28th June, 2021

Michael Brennan : Led Zeppelin

“I had spent time prior to January 31, 1975 with many musicians. Folk like John Lennon, The Bee Gees, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In my work as a photographer for newspapers and magazines the subjects mostly were co-operative, pleasant and keen on the publicity. Peter Grant, manager of Led Zeppelin, had recently been the subject of a glowing story regarding his management skills and had been compared to Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles, in a British newspaper. As a “thank you”, if you will, he granted the newspaper exclusive access to Led Zeppelin on a trip from New York City to Detroit and back, a rare invite since the musicians had a fearsome dislike of the press, the British kind in particular. I travelled to Newark airport with a writer, where we boarded Starship 1, a custom fitted Boeing 707 (it even had a fireplace in the state room), and we took off for Detroit’s Metro airport. As soon as the seat-belt sign was off we were escorted to meet the band: Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page initially and later John Bonham. 

While not effusive with their welcome towards us, all the musicians were pleasant and cordial and answered questions and allowed me full access to take pictures. I’m glad to say the fireplace remained unlit. The show at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium was a sell-out and Zeppelin were greeted with the usual raucous welcome. Never having had such access with a band as famous as Led Zeppelin, I took full advantage of it. At one point during the performance I found myself onstage with Jimmy Page where a front row fan was trying to give him a bottle of Four Roses Bourbon. The atmosphere was, to use the well-worn cliché “electric” and the sound was something I had never encountered before; it was an amazing experience. The hard work and professionalism of those four musicians cannot be praised enough. My favourite photograph is an image in complete contrast to the sound and fury. The silence backstage and the lone figure of the late John Bonham sitting in silence, on his own smoking a cigarette and yet not a whisper of complaint at my intrusion. The return journey to Newark allowed all the musicians, staff and crew to unwind somewhat but not a hint of the hedonism that Led Zeppelin were famous for. A rare privilege that I still reflect upon some forty-three years later.”

View more Led Zeppelin photography from the Michael Brennan archive here.

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