London’s Gore Hotel is a fitting place to meet Jimmy Page.
It was once, after all, the capital’s wildest hang-out, famed for its ‘anything goes’ celebrity gatherings and scene of The Rolling Stones’ infamous launch party for their Beggars Banquet album in 1968.
Now, there’s an air of old-fashioned establishment about the place, and the guests are often the very same people who once stayed up all night here partying. The grand decoration and artwork adorning almost every mahogany-lined wall couldn’t be from any other city in the world.
If only those walls could talk, the stories they might tell…
Until they spill forth those secrets, there’s always Jimmy Page’s self-titled photographic autobiography. With more than 600 images researched and curated by the Led Zeppelin guitarist himself, it’s as accurate a depiction of life inside one the biggest bands of all time as you’re likely to get.
“I’ve been stockpiling all this for so long, and I really wanted to commit to it,” says Page of the book, originally released two years ago as a very limited, exclusive run, now on a wider, more affordable release with additional material.
“I could see those original books being sold on eBay for phenomenal prices, so I knew there was a demand for more, but I wanted to do a version more people had access to.
“And I knew no one else would want to do the book like this, because for one, they wouldn’t want to deal with so many photographers, and two, I wanted it to have a sense of authority. That can’t come from anywhere else. I know what all these photos are. It’s from a whole career, from me as a choirboy right through to the Led Zeppelin reunion show at the O2 and beyond.”
It is a staggeringly detailed piece of work, as intricate and carefully thought out as one of his famous guitar solos, with something for everyone, whether die-hard Zeppelin fan, casual observer, Sixties historian or fashion enthusiast. “You can really see the decades whooshing by,” says Page, “and the photos I love best are the ones that really capture the time.
“Take Gered Mankovitz’s photos of The Yardbirds. You can’t get better, they’re just superb,” he says. “They were the first shots we had done after I’d joined and they’re so iconic. You know it’s the 1960s, you don’t even need to know who the people are, you just know it’s a band in the mid-Sixties. The composition is absolutely perfect.”
Page’s recall of the events captured in the book is astonishing. Of course, that’s been sharpened by the very act of compiling it, but even before he began the project some three years ago, he still had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Led Zeppelin’s touring schedules, gigs, recording and radio sessions.
“I’m a real hoarder, so I’ve got all the memorabilia and paraphernalia from the time. I’ve got all the outfits I ever wore on stage, even the stuff I was wearing as a session player.
“But it’s good clobber!” he adds, laughing. “It was all John Stephen mainly, really cool clothes. I’m slim now, but even so, I can’t wear any of it, not when it comes down to the dragon suit I wore on tour. But then, we were doing three-hour shows for years; it was like a workout running around stage every night.”
It’s not all fame-related in the book. It begins when Page was 13, playing a guitar that’d been left in his family home by the previous occupants. He tried to play it, but couldn’t, and then a school friend tuned it, showed him a couple of chords and he was away.
“I realised I had a bit of a flair for the guitar when I was about 14,” he says. “I was playing all the time, after my homework. I had a deal with my dad, which was a good thing from my position. He said as long as I did my academic studies, I could do whatever. I was doing schoolwork and homework, and then learning to play from listening to records.”
From there, he eventually became a session musician, via a stint in the interval band at the iconic Marquee Club, and played on so many hit singles during the early Sixties that he has no recollection of which songs he might have played guitar or harmonica on.
“I just turned up in the morning, not knowing who was coming in that day to make a song, and I’d play on it,” he says.
He then joined The Yardbirds, alongside Jeff Beck, before they disbanded in 1968 and he formed Led Zeppelin. In 12 short years, they became one the biggest bands of all time, and achieved a then-unprecedented level of success in America.
Whether he will ever perform again with Robert Plant and John Paul Jones remains a big question – one Page is asked on a daily basis.
They famously reformed in 2007 for a special concert to celebrate the life of the man who signed them to Atlantic records, Ahmet Ertegun. Aside from two pretty dismal performances – one at their induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and the other at Live Aid, a show with which they were so disappointed, they insisted it wasn’t included on the anniversary DVD released a few years ago – it was the first time Page, Plant and Jones had performed together since the death of Led Zep drummer John Bonham in 1980.
Their 2007 reunion holds the record for the number of ticket applications, with ludicrous stories about how many times they could’ve packed out the 18,000-capacity O2 circulating ever since. Whatever the actual figure – conservative estimates suggest 20 million people from all over the world applied – a full tour would be even bigger news.
Page gives the impression he’d play with the band tomorrow, but with a heavy heart, today admits “it doesn’t look likely”.
Robert Plant apparently offered the chance to record some new, acoustic material, but it didn’t interest Page – he wants to plug in his famous Gibson Les Paul and play the hits.
“It seems to be more problematic than something that should just be a natural event,” he says, slightly bitterly.
For now, at least, now the book is finished, he’s concentrating on getting back to his playing best, practising and pushing himself every day, with the idea of playing some career-spanning shows on his own in 2015.
“I need to do some musical push-ups before then,” he says. “I’ve been working on this book for so long, and I’m so pleased with it.
“Now I can start limbering up.”
EXTRA TIME – JIMMY PAGE
:: James Patrick Page was born in Middlesex on January 9, 1944, and grew up in Epsom, Surrey.
:: When he was 13, he appeared on Huw Wheldon’s All Your Own TV talent contest as part of a skiffle quartet. When asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, Page replied with: “Find a cure for cancer”.
:: His first session as a professional musician was on Jet Harris and Tony Meehan’s 1963 No 1 hit Diamonds.
:: He was awarded an OBE in 2005 in recognition of his charity work, particularly for Task Brasil and the ABC Trust.
:: Led Zeppelin have sold an estimated 300 million albums worldwide and are America’s fourth biggest-selling act after The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Garth Brooks.
:: Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page, is published by Genesis Publications, priced £40. Available now (www.jimmypagebook.com)