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...plant in the world, and Greg Lake. Theyre all British, and sometimes people criticise them for the relatively small number of gigs they do in their Home Country. The reason is simple. Not only do they require a sixty-foot area to accommodate themselves and their serried inanimate assistants, but there is also a shortage of big stages strong enough to support the two-and-a-half tons of Palmers revolving drum-kit.
Following on nearly forty tons of equipment, come forty two people (a recent count) who arrive at the venue during the day and pick a way through the confusion left by the machinery that turns out good-quality, high-volume rock music to audiences that always number thousands.
Theyre the humpers and heavers and unpackers, and Mike OShea, a sort of roadies foreman; and perhaps the American lady Judy Ramullson, to look after lights with her nine or ten helpers. Then theres Peter Morley and Bobby Richardson who care for Keith; Mick, Nick and Charles Bowker who cherish the drum-kit; also the persons who are responsible for Gregs guitars - one each. There are three sound engineers and a separate expert for the Moogs, six others to help them; the stage-manager; the production manager and, of course, a whole herd of people looking after the audience side of the forthcoming concert. It hardly seems worth mentioning those who drove the touring party to the site.
Hardly surprising that ELP could play for a crowd of 18,000 and still make a loss. But its not at all surprising that the band, who could surely sell all concert tickets even if they were playing with tea-chest bass, honkytonk upright and a washboard, continue to expand and improve on the show that never ends.
The three themselves arrive a few hours before the show to meticulously check through their equipment and to conduct a sound-check which is almost a full-length rehearsal.
ELP are at the top, a location they seemed destined to occupy from their foundation in 1969. When the three of them got together, each brought to the mixture an established reputation. Their intentions were made quickly clear: Theres such a lot of rubbish going onstage these days. . .artists who simply dont give a damn about their audiences, said Greg at the time.
Much of the professionalism has gone out of the groups today and we want to give our audiences not only value for money, but also value for time. If were booked for an hour, well play for an hour and every minute will be our best.
The results of those intentions show in the degree of care given to a performance which is unique in itself and a large part of the bands appeal. Apart from the freaky details, like that Moog of Emersons which flies into the air, or Palmers revolving drum-kit, the spectacle is one of solid, intricately structured, above-all loud, music being made in full view of the audience by only three people.
Emerson plays up to ten keyboards, Carl has his phenomenal range of percussive targets, and Greg will play bass, sing his own lyrics and switch from electric lead to acoustic playing with casual ease. His only visual peculiarity is the six-thousand dollar rug on which he insists he must plant his plimsolled feet when performing. Their phenomenal collection of musical skills is a show in itself, as well as the means to musical expression.
Yet it has always been the music theyve sold on, and their live performances have concentrated remarkably on sound quality, without the usual musicians hope that the visual experience will compensate for a less worthwhile auditory one. Selling-out every concert, with each album going Gold, and above all with a protective network of people to remove any of the mundane hassles that can get in the way of a musician walking straight onto a stage in front of thousands of people, Emerson, Lake and Palmer are obviously successful stars. In a way, it was what one might have expected.
Keith Emerson was the organist with the Nice. He was known both for his adaptations of classical pieces for a rock context, but also for the way he leapt around his electronic organ, flinging it across the stage, rocking the instrument heartlessly on one of its corners, pinning down the keys with knives. He was also known as a musician of some quality, which gave rise to the unfounded rumour that he had attended the Royal College Of Music.
He left the Nice in 67 [WebMistress' note: The Nice actually played their final show on March 25, 1970], saying at the time that the reason was that the band was becoming too much a one-man show. Many people were surprised when he immediately organised himself into an identical three-piece outfit.
Apparently he had been dissatisfied with his role in Nice for some time, and there was hardly a gap between the decision to quit finally and his meeting with Greg Lake in San Francisco late in 69. Greg was up until then the bassist and vocalist with King Crimson, a band, like Nice, with a strong progressive character.
They quickly realised that, although they hadnt got on well socially at first, that they would be able to work together profitably. The only piece missing now was a drummer. The other pair had met almost by accident while jamming together on a stage where Crimson and Nice were to share the bill. Having got that far, though, the decision about the third was much more weighty and had to be properly thought out.
"Rocking the instrument heartlessly on one of its corners" (left); Greg Lake (center); Carl Palmer (right)
Keith heard about Carl Palmer through his manager and arranged a meeting, but Palmer was wary at first. Knowing what Keith had been doing with Nice, he could see that he might be about to let himself in for a similar-sounding band without a similarly established reputation. After all, he was safely bringing back £200 pounds a night with Atomic Rooster, and although hed been with Arthur Browns Crazy World [sic] before that and played on the classic LP Fire, Rooster was the first thing hed ever done for himself.
