"I was sitting way back, in the cheap seats, and I must tell you that I was weeping": why watching Jimmy Page play with The Firm made his former Led Zeppelin bandmate Robert Plant cry

The Firm, 1986
(Image credit: Robert Knight Archive/Redferns)

On May 18, 1985, English hard rock supergroup The Firm - featuring former Free/Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers, ex-Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist Tony Franklin (ex-Roy Harper) and ex-Uriah Heep drummer Chris Slade, played the first of only three UK shows on their docket for the year, at the 15,000+ capacity NEC Arena in Birmingham. 

In the audience that evening was local teenager Carmen Plant, and her father Robert, who had shared a stage or three worldwide with The Firm's guitarist in the past. As he would later explain in an interview with International Musician & Recording World, watching Jimmy Page play without him would prove to be an emotional experience for Led Zeppelin's former frontman, but not, perhaps, for the reasons one might imagine. 

"I was sitting way back, in the cheap seats, and I must tell you that I was weeping, because I saw Jimmy stretching himself as a guitarist; playing all these strange scales and phrases, but in the context of a conventional rock group," Plant told writer Philip Bashe. "Some of it was off the wall, and I was stunned. I never thought I'd hear him play that well."

Out of context, this could read like a snarky comment from Plant, but elsewhere in the interview, printed in the magazine's September 1985 issue, the then-36-year-old singer was full of praise for his former bandmate, telling a sweet story about the pair sharing an intimate moment three years earlier, ahead of the summer 1982 release of Plant's first solo album, Pictures At Eleven. The singer revealed that he had driven down to Page's Sol Studios in Cookham, Berkshire to play the guitarist, who he still referred to as 'The Master', some songs from the record, hoping to get a positive reaction.

"We sat there together with my hand on his knee, just listening," Plant recalled. "He knew then that I was off on my own." 

Plant was asked if the fact that he had launched a successful solo career before Page had changed the dynamics of his friendship with his former bandmate, and he insisted that it had not.

"I think what Jimmy's doing with The Firm is far removed from what Led Zeppelin was," Plant stated.

"As far as our relationship goes... it's very dicey," he said with a smile. "I don't know if we could ever talk about it so analytically, though I know that one day we will sit down and really discuss what we've both done."

Plant, who at the time of the interview was working on his third solo album, Shaken 'n' Stirred, was also asked if he felt any responsibility for inspiring "all the godawful Robert Plant imitators that have inflicted themselves on us over the past decade and a half", a question he took in good humour.

"As a matter of fact, I do," he laughed. "And that's why you don't hear me doing any of that banshee-wail stuff on the new record."

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.