Interview: Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page
The Led Zeppelin founder is one of rock’s guitar greats — but he’s also a serious fan of Victorian art
he summons arrives. I am to make my way to the splendid house in west London where the 19th-century artist Frederic Leighton lived. Jimmy Page will be there.
The Led Zeppelin guitarist had so enjoyed being asked about his fascination for Victorian art and design on a previous encounter that he’d suggested we might meet to discuss the subject further. I assumed that nothing would come of it. Oh ye of little faith! Leighton House, the venue for our meeting, is a red-brick palazzo in Kensington. Built for the immensely wealthy Leighton as a home and studio in the 1860s — he called it a “private palace of art” — it is now a museum.
A stuffed peacock greets visitors in the turquoise-tiled hallway, the avian equivalent of Page in his strutting, preening prime. Through a pair of Doric columns a passage leads to a spectacular gold-domed room with Syrian tiles, an Arabic inscription from the Koran and a Moorish fountain in the centre, inspired by Leighton’s travels in the Near East. “It’s absolutely glorious. Anyone who comes here can’t help being amazed by the whole scale of it, the beauty of it,” marvels Page as we inspect Leighton’s Arab Hall. “We can see his vision: he has been to Turkey, he’s been to Damascus, he has brought back all these tiles.”
In contrast to the sumptuous decor, Page is dressed in black, with long white hair tied in a ponytail. But an aura of exoticism surrounds him too. At 71, he is among the most celebrated of all guitarists, a player who elevated the instrument to intoxicating heights of artistry in the 1970s. Under his leadership, Led Zeppelin became the definitive rock band, a perfect balance of musicianship and decadence. The band’s exploits — immense three-hour stadium concerts, lurid tales of groupies and black magic, Caligulan goings-on aboard private aircraft — have become the stuff of legend, as mythic as the statues of Pan or painted scenes from antiquity in Leighton House.
Page knows the museum well, having lived around the corner since 1972. His interest in 19th-century art goes back even further, to when he was a teenager in Epsom, a market town in Surrey, where he grew up in a solidly middle-class household, the son of a personnel manager.
As we stand in the Arab Hall, the fountain plashing in the background, I produce a photograph of Page with his first electric guitar in 1958. It shows a serious-looking 14-year-old practising in a suburban living room. “That wasn’t my house,” Page says, peering at the photo, “but everyone’s houses looked similar in those days. An electric fire, brass plaques on the wall.” His tone is not nostalgic....MUCH MORE