DCSIMG

Interview: Guitarist Jimmy Page

'JIMMY wasn't very happy when you mentioned the Zeppelin reunion," the head honcho of the film company says, staring hard at the journalist who has just finished interviewing Jimmy Page. This is a man not exactly known for his love of self-promotion. "Well, you've got to ask, haven't you?" he shrugs, packing up his tape recorder and his freshly signed Led Zeppelin album.

As is often the case when it comes to rock stars in these situations, the subject of this Spinal Tap-esque mini-drama seems to be utterly oblivious to any heated discussions which are taking place in his name as he sits next door in the "artist's lounge" at Gibson Guitars' Soho HQ. He offers a firm handshake and a warm, engaging smile. He may be coming up to his 66th birthday, with Led Zeppelin now 30 years behind him in the rear view mirror, but Jimmy Page still positively radiates relaxed rock star cool.

He is dressed head to toe in black – boots, jeans, T-shirt and leather jacket – all topped off with a dapper silver silk scarf that perfectly matches his long silvery locks. Whilst age may have left its patina on Page, after a couple of hours in his company, you are left in no doubt that it hasn't dampened his effervescent enthusiasm for music.

He is here to talk about the appropriately titled It Might Get Loud, which is, in essence, a cinematic love letter to the electric guitar. Directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), the film follows three generations of guitar players – Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White – for what Page calls "an abstract, almost metaphysical" investigation into the power of the instrument.

Although the concept of a documentary about guitars may not be everyone's idea of movie heaven, It Might Get Loud is full of subtle humour, surprising personal revelations and fascinating stories about these three enigmatic musicians. The film begins with a priceless clip of The White Stripes' Jack White building a makeshift one-stringed "Diddley bow" guitar on his back porch, using nothing more than some nails, a plank of wood, a Coke bottle and a pick-up. He is wearing a bow-tie and a bowler hat and looks more like a medicine man from a Mark Twain story than a rock star.

"Just as much as I'm talking about my story in the film, Jack is also doing that in this wonderful sort of performance-art kind of way," Page explains with a wry smile. "I'd say it's the story of three quite eccentric people. I think each of us has developed what you would call a musical persona. It's like you've got a character playing that you sort of build up as part of your life, and you're manifesting it through your playing. There's something that has grown along with the grey hairs. I can communicate far better on a guitar than I can through my mouth. Well, I should hope so.

"Jack's not too dissimilar to me, really, it's just that I'm longer in the tooth than he is. I'm not au fait with what's really going on out there, but every now and again, somebody comes to my attention and I think – My goodness. That's it! Jack's got that thing. You can see Jack maturing with every project. He's like a chess player who's thinking three moves ahead with his projects and how he's going to show himself at that point in time. You know that if you check out what Jack's doing, you can guarantee it's gonna be really good. That core thing that makes it all tick… he's got it. He's really on it and he knows where he's going.

"I knew he'd worked as an upholsterer, but then when we were making the film, I found out that he made the upholstery for his own studio. Good for him. He's a wonderful person."

At one point after he shows us the school music room in Dublin where U2 first rehearsed, back in his studio a slightly bashful looking Edge comes clean and demonstrates just how simple his playing is when the wall of sound effects is taken away. The most surprising moment of It Might Get Loud comes when Page – undoubtedly the enigmatic star of the show – starts playing what can only be described as air guitar as he dances around his music room listening to Rumble, his favourite Link Wray single.

"Yeah, I know, that is a bit odd," he chuckles. "I wouldn't normally play bloody air guitar, and I certainly try never to do it in front of a camera, but when I heard Rumble, it's just got that thing about it. I learned from playing records, and I could tell the ones which were really honest from the ones which were manufactured. You start to read it and understand it and you take these things on board when you're young and they stay with you. You relate back to records.

"It's still just like that for me. That song is just so atmospheric, you can cut it with a knife. I remember when I first heard it in 1958, and when I hear that record now, I'm still a young kid listening to it. It's like I'm 15-years-old.

"If I ever really felt depressed, I would just start putting on all my old records that I played as a kid, because the whole thing that really lifted me then still lifted me during those other times. It was good medicine for me, and it still does that for me when I put something on. Isn't it wonderful that we've got all that good medicine? I think it's got to be all part of our DNA, this mass communication through music. That's what it is. It's got to be, hasn't it? Music is the one thing that has been consistently there for me. It hasn't let me down."

Led Zeppelin were the most influential and iconic group to emerge since the Beatles. John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page left behind an utterly timeless body of work and laid down the blueprint for every guitar band that followed in their wake.

Looking back, Page is understandably proud of the influence Led Zeppelin had on the rock world, though he still simply sees himself as a link in a musical chain that never ends: "Oh, I'm now fully aware of the mark Led Zeppelin made on the musical landscape. My awareness was re-heightened when we were remastering the material to do that CD box set in 1990.

"When you hear it all, song after song, you realise what a textbook it is for musicians who are coming along, and that's so great. The whole thing is about passing it on, because that's how it was done for me when I was learning from all those old blues and rockabilly records. It's all part of how this cultural phenomenon keeps moving on. I think everyone carries the flame on."

In this increasingly disposable cultural climate, does he still believe in the power of rock and roll? "Do I still believe in the power of rock and roll?" Jimmy Page splutters, looking almost insulted that I needed to ask. "Oh yeah… Absolutely. I spent all my time listening to these records and trying to learn them, and I think it was almost like this force came out and grabbed me and I just got pulled right into it. Playing the guitar was obviously what I was meant to do in life.

"You never stop learning. I've never been involved in a project yet where I haven't learned a lot from it, one way or the other. You're learning as you're going along, second by second. I feel blessed that I can always come up with something new on the guitar, and as long as that is always with me, I can keep moving and I'm OK. I've got some plans, things that I want to make materialise, and this is the year to do it. There's masses more music to make, and that's exactly what I intend to be doing." v

It Might Get Loud, selected release from Tuesday, Picturehouse, Aberdeen; Cameo, Edinburgh; Dundee Contemporary Arts; Glasgow Film Theatre www.sonyclassics.com/itmightgetloud

&#149 This article first appeared in Scotland on Sunday on 3 January, 2010

 
 
 

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