In order to counter the threat of cheap digital books there is a trend in publishing these days to offer ‘extra value’ with printed books, and at the upper end of the market this has translated into expensive limited editions, sometimes signed by the author or, in the case of ‘authorised’ biographies, the subject. Genesis, the specialist book publishing company based in Guildford, began the trend back in the seventies, initially with reprints of ships’ logs from hundreds of years ago, and moved into rock when its founder, Brian Roylance, was introduced to Beatles’ PR Derek Taylor who in turn introduced him to George Harrison, a meeting that resulted in the first (limited) edition of Harrison’s book I Me Mine which was later published as a trade edition. This isn’t the case with most Genesis books though it was with Jimmy Page’s photo book, originally issued as a very expensive (£500) cased edition four years ago, and now available relatively inexpensively (£26) via Amazon.
The expensive Page book sold out its 2,000 print run by subscription before it was even published, and this may have provided the impetus for Rufus Stone, a relatively new arrival into the high end market, to publish Five Glorious Nights, a 290-page book of photographs from Led Zeppelin’s run of shows at London’s Earls Court Arena on May 17, 18, 23, 24 & 25, 1975, with a commentary by Zep fanzine Tight But Loose editor Dave Lewis, together with interviews with some of those responsible for staging the shows and a generous amount of memorabilia facsimiles. Rufus Stone have just published 1,000 copies of the book at £120, and a further 100 in superior packaging at £200, all of them numbered.
Well, it is an object of great beauty, albeit not quite as deluxe as Page’s book but, bearing in mind the prices of these upper end editions, it’s a bit of a bargain, at least compared to Genesis editions. The photo budget must have been colossal as there are over 250 included, both colour and b&w, from some of the best UK photographers in the business at the time, all of them collated by the HM photo specialist Ross Halfin, now the official photographer to the Court of Jimmy Page.
It’s a big book (31x31cm) which enables the photographs to be displayed to maximum effect, big and bold, many of them extending across two pages, many full bleeds, all presented chronologically so that after the front matter we begin with shots from the first show and continue through to the last. The lion’s share feature Robert Plant and Page, of course; Plant in his girly blouse oozing sex appeal, Page in his black wizard suit decorated with fiery dragons and Zoso symbols. They are punctuated with extracts from show reviews, all of them overwhelmingly positive, quirky on-stage comments from Plant, who was obviously having the time of his life up there, and miscellany like set lists, tickets and pages from music magazines.
I wasn’t there – I was living in New York in May of 1975 – and by all accounts Melody Maker wasn’t made welcome because Chris Welch, hitherto a strong supporter of Led Zep, had been disparaging about two or three tracks on Houses Of The Holy. “They were very sensitive to press criticism,” says Chris in an interview that appears towards the end of the book, thus confirming my own views as stated elsewhere on Just Backdated. “It’s a shame… as no paper did more to publicise them early on.” Evidently Chris arrived at Earls Court to be told that no review rickets were available to Melody Maker which meant he had a buy a pair from a tout. This intended slight didn’t affect Chris’ attitude to the show. “They were outstanding,” he says. “A brilliant performance… the whole presentation was electrifying… ‘Trampled Underfoot’ was just sensational.”
Five Glorious Nights is, of course, aimed squarely at dedicated Led Zeppelin fans, for only such fans would want to look at so many on-stage pictures of the group which are, after all, quite similar. Where it succeeds, however, is in conveying the enormity of these spectacular Earls Court shows, a series of concerts that is now widely perceived as the high point of the group’s career, at least as far as the UK is concerned. At the time the concerts were unprecedented in terms of size and staging, absolute confirmation of Led Zeppelin’s status as the world’s top rock concert draw. It is also a fine tribute to a legendary group, conceived and assembled with loving care and attention to detail by Lewis, now their foremost archivist. And here he is below, handing a copy of the book (number 001) to JP himself.