On this Celebration Day, when Led Zeppelin have announced the release of the film of their 2007 O2 show, let's cast our minds back to the group's formation in the fall of 1968. Chris Welch filed this report for Melody Maker on October 12th of that year——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
Whatever happened to the Yardbirds? One of the great mysteries of our time, ranking with the Devil's footprints, the Marie Celeste and the Five Penny Post, is the disappearance of a group once hailed as the most progressive in Britain.
When one thinks back, the group that starred Keith Relf — and had such distinguished alumni as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page on guitars — were trying experimental pop long before today's underground groups.
But unfortunately they were either too early or lacked the drive to carry their breakaway from the original blues formula through to the public.
They found, as have so many British groups, more responsive audiences and better money in America.
Once they had an enormous following here, but this naturally dwindled with so few appearances and even fewer records. But prior to their departure for the States they had a period of vacillation.
The departure of Eric, first for a round the world hitchhike (or something), seemed a serious blow to the group. Keith hailed the arrival of Jeff Beck with much excitement, describing him as "The Guv'nor."
Jeff's guitar work had tremendous commercial appeal and numbers like 'Jeff's Boogie' raised the group to its highest status and they even started getting hits.
But there were management problems, Paul Samwell-Smith, bass guitarist, left to concentrate on production, never to be heard of again. Jeff got fed up and wanted to quit.
Keith went through a period of infatuation with Bob Lind and released a solo single 'Mr Zero'.
Nobody quite seemed to know what the Yardbirds were doing. If you asked them, there would be a lot of serious shouting, denials, grumbles and bold future plans announced. Then Jeff left to form his own group.
Now sadly, even Keith Relf, Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty have gone leaving "new boy" Jimmy Page to form a New Yardbirds.
Jimmy is well-spoken, good looking and good natured. He was once one of Britain's youngest session guitarists, his ability to read and feel for modern pop making him much in demand. He gave up the security of the studios to hit the road and play his own solos.
Now Page tells his Yardbird story and describes his new group, which threatens to be a welcome piece of fire power to the armoury of British groups.
"We didn't do any gigs in England for two years, so no wonder we lost popularity. But just before we split we did a couple of colleges that were really fantastic. I was really knocked out."
"We were a happy group and used to get on well socially until we got on stage and Keith lost all enthusiasm. I used to say: 'Come on, let's make an effort,' but it had all gone. When they split, I don't think Jim wanted to leave, but Keith was depressed, I think it did us all a favor because the new chaps are only about 19 and full of enthusiasm. It was getting a bit of a trial in the old group."
The line-up of Jimmy's new band (and he's not sure whether to call them Yardbirds or not), includes John Paul Jones (organ and bass), Robert Plant (vocals) and John Bonham (drums). They made their debut in Denmark.
"It's blues basically, but not Fleetwood Mac style. I hate that phase progressive blues. It sounds like a hype, but it's more or less what the Yardbirds were playing at the end, but nobody knew about it because they never saw us. We're starting work on an LP and we're going to the States in early November. I'm hoping the Marquee will be a good scene. Robert can get up and sing against anybody. He gets up and sings against Terry Reid! Those two are like brothers together.
"I thought I'd never get a band together. I've always shied of leadership in the past because of all that ego thing. I know old Eric wanted to get a thing together with Stevie but neither of them like leading."
"I didn't want the Yardbirds to break up, but in the end it was too much of a headache. I just wanted to play guitar basically, but Keith always had this thing of being overshadowed by Jeff and that, which was nonsense. It was great when we had the two lead guitars."
Jimmy says all this with a smile and no ill-feeling. And he is far too excited about the future to worry about the past.
"It's refreshing to know that today you can go out and form a group to play the music you like and people will listen. It's what musicians have been waiting for twenty years."
© Chris Welch, 1968
Read dozens more pieces on Led Zeppelin — and on artists from Aaliyah to ZZ Top — at Rock's Backpages. 20,000+ articles by the best writers from the finest music publications of the last 50 years.