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New Year's Honours: Recognition for Plant, Pine and Martyn

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

Story by Jack Foley

SINGER Robert Plant, jazz legend Courtney Pine and singer-songwriter John Martyn have all been recognised in the New Year’s Honours list.

Led Zeppelin frontman Plant becomes a CBE, as does saxophonist Pine, while Martyn was appointed an OBE.

Other musicians to enjoy recognition included orchestral conductor Owain Arwel Hughes, who also becomes a CBE, while concert pianist and conductor Howard Shelley is appointed OBE.

Robert Plant

Plant (pictured above with Alison Krauss) is best known as the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, but has also enjoyed a successful and diverse career since the band’s demise.

He was a founding member of Zeppelin, having been recruited at the outset by Jimmy Page, and helped tracks such as Stairway to Heaven to become enduring guitar anthems.

Born in West Bromwich in 1948, Plant grew up in Halesowen in Dudley and developed a passion for music from an early age. He got involved in the local blues scene after scrapping plans to study as a chartered accountant, and while playing with local bands, met John Bonham, who he put forward for the drummer position in Led Zeppelin.

Following Zeppelin’s break-up in 1980, Plant continued to find success as a solo artist, as well as one half of a partnership with Alison Krauss.

But his work with Zeppelin has never fully left him behind. In 1985, the surviving members of the band performed at Live Aid in Philadelphia, while nine years later Page and Plant recorded a live “UnLedded” MTV session of Led Zeppelin classics.

In 1998 they also recorded a follow-up album of original material, named Walking Into Clarksdale, and was on hand to receive a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2005.

Plant then joined together with surviving members of the band for a one-off gig at London’s O2 arena in 2007, where tickets cost £125. The concert has sparked continuous rumours of another reunion and tour, but Plant – for the moment – maintains he is happy to pursue his solo work with American bluegrass singer, Krauss.

Courtney Pine

Saxophonist Courtney Pine has been at the forefront of Britain’s jazz scene for the past 20 years, where he is also well known for his work on the flute, bass clarinet and keyboards.

He released his debut album, Journey To The Urge Within, in 1987, which became the first serious jazz record to make the top 40 and has since been instrumental in broadening the appeal of jazz to a wider listening base.

He is renowned for his ability to combine traditional acoustic jazz with reggae, soul, drum ‘n’ bass and afro-beat, thereby broadening its appeal and pushing it in exciting new directions.

Such is the adventurous nature of his playing, he has covered Nirvana, played on the main stage at Glastonbury and appeared at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday concert at Wembley Stadium.

But he remains a passionate ambassador for jazz and runs workshops to introduce the music to young people across the UK.

Commenting on his honour, Pine said he was “deeply moved” to be appointed CBE, and added: “I never imagined that I would be recognised for playing improvised music in the UK in this way.”

He continued: “This acknowledgement for what I think of as a noble mission in uniting people through sound could not have been realised without the love, support and dedication of my family, management, band and the many supporters of music throughout this land – thank you, thank you, thank you.”

John Martyn

John Martyn may not enjoy regular commercial success, but he is widely regarded as one of the most soulful and innovative singer-songwriters of his generation.

His music combines elements of blues, folk, dub and funk, and has been cited as an influence by artists such as U2, Portishead and Eric Clapton.

Born Ian David McGeachy in New Malden, Surrey, Martyn spent his childhood alternating between his mother’s houseboat in England and his father’s home in Scotland, after his parents divorced when he was five.

During that time, he was exposed to the music of both the Presbyterian Church and the English music hall.

He then moved to London in his late teens and became a fixture at Les Cousins – the Soho club at the centre of the city’s folk scene, which enabled him to develop his passion for music and his keen live ability.

He soon became the first white act to be signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, where he recorded his debut album, London Conversation, in 1968.

Martyn underlined his reputation with 1973’s Solid Air, which was named by Q Magazine as the 67th best British album of all time in 2000.

Yet his personal life has been marked by battles with drugs and alcohol, which cost him his marriage, and which – in 2003 – saw him having to have his right leg amputated below the knee after a cyst the size of a golf ball burst.

The singer, who turned 60 this year, now performs from a wheelchair, but maintains that he has no regrets.

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