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This is a question Festivals

Mud, rubbish sex, food poisoning and the Quo replacing the headline act you've mortgaged your house to see. Tell us your experiences

Question from Chart Cat

(, Thu 4 Jun 2009, 12:33)
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A long time ago in a century far away...
If your parents were born in the 1930s and never quite "got" The Beatles or The Rolling Stones (because they were already pushing 30 by the time those bands hit the big time) then they were hardly prepared for the tastes and attitudes of their 1960s-born kids.

Being born in the 1960s was a weird journey on its own: cutting your pop teeth on the likes of Slade and T Rex, getting to big school when Mike Oldfield, Led Zep and Pink Floyd were the coolest things on the planet only to find within 2-3 years that this was a load of old shite and we should rush out and buy The Clash and Never Mind the Bollocks...

But formative experiences cut deep and when it was announced that Led Zeppelin were playing Knebworth in 1979 (I was 16), this seemed like the the gig you could not miss, despite a couple of years of punk creating a major cultural divide in the country: either you were for Led Zep or agin 'em. Or somewhere perched on the fence in the middle where you owned Pretty Vacant as a 7" single but still couldn't imagine anything better than the drums cutting in at *that bit* in Stairway to Heaven and the idea that you might even get to see this happen live.

Remember that I was 16.

Context: I was old enough to have a summer job from school holidays, I had saved up enough for a ticket and a train fare.

"Mum, can I go to a concert?"

"Well, I suppose so. Have you saved up enough?"

"Oh yeah. Easily enough."

"Where is this concert?"

"Somewhere called Knebworth. In England."

(Did I mention that I'm from Aberdeen?)

"Who else is going?"

"Hamish and Keith."

Hamish and Keith were nice boys, geeky in their own way and patently trustworthy - much like the teenage me I guess - so this was deemed to be acceptable.

"I suppose so then," she said and we were off.

In more recent years I have asked 30- and 40-something parents from Aberdeen, "Would you let your 16 year old go to, say, Glastonbury?" and they give me that 'don't be absurd, you're not a parent are you' look. A 16 year old? All the way to the south of England? To a rock festival? With drugs and things? Now? No Way At All.

Of course, back in the day my dear old mum had no way of knowing what Led Zep at Knebworth would be like. The last major public cultural event she had attended was either The Corries at His Majesty's Theatre, or Paint Your Wagon (starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood) at the Gaumont cinema.

But why was Knebworth such a big deal? Given the longevity of rock bands now, people kind of take for granted that careers go on for decades. Even when someone has died, you can still pick up their work on iTunes, or for free. Back in 1979, Led Zeppelin had been off the road for a couple of years; the band had endured a few disasters, punk had come along and this was all before the era of CDs or MP3s. If you want to read more, check out the Wikipedia entry...


They had formed in 1968, had enjoyed an unprecedented run of success but towards the late 1970s were they washed up? Would a couple of major festival shows in Hertfordshire be a triumphant comeback or a cultural embarrassment? Had punk killed them off? As far as I can remember, they hadn't played gigs in the UK at all for several years; Wikipedia says this has to do with tax exile status - a lot was hanging on the Knebworth shows and these were bound to be big: six figure crowds, crucial for the band...

Into this jamboree stepped three teenage laddies from Aberdeen who had absolutely no idea what they were doing.

The overnight train ride from Aberdeen to London was Enid Blytonesque in its quaintness: three go mad on the sleeper. Drink? Drugs? No - juice and Jacobs Club chocolate biscuits. As far as I recall none of us had been to London before and we had a vague idea that we got off at King's Cross then had to get another train to Stevenage. Internet? Didn't exist. Maps? Hadn't bought any. GPS? LOL. Mobiles? ROFL. We made the connection then got off the train in Stevenage and worked out which way to go by following the crowd, essentially like following a football crowd to the away stadium except these were hippies and we were looking for the grounds of a stately home.

Somewhere we must have stopped to buy lager although just a few as we didn't have heaps of money: cheapo Heineken when it came in bland grey cans. Somewhere in Stevenage I seem to remember two people having a 69er on a bench. I tried not to stare.

