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The massive ELP tour machine is about to start rolling again. By the time the band play their first date, there will have been only silence from the trio for two years, a period in which music has moved on and into new areas.
At their peak, ELP were perhaps the most successful techno-rock band to emerge from the ashes of the flower children revolution of 1967. The three offered excitement on every level, musical, visual, and technical. And if the critics complained about a certain lack of feeling, or soul, in them, the punters didnt seem to mind too much. America quickly followed Britains acceptance of the band in 1970 and after that hurdle the world submitted. Japan, Australasia and most of the non-Communist bloc fell under the bands spell and the golden period of 1970-1973 brought Emerson, Lake and Palmer immense wealth and power.
The seeds of ELP power were sown from 1966 onwards when Emerson first started attacking his Hammond organ, until that time, hed been an accomplished but otherwise un-noticed organist playing in a variety of small bands, but his treatment of the Hammond earned him considerable attention.
One London organ showroom refused to service the battered instrument on the grounds that Hammonds shouldnt be treated that way. Melody Maker pictured Emerson under his Hammond on its front page and the moment had begun.
The Nice had begun as backing band to the American chick singer P.P. Arnold and their warm up set proved so popular that they were soon out on their own. Around this time, the acrobatics Emerson was later to become famous for began to develop.
Emerson and the rest of the band - they really were the rest, for after The Nice split several tried to form their own bands and failed - really succeeded on outrage. The outrage of other organists felt at the way Emerson abused his instrument was totally eclipsed by the outrage expressed by the musical establishment when in June 1968 the group were banned from performing at the Royal Albert Hall, after setting fire to the Stars and Stripes during the performance of their single America, an adaptation of Bernsteins theme from West Side Story. The band were so heavily criticized for using pictures of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King to promote the single. Whether from a standpoint of musical outrage or political outrage, Leonard Bernstein reacted violently to the bunch of English scruffs pounding their way through one of his most memorable themes. He managed to ban the records release on American soil.
He was, in fact, only fighting a rearguard action - Emerson was destined to swamp America so completely that it made the term overkill an understatement.
The re-arrangement of classic tunes started a trend that still persists today.
Other musicians who lack the skill of original composition can still find acceptance. From the Beatles onward, it became necessary for the really big bands to write their own material and Emerson and the band were the first group to break through the barrier and still retain underground acceptance.
Emersons ability to adapt classic tunes was well illustrated in Nice, released in 1969. From this point onwards, the band were dominated by classic melodic themes and broke them up with long and (some would say) highly inticate [sic] improvisational sections which were necessary to make the music their own. In these passages, Emerson develops the superb showmanship that was to hoist him to world superstardom and focus sufficient attention for him to form ELP.
At about the same time that The Nice were capturing one element of Britains fanatical underground. King Crimson had cornered another. Their music was frighteningly tight and all original. They were perhaps more deserving of acclaim than the Nice, as leader Robert Fripp pushed the band into areas of musical cohesion previously uncharted. Bass player and vocalist responded well to the water tight arrangements, but didnt feel his own form of songwriting had sufficient room to develop. He was with the band for the superb In the Court Of the Crimson King which astonished musicians on both sides of the Atlantic and lent respect to all those involved with the project. Soon after, while recording In the Wake Of Poseidon, Lake left to form ELP with Emerson.
Lake was under the mistaken impression would find more room to expand. As it turned out, technology almost denied Lake expression in the early years of ELP.
Carl Palmer was drumming with a third underground band at the time. Atomic Rooster were smaller in stature than both The Nice and Crimson but organist Vincent Cranes antics attracted considerable attention to the group. Palmer and Crane split from the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and showmanship was naturally enough an integral part of their live work.
Palmer had the easiest ride to ELP. He emerged from a comfortable family background to join The Thunderbirds at 15. Because he was basically a very fine drummer, he was always in reasonably well paid work until he joined ELP and this is probably a major factor contributing to his personality. You could call him self-confident.
Last year, this magazine was fortunate enough to talk at length with both Emerson and Palmer and learn something of their lifestyle off the road. Lake has proved elusive, particularly so recently. For that reason we track some of his activities over the last year or so.
At the end of 1974, Lake moved into a new home near Windsor in Berkshire. Previously hed lived in a flat in Cornwall Gardens, London. Emerson already his country manor house - now unfortunately destroyed by fire - and it was natural that Lake should desire the seclusion and tranquility of a country retreat. The desire on the part of all three to remain in Britain despite an increasingly oppressive tax climate made such a purchase highly desireable and the fact that the move was quickly followed by the birth of Lakes first daughter Natasha, added to the domestic bliss. 1975 was a period of re-assessment for ELP. Everybody spent the year waiting for the band to split - at least everybody whose livelihood depended on the continuance did.
After three years of grueling world tours and album promotion, the time had come to rest, spend the money before it was removed by force and enjoy a little home life.
For Greg Lake this meant the acquisition of a Tudor Manor House set discreetly in 15 acres with a fair number of bedrooms. Now the problem is to winkle him out to undertake recording, interviews and the usual promotional requirements.
