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An Interview with Dave Pegg : his memories of Knebworth '79

by Ian Burgess, 10 June 2009

The links between Fairport Convention and Led Zeppelin have their roots in the pre-Zeppelin days in the Birmingham area bands, then progressed to the Los Angeles Troubadour, include Sandy Denny's guest appearance on their fourth album, and the live Poll Winners concert, before the Knebworth shows in 1979.

For anyone who knows nothing about Fairport, they formed in London 1967 and split up in 1979. They held an annual re-union concert every August, and in 1985 became a working band again, still touring and recording, and hosting their festival each August.

Thirty years on from the Knebworth, Fairport's Dave Pegg, has some fond memories of the first weekend of August 1979, and Led Zeppelin in general. When I spoke to him in May 2009 I really only had to ask one question, after which he committed all his memories to my recorder. My question: How did you get on the bill?

Dave: "We were friends with Zeppelin, mainly Robert and John. I'm from Birmingham, and played in a band, The Way Of Life, with John Bonham for a bit, and was almost in a band with Robert called Band of Joy, we rehearsed but I never did any gigs with them.

They invited us to play on 4th August 1979, which was the day that we were having our farewell concert at Cropredy. We had decided that we were going our separate ways, so we were delighted to be invited by Zeppelin to play at Knebworth. It was quite difficult to organise because we had to play our own festival in the evening, although it wasn't actually a festival at the time, just a farewell concert at Peewit farm. Rumour had it that we were whisked between the two venues by helicopter, though it was actually a rusty van, slowly fighting through the crowds around the Knebworth site.

I can't remember if we played a gig the night before, but we certainly went down near to Knebworth and stayed in a hotel. We had the breakfast spot at the first of the two shows, and carefully planned our set, which was to be a one hour set, and worked it out to play all of the up tempo numbers and as much of a rock set as we could muster. At the time the band was myself with Dave Swarbrick, Bruce Rowland and Simon Nicol, we worked out the set with all the up tempo dance tunes and so on because we didn’t know what kind of reaction we’d get obviously. When we got to Knebworth we looked out at the audience, which was about 100,000m people I think, a lot of them had face paint on, and stuff like that and were obviously big Zeppelin fans. Don't get me wrong, Zeppelin were one of our favourite bands, but you looked at the audience and thought, we're gonna die a death here, looking at it. I know we'd taken various substances which in the case of some of the guys in the band speeded up their metabolisms, and somewhat, so the tempos for our one hour set were kind of very much exaggerated. We were going down incredibly well, and we looked at the set list, we'd only done about forty five minutes and were at the bottom of it, we thought what are we going to do, then the DJ came up to us and said it's great they want more, you've got to play another twenty minutes so we rapidly went into some kind of frantic dance tunes. It was a really good do, and people still talk about it. I meet many people who were there. Of course ironically we couldn't see Led Zeppelin's set, having to get to our own gig, and didn't bump into any of the chaps either, obviously they wouldn't have been there that early.

We played at Cropredy that evening, which was ostensibly our last appearance ever - but we had a gig in Belgium the next day. As we got on the ferry the next day, tired after the two in a day, and emotional after the farewell at Cropredy, I remember seeing Nigel and Tony, the brothers who did our PA, pulling up on the dock as we sailed, having missed the ferry. We got to Ostend, and went to the hotel. Having seen the guys miss the ferry we thought that they would be over on the next one, a few hours later. However at sound check there was no sign of them, it was heading toward six o'clock, and the show started at eight, or something. We had no equipment, nothing at all. So we got the promoter to start a search for some equipment. It was relatively easy to find a bass guitar and amp, and a drum kit, but it was very difficult to find an electric violin at that time on a Sunday night in Ostend. Eventually our stuff turned up, we managed a quick sound check, and got through the gig. It was quite a weekend for us.

It was great weekend for us, and we were one of the few bands that got paid, there was some problem later in the day I'm told, but were in, on, paid and out before it all happened.

That was supposed to be the end of Fairport, but the farewell led to the re-union festivals, which we did until 1985 when Ric Sanders and Martin Allcock joined the group and we became a working band again, which we still are today."

Ian: There was also a night at the LA Troubadour in 1970 where the two bands came together.

Dave: "Yes, the LA Troubadour was a very interesting evening because they were playing at the Forum, and we were doing a week at the Troubadour. They all came down one night after their gig, and there was a big jam session. We were recording what became the "Live at the Troubadour" album at the time, and the tapes rolled throughout the jam. Those tapes do exist; I'd love to find out where they are. I wasn't actually on the stage, I was the drinks monitor. Jimmy Page borrowed Simon's Gibson L5 acoustic, which had a wound third string, which isn't conducive to playing guitar in the style that Jimmy does. Richard (Thompson) and DM (Dave Mattacks) were up there, then Bonzo got on DM's drum kit and John-Paul Jones played bass, it was a really good night, I know that DM was great John Bonham fan, as any drummer will tell you he is, but his kit the next day was in bits all the heads had to be replaced. Definitely an unexpected time for our fans that were there that evening.

Since 1986 Robert Plant has guested at Fairport's festival on a number of occasions, including 2008 where, backed by Fairport he dueted with Kristina Donahue on "Battle of Evermore" in a tribute to Sandy Denny who sang on the original. That performance is available on Fairport's highlights of the festival CD."

Thanks to Dave for his time, and his memories. If you want to find out more about Fairport visit their website for details of tours, recordings and of course their annual festival.

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