Here’s the full story behind the footage of Led Zeppelin at Bath Festival 1970

Led Zeppelin Bath Festival 1970

May 27, 2017 was a warm day in London and LedZepNews headed to the Royal Albert Hall in West London for an event held in a side room about the films of Peter Whitehead.

Whitehead was a pioneering British film director who had shot The Rolling Stones, Julie Felix and Led Zeppelin. His footage of Led Zeppelin’s January 9, 1970 Royal Albert Hall show is well-known to fans following its release on the band’s DVD, and LedZepNews was keen to see that footage screened inside the building it was shot in.

But the panel following the screening of footage presented an unexpected surprise. Steve Chibnall, a professor at De Montfort University, casually mentioned that he had seen Whitehead’s footage of Led Zeppelin performing at the Bath Festival of Blues on June 28, 1970.

“The Bath footage does exist. I’ve seen it,” he said, a comment that thrilled LedZepNews and also Tight But Loose editor Dave Lewis who was also in the audience.

Chibnall runs the university’s Cinema and Television History Centre which Whitehead donated his archive of film, diaries, journals and cuttings to in 2016. It was in this archive that the cans of film of Led Zeppelin at Bath in 1970 were found.

The fact that Whitehead had filmed the 1970 festival for a possible documentary film on Led Zeppelin was well-known, but it had been thought for years that the footage was unusable.

Here’s an extract from Lewis and Simon Pallett’s 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 [Led] Zeppelin set for Grant but the film had incorrect exposure and was unusable. No footage from this is believed to have survived.”

“British Lion Films were in charge of the Eidophor TV projector screen at the festival and also recorded some acts on two inch tape. They were refused permission to shoot [Led] Zeppelin. Another team Paradise/TVX recorded in black and white on one inch video tape. Again they did not shoot [Led] Zeppelin. Finally Gentle Giant Films recorded on colour 16mm [film]. It is believed this source produced the sole footage of [Led] Zeppelin and still exists though as yet it has not surfaced.”

And according to Jimmy Page in a comment published on Led Zeppelin’s official website, “there was an attempt to film this, but, as we preferred to play at dusk, the filming was unsuccessful as the film crew had brought daylight film – as opposed to the high speed film needed to capture night filming.”

Evidence of the surviving film was found in a display cabinet that had been set up in the room for the panel: A circular label from Whitehead’s archive clearly read “B/W rushes Led Zeppelin at Bath”.

Was it possible that close-up, colour, pro-shot footage of Led Zeppelin had miraculously survived inside Whitehead’s archive for decades and only a handful of people had seen it?

When it came to the question and answer portion of the panel, Lewis was understandably keen to hear more.

“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,” Chibnall told Lewis. “The problem, according to Peter Whitehead, was that 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 live footage was not usable. It is usable because it can be restored now. So you can raise those lighting levels, you can see more digitally.”

Chibnall mentioned that he hoped a deal could be struck between Whitehead and Led Zeppelin that would see the footage released in 2020 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the performance.

Months later, Chibnall spoke about the footage again, this time to Classic Rock Magazine. “The Bath Festival footage was a pleasant surprise,” he said. “Peter [Whitehead] was obviously trusted by the band and Peter Grant and he managed to secure tremendous access — he’s on stage, backstage, interviewing the band, the other acts, the crowd.”

“I know he was unhappy with the footage, that he thought it was too dark, but, let me tell you, I’ve seen it. Some of it is too dark, yes, but I think we can rescue that. There’s a limit to what we can do, obviously, but we have the technology to make it lighter, better, clearer. And a lot of it, before the sun sets, is perfectly fine.”

“I’ve seen parts of the film with Jimmy Page and his bow, and I suspect at some point they’re playing ‘Moby Dick,’ with the drum solo, which [John] Bonham plays with his hands.”

And then, for more than five years, all discussion of the footage stopped. Whitehead died in 2019, briefly giving rise to the possibility that any sale of his estate could see a deal struck with Led Zeppelin, but 2020 came and went without the footage emerging.

The footage quietly emerged on YouTube

And then, without fanfare on the evening of September 29, British film archive business Kinolibrary uploaded footage of Led Zeppelin at Bath Festival in 1970 to YouTube.