The release of his Christmas single I Believe In Father Christmas six weeks ago marked the culmination of over three years effort. The record was carried out in a leisurely manor [sic] over the last 12 months in a closely planned way. Plans had been laid for the record to be rushed out for Christmas 1974, but it was felt that there was insufficient time for promotion and in the way that only immensely secure and confidant companies can do. Manticore planned for a 1975 yule-time release. This time there was plenty of time for promotion.
A three week romp in Israel was staged in November, the excuse being location work for a film that Greg made to promote the single. No ones really sure why Israel was chosen, but Manticores Andrew Laine has traveled extensively in the country and likes it.
The result was a short film shown all round the world of a chubby sun tanned Lake - the team stopped off for five days beforehand to give Greg a sun tan (he doesnt tan that easily) - behaving moodily in the very cave in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, somewhere in the Gaza Strip. When the idea of filming in this area was put to Greg, he was a little nervous about venturing into an area ripped apart by war but he was quickly reassured about his safety. Perhaps he considered the significance the setting would lend to trite lyrics, but whatever the reason, a small party descended on Israel. The mayor of Jerusalem was happy to be pictured receiving Greg - ELP are big in the Middle East - and all the local papers carried lengthy reports on the rock stars progress through the desert.
Manticore had great faith in the single. Perhaps thats a rather obvious statement (like saying Prince Charles believes in the Monarchy), but the excitement in the office in Curzon Street was intense. One Tuesday early in December, the disc chalked up 8,000 sales, the Wednesday they did 5,400. Britain fell to the siege. But America stuck out. The home of the Christmas single seems to have turned its back on seasonal success and despite all efforts, interest was marginal. The amount of money spent recording the single - a 100 piece orchestra, massed choirs and so on, and the amount of money spent on promotion is unlikely to be recovered, even if the single is a success in several territories. The official statement on the investment is this: We believe that I Believe In Father is going to be a perennial hit, rather like White Christmas.
Greg Lake doesnt really fit in with the other two in the band. Hes a fairly accomplished musician, of course, but hes more melodic than technical and hes always seemed to be the odd one out. The big question about ELP is why they havent split up. With a handful of notable exceptions - The Rolling Stones, The Who - bands who have made it super big milk in their market and piss off to indulge their own pretensions ad nauseum. ELP have not done this, despite persistent rumor and speculation. Perhaps one reason is that the band dont ever meet socially. When they do get together, its for business and theyre firmly of an opinion that business and pleasure dont mix.
Greg is now beginning the lengthy process for going back on the road. The Persian carpet he stands on - perhaps the most absurd of all the ELP props (even more absurd than the phony box of buttons and dials Keith has built on as an extension of his Moog) - will have to be dragged and hoovered. At one time a press report suggested the band retained a roadie whose only job was to vacuum and carry that carpet and there have been all sorts of reasons why Greg covers all stages with such a fine piece of art. His management office say that he feels comfortable with it and that it gives him a link between different venues. They refute all suggestions, however that it is a security blanket. (The carpet, which sold originally for £1500, has climbed to a present value of £7,000.)
Gregs eye to business has been good enough to prevent most of rocks rip off artists attaching themselves to him and today hes expanding his business interests. Hes currently allowing music string maker James How Industries to market a set of strings with his picture on the packet, following the companys efforts at making Greg the strings he needs. Hes been using Rotosound strings for a considerable period following flirtations with all sorts of strings for his many and varied types of guitar. Hes got the amazing habit of changing all strings, including those on his bass guitars, after every set whilst hes on tour. As might be imagined he goes through a few sets of strings.
Mike, a former school teacher, now tour manager for ELP: Greg likes that really toppy sound you get only with a new set of strings. Thats why he changes them after every concert. Hes got a high degree of treble response in his equipment to get to the top end over and his bass doesnt really sound like a bass.
Gregs usual bass guitar on stage is a Gibson Ripper - he switched from his Fender bass some time ago and now amplifies this guitar through an intricate set-up. Main power amplification is a Crown DC300 which is delivered through two JBL bins, two lense horns and two frequency horns. The voicing for the flat response is made by a small Mavis mixer with sophisticated EQ which is shaped for Greg to create his own original sound.
Excluding Mike, a road crew of five is busily engaged getting the ELP gear pile in working order. The massive amount of gear the band has collected is kept in the Manticore cinema in Fulham Broadway. This is the centre of the road operations and a glance at the carefully kept lists of equipment tells that Keiths gear alone is worth £35,000, Carls is surprisingly worth more (£40,000) and the total equipment investment is around £100,000. Attempts have been made to hire the gear during the time its off the road, but they were abandoned after several unsuccessful attempts.
For guitar amplification, Greg has been using four Fender Concert combos that are around 20 years old but recently hes been with the new Yamaha combos which his road crew are very pleased with.
Gregs collection of guitars are well known. Hes been a good customer of master guitar maker Tony Zemaitis, he owns four of five made by Tony, and hes got the usual selection of Martins and Gibsons that are reckoned to be reasonable investments.
When the band return to live work in the summer - a major world tour is planned - theyre stepping into the unknown. Are the ELP fans still there? Perhaps is ELP still there?