Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Chris Blackwell interview, Part 3: Fate of Nations (1991-1993) to present

This three-part interview of Chris Blackwell originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History." Part one can be found here, and part two can be found here.

For Robert Plant's fourth and fifth solo albums, he used one studio band. The same band joined him on the road for two large-scale tours to support those albums. Guitarist Doug Boyle and drummer Chris Blackwell were ready to get down to business for their third studio album with Plant, but they were about to get a wake-up call. The story unfolds here in the third part of my interview with Chris Blackwell.

SS: Your band was on the road all over Europe, the United Kingdom and North America between May 1990 and January 1991.

CB: The 1990 tour was great fun, better than 1988 because it was more extreme! We were all battle hardened by then too and could take the piss out of each other. Knebworth [in June 1990] was the pinnacle, though!

SS: Did you finally get some time off after the tour?

CB: We all had about two months off.

SS: It's said that in January 1991, Robert Plant actually agreed to a full-scale Led Zeppelin reunion tour, about which he then changed his mind after 45 minutes or so. Do you remember this as true?

CB: I have no idea. He kept that side of things very quiet from us for obvious reasons.

SS: I noticed that you co-wrote five songs on Plant's next album, which turned out to be Fate of Nations.

CB: 'Calling to You' and 'Network News' were written in my studio and presented to Robert complete for him to write the melody and lyrics. The others were written by all of us, mostly in Cornwall, Wales, I seem to recall.

'29 Palms' was written in Boulder, Colorado, on the stage at the University [of Colorado]. Phil started playing the opening guitar riff, Doug joined in, and then we all sort of took it from there really! It was very hot outside that day . . . I liked Boulder! We stayed at the Boulderado Hotel (great name!).

All the tracks were written specifically for Fate of Nations. I found that my input as a writer was greater than as a player by that stage because of all the weird vibes that were going down. I played on only one track on the album, and even that was taken from a demo we'd done in Wales!

SS: Did you think the album was going to have Plant's same backing band -- Doug Boyle on guitar, Phil Johnstone on keyboards, Charlie Jones on bass and you on drums?

CB: Initially yes - there was no reason not to. But then I kept bumping into different guitarists and drummers at the studio and thought that perhaps there was something going on that I didn't know about!

SS: At those sessions, I count seven guitarists, two keyboardists, one bassist, and four drummers. Where did all those musicians come from?

CB: I really have no idea!

SS: After two albums and huge tours, was the core lineup finally over in your mind?

CB: I think we knew that it was [over] anyway by this time.

SS: When did you realize that?

CB: When we started recording at RAK studios for Fate of Nations and found various other musicians milling about - bit of a give away really!

SS: Do you remember the last straw before you were through?

CB: I would probably say the last straw was in Cornwall, where we stayed at a studio called Sawmills, writing and recording for a couple of weeks. There was a really strange atmosphere in the place (and I don't mean Doug's socks!). Robert kept coming out with these really obscure references for song ideas, and I couldn't get a handle on where he was coming from at all. Personally I wanted him to go the whole hog and do what he did eventually with Jimmy anyway, but at the time I think he was still fighting the idea. Fate of Nations turned out good though!

SS: Do you still see Plant these days?

CB: I normally pop along to the gigs when he plays in London.

SS: Did you see Plant and the Strange Sensation in London this year?

CB: I didn't see them, but good luck to him!

SS: It's been announced that Porl Thompson, ex-guitarist for The Cure, will not be on tour with the group this year. [At the time of the interview, his replacement had not yet been announced.] Might you recommend any guitarist to take his place?

CB: Doug Boyle?

SS: You play guitar. Would you be up for the gig?

CB: No! Quite happy doing what I do these days!

SS: What you do these days -- which is what is all about -- is music for television and film. In February, some of your music was recorded with a complete orchestra at Abbey Road Studios. Here's a quote from your Web site:
"Orchestral sessions are very different to Rock and Roll sessions. For a start they all turn up on time, secondly they read the stuff and play it like they've known it all their lives, and thirdly it all has to be done in an allotted time."
It sounds like a whole different world, right, Chris?

CB: It is the same but different! There are many facets to music, but it all boils down to that same emotional response thing - the power of an orchestra in full flight playing my stuff gives me the same feeling as playing Madison Square Garden with Planty! I love the different avenues I am exploring, and every day brings a new challenge and keeps me on my toes! Doing session work on the kit again too now from time to time - better than going to the gym!

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