For fans who had spent decades believing the footage was unusable, being able to see Led Zeppelin performing in 1970 in close-up was revelatory. “This footage is mind blowing! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m speechless,” wrote one user on Led Zeppelin’s official forum. “Holy fucking fuck,” wrote another person on the Royal Orleans forum.

Kinolibrary, perhaps unaware of the significance of the footage it had come into possession of, quietly uploaded the films to its YouTube channel without making any announcement on social media or its website.

Was this the legendary “lost” Whitehead footage, bright and easy to watch and available for free on YouTube? LedZepNews spoke to Chibnall via email hours after the YouTube videos appeared.

“Yes, this is most of the Peter Whitehead footage, although missing the rushes shot after sunset (perhaps 5 minutes), and I believe there were some shots of Page using a bow on his guitar strings,” he said.

“I had not seen the footage that Kino calls ‘Hippies at the Bath Blues Festival 1970’. That must be recently discovered. I presume that Whitehead filmed it because it is in his style and the same clapper-board is used,” Chibnall added.

The YouTube footage is silent not because of any fear of copyright breaches but for the simple reason that the footage in Whitehead’s archive did not include any audio, LedZepNews understands.

‘There is likely to be more footage from Bath’

A Kinolibrary spokesperson confirmed to LedZepNews that the footage is Whitehead’s and that the company represents his archive. “We’ve had a really great response to it and we’re very honoured to have it as part of our archive,” they said. They declined to provide further information about the footage or whether other videos of the band at the festival exist.

LedZepNews also spoke via email to Eric Liknaitzky, the owner of Contemporary Films, another film archive business which owns the rights to Whitehead’s footage and allowed Kinolibrary to advertise and publish it online.

According to Liknaitzky, there is likely to be more footage shot by Whitehead of the 1970 Bath festival. “Kinolibrary, who represent our collection, asked if they could put it up on YouTube and I agreed,” Liknaitzky said.

“The Whitehead archive is being digitised slowly and there remain many tins that have yet to be examined. There is likely to be more footage from Bath,” he added.

LedZepNews asked whether the evening footage Chibnall referred to exists and may be published alongside the other videos. “I’m not sure if Kinolibrary posted all the Led Zeppelin footage so the evening bits may have been excluded,” he replied.

What’s next for the footage?

So what’s next for this footage? It’s available for licensing to use in commercial projects, raising the possibility it will be used in the upcoming feature-length documentary “Becoming Led Zeppelin”. However, that film is believed to conclude its narrative with the Royal Albert Hall concert in January 1970.

Could more footage of Led Zeppelin from Whitehead’s archive emerge? Chibnall recalls darker footage as well as potential on-stage shots of the band that have not been posted on YouTube. He also had not seen some of Whitehead’s footage of the audience at the festival, meaning Whitehead’s archive could still have some hidden gems. That seems to be likely, based on Liknaitzky’s response.

LedZepNews understands that Chibnall plans to publish videos of Whitehead discussing his filming of Led Zeppelin in the coming weeks, something that may help to illuminate why the footage was presumed lost for decades.

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8 Comments on "Here’s the full story behind the footage of Led Zeppelin at Bath Festival 1970"

  1. There’s no sound on the videos. What’s the point in watching rock videos with no sound? Useless

  2. Wtf…no sound?

  3. Roy+JOHN+Watson | 1st October 2022 at 4:14 pm | Reply

    no sound makes it less interesting

  4. I saw led zeppelin plus many other groups some where in Somerset 1968, the date is correct because the following year 1969 was the Isle of Wight festival – – – I was there ☮️☯️🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

  5. Fair weather fans bitching cause it doesn’t have sound?! Who gives a fuck. This footage is historic….with or without sound. It’s visually mind blowing. Someone has already synced it,so relax. Thanks!

  6. Robert G. Knight | 2nd October 2022 at 6:58 pm | Reply

    Page is wearing a hat and its Movember for plant, priceless.

  7. Amazing clarity goes without saying…
    Wonder how tough this one will be to synch some bootleg audio up to it… You guys who do that synching stuff are absolutely amazing artists in your own right.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Now when will we get a video performance of them doing “As long as I have you”? Ha!

  8. I was there on stage with The Flock who proceeded LZep. The day was running late previous days rain etc Flock was asked to not do Encore so there wound be sone light for L.Zep filming

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