It’s amazing what coincidences this life of ours manages to conjure up for us, I think no matter how broad your musical taste is , we all have a band or solo artist we are most connected to. For me that band was Led Zeppelin, my brother took me to see them at Earls Court when I was just 15 and I saw them again a few years later at Knebworth. For me it was the vastness of everything they did as a band, epic songs, large stadium shows, 3 hour plus sets, exceptional musicians and of course great music, and out of the four it was Jimmy Page for me who stood out, for many years I had a large poster of him in my room sporting a twin neck guitar, embroided jacket and a Marlborough cigarette in his mouth. So it was a coincidence that for several years I lived and worked in the same town as he did, and I guess it was fate that I would get to meet him which I did several times and each occasion was bizarre and wonderful for several reasons.
I first got involved in Windsor Arts Centre as a volunteer helping out on their music events, I then got a job as Bar Manager at the venue and then became Music Programmer and eventually Venue Manager. When I started music programming at the venue before the age of the internet we used to be sent flyers in the post from agents offering a selection of artists who were available on tour, one day one of these came in from a Folk Music agency who offered amongst their roster Roy Harper, I was already a fan of his but at the time he wasn’t doing very much so I was unsure if we would get an audience. That evening I went to my local pub by the River Thames with a friend, we sitting outside on a Summers evening when Jimmy Page walked in brought a drink and sat down on his own, it didn’t seem like anyone recognised him so after a while I picked up the courage to walk over to him and say I was a fan, the first and only time I had ever done anything like this. Whilst we were talking he mentioned that he had been in the studio recording an album with Roy Harper, which was the first of many coincidences. The next day I went into work still buzzing from meeting a hero and called the agency who represented Roy Harper, I quickly worked out that they had no idea he was making an album with Jimmy Page who had told me when the album was due for release, so I asked for a date a few weeks after it was due out and booked him in for a a very small fee. By the time the performance came around the album (Rizla) was number 6 in the charts, we had sold out 2 months prior to the event, the tour to promote the album included dates at Hammersmith Odeon (as it was called then) , Birmingham Odeon, Newcastle City Halls and Windsor Arts Centre. Of course most people knew Jimmy Page lived in Windsor and figured that he would be at the Windsor date, which he wasn’t, he was in Japan at the time, but we still had a further 200 people turn up on the night wanting to get in on the off chance he would show up. The Roy Harper show was amazing and went on for 3 hours and is still to this day one of my highlights.
Move forward a few years and our music programme at Windsor Arts Centre was pretty well established especially our acoustic guitar season and we had a good group of people who attended these events on a regular basis. One of these people was a lovely chap from Reading who was also a big Zeppelin fan, and one night he gave me a rare album as a gift, to say thank you I went through my old box of ticket stubs I had been to and found the Earls Court ticket from 1975 (admission fee was £1.50). Thinking I would take the ticket into work so I could get the customers address and put it in the post, the day I took the ticket in was a Saturday where we had a children’s show taking place, that day was Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, and who should attend with his children but Jimmy Page. Now I always had a golden rule when it came to celebrities attending the venue, at the end of the day he is a parent taking his kids out and as manager it was my job to make sure they had a pleasant time. So the rule was don’t say anything to them unless they speak to you first, as it turns out after the show Jimmy Page came up to me and said “ I know what I was going to ask you” and it was a about children’s dance classes, after a while he said “ I haven’t introduced myself, I am Jimmy Page “ internally I was shaking like a leaf and like an idiot I said “ I am Graham Steel” his reply was “ Yes I see you around Windsor all the time”, at which point I said “ I know this sounds ridiculous but I have a Led Zeppelin ticket in my bag which I am sending to a friend, could you sign it for him” he said “what shall I put” I said “I dunno” and he ended up putting “ To Steve... Rock on... Jimmy Page”. At this point I thought I am not going to post the ticket as I know Steve was a big fan and I wanted to see his face, so I hung on to it. A few days later Steve came in for an event, I gave him the signed ticket and his girlfriend said “Did you know it was Steve’s Birthday today” which of course I didn’t. So to recap I had this Led Zeppelin ticket in a box for thirty years the very day I take it out Jimmy Page comes in the building and the day I pass it over it is my friend’s birthday, life can be very odd and wonderful at times.
As I said at the start there were a number of subsequent meetings with this Rock legend as he would regularly come to the Arts Centre and all of them as strange as the other. On one occasion I had a meeting with a new volunteer who just moved to Windsor and as it turns out was wearing a Led Zeppelin tee shirt , we had a children’s show on at the time and she was telling me her impression of the UK before she moved here and that she imagined and as a Nation we all had tea with the Queen and hung out with Elton John, I said that no way was that the case, five minutes later the children’s show finished and Jimmy Page walked out with his kids and said “Hi Graham” I replied “Hi Jimmy” the look on the volunteers face was priceless. Another time we had a children’s end of term show and Jimmy arrived early and helped me put out the chairs, which in its self was a strange experience. There was also a comedy night with Boothby Graffoe which featured Antonio Forcione on guitar which only had 10 people in the audience which consisted of Jimmy Page and 9 of his mates. We also hosted a Record Fair and there was a rumour going around at the time that Van Morrison once sued a stall holder for selling demo’s of his, on this day Jimmy Page turned up and I was talking to him in the foyer before he went in and over his shoulder I could see stall holders frantically hiding albums under the counter, when he eventually came out of the Fair I asked him what it was like he said it was rubbish as no one had any Led Zeppelin albums!
So to conclude, some people say never meet your heroes as you will always be disappointed, on this occasion I don’t think that has been the case as it has been surreal and life enhancing, I am fully aware of his Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll lifestyle but from my experience Jimmy Page has always come across and being a very nice and friendly person who also happens to be the biggest Led Zeppelin fan you will ever meet. A few years after these stories he moved from Windsor and I now live in another part of Berkshire, so I don’t suppose our paths will cross again, but life is a funny thing so you never really know!