Sex and drugs and beans on toast

Back­stage anec­dotes ranged from mythic to mun­dane – while Lily Allen set the record straight, says He­len Brown

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - CONTENTS -

Au­gust marked the 50th an­niver­sary of Led Zep­pelin’s first re­hearsal, in a tiny room in Lon­don’s Chi­na­town. With the amps nearly fall­ing on them, the mu­si­cal chem­istry felt, to the band’s Satan­i­cally in­clined gui­tarist,

“like a thun­der­bolt, a light­ning flash – boosh!”, ac­cord­ing to Chris Salewicz’s

(HarperCollins £20). In the af­ter­glow of that first sonic com­mu­nion, Page served his new band­mates beans on toast and (though al­ready a wealthy man) dili­gently col­lected from each of them the few pence the food cost. Front­man Robert Plant looked on in ap­proval. (The wailer from Wolver­hamp­ton had trained as an ac­coun­tant.)

Although less foren­sic than Bar­ney Hoskyns in 2012’s Tram­pled Un­der Foot: The Power & Ex­cess of Led Zep­pelin, Salewicz is an in­sight­ful guide to Page’s prodi­gious mu­si­cian­ship and of­fers fewer ex­cuses than many bi­og­ra­phers for his sub­ject’s mis­use of drugs, oc­cult blar­ney and un­der­age groupies – although th­ese de­tails are hard to square with Salewicz’s fawn­ing con­clu­sion that Page is now “the great­est na­tional trea­sure of British pop­u­lar mu­sic”.

Re­specters of de­cency may also take is­sue with Mark Blake’s sub­ti­t­u­lar claim for Peter Grant as “Rock’s Great­est Man­ager” in

(Con­sta­ble, £20). The for­mer wrestler used threats and re­peated vi­o­lence to en­sure Led Zep­pelin got the big billing and big­ger bucks that their co­caine-fu­elled egos re­quired. When Zep­pelin played the Kneb­worth Fes­ti­val in 1979, he hired pho­tog­ra­pher Neal Pre­ston to cap­ture the size of the crowd and suc­cess­fully ex­tracted more money from the or­gan­is­ers, who’d claimed a smaller head­count.

Many of Pre­ston’s at­mo­spheric pho­to­graphs ap­pear in the lush cof­fee ta­ble vol­ume

(Reel Art Press £49.95) – although, post #MeToo, the lens is trained firmly on those heady stage shows, not the off­stage bac­cha­na­lia.

In­evitably, the mem­bers of Led Zep­pelin swag­ger or stag­ger across the pages of many of this year’s books. We find the young, frac­tious and in­se­cure Eric Clap­ton be­ing shown up as mu­si­cally in­fe­rior to the cello bow-wield­ing Page in the early pages of Philip Nor­man’s solid and sad

(Wei­den­feld & Ni­col­son, £25).

By the time Page wan­ders into a char­ity gig in 1983, he’s so wrecked that he’s play­ing the top neck of his fa­mous dou­ble-necked gui­tar with one hand and the lower neck with the other, ac­cord­ing to Ken­ney Jones’s af­fa­ble

(Blink

£20). A found­ing mem­ber of Small Faces, the drum­mer went on to re­place wild stick­man Keith Moon in The Who af­ter Moon’s death, at 32, in 1978. But The Who’s front­man, Roger Dal­trey, felt Jones “wa­tered down the en­ergy” of the band. His frank, In Fifties Paris, de Beau­voir and Sartre, Pi­casso and Gi­a­cometti (and other greats) chat­ted in the same few cafés. Poirier brings their scene to life. (Blooms­bury) if not es­pe­cially in­sight­ful, me­moir

(Henry Holt, £20) finds Dal­trey set­tling scores with both the tit­u­lar head­mas­ter (who told him he’d never amount to any­thing) and gui­tarist Pete Town­shend (who One of the year’s best spy thrillers com­bines a wartime SOE op­er­a­tion with a present­day mur­der case linked to the French Re­sis­tance. (Ban­tam) once de­scribed the band as “three ge­niuses and a front­man”). He also re­veals that Town­shend’s sig­na­ture gui­tar-smash­ing be­gan by ac­ci­dent when he got his in­stru­ment stuck in a pub ceil­ing: “The place went quiet. Some girls snig­gered.”

As an an­ti­dote to all the drug­fu­elled de­struc­tion, I rec­om­mend both Brett An­der­son’s el­e­gant

(Lit­tle, Brown, £16.99) – in which the Suede front­man looks back on his pre-fame days as “a snotty, sniffy, slightly maudlin sort of boy raised on salad cream and milky tea”

– and the reis­sue of Ian Hunter’s 1974

(Om­nibus £18.99). Know­ingly Pooter­ish, it was writ­ten as Mott the Hoople toured the US. The glam front­man pines for his wife, de­lights in freshly squeezed or­ange juice and at­tempts to sneak into Grace­land to meet Elvis.

Back in 1965, John Len­non had sneered that an en­counter with the King was “like meet­ing En­gel­bert Humperdinck,” ac­cord­ing to Ray Con­nolly’s ex­cel­lent

(Wei­den­feld & Ni­col­son £20). Paul Si­mon, on the other hand, was adamant: “I wanted to be Elvis,” he told his of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­pher Robert Hil­burn, who con­ducted 100 hours of in­ter­views for his po­lite

(Si­mon & Schus­ter £20). But just 5ft 2in tall

Jimmy Page Bring It On Home by Led Zep­pelin Led Zep­pelin Slow­hand: The Life and Mu­sic of Eric Clap­ton Let the Good Times Roll by Agnès Poirier Thanks a Lot Mr Kib­ble­white by Manda Scott Black Morn­ings Di­ary of a Rock ’n’ Roll Star Be­ing John Len­non: A Rest­less Life Si­mon: The Life by Miles Goslett Paul by Caro­line Slo­cock Coal

Goslett’s well-re­searched book about the death in 2003 of the weapons ex­pert Dr David Kelly raises trou­bling ques­tions about abuse of process. (Head of Zeus) Slo­cock was Mar­garet Thatcher’s pri­vate sec­re­tary for her last 18 months in of­fice, and gives a riv­et­ingly fresh por­trait of life be­hind the scenes. (Bite­back)

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