Pomp And Circumstance

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - The Show That Never Ends

George Forrester, Martyn Hanson, Frank Askew

(Helter Skelter Publishing, £12.99)

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

So why is this the first anywhere near definitive book on a band that took the early 70s by storm? Possibly because they were so much products of their time, and that few bands have taken such a retrospective critical drubbing. More recently, ‘much-loved’ comedian Jim Davidson has trumpeted his affection for them. Yet despite these nails in their coffin, there’s a story to be told - and, as with the music, it’s taken three people to tell it.

Not only that, but the magnum opus comes in three parts. The biography, which takes up some 165 small-type pages, is followed by 46 more of musical analysis, after which appendices cover records, videos, tour dates, poll awards and even a breathless Japanese tour diary from one of the authors. All this is preceded by an intro by Classic Rock’s own Chris Welch, who has probably written more words on the band than anyone else... until now.

The coverage afforded the pre-ELP careers of Lake and Palmer suffers in comparison with Emerson’s in The Nice, which is both disappointing and suggestive of an editorial bias towards the legendary Hammond-stabber. But once the triumvirate convenes there’s no shortage of detail in any quarter. Forrester, the chief writer, allows the subjects to ridicule themselves by quoting their more airy-fairy views at length, rather than take an over-critical standpoint. Jim Davidson would doubtless have made more of the 1970 Isle Of Wight festival performance where Emerson blew a photographer off stage with a cannon, but Forrester leaves us (and the hapless Iensman) in mid air without a punchline. Likewise, and on a more serious note, Emerson’s post-fame descent into drugs is soft peddled somewhat.

On the plus side, Forrester rightly neglects to draw a veil over misfires such as the ‘Works Vol 1’ tour with a full orchestra in 1977 that had to be curtailed due to soaring costs and bureaucratic red tape (US classical musicians can’t travel more than 100 miles a day, apparently). Likewise the debacle of the LA-recorded ‘In The Hot Seat’ album, the failure of which sent then-label Victory into liquidation, is covered in admirable depth.

The ELP story is followed all the way to its ignominious end after the 1998 tour with Purple and Dream Theater, when Lake vetoed any new album without his presence as producer as well as musician. It’s a low-key denouement to the story so far - but in this book, at least, there’s more to come...

The musical analysis is surprisingly entertaining, even if like me you don’t know your diminished fifths from your augmented wotsit. The appendix section speaks for itself, and will doubtless be consumed voraciously by fans who’ve got this far. The only major disappointment of the book is the picture section: eight pages of what looks mostly like fan shots that don’t match the thoroughgoing nature of the text. Aside from that, ‘Tarkus’ bow, chaps...

Michael Heatley