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THIS IS the legendary Fulham ABC where Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy once served up their celluloid goodies - all change come the weekend. Popcorn, ice-cream and Mars bars and a couple of hours in the warm, it used to be. Now it creaks and rattles and piles of rubble and old cigarette packages have collected around the edges.

It’s also extremely cold since the walls are puckered and let in most of what comes along.

Legendary because this was recently the very secret practice place of a former Beatle and his Wings.  It’s said that Paul McCartney ate a ham and tomato sandwich in a nearby cafe.

Just across the road from the back entrance is a smooth Dixon of Dock Green-type cop shop. It has a de luxe blue lamp and all the other compulsory fittings.

ELP had been running up massive bills at Advision Studios - an expensive place to practise - and then they discovered the ABC and moved in their gear. All the grand upholstered seats have been dispensed with and somebody was busy on the balcony gouging and tearing at what remained. The place has great potential and one day ELP might even reopen it as something or other.

A couple of Father Christmas cardboard cut-outs provided a touch of glamour, except somebody’s written “Bollocks” inside a bubble and decorated it with organs - the type you keep in your trousers.

As rehearsals go it was fairly loose - lots of giggling and wild jamming, and that was one of the surprises ELP have to offer. Since the spring they’ve played two American, one Japanese and a European tour. They’ve been as good as eyeball to eyeball with each other during that period and now that most of the pressure was off they were still keen to jam and mess around.

In fact these rehearsals were for Saturday’s Oval show that also sported Wishbone Ash and Dutch wonder group Focus.

Most of the work had been completed and now they were ripping up the place with a classic version of “Oh Suzanna” and other little asides such as “Lady Madonna” and some Jimmy Smith-type organ from Keith Emerson.

Emerson seems to send out the flashes and Greg Lake, on bass, and Carl Palmer, behind his mighty kit that includes a couple of giant gongs, work out their rhythms as a unit. Greg was in white trousers and cream combat jacket and Carl had that air of reformed greaser about him in his bulky leather jacket of many zippers.

Keith can’t believe the chords he’s just worked out for “Suzanna” and he plays it through a few more times.

When the rehearsals were done with, Keith waved farewell and roared away on his bike. Greg and Carl settled themselves on a piece of foam rubber and what takes place is not so much an interview, more a hysterical and sometimes very funny word game between the two.

After a great deal of mostly unintelligible banter Carl says:

“I think I’d probably be Greg’s mate even if I didn’t play with him, you know what I mean? It’s that kind of deal.”

And Lake responds: “We’ve always got on on that sort of level. Arguing just never occurs because we both see things almost exactly the same way and you never have to argue with somebody like that.”


Is Keith something of a loner? “He’s more a loner than I am or Carl is but the three of us spend an awful lot of time together, you have to..."

Carl: “Keith is the kind of cat who, if we’re all at a party grooving away he comes along and it’s not a bad vibe. He’ll get in in his own sort of way. He’s sort of slow getting into the social trip. He’s always got things to do. He gets himself totally together...like he’ll disappear for hours and do things."

Says Greg: “It’s much easier with three than four because so many things have got to fall into place for three you wouldn’t believe it when you add a fourth person.

“You don’t add one more risk, you add 50 thousand more risks of it going wrong. You don’t exactly consciously balance out personalities you just try to give everyone else an easy time and you get an easy time back.

“I remember when I was in groups before I would really argue a lot - about petty things, maybe to do with the way a piece of music should go. But you learn to compromise and live together. I mean we’ve learnt to live together 24 hours a day for the last three years. We very rarely have time off. We’re working just about all the time.”

Legend has it that ELP began to take shape late 1969 when Keith and Greg met up in San Francisco’s Fillmore West. Emerson was rounding off his association with Nice and Lake was doing the same with King Crimson. The last of the trio was something of a reluctant recruit. He’d had a large hand, alongside Vincent Crane, in the formation of Atomic Rooster and now that they were beginning to take off was not too keen to give up the band.

But Emerson and Lake were determined. Tony Stratton Smith, then Nice’s manager and now head of Charisma Records, had already sold Emerson on the idea of linking with Lake, and Palmer was also his suggestion.

In the years that followed, ELP have outraged almost as many people as they've won over. Their stagecraft, even by today’s new standards of insanity, is something to behold. Palmer stripped to the waist beating at his gongs and Emerson knifing and riding his organs across stage. The Japanese were totally demolished and screamed from start to finish.

“They were so pleased to see us they forgot to listen,” says Palmer.

And Lake adds: “The energy level over there is like it was over here five years ago. They’ve seen so much over here and in America that the impact just isn’t there. In Japan it’s really a big deal for them. They have more of a cabaret-type show with everybody playing millions of instruments. When they saw those massive stacks they couldn’t believe anybody could get such a thing together.”

The next target is to cut a hole in the iron curtain with a concert in Russia. But international diplomacy / intrigue being what it is they can’t say too much. They also have a travelling circus-style show in mind.

Says Greg: “I think the whole concert concept will become more showy to the point where it will almost become a gypsy caravan existence and that’s what we’re designing now.

“We’d like to carry our own stage that we’d build into a concert hall; have our own P.A. and coach that we’d sleep in and use as a dressing room.

“Every night we’d go into the coach which will be done out like a living-room and it will be like a home. We’ll walk out on to our own stage which will be like home again. It will be the same carpet every night. The whole thing will have an aura about it just like a circus trip and it will give an artist a chance to come to the concert and feel relaxed before he goes on and not get screwed up hoping the lights will work and can I walk on this way or do I go ‘round that way.”

As for the immediate future there’s a British tour coming up in November that, barring the Oval show, will be their first home dates in nearly a year, plus a new album that should get under way within a few weeks.

It will mean revising much of the act which currently comprises things from “Trilogy and “Pictures At An Exhibition.”

But it’s the Soviet Union that seems to be interesting them more than anything at the moment.  Says Greg: “They are just beginning to open the doors to people but you have to be careful about how you go about it. It would be nice if we could play there because Moussorsky [sic] was Russian and so, of course, was Bartok.”