Since Led Zeppelin folded after the death of John Bonham nearly 15 years ago, neither has enjoyed the best of fortune, nor - in Page's case, at least - the best of health. For Led Zeppelin fans, the most fruitful song- writing partnership of the Seventies went their separate ways at a particularly cruel moment. Their last album, In Through the Out Door, was as innovative as any before it and the orchestral arrangement - on 'All of My Love' in particular - suggested they were far from being a spent force.
Talk of Led Zep re-forming, with Bonham's son Jason on drums, has been a popular fantasy ever since, but has so far failed to materialise. Here, for the first time, the reunion of the duo appeared to be something more than a nostalgic gimmick. Playing together at the end of last week, Page and Plant actually looked as though they meant business.
An audience of 300 or so had gathered for the recording session. You could sense the crowd's eagerness to hear the old favourites, and with the odd, honourable exception in the 12-song set (such as the encore 'Wonderful One', a romantic duet), they did not disappoint.
They began with two spine- chillers from Led Zep II - 'What Is and What Should Never Be' and 'Thank You'. There had been talk that Page had intended to include 'Stairway to Heaven' in the set, and the well-rehearsed five-piece band was in good enough shape to wipe forever from the nation's memory Rolf Harris's spine-tingling cover version. But Plant, very much in charge on the night, was having none of it.
What they did come up with - 'Battle of Evermore', 'Gallows Pole', 'Rain Song' and especially 'Since I've Been Loving You' - more than compensated, but the real fun began in the second half of the show. The band was joined by two mini- orchestras - one English, the other Moroccan. Centre stage, Page sat down on an enormous chair, picked up a triple-necked guitar and hunched over it, like a wizard about to concoct a demonic potion.
The Moroccans conjured some mesmerising percussion and horns, giving 'Four Sticks' and 'Friends' a new dimension, while both orchestras were in full cry for the rousing finale - 'Kashmir', from Physical Graffiti.
There are, inevitably, rumours of a tour early next year. Plant and Page back on the road with a 50-piece orchestra? Plant looked relaxed enough, and was clearly enjoying the cabaret atmosphere. Page, musically speaking, was making all the right noises, but he has been in better shape: his eyelids looked as though they'd turned inside out. Who knows if they have the will or the stamina to go back on the road; they've been away a long time. But on this evidence, with or without John Paul Jones, another album - and one of real quality - is not beyond them.
'MTV UnLedded with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page' will be shown on MTV Europe on Monday 17 Oct at 9pm. MTV is also screening a Led Zeppelin weekend, from 22-23 OctReuse content