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Music filmmaker Dick Carruthers comes to Newcastle

DICK Carruthers, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, likes to talk.

dick carruthers

DICK Carruthers, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, likes to talk. Ten to the dozen in fact which, by his own admission, means the end of an interview is looming before you’ve asked a question.

But then, having filmed the best bands around – from The Who and The Rolling Stones through Oasis and Keane to Take That and Beyonce – he does have plenty to talk about.

This time, the subject is legendary heavy rockers Led Zeppelin who are one of the reasons Dick is in Newcastle this week.

The first is Northern Film & Media’s Sound & Vision competition which will involve him mentoring those wanting to follow in his footsteps.

Then tomorrow night he’s at Tyneside Cinema for a screening of his much-lauded reissue of Led Zeppelin’s epic concert film The Song Remains the Same, after which he’ll join local TV producer and music historian Chris Phipps in conversation.

So, you can expect to hear some good stories.

As a live concert and DVD director, Dick is, by all accounts, about the best there is at what he does. He’s also very modest.

It’s an honour, he says more than once, when talking about filming live concerts.

It’s also a massive responsibility – not just in deciding how many cameras and where, but also in making sure the end-result captures the true essence and experience of the concert: the best of what the band’s about. It’s no exaggeration to say reputations can be at stake.

Different types of music nevertheless present him with the same challenges, he points out.

The job always “has to be a true representation of what that artist is like live”.

And Dick felt privileged being given that job by Zeppelin, declared at the 2008 Mojo Awards to be “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time”.

He’d worked with the band in 2003, spending a year producing and directing the retrospective Led Zeppelin DVD – now the biggest selling music DVD of all time – and he was there to direct when, four decades on from their formation, they reunited at London’s O2 Arena at 2007.

“It was scary to have in my hands the reputation and legacy of the biggest band in the world to play live.”

That same year he was asked to re-master and re-issue on DVD The Song Remains the Same, which shows singer Robert Plant and co – Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham – both off-stage and belting out such Zeppelin classics as Black Dog, Stairway to Heaven and Whole Lotta Love.

“It was long overdue,” says Dick. The original album and film were released in 1976 – recorded during three nights of concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden, on the band’s 1973 concert tour of the US.

But it was generally accepted that the film didn’t show the band at their best.

“The film came out in 1976 and I even remember having it on VHS and kept pausing it for Stairway to Heaven.

“I never thought that one day I’d laugh about that with Jimmy Page!”

Given the responsibility of putting together, restoring and presenting the material so it was both a truthful account and exciting to watch was “a huge honour, and very scary” he admits.

The footage wasn’t in great shape and it was a long, painstaking process of sifting through archives, re-editing, re-mixing, polishing it up and linking in unused material and some new songs.

Guitarist Jimmy Page had always been irritated that many people thought a brief scene in the film, about a robbery, was set up. It wasn’t, says Dick, so he added extras: footage covering the news report of it and press conference.

And he improved the original sound.

“It was running too fast so it made Robert Plant’s voice higher than it was.”

Slowing it down added an extra 10 minutes to the film – but finally its viewers got to hear the singer at the correct pitch.

“I had to re-mix the soundtrack – and Warner Brothers owned the rights to the film so I had to negotiate all that.”

The result was a big success.

While tomorrow night’s film might be one for die-hard Zeppelin fans, the conversation afterwards should be enjoyed by all.

Accompanied by Chris Phipps, who worked with him on the documentary Metal – Louder Than Life, he’ll chat about his work and give an insight into working with the legends of the music world – though probably won’t be too revealing about some band’s less savoury sides.

“Some are better than others!” is all he will say.

He’s looking forward to coming to the city, which he likes. “If I lived in Newcastle I probably would get regionalistic and proud.”

But he lives in London – which he says he has no love for – and much of his work lies in the capital.

More recently, he’s filmed Michael Buble and The Killers – “a fantastic band” he says who, despite their success, had never had a live concert filmed before.

They responded eagerly to Dick’s ideas, with the result they specially arranged a concert at the O2 Arena for him to film, then sold tickets to fans.

With cameras at every angle, Dick was in the midst of the mass to capture the whole vibe of the energy-fuelled night for posterity.

He can’t say much just yet about future projects but they include forays into 3D, a documentary retrospective, and filming a big American band.

“I love doing what I do,” he says.

The remastered version of The Song Remains the Same will be screened at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, at 7.30pm tomorrow, followed by Dick Carruthers in conversation.

For tickets, visit www. tynesidecinema.co.uk, or call the box office on 0845 217 9909.

The Sound & Vision competition, run by Northern Film & Media and Generator, is for local bands, producers and filmmakers.

Dick will mentor the film-maker chosen to produce a music video for the winning song by band Jimmy and the Sounds.

The job always “has to be a true representation of what that artist is like live”


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