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Music

The Danish countess who forced Led Zeppelin to change their name for one night only

@SamWKemp

What Hamburg was for The Beatles, Scandinavia was for Led Zeppelin. The immortal rockers might have ended up pounding out blues-infused riffs in the biggest stadiums in America, but they started their life performing in relatively small venues around Denmark, performing their first four shows there in 1968 as The New Yardbirds.

Nobody wanted to draw too much attention to the change in The Yardbirds’ lineup. Apart from the addition of ‘New’ to their name, it felt better to lead fans to believe that they would still be watching Keith Relf on vocals rather than the group’s new golden-haired frontman Robert Plant. However, as soon as The New Yardbirds’ management cottoned on to the sheer level of raw talent on display, they decided it would be a good idea to come up with a name worthy of the new group.

Led Zeppelin’s first shows were played just three weeks before they went into the studio to record their debut and a whole month before they performed their first gig in their native England on October 4th, 1968. Even then they were still known as The New Yardbirds. It wouldn’t be until October 25th that Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones performed their first show as Led Zeppelin. Little did they know how much havoc their new name would cause on return to Denmark in March 1969. That Spring, Led Zeppelin performed three shows in Denmark, the last of which was a TV performance. The black and white footage captured from that performance sees Led Zeppelin performing four songs from their first album at the dawn of their career. However, it wouldn’t be until their next visit that the trouble would begin.

The controversy was all thanks to countess Eva von Zeppelin, the great-granddaughter of the German inventor who had crafted the zeppelin dirigible airship. When the band returned to Denmark on February 28th, 1970, they found that the countess, who was angered by the group’s decision to use her family name, had taken legal action against the band. She told them that if they continued to use the name in her country, she would sue. According to Jimmy Page, the countess had originally been delighted to hear of a British rock group giving her esteemed family name new life; that is until she saw the cover of their debut album, which featured a photograph of the Hindenberg Zeppelin engulfed in flames.

To avoid upsetting the countess, Led Zeppelin decided to change their name for their scheduled show in Copenhagen that day. For one night only in 1970, Page, Plant, Bonham and Jone were known as ‘The Nobs’. For any non-British readers, a nob is…well, I’ll leave you to look that one up in your own time. Because the story has been passed down so many times, nobody is really sure how the show was actually rebranded. All of the posters and tickets had already been printed, all of which clearly said ‘Led Zeppelin’ on them. The show was also completely sold-out, so Led Zeppelin probably felt that the name-change wouldn’t have much impact anyway. If it did indeed happen. Zepplin’s name change was enough to satisfy the countess, whose legal threat caused a media frenzy but didn’t come to much in the end.

What it did do was convince Zeppelin manager Peter Grant to host a press conference in a swanky art gallery in Copenhagen so that the press would be able to get all their questions out of the way in one go. One of those questions wasn’t about the band’s legal issues at all, nor was it about Led Zeppelin’s music. At a certain point, a journalist stood up and asked John Bonham his opinion on one of the modern artworks hanging on the wall. The drummer stood up from his chair, sidled over to the painting, peered at it for a moment, and then lifted it off the wall and smashed it over the journalist’s head. Once reseated, he addressed the crowd in front of him: “If there are any other paintings you would like me to review, just let me know.”