Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2017 Nov-Dec Contents Rhythms 29
touring and travel don’t become onerously tiring, and if
maybe age might begin to take its toll in that respect, he
again swiftly rejects such thoughts. “I only do what I want to
do and I love the touring and playing, including Oz.”
Plant describes his current musical interests as being
attuned to “music from the earth,” by which he seems to
mean world-music or indigenous, organic, roots music of
whatever colour or stripe. Turning to his latest recording,
Carry Fire, we talk about the use of an electric oud as a lead
string instrument, a heady change from driving electric
guitar or blistering string-bending fretwork.
“With the oud it really is music from the earth,” he explains.
“Because it’s fretless, there’s only one way to go with it
and that’s got to be the right place. It’s delicate but with
complexities. There’s shades of T-Bone Walker coming
through, like Chuck Berry. It’s all part of a musical journey,
a way of life.
“I remember at T-Bone’s funeral,” he continues, “Chuck
Berry went up to T-Bone’s daughter and told her that if it
hadn’t been for her late father, he wouldn’t have had a job.
Music is really so important, central to life itself. I get that.
I’m in much the same position myself.”
Looking back on his time with Alison Krauss, Band of Joy,
and the world of modern Americana generally, a connection
that gathered world-wide plaudits including multiple
Grammy awards in 2009, Plant is happy to have moved on,
hinting that the Sensational Space Shifters seem more open
to fresh musical influences, inspirations and experiences.
“It all became, well... just too American, if you know what
I mean. Playing with Alison and Band of Joy was a joy.
It was wonderful, a great time. We all enjoyed it, I know.
But it was all centred on Nashville, Music City. They were
never as keen on travel as me. I still love getting out on
the road, seeing and meeting new people, new cultures
and experiences along the way. With Band of Joy it was
different, more a studio band, maybe. They just didn’t have
the same gypsy in them as I have, always happy to be out on
the road working.”
And he also confirms that there is at least one more possible
album he has squirrelled away in his personal archives from
his time with the band. When I ask if we’re likely to hear it
any time, Plant is mildly cautious. “I have a second Band of
Joy album, but I’m not sure if it will see the light of day.”
And with a guy like Robert Plant there are always more
than a few surprises in store. One track on the new Carry
Fire album harks back to an earlier age, a time before even
rock ‘n’ roll was king. From the mid-’50s, ‘Bluebirds Over
The Mountain’ is nothing short of simple, pure rockabilly at
heart. When I ask about this somewhat surprising inclusion,
Plant snorts with laughter and clear pleasure.
“I love the song. Pure and simple. I’ve been singing it most
of my life. I’ve been doing the song since I was a kid. It’s
sort of cheery, part of the roundabout of life. I always pull it
in at some time, maybe during rehearsals with every band. I
can almost hear them all collectively groan, ‘Oh, no. Here we
go again.’ I always loved the Ritchie Valens version, I used
to sing it at home in the west midlands as a kid and I still
enjoy singing it now.”
On the latest newly recorded version of the number, Plant
is joined by a surprise guest on vocals, The Pretenders’
Chrissie Hynde. “Chrissie has such a beautiful voice. She
fitted the song perfectly, giving it a cheery sort of bounce,”
But while Plant jokes about adding upbeat songs from his
childhood to the mix, he always remains firmly and fully
focussed on the need to keep up to date, to be open to new
sounds and interests.
“With music there’s got to be a sort of intimacy. The music
might be old, traditional or whatever, but it must always be
interesting and moving, emotive at times. I can put my spin
on it, but not in a way that’s ever fraudulent. You have to be
true to the vision, true to the music at all times. It doesn’t
have to be fraudulent in any way. It’s always possible to
make enough of an individual noise, I think. These songs
are about what we do. They have a sort of synthesised good-
feeling about them, I hope. They can be tender, moving,
touch a spot. Music and my love of it is a given, it’s not
going to go away.”
Considering his latest offering, and the writing process with
the Space Shifters, Plant is in a philosophical mind frame.
“The album was all done in a natural way. Someone will lead
same place. These days music – at least, how I see it - is like
a lingua franca. Because of what we play and how we play
it, the depth and kind of music we do, we’re never going
to have to play, say, a night-club or even a strip-club sort
of place. Everybody now knows the groove. In the 1960s,
before Zeppelin was Zeppelin, there were great numbers of
people around in London, in particular, interested in each
other and their individual cultures. There was an open,
supportive, mutual interest, that seems to be harder to find
nowadays. I’m no anthropologist, I’m not trying to say I’m
like Sir Richard Burton, but I’m intrigued by other cultures
and their music. Music carries the message. If you listen
to some of the African rhythms and instruments, they’re
totally amazing. And yet, we all share this same musical
love and foundation. Whether we’re in Africa or London
or the Middle East, music has a sort of universality; a
power to move and affect your life. I worry at times about
an alienation that seems to be developing but I’m always
optimistic about the music.”
In every way Robert Plant remains an iconic musical
figure, no simple frontman or totemic figurehead, he is
clearly central to the musical world he inhabits and roams
the world with an open eye and ear, always aware of the
possibilities that might just be waiting around the next
corner. Nothing appears to be musically taboo to this
guy, save perhaps thoughts or suggestions of a Zeppelin
reunion, a subject we never broached, despite the near-
constant media speculation. After all, Plant has been a
soloist for something now approaching forty years during
which time he has shown himself to be a towering musician
with a huge global appeal and outlook. The time for
backward glances are long gone, and Plant himself shows
absolutely no interest or suggestion of ever looking back.
There’s simply too much new, fresh stuff out there to be
mined and explored.
Carry Fire is available on Nonesuch through Warner.
Robert Plant And The Sensational Space Shifters tour
in 2018, playing Bluesfest (March 29-April 2); Sydney
Opera House on March 26 and 27; Palais Theatre
Melbourne on April 1 and 2; Riverside Theatre PCEC
Perth on April 8.
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