INTERVIEW: Dick Carruthers | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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As part of this year’s Whitley Bay Film Festival a weekend of music documentaries will be screened at The Exchange in North Shields. On Saturday 18th August director Dick Carruthers will present his Led Zeppelin reunion movie Celebration Day (2012). A screening of his Black Sabbath documentary The End Of The End (2017) with special guest Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi follows the evening after.

Dick first worked with Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page in 2002, putting together the Led Zeppelin DVD release, as he explains: “Jimmy and I dug out all of the Zeppelin recordings and bootlegs that had been committed to tape and that ended up as a double DVD. For the first six months or so we were still researching what there was and assessing it. Some of it had to match with what audio we had. There were lots of occasions where Jimmy had audio but we had no pictures. There were a few occasions where we had just the stereo or even just mono and no multi-tracks. We set the standard very high and came up with what ended up on the DVD, which was three big chunks-the Albert Hall in 1970, Earls Court in ‘75 and Knebworth in ‘79. All the other good bits and bobs we squeezed in around that as extras or used as menus. It was a really good time to do the project because DVD was taking off and people like me were exploring all the clever ways you can author DVD’s to make them really rewarding interactive experiences.”

A crucial factor was the quality of sound on the original early material, which is where Page, Carruthers and engineer Kevin Shirley struck lucky. “The sound was alright! We got it digitised and Jimmy and Kevin worked their magic! In the same way I had to work my visual magic on all the pictures, which manifested itself in any number of ways. It wasn’t just re-grading it and taking out all of the dirt. I had to come up with some very inventive ways to make that footage look amazing when it wasn’t to start with!

“It was very exciting but a terrible responsibility because everybody remembers Led Zeppelin as this ultimate band – the best band in the world! At first viewing the footage we had didn’t necessarily reflect that!” Dick admits. “There was a strong sense that we were going to have to climb a mountain with this to do the band justice. A lot of time and a lot of inventiveness and an enormous amount of editing!”

To everyone’s surprise, Zeppelin re-united in 2007’s with Jason Bonham behind the drum kit standing in for his late father and joining Page, Plant and John Paul Jones. “Originally it was just going to be what it was – a tribute to [late Atlantic Records founder] Ahmet Ertegun and a live gig. There was rumours of a tour but that was never going to happen! It was Harvey Goldsmith who convinced them to do it. It was all very hush-hush and exciting for a while!” Dick elaborates. “Once it was announced we knew the world and his wife would try and get tickets. In order to keep it special, there was never a definite plan to release it as a film or DVD or anything later. If it was understood that it would be something that would get released later it would take a lot of the uniqueness out of the occasion. What was decided was a ‘just in case let’s record it and get it in the can.”

As is their style, Zeppelin will release stuff when they’re good and ready!

Drawing on his extensive experience of directing live video screen contents for dozens of major bands Dick played safe and recorded all of the screen camera output at the Zeppelin show and also added a couple of extra cameras. “It was only years later when Robert said ‘Shall we have a look at the footage?’ All the dust had settled and all the nonsense about re-forming had gone away. As is their style, Zeppelin will release stuff when they’re good and ready!” The Celebration Day DVD was issued in 2012.

Following the Zeppelin screening on Saturday night, on Sunday 19th Carruthers will present The End Of The End, his Black Sabbath film with special guest Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. “It’s two thirds concert, one third documentary. A very watchable story! We kept in mind that it has to be really rewarding for a Sabbath fan. The best complement you can get – which I’ve had many times – is where people have watched it not really known much about Sabbath have come out of it thinking, ‘What a lovely bunch of guys, what a superb lot of songs, what a great film!’”

Having worked with two of rock’s most influential bands, Dick more than almost anyone else is able to explain the differences (or otherwise) between Zepplin and Sabbath. “Actually, there’s many similarities! They’re both terrifically tight bands who can just snap their fingers and play. It’s jaw-dropping! They both take their music very seriously. The Sabbath film is about love, camaraderie and loyalty. It’s about building a fan base and delivering to them.”

Many Sabbath fans were disappointed that long-time drummer Bill Ward wouldn’t be part of the band line-up on their final tour. “The film is about the last gig of the last tour of Black Sabbath [at Birmingham’s Genting Arena in February 2017]. The stage was set for that to be the story. And, in whatever way it happened, Bill was not part of that story, other than by his absence. What I did do was make sure we didn’t ignore that. It was talked about whether that should be glossed over and my opinion was ‘absolutely not!’ We just ask the band point blank, ‘Where’s Bill?’ There’s also this touching moment after the gig and Ozzy, out of the blue says; ‘I was thinking a lot about Bill, you know?’ It’s a really poignant moment.”


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