Excerpts from an interview in the French magazine Guitar Part
Used with permission

Interview by Olivier Roubin - Translation by Philippe Duponteil

When the Zep was young
On 7 September 1968, the Gladsaxe Teen Club (a small school gym hall, not far from Copenhagen, Denmark) programmed for the night a band of young musicians. Previously billed as "The Yardbirds", the four men finally decided to perform under the name "The New Yardbirds". They later became LED ZEPPELIN. A photographer, Jørgen Angel, aged 17 at the time, recorded the concert for posterity: he was the first to take photographs of the band in concert. Exclusive story and photos, direct from Copenhagen.

Jørgen Angel’s collaboration with Guitar Part dates back to issue 100. Since then, every month, in collaboration with him, we select a “Photo of the month” from his archives. Unaware of the quasi-historic value of his shots, this truly passionate man of rock'n'roll shares with us exclusive monthly photos, some dating back thirty years. In his files there are more than 50 000 photos, including Zappa, Hendrix, AC/DC, Marley, Queen, Led Zep, Clapton, Sex Pistols, and other superstars of the era. All these documents very nearly stayed neglected and hidden forever, possibly even destroyed "because nobody seemed to be interested during the last twenty years, in fact it wouldn't have seemed a big loss to me at the time".
When examining together a hundred or so of his photos, I share with him one of my biggest frustrations: my generation can certainly see photos of Jimi, or the other icons of the sixties and seventies, but he saw them moving in front of him before immortalizing them. Nevertheless, Jorgen is somewhat blasé about this period: "We were right in the middle of it all, we did not realize then, we just thought that it would last forever, it was magnificent, everybody was happy, who could imagine that it would change?" And telling, with affection, some crusty anecdotes, in long conversations strewn with coffee, red wine and cigarettes.

As historic as they may have been, there are nevertheless some sessions that hardly held his attention: "I was never really a fan of Hendrix, I just know that I was there when he played that evening and that I took photos of him."

Despite that, a fan of Hendrix will see an emotion which the photographer does not necessarily see himself when he checks his photos: "It's like driving, there are people that you just can tell they are about to pull out. Certain artists are “readable” too, you know what their next move will be."

It is therefore no surprise if his photos of Hendrix appear in many books dedicated to the “Voodoo Chile”. The most recent (reviewed this month in our columns) being "The Lost Archives Of Jimi Hendrix", by Steven Roby. Although Jorgen cannot really understand why: "I have never considered my photos to be outstanding back then. But I have received more compliments in the three months I put them on the Internet than in about fifteen years in the business."
His eye saw things which we shall never see. If he effectively withdrew from the profession, it was because he quickly understood the limits that it would eventually impose on him: he regrets the loss of the immediacy and spontaneity in photos of former days when everything was possible, the era of rock 'n' roll – gradually taken over by the business’n’roll, although his nostalgia is no hard feelings. "Today, we always see the same photos, the same lights, the same postures, managers control everything under the excuse of taking care of the image of the artist. Today, it is color which still allows photos to exist , and I have personally always preferred black and white."

The reason for our visit to Denmark is the famous concert on September 7, 1968 in Copenhagen, the night when over the course of the evening, The New Yardbirds transformed themselves into Led Zeppelin...

Jørgen, in what context did you take the first live photos of what would become Led Zeppelin?
"I was 17 years old, still a student. But I took photos for the magazine of a club which programmed bands live on Saturday evenings. It took place in the gym of a school. There was a small stage, where the school orchestra could play the violin, the accordion, and where Shakespeare's plays, among others, were performed once a year in front of all the parents and families at the school’s annual day. That was the only reason for this - otherwise relatively small - stage to be here. The school exists today, it's about fifteen kilometers from Copenhagen, in a small town near the place where I was born and grew up. I went by bus to the school, with my mother's camera. The club started in 1966 if I am not mistaken, and it was very popular from the start. All the people working there did it voluntarily, just for the fun of it. There was a very good atmosphere, everybody came for the pleasure of the music. There were no drugs."

"When Led Zeppelin came they weren't called Led Zeppelin, they were The New Yardbirds, it was them that I photographed for the first time. They came back several years later however, in 1969, under the name Led Zeppelin."

Did you really like the music, or were you there a little bit accidentally?
"Oh yes, I liked it even before I started taking photos. I saw The Yardbirds before Page was in the band, but I had no camera then! I went to the concerts for the music before taking photos. When I began to enjoy doing it, I concentrated more on the fact of taking photos. But I was not an ordinary photographer, I was a rock photographer, I loved rock 'n' roll. I would never have been able to take beautiful photos of ballet or classic dancers."

And these first photos of Led Zep?
"So I had already seen The Yardbirds twice. The last time was a year and a half earlier, in another place in Copenhagen. As for these "New Yardbirds", I didn't expect much. Not long before the concert actually began, there were still a lot of talking on whether they were going to play under the name of ‘The Yardbirds’ or under the name of ‘The New Yardbirds’, and how people would react. Because in the club magazine, they were billed as ‘The Yardbirds’, with a photo of ‘The Yardbirds’, not of Bonham, Plant, Page and John Paul Jones. And in these days, when you saw a band turning up with the word "New" in its name, you knew that something was murky, that it wasn't the same group anymore.
Can you imagine a group called "The New Beatles"? No, of course, you would be disappointed even before hearing a single note. So before they went on stage, I remember I was annoyed, I wanted "the real thing". But as soon as they began to play, I was hooked!"

