Between 20 and 30 minutes of official colour footage of Led Zeppelin performing at Bath Festival on June 28, 1970 exists, according to Professor Steve Chibnall from De Montfort University.
Professor Chibnall spoke at an event at the Royal Albert Hall in London on May 27 which covered the films of director Peter Whitehead. Professor Chibnall has access to Whitehead’s archive, and spoke about its contents.
After a screening of Led Zeppelin performing at the Royal Albert Hall on January 9, 1970, Professor Chibnall mentioned that footage of the band performing at Bath Festival exists. “The Bath footage does exist. I’ve seen it,” he said.
During a panel discussion with Julie Felix and the Royal Albert Hall’s Richard Dacre, Tight But Loose editor Dave Lewis asked Professor Chibnall about the Bath Festival footage. You can read a full transcript of the relevant sections of the panel discussion below, and you can watch a video of the panel here.
Professor Chibnall explained that Whitehead originally planned to combine his footage of Led Zeppelin performing at the Royal Albert Hall with footage from Bath Festival and interviews to form a documentary on the band.
“There’s 20 to 30 minutes and a lot of it is backstage. I’ve only seen the footage, I haven’t seen it with sound,” Professor Chibnall said of the Bath Festival footage. Whitehead originally planned to film the band arriving by helicopter, but he got there too late to capture that on film. The professor also said that he thinks it’s unlikely that Whitehead ever filmed interviews with the band.
Professor Chibnall said that Whitehead thought the footage was unusable due to insufficient lighting, but “it is usable because, I mean, it can be, it can be restored now. So you can raise those lighting levels, you can see more digitally,” the professor said.
A display case at the event included a label from Whitehead’s archive which referenced black and white footage of the event. But Professor Chibnall confirmed that the footage he has seen is in colour.
Here’s LedZepNews’ full photo of the label:
Lewis asked who owns the footage, and Professor Chibnall said it’s owned by Whitehead.
The existence of usable footage of Led Zeppelin performing at Bath Festival has been a much-debated topic for years. Here’s an extract from the 1997 book “Led Zeppelin: The Concert File” on the rumoured footage:
The performance was filmed on instruction from Peter Grant for potential future use, with no less than four different film crews in attendance. Peter Whitehead, who worked with them at Albert Hall, filmed the entire Zeppelin set for Grant but the film had incorrect exposure and was unusable. No Footage from this is believed to have survived
British Lions films were in charge of the Eidaphor TV projector screen at the festival and also recorded some acts on two inch tape. They were refused permission to shoot Zeppelin. Another team Paradise/TVX recored in black and white on one inch video tape. Again they did not shoot Zeppelin. Finally Gentle Giant Films recorded on colour 16 mm. It is believed this source produced the sole footage of Zeppelin and still exists though as yet it has not surfaced.
Here’s the full transcript of the relevant sections of the panel discussion:
Dr Alissa Clarke: Talking about going out of control, you started to hint towards in your introduction to Led Zeppelin some of the interesting backstory behind the concert footage. Maybe you could talk us a little bit through some of the hidden stages and paperwork behind that film.
Professor Steve Chibnall: OK, I’ve got my notes for this because I want to get it right in case anybody decides to sue me. So, in the concert Led Zeppelin supplied a pulse feed off their mixing desk for the editing purposes but were not sufficiently happy with their performance to release the full soundtrack for use in the film. They did later, but not at the time. Instead, it was agreed with Stanley Dorfman that the concert would form part of a larger documentary project including the band’s performance at the Bath Festival in June and interviews with the band members, rather like Peter suggested that yours should be made into a larger documentary project and which I’m sure he probably had thoughts of selling to the television.
But there were technical problems at Bath, there were all kinds of problems with Bath and the project was shelved. Although there is, the Bath footage does exist. I’ve seen it. So the project was shelved. Led Zeppelin, instead, made ‘The Song Remains The Same,’ their own documentary and Whitehead loaned his footage to director Peter Clifton and somehow, I’m not saying how, it ended up as a bootleg video in Japan in the 1980s.
Then around 1995, Peter struck up a partnership with Martin Baker of a company called The Cultural Fantasists, to get the film released. When Martin apparently showed the footage to Jimmy Page, it reputedly brought tears to guitarist’s eyes because he’d just broken up with that French model that I mentioned earlier, he first met on that night at the Royal Albert Hall.
Whitehead bumped into Page in a pub in Dean Street, as you do, and he expressed enthusiasm for the film’s release which also got the backing of Bill Curbishley, Led Zeppelin’s manager.
But the project kept getting postponed again and Whitehead, believing at that time that he had not got long to live, he’d just had a quadruple heart bypass operation, eventually decided to sell the film to Mark Hayward of UFO Films who entered into negotiations with Led Zeppelin. However, Stanley Dorfman, let’s go back to him, he’s the ‘Top Of The Pops’ producer, filed a lawsuit claiming that the film was made for him and that he owned it. So that held up matters yet again.
Eventually, eventually it was released by Led Zeppelin on their ‘DVD’ retrospective in 2003.
Tight But Loose editor Dave Lewis: Yeah, hi there, my name’s Dave Lewis, I’m from the Led Zeppelin magazine, so all this has been fascinating. I’m very intrigued to hear you tell me that the Bath Festival was filmed and so you’re saying that the Led Zeppelin show was filmed, yeah?
SC: Indeed, yes.
DL: Can you tell me how much of that was filmed and still remains?
SC: There’s 20 to 30 minutes and a lot of it is backstage. I’ve only seen the footage, I haven’t seen it with sound. The problem, according to Peter Whitehead, was that A. He was stuck in traffic and had trouble getting to Bath so he arrived late. He was supposed to film the band arriving by helicopter and he missed that.
And then when Led Zeppelin played, they played in the dark and there was insufficient stage lighting for his cameras. So he reckoned that the footage, the live footage, was not usable. It is usable because, I mean, it can be, it can be restored now. So you can raise those lighting levels, you can see more digitally.
It looks beautiful to me and I think it was recorded, the band probably have a recording of it, I would think. So there is a possibility. He was supposed to do interviews with the band members as well, which I don’t think that ever happened. But certainly there is 20 or 30 minutes of footage from Bath. And if you look in the display case there you can see what was once a label attached to a can of film which says precisely that.
DL: That immediately made me think ‘wow.’ So, is it colour film?
DL: And who actually owns it?
SC: Peter Whitehead owns the film but Led Zeppelin, no doubt, will own the music.
DL: So could you see that coming out at some point?
SC: I’d love to see it come out, I think it would be a really good project for 2020, don’t you? The fiftieth anniversary of the Bath Festival.
SC: No, it was 1970.
DL: Oh, sorry, it would be, yeah. It would probably take that long to work it out.
SC: It would, but it would be lovely to have that, wouldn’t it?
DL: Superb, thank you very much.