They wanted me to join and Greg called me up and said a classic line that just freaked me. He said, If you dont join this band, youre not only damaging yourself but youre damaging me, and thats heavy. So I said, Well cool. I called my father up that night and I said Listen, I just spoke to a cat on the phone and he said to me that if I didnt join his band he reckoned that Id be damaging him, not me. Well, me as well, but he was more concerned about himself. My father said, The guy must have something. So next day I went round to have a chat with this cat, who I hadnt heard of. I had not heard of Greg Lake, at the time. Id heard of the band and Bob Fripp, but they were the only ones. Although he was unknown to me, he had a certain air about him. He came on like a ton of bricks. And it just kind of grew from there.
Then I met Keith, who was very inhibited as a character when we first got together. He didnt say much; just Hiya Man, lets play. Thats what I dug about Keith you know, he came in on a pure musical thing. I got into that because he was challenging me and I love a challenge musically. I said, Yeah, whatever you want to play. Apparently that knocked him out because drummers had been going down there and saying Lets play one of these. Lets play one of those, but I said Just count me in and they loved it. It was all very exciting actually. I never dreamt it would be as big as it has got.
He was one of the first drummers which we wanted anyway, is how Emerson tells it, but at that particular time he was in a dilemma about whether he wanted to play with this band or another band or whether he wanted to play with ourselves. We tried to persuade him and he said yeah, thats a good idea, yeah. but we hadnt totally convinced him. Well we looked around, and we went through the run-of-the-mill drummers, lots of them, and nothing really happened. Eventually, in desperation, we came back to Carl and said, Look, you have to join us, and he started to think about it then.
At the time, Emerson had already teamed up with Greg Lake. I had been thinking of changing and working with other musicians, previously. I had a manager at the time, Tony Stratton-Smith, and he also knew that I was I getting a bit disenchanted with what I was doing.
I said to him Which is the best bass-player in England, who can sing as well as play bass? He mentioned about two names, one of which was Gregs. So I got to listen to some records, listened to Gregs voice and the guy seemed to have it.
By the beginning of 1970, they had gathered a three-member group whose individual talents combined sophisticated rock, not to mention other forms of modern music, like Emersons jazz interests and Gregs early years playing Hank Marvin, with a format that could create the high-energy excitement of rock and roll on the stage as well as in the studio.
Being established musicians all, the public response to the news of their linke gave them the advance reputation of being a super-group. As a three-piece, their music was further expected to fit in with the prejudices established by some notable trios of the recent past.
Hendrix Experience and Cream had both been formed in 1966 and had established a taste for loud, technically superb rock-music, and a climate in which musical complication had more chance of a sympathetic ear than before; while their supporters were prepared to take the sound and make for it equal claims with literature and other fields of art.
ELP played their first public concert in the Plymouth Guildhall on the Saturday, a week before their official debut at the 70 Isle Of Wight Festival. In Plymouth they played Barbarian, Take A Pebble, Rondo and a forty-minute version of Pictures At An Exhibition. The audience brought them back for three encores, but both the second and the third were of Rondo, perhaps an indication that the band had not rehearsed a wider range of material yet.
According to the New Musical Express, For a full quarter-of-an-hour the hopeful shouts of more, more filled the concert hall. Emerson, Lake and Palmer had arrived.
Emerson in Japan - examining the havoc heavy rain had wrought on his equipment
It was certainly true that ignoring the three was now almost impossible, whether for the music followers who were talking about their performance at Plymouth or recalling the gig at the Isle of Wight the following weekend, or for the most traditional of country backwoodsmen whose breakfasts were enlivened by reading a report in The Times dealing with the IoW fest in musical terms. Karl Dallas, after predicting a swing away from loud-amplification to a softer, acoustic feeling, said that ELP (a noisy new group) continued the tradition of destroying the classics that he (Emerson) began in the Nice.
The first year as a whole was a strange mixture. On the one hand there was the increasing critical respect for the band, which, although it didnt push the early sales of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, made sure that the three would get a chance to prove themselves sometime; on the other, advance speculation had created an expectation which the performances couldnt fulfill.
1971 and 1972 were a tremendous 24-months for the group. In 1970, their first working year, they topped the Brightest Hope section in the Melody Maker poll. Since then, of course, ELP have been obsessive poll winners. This first laurel, however, brought stern editorialising from a section of the Kettering local paper headed The Young Generation.
