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Biographies: Robert Plant

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Reviewer: TopCat

In the spring of 1981, Robert Plant started performing with an R & B band known as the Honeydrippers, which included his friend Robbie Blunt. Soon Plant and Blunt started collaborating on songwriting, and later brought in Paul Martinez on bass and Jezz Woodroffe on keyboards. To complete the line-up for recording, they added established artists Phil Collins and Cozy Powell as "guest" drummers (although Phil Collins was to stay on for a while).
Robert chose to produce his first solo album himself, and recording took place at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth. Pictures at Eleven was released on June 25th 1982, and rose quickly towards the top of the album charts. The best of the tracks had a hopeful title: Like I've Never Been Gone, a song worthy of Led Zeppelin.

Although the voice was the same and the overall sound was good, unfortunately some of the songs recorded by Robert Plant as a solo artist were not sufficiently strong to claim that it was just like before. As well as producing, Plant initially acted as his own manager, although Peter Grant helped him to set up his initial record deal with Atlantic, and later he brought in Phil Carson and Bill Curbishley.

As a postscript to the Zeppelin era, a collection of tracks left over from earlier recording sessions was released in November 1982 under the apt title Coda. The album contained some interesting tracks, but it was relevant mainly to die-hard fans. Other associations were also coming to an end. Peter Grant had split from the remaining band members, Swan Song appeared to be in terminal decline, and Robert Plant was separated from his wife Maureen (and later divorced).

In early 1983 Robert Plant recorded his second solo album, The Principle of Moments. Once again Phil Collins joined the regular members of the band at Rockfield Studios. The release was followed by a North American tour. Big Log, a single taken from the album, became a top 20 hit in both the US and the UK. With this song Plant at last got to appear on Top Of The Pops! He also appeared on BBC TV as an enthusiastic competitor in Pop Quiz.

In 1984 Plant joined up again with Jimmy Page in a line-up which also included Jeff Beck and Nile Rodgers. Plant kept the name Honeydrippers for this venture, recording a five-track EP called Volume One. This sold well in the US, but we are still waiting for volume two! The set comprised cover versions of other artists' songs. One of these, Sea of Love, became a big hit as a single.

In 1985 Plant tried to experiment on his third album, Shaken 'n' Stirred, but this was not entirely successful, either musically or commercially. The best track, Little By Little, was also released as a single. Although a 1985 tour (now with Ritchie Hayward of Little Feat on drums) went reasonably well, the band broke up in October after a disagreement between Plant and Blunt.

The musical highlight of 1985 had been the Live Aid concert in July. Plant re-joined Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on stage in Philadelphia, with Paul Martinez on bass, and Phil Collins and Tony Thompson on drums. In early 1986 Plant, Page, Jones and Tony Thompson made a tentative start on a Led Zeppelin revival, but Thompson was injured in a car crash and things went no further.

During his solo career Robert Plant has made a habit of playing low-key gigs at small venues. Some of these were with his own band as a warm-up for a tour, but he has also performed with other local bands, playing R&B classics and other material seldom heard in his normal act. For example in March 1986 he appeared with the Big Town Playboys, whose line-up included friends from his Honeydrippers period.

Robert spent much of 1986 and 1987 putting together a new band. His regulars were Doug Boyle on guitar, Chris Blackwell on drums, and Phil Johnstone on keyboards (also a major contributor to the songwriting and production). They were later joined by Charlie Jones on bass, succeeding Phil Scragg. Charlie Jones joined up with Plant in more ways than one by marrying his daughter Carmen.

The first album under this regime was Now and Zen, recorded at the end of 1987 and released in February 1988. It met with reasonable success, in part due to the song Tall Cool One and its association with Coca Cola! Jimmy Page played guitar on two of the tracks. The album sleeve features a wolf motif which bears a resemblance to the badge of Plant's beloved football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers!

Up to this point Plant had steadfastly refused to perform Led Zeppelin songs. Now for the first time he relented, and started to include numbers like Trampled Under Foot in his stage act. In May 1988 he went one step further: "Led Zeppelin" re-formed for Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary concert, with John Bonham's son Jason on drums. Robert Plant also performed as a solo artist at that televised concert.

Plant and his new band were not very prolific in the studio. An old Zeppelin haunt, Olympic Studios, was used to record the next album, released in March 1990. The title, Manic Nirvana, came from an epithet applied to Robert Plant by Bill Curbishley. Although this was not his most successful album, the tour which accompanied it was well received by critics and public alike. In June 1990 Plant received the Silver Clef award and performed in the award winners' show at Knebworth, where Jimmy Page joined the band on stage to perform a few Led Zeppelin songs.

Towards the end of 1990 the Led Zeppelin Remasters compilations were released. More nostalgia came in the form of a Led Zeppelin special in MTV's Rockumentary series, but there was another long gap to the next new album. Preparation and recording proceeded at a leisurely pace throughout 1991 and 1992, with no major tour. In April 1992 Plant performed with the surviving members of Queen at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert.

Fate Of Nations was finally released in June 1993. On this album Plant used not only his regular band but a range of guest musicians, including Máire Brennan, Nigel Kennedy and Richard Thompson. Guitarist Kevin Scott MacMichael also played a significant part in the album, which featured a variety of styles and influences, some of them a long way from Led Zeppelin. Fate Of Nations spawned two hit singles (29 Palms and If I Were A Carpenter) and a world tour, which ended in South America in January 1994.

Information supplied by Robert Plant: Now and Zen

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