Is this the worst reunion ever? When Led Zeppelin reformed for Live Aid
Reunions are usually momentous occasions. A moment when fans realise just exactly what they have been missing since the band went their separate ways. The likes of The Jesus and The Mary Chain, Blur or The Libertines and more all found a second lease of life after sharing the stage again, a comeback would lead to them releasing new material and touring the world. Despite past success stories, this wasn’t the case for Led Zeppelin when the band reunited in 1985 for Live Aid, a performance which would be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
The band would reunite for the first time since John Bonham’s untimely passing in 1980, a moment which marked an end to the group which would struggle to be the same entity without the drumming sensation. However, five years later and Bob Geldof would manage to convince the remaining three members of the four cornerstones of rock and roll to reunite for a very special cause, Live Aid.
John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant obliged to perform at the Philadelphia leg of the groundbreaking event but, in a disappointing turn of events, the reunion was marred with a catalogue of errors. The band played for 20 minutes, dusting off three classics which were ‘Rock and Roll’, ‘Whole Lotta Love” and ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
Tony Thompson and Phil Collins deputised for Bonham on drums who both hadn’t been given ample time to rehearse, one of the many grievances the band had following the set. But the blame wasn’t solely on the newly acquired members’ shoulders with Robert Plant confessing to Rolling Stone in 1988: “Emotionally, I was eating every word that I had uttered. And I was hoarse. I’d done three gigs on the trot before I got to Live Aid. We rehearsed in the afternoon, and by the time I got on stage, my voice was long gone.”
Plant wasn’t the only member who was pissed off. Jimmy Page disclosed years later that not only was he handed a guitar right before walking on stage and, even then, it out of tune. That, on top of monitors that were also malfunctioning, resulted in a disastrous show. Page revealed: “My main memories, really, were of total panic. John Paul Jones arrived virtually the same day as the show and we had about an hour’s rehearsal before we did it. And that sounds like a bit of a kamikaze stunt, really, when you think of how well everyone else was rehearsed.”
Phil Collins also spoke at length in his autobiography about the total disaster that he found himself embroiled in, writing: “I knew the wheels are falling off from early on in the set. I can’t hear Robert clearly from where I’m sat, but I can hear enough to know that he’s not on top of his game. Ditto Jimmy. I don’t remember playing ‘Rock And Roll’, but obviously I did. But I do remember an awful lot of time where I can hear what Robert decries as ‘knitting’: fancy drumming. And if you can find the footage (the Zeppelin camp have done their best to scrub it from the history books), you can see me miming, playing the air, getting out of the way lest there be a trainwreck. If I’d known it was to be a two-drummer band, I would have removed myself from proceedings long before I got anywhere near Philadelphia.”
He continued: “Onstage I don’t take my eyes off Tony Thompson. I’m glued to him. I’m having to follow – he’s taking the heavy-handed lead and has opted to ignore all my advice. Putting myself in his shoes, he’s probably thinking, ‘This is the beginning of a new career. John Bonham isn’t around any more. They’re gonna want someone. This could be the start of a Led Zeppelin reunion. And I don’t need this English fuck in my way.’
“I’m not judging him, God rest his soul. Thompson was a fantastic drummer. but it was very uncomfortable, and if I could have left that stage, I would have left, halfway through Stairway… if not earlier. But imagine the coverage of that? Walking off during The Second Coming? Who the fuck does Collins think he is? Geldof really would have had something to swear about. After what seems like an eternity, we finish. I’m thinking, ‘My God, that was awful. The sooner this is over, the better.”
However, even though the set had finished there was still one more moment of complete disarray that awaited Collins as the band were interviewed afterwards on MTV with the former Genesis man recalling: “Hunter starts asking questions, and it’s quickly obvious that nobody is taking him seriously. Robert and Jimmy are being difficult, giving vague, cocky answers to straight questions; John Paul Jones is still quieter than a church mouse. I feel sorry for Hunter. He’s live on-air, a worldwide audience is waiting with bated breath, and these guys are making him look like an idiot.”
It’s clear that Collins still feels like he has been unfairly taken the lions share of the blame for the disastrous performance which he seemingly thinks everybody is partially guilty for, penning: “Led Zeppelin won’t let the performance be included on the official Live Aid DVD. Because, of course, they were ashamed of it. And I find that I am usually the one blamed for it. It couldn’t possibly be the holy Led Zep who were at fault. It was that geezer who came over on Concorde who wasn’t rehearsed. He was the culprit. That show-off.”
Watch their set below and make your own mind up on who was at fault on this occasion.