Wednesday, 25 January 2017
That's Jimmy Page over there . . .
Dear all, Happy New Year and thank you for your continued support. Memory Songs has passed the halfway mark now, and we're going for the big push to get it fully funded. Please do keep sharing, spreading the word, and if you fancy pledging again (soon be time to think about presents for Christmas 2017 . . .) feel free! In the meantime, here's a Jimmy Page story that didn't make it into the book. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before . . .
Back in the noughties I was helping out on guitar for a friend’s band, playing a downstairs restaurant at the unfashionable end of the King’s Road. One night as we were setting up on the tiny stage, Bob – the friendly but hard-boiled American maitre-d’ – sauntered over to have a word. Bob always had on an immaculate striped apron, and wore his greying hair slicked back with Brylcreem. He was a big character, from Chicago originally, and should have been in a Saul Bellow novel – The Adventures of Augie March perhaps – or have had his own TV miniseries at the very least. Once, after I’d invited some drunkards up onstage to sing, he came over, smiling his customary smile, blue eyes sparkling: ‘Guys, if you ever do that again, I will rip your still-beating hearts from your puny chests.’ Tonight, however, he was in a relaxed, sanguine mood, and nonchalantly ran over the usual list of timings, intrigues and audience requests. Finally, just as he was about to leave, he added an afterthought:
‘Oh. And I think you guys should know that’s Jimmy Page over there. He comes in now and again.’
Bob motioned with his head, a tiny economical movement, to the back right-hand corner of the restaurant. I saw a gent with a shock of white hair, talking to a manager type on a table for two. My God, he was right: it was Jimmy Page. I must have walked past him on the way to the bar at least twice. The offices for Led Zeppelin’s old label, Swansong, were on this part of King’s Road; it made sense. Earlier in the day, on my new, first-ever iPod, I’d been listening to ‘Bring it on Home’ from Led Zeppelin II. There was detail I’d never heard before. The grain in John Paul Jones’s rolling, blues-ey bass; the high-pitched ‘builder’ in the second verse – an almost Tamla Motown thing; the architecture of the double-tracked guitars . . . it seemed impossible that the man who had written and produced this music was now in the same room.
I felt sick with fear. My nerves had arrived, like a main course. I was about to play guitar in front of one of the greatest guitarists of all time. My bandmate – let’s call him Ant – seemed calm, plugging in his pedals, testing his mic. He had worked for Queen, and other big bands, so this wasn’t a huge deal for him. Ant had even played a chord on The Old Lady – Brian May’s famous boyhood axe made out of wood from an old fireplace. Indeed, Ant had once worked up on Denmark Street, at Gibson, as a luthier and guitar repairer. Jimmy Page had brought in a couple of guitars once.
Yet I was aware it wasn’t because Page was merely ‘famous’ that I was in such a state of discomposure: Madonna could have walked in and I wouldn’t have cared less. No, Jimmy and I went way back. We had form, me and Jimmy . . . You see, Jimmy Page was one of my all-time heavy heroes.
I tried to concentrate on setting up but it was useless. I kept sneaking looks over to that corner table. What would I say if he approached? ‘You were the soundtrack to every significant moment of my early adolescence’? Or, ‘Do you want to get up and do a bit of ‘Kashmir’ with us?’ Or, ‘Please can you sign my guitar Jimmy? I won’t put it on eBay, honest.’ I considered the man at the back of the room. Who was in the same league? I mean, who really possessed an equal body of work? Only Bowie, or a Beatle sitting there would compare. I flashed back to 1982, the Pop Quiz clip from The Song Remains the Same, the first time I’d seen what Zeppelin really looked like. Page reeling and twisting like a mad, punk Chuck Berry in the dragon-suit. Madison Square Garden, 1973. No, don’t think of that! It was time to play the first set. I took a swipe of my beer. Dutch courage. My hands were trembling slightly.
I strapped my guitar on, and prepared to play the first chord of the first song. I grinned queasily at Ant. I tried to picture the moment, Pagey looking up . . . Here it comes.
Just then, Page and his companion scraped back their chairs, tossed some change onto the table, and began to leave. I watched as a smiling Bob showed Jimmy up the stairs; who was stockier and taller than expected, with that distinctive flat-nosed profile, an almost oriental face. A feeling of intense relief took hold. So I didn’t get to play for Jimmy Page, and perhaps it was for the best. He came in a couple more times after that, always with the same fellow, always leaving before the band played. And each time I could not compute this was the same person that had toured the enormodomes of America in his twenties, had written all that immortal music, and whom I had venerated as a boy, writing the Zoso logo on my school bag, and all the rest of it. The greatest living rock guitarist in the world.
I wonder what he ordered?