition featured quite a few audio clues in addition to the trivia questions, and credit must go to Mark Harrison and Phil Tattershall for doing a very creative job setting the whole thing up. Unfortunately, the crack English team of Andy Adams, Dave Lewis and Gary Foy narrowly beat the gallant yanks by a score of 52 to 49. I think we might have fared better had my beer not run out just as we got underway, and I look forward to a rematch in 96!
The video presentation, while nicely put together and full of enjoyable clips, provided no new material for the seasoned Zep fan, save one ten-minute clip of a 1972 Australian press conference with Page and Plant. Interspersed with the familiar footage of shows like Knebworth and Danish TV was an incredibly bizarre Japanese TV special that was apparently some kind of a tribute to Led Zeppelin. It featured no actual Zep footage, but instead showed endless images of Japanese Zep imitators, and groups of earnest Japanese youths playing note-for-note renditions of tunes like Boogie With Stu on traditional Japanese instruments. The high point was a section where a small army of Japanese guitarists walked through the streets and bars of Tokyo playing Stairway To Heaven in unison. Dubbed the Stairway patrol, one only had to mention this phrase around the organizers and inner circle folks to illicit gales of laughter, spirited displays of air guitar and shouts of Stairway patrol! Stairway patrol! A fine source of comic relief for a very intense weekend.
One attendee of note who kept a very low profile (and did not appear in a forum) was Scarlet Page, Jimmy's daughter. Bearing a striking resemblance to her father, Scarlet strolled around the dealers stalls and exhibition room on Sunday afternoon, taking it all in with a quiet sense of pride. She glanced around furtively at times, as if fearing recognition, but her identity remained unknown to the majority of people there. Perhaps next time her reclusive father will be convinced to come along. . .
The third room of the convention, adjoining the stage & video space, was the exhibition room, and it was in this space that even the most jaded collector tended to get a glazed look in their eye, as their pulse quickened and their mouth dropped open in wonderment. It was the sheer volume of material as much as the rarity of some of the individual pieces that was so impressive. Every type of collectible imaginable could be found in this display - albums, picture sleeve singles, CDs, promotional items, posters, books, adverts, gold and platinum records awards, photographs, garments, documents, original art work - you name it, or imagine it, and it was there.
The display consisted of items mainly from the collections of five people - Andy Adams, Dave Lewis, Simon Pallett, Pat Lyons and Henry Nicholasserious collectors and commendable archivists all. For a view of some of the more interesting sections - just the tip of the iceberg, really - check out the What Is & What Should Never Be section on page 14 of this issue.
So there you have it: Dancing Days 94 in a nutshell. I hope this account has satisfied the curiosity of the many people here in the U.S. who were unable to attend and wrote to ask me about it, and I hope too that when it all happens again in May 96, many of you will make the trip over to experience it yourselves. I assure you, you won't be sorry you did!