The ex-Zeppelin frontman has a bloody good new record out, Fate of Nations, and has been a-trekking round Europa with his new band playing gigs and festivals with the likes of Lenny Kravitz, the Black Crowes, and Def Leppard, including the German Rock Am Ring Festival with Spanish band Heroes Del Silencio.
"A bit like a Romanesque Faith No More," reckons Plant, out in the wilds of Battersea, South London, where he's on the video shoot for his next single I Believe.
The new LP is enveloped in a mist of atmosphere and ambiguity, something that Plant has "always tried to maintain or develop subtly." He cites the mellow folk of Come Into My Life, which features Máire Brennan from Clannad, and Great Spirit as "an extension of 1971 or '72," referring to the Zep collaboration with Sandy Denny from folk rockers Fairport Convention on the The Battle of Evermore, "and trying to chill out at the same time."
Plant feels equally comfortable at folk festivals.
"There are so many new age hippies," and, he adds in almost awe-struck tones, "So many beautiful girls with flowers in their hair. I though, Christ, you wouldn't get that at Reading!"
"I don't have any real considerations as to whether or not these folk excursions are acceptable because one minute you're in and the next minute you're out and the next minute you're back in. I mean Zeppelin have gone through so many huge devastating onslaughts, whole fucking avalanches of insult. And then, suddenly, somebody who's now long gone, say Ian from The Cult, is seen wearing a Zep T-shirt, and everybody goes 'Wait a minute.' Or was it Wayne from The Mission?" he says, checking himself.
Could have been. They were criticized for having a Kashmir-era Zep fixation.
"Yeah, but they began that whole goth, hip 'Oh Zep, they weren't just Whole Lot of Love!"
Not just 'cock rock' a la Squeeze My Lemon?
"No, there was very little of that," he replies laughing faintly, "but it would be ridiculous to ignore it completely and be so Catholic about the whole pop extension of your personality that you have to avoid shit just so you don't inflame people. Look at Hendrix. Hendrix spent most of his time fucking, and occasionally he'd do a gig!"
With or without sex, Plant regards Hendrix as "probably the most focused and succinct of them all and of what's gonna come next."
I suggest that in America and elsewhere, Zeppelin were never a dirty word.
"Well, England's always been uniquely frosty and bigoted. It makes idols out of eloquent cynicists," he says elaborating. "The idea of actually being able to play on the underbelly of the lack of beauty, the lack of skill and the lack of joy is one of the great unheralded charms of some of our major stars. Y'know, there is so much shit which is taken to the altar of success. There's a cynical thread that runs through journalists, record companies, and major national radio, which is really a national illness in a way."
He aims a thinly veiled swipe at the Coverdale/Page project, in between dismissing a certain kind of approach to music.
"Now there's a lot of people thinking of rearing up regular shapes and jumping on some bandwagons where the wagons have already got a flat tyre. So all this kind of rock-rock is dead. The people who've had success since have stuck to formulas."
Later, Plant speaks more directly about Coverdale/ Page and reasons that as music is essentially about entertainment "then maybe Coverdale/ Page hits the spot easier, quicker, and in a more finite way. I mean if you don't have any musical moralistic overview about what they're doing then there's nothing wrong with them at all. Also, there's not a great deal of cerebral input 'cos if there was, the singer would be singing like himself! But there we are. It's good fun and I can’t wait for the first meeting."
The meeting of great minds, eh?
"Well, the meeting of two and a half great minds," he responds with playful vindictiveness.
Switching back to the tour, it’s not surprising to hear Plant say about 'The Prince of Cool' Lenny Kravitz, "we're really kicking his ass. We played Madrid and had a standing ovation for 15 minutes. And we're the opening act! It's OK though. He's happening and he knows what's going on. It's the best thing that could happen to him 'cos he thought he was giving an old fellow a bit of a ride. Now he's going, 'For fuck's sake! Man, you're killing me!' Well, of course I am. I'm bloody good, boy!"
Only a fool would argue with that.