Monday, June 1, 2020


It's funny, I had never really quite appreciated this song to have actually been about a battle or, indeed, warfare at all. It had always just been a joyous cascade of sounds: the tinkling mandolin and the soaring vocal interplay between Plant and Denny, with the lyrics never quite imprinting. Apart, of course, from the repeated refrain, Bring it back, bring it back........


So what was that all about, then? Examination of the lyric, and, contrary to my initial thought, sure, all the words are there, indelibly printed on my psyche, an automatic tele-prompter lying dormant and awaiting just this moment. Tolkeinesque nonsense about elves and faeries, as the naysayers put it, or, alternatively, a mystical celtic mantra. Strangely, as the sheer ubiquity of the song's parent album and the deconstructions of the might of Zeppelin accrue, this is actually a song, perhaps their only song, that has grown in stature. It seems actually to fit better with the current manifestation of a grizzled Robert Plant, now a sage like figure himself, akin to the wizard on the album cover all those years ago. Add the mythology of the doomed, and thus ageless, Sandy Denny and you have it. Together with the fact that the folkier aspects of the band have tended to last better than the more overtly metallic.

Almost by accident did the song arrive, with Jimmy Page picking up and playing with the mandolin belonging to bassist and keyboards man, John Paul Jones, an instrument he claims never to have earlier tried to play. Robert Plant then instinctively started wordlessly crooning along. With the feel of an old english, or probably welsh, folk song, Plant felt there needed to be a call and response aspect, with who better to fulfil that than Denny, erstwhile singer of Fairport Convention, with whom Zeppelin had shared the bill at Bath's 1970 Festival of Blues and Progressive Music. Plant had long associations with the band and its members, particularly Dave Pegg, both on the 1960s Birmingham pub circuit together. Denny willingly agreed, becoming the only ever featured guest musician on any of their output, gifted also with a (5th) symbol, to complement the four of the band that made up the official "title" of their 4th release.

After the twin behemoths of Black Dog and Rock'n'Roll pour out of the speakers, Evermore then becomes a mercurial palate cleanser, a consummate contrast and perhaps the only song that could then beckon in the majesty of Stairway to Heaven. (Yes, I did say majesty; I know it is de rigeur to sneer at it now, but, hell, c'mon, if you were 14 in 1971!) Call me an old fart, please do, but side 1, Led Zep 4, is about as astonishing a side of vinyl as ever made. Side 2, less so, but nonetheless.

Jones & Bonham

Denny never managed to reprise the studio recordings in a live setting, more is the pity. Zeppelin did play it live, with her parts sung by Jones and drummer, John Bonham. It wasn't as if he had anything (much) else to do in that number. Denny died in 1978 and Zeppelin dissolved, give or take the occasional reunion concert, a couple of years later. But, thankfully, it is the Plant/Fairport relationship that has gifted the song a greater life. He is a regular guest at their annual Cropredy festival, and has reprised this song in that setting, reminding the crowd as much of the Denny legacy as his own. This clip is with Kristina Donohue, daughter of sometime Fairport guitarist, Jerry.

To be fair, there was also an earlier and  glorious version on the semi-acoustic and middle east orchestral Page/Plant duet project, No Quarter, featuring the Indian singer, Najma Akhtar, whose stylistic traits give a whole different slant to it.


Finally, with Plant constantly redefining and reinventing himself across a number of styles, his occasional musical partnership with country star Alison Krauss proved another opportunity to revisit the song. (Astonishingly, in the same year as the Fairport version, 2008.) Having seen his latest band, Saving Grace, play live, in Birmingham's Town Hall venue towards the end of last year, I can state that it would fit well within their format. However, give or take a nod to the "original" of In My Time of Dying, there was no room for Zeppelin in this iteration of Plant's ever changing moods. Or not yet......

Get it!

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