Almost 50 years since their formation, fascination with Led Zeppelin shows no sign of waning: the ‘Led Zeppelin From The Beginning’ exhibition at Proud Galleries in central London promises to shed new light on the rock pioneers’ early years. Contributors to the photography exhibition include former Yardbirds bassist-turned-snapper Chris Dreja and ex-tabloid hack Michael Brennan, both of whom had rare and intimate access to the band at the start of their career. They will be unveiling their shots – most of which have never been seen before – when the exhibition launches this Friday (August 21). We spoke to Dreja and Brennan to hear the stories behind the pictures.
Photographer Chris Dreja:
“Peter Grant [Led Zeppelin’s manager] had an office on the New King’s Road next to a bike shop, so we decided to do the shoot on bikes. We had new Harley Davidsons brought round for us. Jimmy and I couldn’t ride a bike to save our lives – the only one who could was Keith [Relf]. Peter’s dressed as Father Christmas; that’s so typical of him."
Photographer Michael Brennan: “I’m going to sound like a big-head, but this is a good picture. It’s so indicative of that time. You’d never see an audience – even at a piano recital – that close to the artist. This guy is holding up a bottle of bourbon, and I didn’t see him until I looked back through the negatives. It’s accidental that I caught this moment, but it looks like a film still.”
Brennan: “A friend of mine wrote a very favourable piece on Peter Grant, comparing him to the genius of Brian Epstein. Grant was so pleased he invited us to Detroit with the band. All my pictures were taken on that trip. I had so much access it was unbelievable, but they didn’t like us. They had a reputation of disliking journalists and photographers."
Brennan: “This is the stage room in The Starship [which Zeppelin used as their private jet]. The fireplace did work, but I’m very pleased to say I never saw it working while we were in the air. It was the pinnacle of ostentatious, but if it wasn’t for guys like that, guys like me wouldn’t have been in business."
Brennan: “Jimmy used to bite the strings of his guitar a lot. It must have been quite painful! This was a phenomenal show; there was such energy. I can see why someone would want to throw a TV out of the window after a gig like that. I didn’t really take much notice of the stories of trashing hotel rooms, but I can see why they’d need to go potty and release their energy after the show.”
Brennan: “I like this picture. It shows the dreariness of some of these stadiums. Everyone talks about the rock and roll lifestyle but that picture is closer to the reality – seedy back rooms and cloakrooms. John’s just killing time, having a cigarette. He was the one I had least contact with; he wasn’t very communicative, but he wasn’t hostile. In fact, I found Jimmy harder to get on with.”
Dreja: "Jimmy Page was a quite a 'case when he and I were in the Yardbirds. If you were sleeping with someone, he’d come in and lift up the covers to see who it was. I saw Led Zeppelin playing Madison Square Gardens [in 1970] and realised how big they’d become, and how quickly. They asked me to do this shoot after that show.”
Brennan: “I remember the strength of this performance. It’s only now that I realise the extent of [the band's] following. After I took these pictures, I sent the negatives to my agent and he put them away; we forgot about them. When I saw Led Zeppelin being presented with a Kennedy Award by Barack Obama in 2012, I remembered these pictures. Now they’re being printed for the first time.”