The campsite seemed miles although when I look it up on Google maps now it can't have been too much of a schlep. We camped (two tents I think) then settled down, waiting for the gates to open the next morning. Other campers wanted to liven things up by throwing stuff around and a big section of the campsite turned into a two-ended adversarial throwing contest, a bit like a medieval football match. All kinds of crap was being lobbed from one end to the other, mostly just to pass time. Do I remember burning tents? Is that a trick of distant memory? It was pretty chaotic but eventually we tried to get some sleep...

At this point I'll borrow from another account I found on the web:

"There was a huge build up of people outside the entrance on the eve of the concert. Twice they knocked the fence down and eventually a row of police with dogs and Land Rovers was needed on the park side of the fence to hold the tide until the arena staff arrived and they could be let in. Amazingly there were no accidents. It was impossible to visit the campsite that evening as the vast number of fans made it quite scary. At 3 a.m. we gave in and opened the turnstiles. Fans slipped through in the darkness and ran towards the front of the stage for an eighteen hour wait for Led Zeppelin."
Chryssie Lytton Cobold (one of the family that owns Knebworth House)

My own memory of the anarchy was that there seemed to be a lot of shouting, running and movement in the middle of the night; we got out of the tents and decided to go with the flow then promptly lost each other in the dark. After a bit of a wait and a bit of a crush, the entrance was opened, I was separated from my mates, and I was in a field of something like an estimated 210,000 people at Silly O'Clock wearing just a T-shirt and a light sports kagoule, clutching a four pack of Heineken and wondering, "What happens now?" The answer was, wait. Sleeping was hardly possible, I had no one to talk to, searching for my mates seemed impossible, so with the idiot stoicism of a 16 year old I settled down to the long interregnum between getting in (3-4am?) and the first act taking the stage in the early afternoon.

Chas & Dave.

Yes, Chas & Dave.

There were two gigs at Knebworth in August 1979 and we got tickets for the first, so the lineup went: Chas & Dave, Fairport Convention, The New Commander Cody Band, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Dukes, Todd Rundgren, then the headliners.

I can honestly say that all these years later I remember precisely two things about the support acts. Firstly, there was a babe ten or twenty yards behind me dancing away for part of the day wearing a loose top and no bra. She held my attention better than some of the music. Secondly, this was 1979. In the previous couple of years both Saturday Night Fever and Grease had been massive movies and massive in the pop charts. In the middle of the evening, Todd Rundgren took the stage and introducing one song said, "Now we're gonna turn Knebworth into the world's biggest DISCO!!!" to the sound of 210,000 rock fans booing.

And then? Eventually? After the overnight train ride to London, the voyage to Stevenage, the barney at the camp site and getting in a good 18 hours before the main act took the stage, there were Led Zeppelin. And they were bloody good.

Set list for the 4 August show:

I remember Heartbreaker being the last tune, even now. I don't remember that they prefaced this with In The Evening (from their 'new' album), then Stairway to Heaven, Rock & Roll and Whole Lotta Love.

Some time later I found my tent again, found Hamish and Keith (after nearly 24 hours on my own) and we got a bit of kip before heading back to Stevenage, back to London, then back to Aberdeen. It was a long jaunt.

Nine or ten months later we'd left school and gone our separate ways to uni; we never really saw each other again. Do they read this website? I have my doubts. Also around 14 months after the Knebworth gigs, drummer John Bonham managed to drink himself to death one night, finishing off the Led Zep myth once and for all. He was 32.

No Quo, no mud, no rubbish sex. But that's the experience...
(, Thu 4 Jun 2009, 21:07, 4 replies)
You utter, utter
Utter, utter, utter bastard. This is where I wish I was so much older, to have gone to concerts such as this. *click* for a well written tale and turning my eyes in to green mode.
(, Thu 4 Jun 2009, 21:23, closed)
Sheer quality.
Excellently written tale.
(, Thu 4 Jun 2009, 22:13, closed)
and you say you have writers block?
fucking hell..
(, Fri 5 Jun 2009, 0:26, closed)
An interesting yarn
(, Fri 5 Jun 2009, 7:06, closed)

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