How was the concert?
"Honestly, I don't really remember. All I can remember is this sort of general surprise. Everybody wondered what was going on. I remember as well that my disappointment before the concert disappeared faster than it had appeared."

Who of Bonham, Page, Plant or Jones impressed you most that evening?
"Plant. And when you see a concert through the lens of camera, you go automatically towards the magnet, the most visual one, and it was him who got the attention. John Paul Jones did not impress me too much, he seemed a little bit distant, only playing his part. As for Bonham and Page, they were spectacular behind their instrument, particularly Bonham. Usually, I don’t take photos of drummers, even if I was myself a drummer! They are normally not very visual, with some rare exceptions, such as Ginger Baker, Buddy Miles. But they are not the stars, it’s always the singer and the guitarist."

Keith Moon was a star...
"Oh yes, Moonie the Loonie!"

Why did these photos remain hidden for thirty four years?
"They had only been printed in the club magazine. The reason is quite
simple: when Led Zeppelin became an important group, they had another look, and the editors only wanted the most recent photos, we never heard: 'Can I buy those four year old photos?', but rather 'Where can I get photos of Led Zeppelin taken last night?' These photos, as with all my other photos, could have remained forgotten for ever."

Did you remember that you had them in your archives?
"I knew I had photos of the band that was going to become Led Zeppelin, but it is only after I put some on my web site, that people said to me: 'You know that you have photos of their very first concert?' But I didn't believe it. I knew that it was the first time they came to play in Scandinavia, but I was sure that they had already toured in Europe, in particular in England. I didn't know their story, until recently. I couldn't seriously believe it. Then I saw the list of all the concerts they gave, and at the top of the list, there it was: 'September 7, 1968, Copenhagen, Denmark'. It was incredible! And what is more incredible is that the afternoon before the concert, the band arrived and asked: 'Sorry, would you mind if we rehearse for a little while?'

Do you know if the band has seen these photos?
"Yes, because I met Robert Plant last year. I showed him these photos. And...I am going to show you something. (He gets up and grabs a box containing about fifty photos. He searches a moment and shows me one of them, signed by Robert Plant) He really liked the photos a lot and signed them with a funny inscription on a portrait of him: 'For Jorgen, It was only yesterday...'. What is funny, is that we hadn't seen each other since then…almost thirty years. Then he asked me to do some photos with his new band. Later, he phoned me to say that he had told Jimmy Page the address of my Internet site. Apparently, Page was looking for some very old photos for a DVD. But he never contacted me."
Where did you get the idea of a lithography celebrating "The First Performance"?
"A lot of people asked me to make a book, but no publisher would take the risk of making one: it's expensive and you are never sure that the sales of a book on rock artists will pay off the investment. The solution which offered itself to me was to publish this book myself, which I would have made it if I had been a millionaire (laughter), so I looked for another solution: how to show people and Led Zep fans, what I had seen that very evening? A lithograph was the best solution. From a strictly technical point of view, these photos are not excellent: the film was under-exposed, negatives damaged...Everything seemed to be wrong. But what matters is what was captured: nobody at the time could imagine that it would be so special looking back. I spent some long hours in my darkroom to print the best out of them. I thought over every single possible detail. It is certainly the work which I am the most proud of today."

You voluntarily limited the edition to 750 copies worldwide. Will you not be tempted one day to make it a more lucrative business?
"It wouldn't be fair, it would be insulting the fans who purchase this limited edition. I sign them a certificate of authenticity, numbered, it's a contract. When this edition is sold out, it will never be printed again."

Following this historic evening, you pursued your own photographer's career, what memories do you keep of that period ?
"Very difficult question. I can't pick a single moment as the best. The evening with Alice Cooper was fantastic. The session with Angus Young also leaves me an immortal recollection: he looked like everything but a rock star, and he end up undressing in the streets of Copenhagen!
He saw the photos again maybe ten years ago, because my son was a great fan of AC/DC: I sent a photo (see 'Photo of the month' in Guitar Part issue103) to the concert promoter when the band toured near here again to get his autograph and when Angus saw it, he couldn’t remember which session it was and wanted to speak to the photographer. He tried repeatedly to call me at home from his hotel, but the line was busy. The terrible thing is actually that my wife and I had to go out that evening, and when we go out, we always take the phone off the hook and have a little nap (laughter) It was only much later that I had the concert promoter on the phone who said that Angus had kept trying to call me. And during all that time, I was sleeping so I would be fresh for my evening out...My son has never really forgiven me!" (laughter)

Which star was the most photogenic?
"My favourite live photo is of Freddie Mercury. One of the reasons is because we do not see his face. It’s not a photo of Freddie Mercury, it’s a picture of a rock star, of an incredible posture."


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