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National institution finds rare recording of Led Zeppelin interview

National institution finds rare recording of Led Zeppelin interview

The discovery of the National Film and Sound Archives underscores its digitization program. Photo: NFSA.

A rare radio interview discovered by the National Film and Sound Archive can be found in a new film documentary about the legendary rock supergroup Led Zeppelin.

The tape of Australian television station Graeme Berry’s expansive hour – long interview with drummer John Bonham from 1972 to Sydney radio station 2SM had lain in the NFSA vault for decades when filmmaker Bernard MacMahon reached out to the national institution in 2019.

MacMahon, director and producer of the band’s first authorized documentary Becomes Led Zeppelin, had heard a bootleg recording on vinyl and had spent a year searching for the original tape.

Recognizing Berry’s Australian accent, he contacted the NFSA, but researchers were initially unable to find the interview in the collection.

The NFSA’s Access Services Manager, Sean Bridgeman, then went to the curatorial team, which was on its way to cataloging about 8,000 tapes in the 2SM collection, many of which were unlabeled or did not have identifying information.

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As luck would have it, curator Chris Arneil had come across a tape marked Led Zeppelin: Robert Plant and John Bonham the week before.

“After digitizing the tape and conducting investigations, we confirmed that it was the interview with John Bonham plus an hour that Bernard MacMahon had been looking for,” Bridgeman said.

The digital file was then lent to the documentaries and it plays a key role in the film.

The discovery of the interview recording underscores the valuable work being done to digitize content in the NFSA collection.

“There are a lot of items in the collection that are ‘hidden’ or undiscovered – in that we either do not have enough catalog information, or also need to be digitized,” Bridgeman said.

“The interview was only held on the original quarter – inch magnetic tape, so it was important that we digitized the recording for preservation.”

Bridgeman said magnetic tape formats were in danger of further deterioration and eventually could not be preserved digitally.

The NFSA is prioritizing magnetic audiovisual formats for its Deadline 2025 project, which aims to digitize as many topics as possible by 2025, after which they are likely to be lost forever.

The actual interview, which was conducted at the home of lead singer Robert Plant prior to an Australian tour just after the release of the landmark Led Zeppelin 4 album, is considered a rare gem.

Before his death in 1980, Bonham rarely gave interviews or spoke in public – and if he did, he would not say much at all.

But this time was different, said NFSA curator Thorsten Kaeding.

“In the interview, he really opens up and interacts with Berry … uncharacteristically, he seems very happy to speak,” said NFSA curator Mr. Kaeding.

“They touch on many aspects of his career as well as moments up to it … including how he started in music, where his interests came from and what he did before Led Zeppelin. For a documentary filmmaker, it’s absolutely gold.”

Kaeding said the Bonham recording was a testament to Berry and his brilliant interview skills.

“It is often forgotten how successful Australian DJs and music journalists have been internationally,” he said.

“As with this interview, they were often able to get their topics to open up in ways that others could not.”

Becomes Led Zeppelin is the band’s first authorized documentary, and it premiered at the prestigious Venice Film Festival this month. It is expected to be released in Australia in 2022.

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