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Robert Plant health: ‘I couldn’t speak’ – rockstar, 73, on ‘career killer’ disease

Robert Plant discusses Led Zeppelin reunion rumours

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With the recent announcement that Plant will be performing at this year’s highly anticipated Glastonbury festival along with bluegrass star Aison Krauss, which Plant released a 12-track studio album with last year, it is clear that any issues with his vocal cords are firmly in the past. But there was a time that fans of Zeppelin worried for the star’s future in singing after he had to have surgery to remove nodules on his vocal cords. In the past, Plant revealed: “I had a lot of trouble with my voice,” which has gone on to affect huge stadium performances.

Plant recalled one story in particular where his vocal trouble was at its height. He said: “I was in Australia once, I was in Melbourne. I remember we sold out some huge stadiums.

“The stage was on wheels so if we had 10,000 people that was fine, but if it was 12,000 they could wheel the stage back with a tractor pulling in.

“As the day went on, more and more people arrived, and I couldn’t speak.

“I went to a doctor and he hit me with some adrenaline and stuff.

“I turned several shades of different colours and slid down the wall, and I sang the gig. Now that’s the last thing a singer needs to do, the damage that you can do.”

These three and a health hour sets would be a complete strain on the star, who then had to undergo surgery to remove vocal nodules.

The British Voice Association explains that vocal nodules develop as the result of trauma on the vocal folds.

When the vocal folds collide violently swelling can develop around the site of the collision. Although one single incident of trauma can be recovered from with several days of voice rest, these episodes are often repeated so the swelling becomes more persistent and requires treatment.

The site goes on to say that initially, swellings are described as “soft nodules”, but if ignored, and allowed to progress, the persistent damage may begin to produce fibrous scar tissue.

This makes the affected area stiffer and therefore less able to vibrate effectively. These are often referred to as “hard nodules” and they are more difficult to treat as they do not resolve with voice therapy and require surgery to restore the voice.

Although nodules may be hard to notice at first, the Voice Association warns that initially after trauma, the voice may become “cloudy” or husky and less responsible over a certain pitch range.

It says: “The voice is usually slow to warm up and may sound deeper, breathy and weak, particularly over the upper pitch range.

“Over time the speaking voice may become noticeably hoarse and breathy. It may also start to ‘cut out’, around certain notes, giving characteristic ‘voice breaks’. These are most obvious when the voice is used quietly.”

In the past, surgery to remove vocal nodules was the preferred treatment, but this was often unsuccessful and came with a chance of being a “career killer”.

Although it is unknown when Plant underwent surgery on his vocals. The Grunge, a popular music site, explains that in the years of 1972 to 73 Plant’s vocals changed, hinting that he had undergone the potentially dangerous surgery, but was lucky not to have lost his singing ability.

Nowadays, surgical techniques try, whenever possible, to ensure that the gelatinous layer of the Lamina Propria – a thin layer of connective tissue that forms part of the respiratory tract – is preserved.

While the vocal folds may be initially a little stiff after surgery, voice therapy and good technique will shake the stiffness loose again ensuring that clear vocal quality is restored following surgery.

In a more recent interview, Plant spoke about the dangers of COVID-19 and the effect it has had on his life. When asked about his health status back in 2020 he said: “I can tell you that I’m still breathing.

“And I’ve got a warped sense of humour, and I can still sing a tune. But beyond that, don’t ask me what day it is because they’re all the same at the moment.

“Obviously, we all thought maybe we could find a window and this pandemic was going to blow away. We’ve never been quite so assailed on so many different sides, in my estimation — at least for the last hundred years since when the Spanish flu kicked in.”

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