Sunday 19 November 2017

Plant's songs never remain the same

With his new album 'Carry Fire', the return of the Wolverhampton Wanderer Robert Plant is to be welcomed

Robert Plant performs at Glastonbury Festival
Robert Plant performs at Glastonbury Festival
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Even allowing for hyperbole, very few male artists have a singing voice quite like life-long Wolverhampton Wanderers fan, mop-haired mystic, all-round-good-guy and living legend of some note, Robert Plant.

A quick listen to Kashmir, Whole Lotta Love, Misty Morning Hop, In My Time of Dying, Black Dog (named, allegedly, for a black Labrador retriever that was found hanging around Headley Grange in 1975). . . and that song about a bustle in your hedgerow and a spring clean for the May queen should prove this to you.

Plant once attributed his desire to sing with typical poetic verve thus: "When I saw Sleepy John Estes and heard that voice - part pain, part otherworldly - I went, 'I want that voice'."

And what a voice, sounding on occasion like a sweet Viking marauder with feminist leanings; or as Rolling Stone magazine put it, "singing like a girl never seemed so masculine". In July 1968 when the Yardbirds split up, guitarist Jimmy Page proclaimed that he wanted to form a band with the best singer he could possibly find. (No prizes for guessing the name of the band that Page and Plant formed that year.) "It's a weird way he sings," Flaming Lips's frontman Wayne Coyne said in an interview in 2011, "People have accepted it now, but it's a weird screech. So high, with so much velocity, he's really singing at the peak of his energy.

"That is driving the music. You can't take Robert Plant's screeching out of that and get the same effect. It's just what the song is. That song Rock And Roll [sings] 'been a long time since I rock and rolled'. . . if you don't sing it like that, it doesn't have the same effect. He screams that shit with that freaky echo on his voice, it's like some truth from beyond."

You get the same sense of some kind of truth from beyond on Plant's new single, The May Queen. He has said that the title of the song referencing the lyric from Led Zeppelin's 1971's eight-minute piece de resistance Stairway To Heaven - "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow/ Don't be alarmed now/ It's just a spring clean for the May queen" - is just a happy coincidence. Just as happily, The May Queen is taken from Plant's imminent new album, Carry Fire, with his band, The Sensational Space Shifters, and is his first release since 2014's Lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar.

Discussing Somebody There from the 2014 album upon its release, Plant said, intriguingly: "It's about removing that tough exterior we all developed when we got into the game. As adults we have to put our shoulders back, but when I was a kid I saw everything as being absolutely beautiful - there was nothing but wonderment. In the early part of my time in Zeppelin I wrote naively, but I loved all that mystery of the dark past and the Queen of Light. Unfortunately, I had it taken away from me bit by bit."

Whatever you think about Robert Plant, there has to be a part of you that admires the way he has steadfastly refused to rest on his laurels - or even his hedgerow - since Led Zeppelin, one of the biggest bands the world has ever seen, dissolved in December 4, 1980, two months after the tragic death of their drummer John Bonham.

The song never remains the same with Plant, as he has drawn inspiration from the roots music of Mississippi, Appalachia, Gambia, Bristol and the foothills of Wolverhampton and beyond along the way - even turning up on Primal Scream's 2013 album More Light to add a splash of sonic colour with Bobby Gillespie to Elimination Blues.

"Long black hair eyes of brown /My baby's gone/She's leavin' town."

Robert's back in town to play the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin on December 3 (he plays the Ulster Hall in Belfast the previous night).

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