ELP, they're all absolutely shattered!  

By Roy Shipston

GREG LAKE is lying exhausted on a couch in his mews home off Chelsea’s King’s Road. His dog is chewing a £10 note. He’s “amazingly tired” but refuses to take a holiday, unlike the other two members of ELP, after five shattering months touring America and Europe.

“We must be the hardest working band. I’ve never had this amount of pressure before. It’s good because we’re successful. But it’s bad because our nerves suffer. One minute you open a paper and see your album’s number one, the next your hands are shaking. It’s that sort of pressure.”

As far as this year is concerned Emerson, Lake and Palmer could be the hardest working band. They’ve done around 100 concerts (each at least two hours long) in about 150 days. Now their second album, “Tarkus” is top in Britain, and success hasn’t come by way of self-indulgence or ignoring the need to entertain audiences. If you like, ELP are “un-cool.” They know exactly what they are going to play when they go on stage, and they put themselves into it. It’s not strictly a policy, but they are doing things the way they feel they ought to be done.

“We don’t spend hours jamming, none of that nonsense. What we do is 90 per cent arranged, musically. That’s the way all of us feel and that’s the way it works out. I can’t stand bands who spend hours tuning up with fags hanging out their mouths, with their backs to the audience, and then jam for four hours on a 12-bar. It doesn’t happen for me. We’re conscious of giving an audience entertainment.

“That’s why I admire the Who. Apart from their musical quality, they get stuck in and always give a good two-to-two-and-a-half-hour performance. There are a lot of moodies around and it used to be profitable to be a moody, but I never got into that, and I don’t think it pays any more.”

So ELP are a straightforward, hard­working band. And they need to be. They have another U.S. six-week tour lined-up, starting at the Hollywood Bowl. They plan to make their third album in October and November, then there’s another American tour, including Madison Square Gardens. And then there’s a British 12-day Christmas tour.

You might think, after such hard work, and more to come, that Greg would be glad of the chance of a holiday. His management are even thinking of enlisting ‘the aid of some heavies from Fulham to enforce a rest.’ “But I’ve got so much to do. I’m recording an album for a group from Bournemouth, where my parents live, and I’m looking for a house. Not a gigantic mansion in the country - I haven’t got that much money - but a humble mews place somewhere in London.

“I’d like to live in the country, Wimborne in Dorset most of all, but I’d go mad. I have to be in London to work. The ideal would be to have a place in the country and somewhere in a town with a Rolls-Royce and a chauffeur to take me from one to another. But that’s not really on.”

He can’t really afford to let Oliver, his red-setter, eat £10 notes.

The group Greg is producing are Spontaneous Combustion. Yes are the nearest thing he can relate them to. “They have the same quality, tightness, and they’re punchy. They do a lot of three-part harmony things but they are not like Yes musically. And Yes, by the way, like the Who, are one of the bands who give the music business energy and keep it alive. And there aren’t many of them! Put that in: Yes always say nice things about us in interviews.”

Greg himself has become part of one of these few bands who inject life into the music scene, with little or no fuss personally. He didn’t get much of the limelight in King Crimson, and in ELP the spotlights tend to follow the acrobatics of Keith Emerson. But it’s a situation he accepts.

“My contribution isn’t immediately apparent. I’m not a dynamic personality on stage. I think what I do is more subtle. I’m not a quiet person but what I do is more under the surface. I lay foundations for things. Keith is a dynamic stage personality. That’s just the way it is.”

Greg’s first professional band was the Gods, which also at one time boasted Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. Before that he played with “a lot of nothing bands, sleeping in vans and eating at the Blue Boar.” He’s been playing guitar 10 or 11 years and took up bass three years ago.

He laid a lot of foundations in Crimson and some people feel that his talent may be a bit stifled in the present band. But he says it isn’t true.

“When we formed the band we had a very definite idea of what we wanted it to be. And we knew that we wanted it to last for a long time. We could have had a short, quick smash and cleaned-up moneywise. But we still dig to play.

“If I was writing on my own I could probably get into many and varied things. But I don’t feel restricted within this band. I write with and for the band. When you write music, as with any other art, it depends a lot on your environment.

“As ELP is my environment my writing is geared to it. If I was in a folk-duo I would write differently. No, it’s not restricting, but, to a certain extent, I’m governed.”

ELP’s material is very much a three-way effort. It’s mainly Keith and Greg working together on melody lines. Then Emerson forms a complete arrangement. Then they all re-work it together.

“Carl plays a bigger part in arranging. Often something in 3/4 will end up in 5/4 when The Palmer gets at it. It’s hard to say who does what because we all tend to muscle in with ideas.”

And when it’s finished, Greg writes the lyrics.

“Sometimes the music suggests something visual, sometimes a word pattern. I think our material always has a strong melody, or a tangible form. Music that doesn’t have a tangible form is always the hardest to write lyrics for because you need a tremendous amount of imagination.

“I’m really looking forward to doing the next album because we all understand each other so much better. The first LP was three individuals, then on the second we came together as a group. The next LP could go a similar way to ‘Tarkus’ but I think it will be tighter and we’ll move forward as a group so perhaps the changes won’t be so noticeable.

“It took six days to record ‘Tarkus.’ I don’t know whether that’s because there are so few people in the band, but I’m sure that doing an album quickly helps to make it sound fresh. If you spend four days on one song you lose a lot, whereas you can maintain 100 per cent energy if you only do it for a day. There is a danger in becoming analytical. In some ways you score but in others you dip badly. If you take out a note because it’s slightly flat you lose the rawness and aggression.”

Emerson, Lake and Palmer have been in existence for just over a year, a year of hard work and consolidation. Next year will be one of development. “The first aim of a band is to become successful. Next year, for our own gratification, we’ll probably turn to more inventive things. Hopefully, you use a successful position to create new things and open new fields for other people. I think that for us there are a lot of alternatives.”

There should be. Greg doesn’t rule out the possibility of getting involved with orchestras, although, he says that, at the moment, it’s something Emerson feels he’s done. There is also talk of a ballet, but it’s only talk at the moment. They haven’t really begun to think about “more inventive” things because they are all “amazingly tired.”