In 1966, London-based session guitarist Jimmy Page joined the blues-influenced rock band the Yardbirds to replace bassist Paul Samwell-Smith. Page soon switched from bass to lead guitar, creating a dual lead guitar line-up with Jeff Beck. Following Beck’s departure in October 1966, the Yardbirds, tired from constant touring and recording, began to wind down. Page wanted to form a supergroup with him and Beck on guitars, and the Who’s Keith Moon and John Entwistle on drums and bass, respectively. Vocalists Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott were also considered for the project. The group never formed, although Page, Beck, and Moon did record a song together in 1966, “Beck’s Bolero”, in a session that also included bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones.
The band began their first tour of the UK on 4 October 1968, they still were billed as the New Yardbirds, and played their first show as Led Zeppelin at the University of Surrey in Battersea.
NME’s staff spoke to Dreja and Brennan to hear the stories behind the pictures from this period.
Photographer Chris Dreja: “Peter Grant [Led Zeppelin’s manager] had an office on the New King’s Road next to a bike shop, so we decided to do the shoot on bikes. We had new Harley Davidsons brought round for us. Jimmy and I couldn’t ride a bike to save our lives – the only one who could was Keith [Relf]. Peter’s dressed as Father Christmas; that’s so typical of him.” (Photo: ©Chris Dreja/Proud Galleries)
Photographer Michael Brennan: “I’m going to sound like a big-head, but this is a good picture. It’s so indicative of that time. You’d never see an audience – even at a piano recital – that close to the artist. This guy is holding up a bottle of bourbon, and I didn’t see him until I looked back through the negatives. It’s accidental that I caught this moment, but it looks like a film still.” (Photo: ©Michael Brennan/Proud Galleries)
Brennan: “A friend of mine wrote a very favourable piece on Peter Grant, comparing him to the genius of Brian Epstein. Grant was so pleased he invited us to Detroit with the band. All my pictures were taken on that trip. I had so much access it was unbelievable, but they didn’t like us. They had a reputation of disliking journalists and photographers.” (Photo: ©Michael Brennan/Proud Galleries)
Brennan: “This is the stage room in The Starship [which Zeppelin used as their private jet]. The fireplace did work, but I’m very pleased to say I never saw it working while we were in the air. It was the pinnacle of ostentatious, but if it wasn’t for guys like that, guys like me wouldn’t have been in business.” (Photo: ©Michael Brennan/Proud Galleries)
Brennan: “Jimmy used to bite the strings of his guitar a lot. It must have been quite painful! This was a phenomenal show; there was such energy. I can see why someone would want to throw a TV out of the window after a gig like that. I didn’t really take much notice of the stories of trashing hotel rooms, but I can see why they’d need to go potty and release their energy after the show.” (Photo: ©Michael Brennan/Proud Galleries)
Brennan: “I like this picture. It shows the dreariness of some of these stadiums. Everyone talks about the rock and roll lifestyle but that picture is closer to the reality – seedy back rooms and cloakrooms. John’s just killing time, having a cigarette. He was the one I had least contact with; he wasn’t very communicative, but he wasn’t hostile. In fact, I found Jimmy harder to get on with.” (Photo: ©Michael Brennan/Proud Galleries)
Dreja: “Jimmy Page was a quite a ‘case when he and I were in the Yardbirds. If you were sleeping with someone, he’d come in and lift up the covers to see who it was. I saw Led Zeppelin playing Madison Square Gardens [in 1970] and realised how big they’d become, and how quickly. They asked me to do this shoot after that show.” (Photo: ©Chris Dreja/Proud Galleries)
Brennan: “I remember the strength of this performance. It’s only now that I realise the extent of [the band’s] following. After I took these pictures, I sent the negatives to my agent and he put them away; we forgot about them. When I saw Led Zeppelin being presented with a Kennedy Award by Barack Obama in 2012, I remembered these pictures. Now they’re being printed for the first time.” (Photo: ©Michael Brennan/Proud Galleries)