Led Zeppelin Knebworth Park 11th August 1979


My ticket stub. Wish I had the other half.

Led Zeppelin Knebworth Park 11th August 1979
Line-up: Led Zeppelin, New Barbarians, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes, Commander Cody Band, Chas and Dave. Master of ceremonies: Nicky Horne
Led Zeppelin played two shows at Knebworth Park, on 4th and 11th August 1979. The shows were promoted by Freddy Bannister. Zeppelin had not performed live for two years, and it was four years since they had last played in the UK, at Earls Court. This was big news at the time, and was seen as the eagerly awaited comeback. The first show, on 4th August was announced first. The demand for tickets for the first date was enormous, exceeding all expectations, leading to a second date being added on 11th August. There was a whole new group of fans who had never seen Led Zeppelin, had heard about them from their older brothers, sisters, and friends, and was hungry to see them live in concert. Add to this all of the existing fans, who hadn’t seen the band since Earls Court or the 1972 UK tour, and it was a hell of a lot of people. Expectations were high; to say the least, and the band’s fee for performing was reportedly the largest ever paid to one single act at that time. Sadly Bannister and Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, ended up in dispute over the number of people who attended the two concerts, and the gate takings, and Bannister ended up winding up his festival activities as a result. zepknebworthprog I applied for tickets by post, and got tickets for the first day. However, when I saw that the The New Barbarians (featuring Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards) were playing only at the second concert on August 11, I swapped my ticket with a mate for one for the second gig. This may have been a mistake, as the first gig is often reported as the better of the two; it was certainly much better attended. In hindsight, I wish I’d gone to both gigs, which is what my mate Dave did. The rest of the line-up for the 11th August was Todd Rundgren and Utopia, Southside Johnny, Marshall Tucker, Commander Cody, and Chas & Dave. The Festival involved the largest stage ever constructed, attracted at least 200,000 people over the two weekends, and these were the final shows Led Zeppelin performed in the United Kingdom until 2007.
I drove to the gig with a group of mates, four of us crammed into my little yellow mini. We left early on the Saturday morning, arrived around lunchtime, pitched our tents and went into the arena, which was already crammed. I remember little about the support acts. Todd Rundgren was good, as usual. I saw him play a couple of the Knebworth events and he always went down well with the crowd. The New Barbarians were OK, but not as good as I had hoped. The Barbarians were led by Rolling Stones members Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards, and also featured bassist Stanley Clarke (replaced by Phillip Chen at the Knebworth gig), Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, Rolling Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys and drummer Joseph Zigaboo Modeliste from The Meters (who had supported the Stones on their 1976 UK tour). Their set consisted of Ronnie solo songs from the lp he had out at the time, a couple of Stones songs (Honky Tonk Women and Jumping Jack Flash), and Keith’s Before They Make Me Run. They opened with Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller. I’m glad I saw them.
zepknebworthposter There was a long wait before Zeppelin took to the stage and it got quite cold. They opened with The Song Remains the Same, and played quite a few new songs; I remember that there were several songs which were unfamiliar to me. Highlights for me were Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Kashmir, and Stairway which was accompanied by thousands of raised lighters. The crowd was quite reserved at first. There was some clever use of lasers with Page being surrounded by a laser pyramid. It was never going to equate to being a few feet away from the band as when I saw them in the early 70s, but it was a great concert, and moreover a great event. Reviews at the time were mixed, partly because, given the emergence of punk, Zeppelin were seen as last year’s thing by some elements of the press. But overall, it was seen to be a triumph, and a fitting showcase for the Zeppelin legend.
Robert Plant said of the concerts: “…..we weren’t ready to do it, the whole thing was a management decision. It felt like I was cheating myself because I wasn’t as relaxed as I could have been. There was so much expectation there and the least we could have done was to have been confident enough to kill. We maimed the beast for life, but we didn’t kill it. It was good, but only because everybody made it good. There was that sense of event” and in an interview in 2005, he added: “I was racked with nerves. It was our first British gig in four years and …. we went back in such a flurry and a fluster to 210,000 people in a field, surrounded by Keith and Ronnie and Todd Rundgren. Nobody’s big enough to meet those expectations. But because there was some chemical charge in the air, it worked….it was fantastic for those who were there.” Indeed, it was fantastic. There was a massive sense of occasion about the event. We all felt that we were witnessing something historic. Sadly a year later, John Bonham was dead, and what was arguably the greatest rock band ever was no more.
The last memory I have is of walking out of the arena towards our tent, watching a lighting tower going up in flames….
Setlist: The Song Remains the Same, Celebration Day, Black Dog, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over the Hills and Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, Hot Dog, Rain Song, White Summer ~ Black Mountainside, Kashmir, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Achilles Last Stand, Jimmy Page solo, In The Evening, Stairway to Heaven, Rock and Roll, Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown.
Thanks to John for the photo of his poster of the event.

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dawn on September 14, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    i confess i worship this band i grew up with their music my brother saw their earlier concerts i saw them at knebworth, i have since seen page & plant and doing their individual stuff but live in hope they do something as a band with jason and i get to see them.


  2. My first two gigs. Had a ticket for the first date , so saw all the bands-Fairport Convention kicked off with a good set, then it was into the unknown for me as I did not know Southside Johnny or Commander Cody, but enjoyed them. Even Chas n Dave went down well with the crowd, and Utopia was excellent. As for Led Zeppelin, it was simply one of the best nights of my life.
    Did not have a ticket for the second night-living in Stevenage I simply went down with my mates in the evening and walked through the dismantled fence and ended up very close to the stage, so I just saw Led Zeppelin. Cant say for certain now if the performance was better or worse than the first-after 34 years the mind plays tricks and the two have merged into one memorable experience.


  3. Posted by david henderson on January 22, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I remember going down for the gig with my two brothers and their mate. we piled into the back of my mini van – got there about 2.00 in the morning and slept in the van. shouts of ‘wally’ all over the place. bit of a rush to get a suitable place to view the stage but what a great day. enjoyed all the bands particularly chas and dave and definately utopia. zeppelin were excellent.


  4. Posted by Steve Evans on January 12, 2016 at 12:39 am

    14 of us crammed into a Luton van from South Wales for this concert…………along with Pink Floyd in Earls Court,the greatest concerts I have ever had the privilage to witness.First and last time I had seen the Zep….they were amazing and the crowd was something to behold.


  5. The first and only time I saw the mighty Zeppelin, I attended the first show, which took place on my 19th birthday! Mixed memories of the day, I thought Zep were great, but it took me a while to calm down once they cranked into The Song Remains the Same as I’d spend the previous couple of hours wandering around looking for my mates who I’d got separated from, it was my first big open air gig and being so far from home and a little bit high and disoriented I started to panic, not helped by accidentally bumping into this very handy looking guy who was out of his mind on the drink and threatened to punch my lights out! Anyway, totally by blind luck I ran into the lads again and burst into tears I was the relieved! I was embarrassed later but ah I was young, what can I say. Once I stopped hyperventilating I really enjoyed the gig, I remember the crowd singing You’ll Never Walk Alone before the encore, and then they ended on a devastating Heartbreaker.


    • Posted by vintagerock on July 15, 2020 at 12:07 pm

      Yes Craig I thought Led Zeppelin were awesome at Knebworth and indeed every time I saw them happy days Peter


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