Dave Woodhall talks to Deborah Bonham about plans to commemorate her legendary brother, John.
Drummer John Bonham typified Led Zeppelin. He was loud on and off stage, and his death in 1980 at the age of 32 signified the end of the most celebrated rock band of all time. 34 years later and plans are underway for a statute of Bonham to be erected in his home town of Redditch.
Helping the project is Bonham’s sister Deborah, herself a blues singer of no mean reputation, who spoke to us ahead of a fund-raising gig in the town.
“It’s all been the idea of a couple of fans from Redditch, Clem Dallaway and his wife Sam, and it then grow to include more fans from the area who wanted to get involved. They spoke to the town council about a memorial, and it was thought that a statue would be ideal.
“They contacted me asking if I could help kick-start the fundraising process with a concert for them. I thought it was a great idea and after I found that it was all well above board I agreed to do it.”
The event takes place at St Stephen’s church in Redditch this Saturday, 2nd August. It seems an unlikely venue to celebrate one of the all-time hellraisers.
“We thought a show there would be appropriate because we were all born and raised in Redditch, and my family used to live just outside in a place called Hunt End. We used to go to the church and there’s a bandstand there which John used to play on when he was little, my dad was in a jazz band and he’d let John get up and play brushes with him – John got a bit louder later on.
“It’s just myself and my keyboard player Gerard G’Lewis plus my guitarist and husband Pete Bullick, both from my full-time band. We wanted to do an acoustic to keep it intimate. We’ve got a screen projector, I’ve just had some messages coming in from all over the world. I’ve got one from Paul Rodgers, who’s touring with Bad Company, who were signed to Zeppelin’s SwanSong label. He and John were very close and he’s sent me a beautiful message of him on stage with thousands of fans in the crowd chanting ‘We love John’. Dave Pegg from Fairport Convention, John’s son Jason who’s on tour with Sammy Hagar in America at the moment, have both sent something, as has his daughter Zoe. We’ll play these messages from John’s friends around the world plus some from fans saying what it would means to have the statue. I’m really honoured and proud to be doing it.”
It’s obvious that such a project means so much to so many people. How much needs to be raised and how well have they done so far?
“They’re aiming to raise £50,000 for the statue; any money that’s left over will go towards maintenance costs. I’m not sure of the exact amount so far but it’s coming in steadily. These days it might seem a lot of money to spend but the fans want to do it, they all want to feel they’ve got a little part of that statue and they’ve made it happen. If people from Redditch and all over the world want it to happen, then if I can do my bit that would be wonderful.”
What do you say to anyone who believes that rather than spending so much time raising funds, Robert Plant or Jimmy Page could easily pay for the whole thing?
“That’s the problem. There are people who think that someone with more money could pay for it, but if that happened it wouldn’t belong to the people. It’s the fans who want this and from all the messages I’ve received they feel if they’ve only sent a few pounds they’re a part of it. John affected a lot of people, Zeppelin were such a huge and well-loved band, and if people feel they can show their appreciation for someone who went so young yet he’s still considered, in my eyes anyway, the greatest rock drummer of all time, I feel that’s quite humbling.”
If, sorry, when, the statue is unveiled it will surely be the first time a drummer has been honoured in such a way.
“Yes, I think so. There’s a statue of Rory Gallagher over in Ireland, and one of Phil Lynott, but this would be the first one of a drummer. It’s quite incredible but if you speak to people like Paul Rodgers, Bev Bevan, Dave Pegg, Ozzy Osbourne, all the people from Midlands bands who started off around the same time they were all close mates and they all had that incredible love for John. I’ve just had an incredible message from Carmine Appice who was with Vanilla Fudge and John absolutely loved Carmine’s drumming. Carmine send me the most beautiful message saying how brilliant this idea is.
There’s so much positive voices and energy coming for this. So many people want to be a part of it, I’m so honoured to be involved. I’m sad that our mum and dad and our brother Michael, who died when he was 40, aren’t around to see it but wherever they all are together I’m sure they know”
Deborah Bonham plays St Stephen’s church, Redditch on Saturday 2nd August. Tickets are £10 and these plus other news of the statue appeal can be found at www.johnbonhammemorialfund.com