In an excerpt from his book Not Dead Yet, Phil Collins reveals what it was like being the spare wheel as Led Zeppelin ‘s Live Aid set failed.
I know the wheels are falling off from early on in the set. I can’t hear Robert clearly from where I’m sat, but I can hear enough to know that he’s not on top of his game.
I do remember an awful lot of time where I can hear what Robert decries as ‘knitting’: fancy drumming. And if you can find the footage, you can see me miming, playing the air, getting out of the way lest there be a trainwreck.
If I’d known it was to be a two-drummer band, I would have removed myself from proceedings long before I got anywhere near Philadelphia.
Onstage I don’t take my eyes off Tony Thompson. I’m glued to him. I’m having to follow – he’s taking the heavy-handed lead and has opted to ignore all my advice.
Putting myself in his shoes, he’s probably thinking, “This is the beginning of a new career. John Bonham isn’t around any more. They’re gonna want someone. This could be the start of a Led Zeppelin reunion. And I don’t need this English fuck in my way.”
Collins added “So I didn’t rehearse when I got there, but I listened to ‘Stairway to Heaven’…I arrived and went to the caravans, and Robert said: ‘Jimmy Page is belligerent.’ Page says: ‘We’ve been rehearsing!’ And I said: ‘I saw your first gig in London, I know the stuff!’ He says: ‘Alright, how does it go, then?’
Next, Collins played the drum fills from “Stairway to Heaven.” Collins recalls Page saying “‘No, it doesn’t! It doesn’t go like that!’ So I had a word with [drummer]Tony Thompson – ’cause I’ve played as two drummers a lot and it can be a train wreck – and I say: ‘Let’s stay out of each other’s way and play simple.’”
I’m not judging him, god rest his soul. Thompson was a fantastic drummer. but it was very uncomfortable, and if I could have left that stage, I would have left, halfway through Stairway... if not earlier. But imagine the coverage of that? Walking off during The Second Coming? Who the fuck does Collins think he is? Geldof really would have had something to swear about.
After what seems like an eternity, we finish. I’m thinking, ‘My god, that was awful. The sooner this is over, the better.”
There’s one more moment of horror. backstage, MTV VJ Alan Hunter is waiting to interview Led Zeppelin. Back in the studio, he’s teed up the interview with the words: “On a day for reunions, probably the most anticipated is the Led Zeppelin reunion. Now right here, an interview with the reunited members…”
Robert and Jimmy are being difficult, giving vague, cocky answers to straight questions; live on air, a worldwide audience is waiting with bated breath, and these guys are making him look like an idiot.
Led Zeppelin won’t let the performance be included on the official Live Aid DVD. Because, of course, they were ashamed of it. And I find that I am usually the one blamed for it.