It’s always a full circle. Back in 1969, we were at Bath Blues Festival with Jefferson Airplane, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac before Stevie and Christine joined... It was a good scene in the West Country in those days. We played a lot of hippy festivals: we were somewhere in the fields of Avalon – and that seemed to make a lot of sense to us all. We were in great company. Jim Morrison was singing about “cancel my subscription to the resurrection” and we were trying to change the world. Trying to get rid of the apathy and the right-wing corruption that was going on. And here we are now. Everybody tried then, and I’m sure they will keep trying now.
I’m like a reed at the side of the sea. The more I access the information highway, the more I think I’d like to be a crofter in the Outer Hebrides. It seems that there are so many shards of discontent and evidence of malpractice in politics that it just ends up as a huge pile of rancour, but nobody’s using it fortuitously to change regime. There’s such a deluge of information from so many different angles that people are being blanded out.
I’m flirting with invention all the time. I am in the most magnificent company, making stimulating music – there’s a special kind of joy there. There’s a pulse in entertainment. Providing you keep your foot on the gas and mean it, the payback is incredible. We’re not really concerned about the financial side of things, it’s just about being in the place where the energy is. So crofting might not be a good idea. Well, maybe in August for a couple of weeks...
When the fame thing went on full boost, I was 21. I didn’t really take it in, because I was busy. There were no information streams then – apart from magazines here and there. In those days, the people I kept company with didn’t do any media stuff. So whatever was happening, we didn’t really have any perspective. Occasionally, somebody would say: “this is a big gig. I think it’s the biggest gig that anybody’s played at.” We’d look in the Guinness Book of Records and it was... But then you come home. You’ve got to get the kids to school. Then it’s time to go and watch the soccer team. And then you’re thinking, can you make another record, and can you make it different to the previous one, to stimulate you? That’s been my code of practice right the way through time (except that I don’t have to get the kids to school any more – they’re probably just helping me across the road now).
History is a peculiar bedfellow. Because, who knows whether or not it was really like that at the time? We look back now with the benefit of distance, and it seems like it was a big deal. But at the time, we were right in the middle of it, playing with Janis Joplin and The Doors and John Lee Hooker... playing these big festivals and playing our own gigs, and obviously something was going on, but we had nothing to compare it to. Inside the coal mine, it was another thing altogether. Sometimes simplistic, sometimes charming and naive, and sometimes hell.
I don’t think creativity can be inhibited by anything. If you’ve got it, you’ve got it. If you want to float it yourself, I think it’s a very good thing to do. With the information highway being what it is now, you can have that many hits overnight... Making music is a different thing today. The heavyweight stuff that came out in the late 60s was going for a totally different emotional pull. I guess it was pretty self-indulgent. Songs that went on for 15 or 20 minutes. I can’t say it was necessarily more mature. But there was a lot of playing going on, a lot of instrumentation.
The last 18 years has been a revelation. I’d come out of all the inane classifications that people put upon me, people trying to lead me in a certain musical direction. It was a kind of metamorphosis. Right now, The Sensational Space Shifters are on fire, because everybody can speak through their music with confidence, and it’s like a kind of cosmic psychedelic fraternity. I don’t even realise how old I am. I’m in the middle of this great mêlée, this whirlpool and occasionally I come up for breath, and people say, “Oh, you’re still doing it, then?” I go, “Yeah, don’t talk to me now, I’ve got to go back. Goodbye.” I’m back into the whirlpool. It’s paradise regained, really.
When Led Zeppelin came to an end, I was no longer moving at other people’s communal tempo. So I started exploring the world, using music as a kind of passport to do that. I’ve covered more or less every mile of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the US. Slowly, in cars. Pulling in to lost towns on the side of mountains. Going into various parts of the spectacular aspects of the United States. The most beautiful places with the most charming people.
It seems like all the political decisions are made in the present tense, with little consideration of the ultimate conclusion for the communities they affect. Sometimes I go and make music on my travels. We went to Mali about 10 years ago, and went up to Timbuktu and further north, where we played at the Festival in the Desert – living under canvas on the top of a huge dune. Just two guitarists, myself and my boy Logan with this amazing gathering of artists. We moved through to Essouira in Morocco and the Gnawa festival, and we played in Rabat... Developing countries are changing fast – everybody knows that the resources and natural materials and the very grist of life are being expended at such a rate that it is beyond challenging.
The bottom line of it all is that I was a rock’n’roll singer when I was a kid in bands in the West Midlands, and I was in a band that was pretty creative and very dramatic and dynamic. And then I ended up, for the last 38 years, doing anything I particularly cared to do. I did everything, and then I got my wings. The very fact of what I do is controversial – by rights, I should be at home with my pipe and slippers. In my croft, probably.