Trampled Under Foot: The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin by Barney Hoskyns

I’m sure most readers are familiar with the great Led Zeppelin, although you may not be aware that both the vocal and percussive powerhouses of the band (Robert Plant and John Bonham) were West Midlands boys, and cut their teeth on the vibrant music scene of the region in the 1960s.  Barney Hoskyns’ new oral history of the biggest band of the seventies provides us with a fascinating insight into those days, where bands would traipse from venue to venue performing multiple gigs a night.  The region is more than just a jumping off point for Plant and Bonham, with the industrial heritage of the area being cited (not for the first time) as a driving force behind the “heaviness” of the music, competing to be heard with the roar of the factories.  Lest we forget, it is perhaps no coincidence that Birmingham and the West Midlands are widely regarded as the birthplace of heavy metal, with Led Zeppelin (arguably) the first metal band.

Barney Hoskyns’ book is based on exhaustive interviews with a wide range of people who “were there” as Zeppelin conquered the world. As well as the band there is testimony from roadies, friends, musicians, management, and many others.  The result is a book that leads the reader into feeling like an insider, from the first gigs as the band rose from the ashes of the Yardbirds, through to the death of John Bonham, the end of the band and their endeavours since.

Zeppelin were renowned for their excess (as the title suggests), and this is presented unflinchingly, painting a rather tragic image of how this side of success ate away at the band.  However, there is also plenty of time devoted to how powerful the band could be (especially live) and how much joy they gave in their huge performances.

The book is divided into four sections which broadly cover the origins, formation and rise of the band, then covering their demise and the subsequent work of the surviving members. Each section is prefaced with a short description of the bare bones of what happened in the period but most of the text is made up of word of mouth descriptions of the action, which leads to a patchwork view of the events in question and a real sense of immediacy.

At 552 pages, the book is heavy in more than once sense, but well worth the effort of picking up.

Blake can be contacted on Twitter  @brum_enthusiast or take a look at his blog.