Greg Lake on Radio Two, 6-14-04

Radio 2 -

Simon Mayo: …Where I think it is time for something quiet, low-key, and a trifle…understated.

< "Fanfare for the Common Man" plays >

And that of course was a little bit of "Fanfare for the Common Man" from Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "The Ultimate Collection." Greg Lake is here, good afternoon to you, sir.

Greg Lake: Hello, hello.

SM: I'm delighted to meet you; I never thought I'd ever talk to any of …

GL: Delighted to meet you, too.

SM: Yeah, Emerson, Lake and Palmer! I've had a fantastic time listening to these tracks. There's been a "Best Of" out before, I think, but this is a slightly different collection. I don't think you've had much to do with the track selection

GL: No, well we don't, really, because ELP's catalogue's quite large, and I think it's really a question of balance, of choosing really what people would want to hear and things that have perhaps not been released before.

SM: This is a shamelessly popular selection, probably…

GL: Probably, it is.

SM: It's got, basically, your "Nutrocker;" B. Bumble and the Stingers, I think, did that first?

GL: They did, that's right!

SM: And "Jerusalem," and obviously "Fanfare" because we just played that, and you, [do] you listen to your stuff?

GL: Do you know, I really never do.

SM: Forty million plus, albums, sold…

GL: Yes.

SM: I just wonder whether all your fans will listen to it more regularly than you do.

GL: That's probably the case. I mean, it's just one of those things, when you play the music live so much…in fact when you listen to records made in the past, there's a certain anguish with it, because you always hear things that you think, you know, "I know I could have done that better" or perhaps we didn't…technology today, you know you could do it better, so…

SM: Using that particularly, if it's keyboards best, and obviously a lot of ELP's stuff had a lot of very dominant keyboard sounds in there, the technology has moved on a lot, and if you're performing this stuff now, it would sound very different.

GL: It probably would, but I think the essence of it is: it's music from the heart. If it's made properly, if it's made with love and care, I think the actual sound of it is a secondary factor. I know that sounds a bit strange to say, with music, but the main thing is the feeling.

SM: Prog rock has had a bad press, and then it came sort of slightly back into vogue. Where do you think prog rock actually sits now in terms of its reputation and its influence?

GL: It got sidelined, you know, which I think was a terrible shame, because it was moving music forward, and I think that got sidelined. A lot of people say it was because of punk music, but I don't think it really was. Punk wasn't new, even when it came out. The Who [he pronounced it "The 'Oo"] were the original punk band. I think the whole concept of prog music got squashed by commercialism. Things that were long and conceptual were not easy to play on the radio.

SM: That's certainly true, but you took it and you made it into an art form, didn't you? What was the longest track you did? There were lots of ten minute plus tracks.

GL: The thing we're most famous for being over-the-top with is "Pictures at an Exhibition," the work by Mussorsky, which took up an entire record. At first the record company didn't want to release it, because it was unplayable on radio.

SM: When you look back to those, particularly the early Seventies, and the mid Seventies, it does feel like something from another era - the shows that you were doing, you had your own stage, I mean all that stuff would be considered so expensive, I mean it has to be very expensive anyway. Can you imagine that kind of show being put on now, and touring America, with 60 piece orchestras?

GL: No, I think that those shows are put on now, but the fact is, in those days, the music was identifiable. You only needed to play four or five seconds of a Jimi Hendrix record or Pink Floyd, or ELP for that matter, and you would know who it was. These days, you play a record, and you really don't know who it is. In the Seventies, and even more perhaps in the Sixties, you knew the artist by the identity; personality is missing out of music.

SM: You mentioned Jimi Hendrix; wasn't he, he was rumored to be joining ELP at one time?

GL: Well, it's a long story - we had set up a jam with Jimi and he died a week later, and it never happened.

SM: Are Emerson, Lake and Palmer a going concern now?

GL: Well we're just in the middle of putting a lifetime DVD together, and I hope very much we'll get back together and tour for that.

SM: Of course next year - your 35th anniversary - that has a nice promotional tie-in, doesn't it?

GL: Well that's the point, it's a sort of time when I think it would be good and appropriate. Generally speaking, I'm not into wallowing in nostalgia, but I think it is good, I mean, all of us are still alive - that's sort of a remarkable thing to begin with. But it would be a great time to come out and play.

SM: When was the last time you played together?

GL: Probably ten years ago…and in America. We haven't played here [UK] for God knows how long.

SM: And do you miss that?

GL: Yes. It's a family - the band is family, and you miss that bonding of family.

SM: As far as the selection of the tracks on here is concerned, we get "I Believe in Father Christmas." It always struck me as, of course one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time, and yet I wonder how many people still, even though it's quite an old tune now, don't realize it's actually an anti-Christmas song, really, isn't it? It's just saying …hang on a second, …

GL: Well, yes, it's a view of Christmas…the thing about it is, that it was never really written to be a Christmas single. It was written to be some sort of commentary on Christmas, and it only ever became a single, really, because the record company, when it came to Christmas, sort of "Oh!" - you know, they woke up to this thing. I like to think, anyway, it falls into the same category as Lennon's song. It's got that sort of, "Well, let's look at it, are we really doing what we should do at Christmas, or are we just, you know…?"

SM: Again another example of how much classical music was part of what you were playing.

GL: Well, that's right, integrated into the Christmas song is Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kije"…

SM: And that's out of copyright now?

GL: <chuckling> Probably is…

SM: So, let's play another track, and I think it would be good to play Karn Evil, Part II [sic]…

GL: Mmm-hmm…

SM: The reason I want to play this is because I first heard this listening to Alan Freeman when he did his Saturday rock show…

GL: Yes.

SM: …and he always used to open his program with the bit, "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…"

GL: Big fan, Alan, yes…

SM: "We're so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside…" and then it cuts off, and I think it goes into "Frankenstein" by Edgar Winter. Anyway, that's for another day!

GL: <chuckles>

SM: But a fantastic song; would you say it's one of your best?

GL: I think it probably is. It basically tells the story of man being corrupted and dominated by technology.

SM: So let's play "Karn Evil, Part II, 2nd Impression [sic]" from Disc 2 of "ELP - The Ultimate Collection." Greg Lake, great to meet you, thanks very much for coming in.

GL: It's been a real pleasure, thank you.