Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace, like thoughts inside a dream
Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream
My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again
Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir.
Over the summer break I met up with my Granny in Cornwall and she reminded me of when she went walking in Kashmir in Northern India on her honeymoon with her newly-wed husband, Andrew. The year was 1937 and they relished the solitude, the grand vistas and the peace, a country conjured in the colonial imagination and away from the government offices and dust of Delhi. They walked, and as it turns out she rode a pony quite a lot of the way, while Andrew walked. Their solitude also meant travelling with a small entourage of people to put up tents and cook accompanied by a small handful of armed guides. Such was solitude for some in the fading British Empire.
The very sound of the word Kashmir conjures up mystery and was the title of the song that Robert Plant penned when travelling through southern Morocco. Showing equal measure of devotion and irreverence to musical authenticity they created a masterpiece and quite possibly one of the greatest tracks in the history of rock music.
The version that I have chosen is not the original but the reworking on the 1996 release No Quarter. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page bring together a range of amazing musicians that included a stellar string orchestra of the finest players on the London session scene including David Juritz who is leading the Trinity Laban Side by Side orchestra on Friday 3 October, and stars from other parts of the world. Musicians featured UK based percussion maestro Hossain Ramsey and friends on percussion with violin virtuoso Waeil Abu Bakr, who lights up the middle section with a beautiful Egyptian style fiddle solo. This version happened in the middle of the 1990s world music boom. They didn’t pander to recreating authenticity but allowed people to do their own thing over a rock classic.
Kashmir is one of Led Zeppelin’s greatest compositions which they played live at almost every gig after releasing the original version on the album Physical Graffiti. Musically it features a solid drum groove in square time with the melodic elements superimposed in “three”. The result is highly syncopated. Add a Hijaz mode of the harmonic minor here and there and you have a highly pleasing and exciting result that has rocked audiences over four decades. Robert Plant is one of the great storytellers and really knows how to shape a song, he wails like an imam and roars like the great rocks star that he is.
It is a story of escape and an exotic journey through strange lands, and encounters people who spoke in tongues of lilting grace, a recurring theme in Led Zeppelin’s work. The words relate to the fact that always on the road, and the one they were on in Morocco at the time went on and on.
All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground
And my eyes fill with sand, I scan this wasted land
Trying to find, trying to find where I’ve been.
As I sat with my Grandmother aged 97 last Thursday we think of our own Shangri Las beneath the summer moon. Oh, I been flying… (Grand)mama, there ain’t no denyin’
Written by Joe Townsend – CoLab creative producer