What had roused the papers anger, apparently, was that they had never heard of the winners, who must surely, then, have laid false claim to their title.
A judge once leant from his bench and asked one of the lawyers in court, Who, pray, are the Beatles?. Judicial ignorance is a privilege to be preserved, but the same isolation is quite unthinkable today for the Beatles, together or apart. Emerson, Lake and Palmer, however, who have now reached the position of established rock-stars, are probably still relatively unknown to the majority of people in the country, most of whom wouldnt even catch the tinkle of a rusty bell in their head at the sound of the name.
The split in their audience between Establishment Culture and the pop crowds mirrored a split in the bands work which was present from the very beginning. The Keith Emerson whose acrobatics with the organ had made Nice so popular was not going to change, nor was the gifted keyboards player who drew his inspiration from the classics. Lake and Palmer were the perfect foil for the man.
Its not that ELP was a backing group, nor that the L and the P made up a ground section against which Keith could solo, it was simply that he needed, in order to fulfill his talents, a band made up of soloists in sympathy with his musical attitude.
Emerson receives a Gold disc from Norman St John Stevas.
The project was working almost from the start. Within the year Keith Emerson had acquired his first Moog, and the electronic personality of the bands music was established. In 1971 they took five tons of equipment on tour, a modest figure indeed, but a true grandfather of the monstrous roadshow of today.
From the beginning, the most serious obstacle in their path was the lack of rehearsal facilities. When they were using a Church Hall in Shepherds Bush one of their reluctant audience, a neighbour who lived three doors away, took out a writ against them. It wasnt just the noise he was complaining about either, as Greg recounted afterwards he said: I sit in my bath and the ripples rush up and down in waves, and I get seasick. On £20,000 worth of equipment? There must be some choppy swimming baths in areas where the band perform today. Still, the story has become a regular favourite in descriptions of the band.
Although they were loud and performed in the grandoise style of the Heavy Metal Thunderers, the extra quality of their musicianship had won for ELP quite another sort of audience. Inspired by the belated recognition that the Beatles had been important musicians, and helped no doubt by Emos familiarity with the less controversially cultured music of Moussorgsky, critics began to turn their attention to the trio, subjecting them to weighty, if ill-considered appraisal. The release of a live recording of Pictures At An Exhibition towards the end of 71 helped this reputation along.
The fact that such a complicated piece of music could have been recorded at a live performance shows just how committed the group are to pleasing concert audiences, treating them as the final judge of what they do. The amazing antics of Emerson with the Nice, especially during Rondo, were now incorporated into an overall show, the overriding purpose of which was to get the listener high with the sound.
With constant gigging and hard work, the new outfit managed to show itself off to those who mattered. In 72 they not only won seven awards in the Melody Maker Readers, Poll, but had all taken top honours in the equivalent in the New Musical Express. The first two albums had been declared Gold and Pictures was selling well. At the very end of 1971 they had played the London Palladium, a theatre that had still managed to hold on to its [sic] reputation as the showcase for newly-arrived stardom, now they had arrived.
And it was in 72 that the band finally solved their rehearsal problems. A cinema fell vacant in West London, the old Fulham ABC, and ELP picked up a lease until 1975.
The catalogue of what went right in that year is too long to finish, and yet its hard to leave things out because of the sheer magnitude of what was going on. During their summer tour of Japan the fans staged a full-scale riot in the middle of a drum solo, but theyd obviously waited long enough to make up their minds about the performance since ELP became, overnight, the biggest band in the East.
Since winning their respective categories in the polls, the individuals had inevitably become the heroes in the field of their own particular instrument. Every drummer wanted to be Carl, every bassist wanted to be Greg and it was considered simple fact that the only musician to make creative use of Robert Moogs electronic machinery was Keith.
As usual it was the Press that wrote the captions for this success story.
One correspondent wrote that the vast heaps of equipment helped to make the large stages the band were now playing appear more cosy. Anthea Disney wrote an article for the mums which claimed that ELPs triumph showed that clean-living boys could be pop stars too, even the hallowed Financial Times reviewed one of their concerts, saying, ELP look exciting, and their music combines confused images of the raucous, incoherent noises of contemporary street life with a fastidiously preserved classical base. So, it seems, they were not only loved by the many, and claimed by all sections of society, but they were also misunderstood.
The pop Press, probably the only section apart from the concert-goers who understood what was going on, went wild in a more informed way, about the possibility of a new album. It wasnt to come until the very end of 1973, by which time some of the euphoria had died away. Trilogy no longer stood for the best thing on record. Rick Wakeman was playing synthesiser and bands like the Moody Blues and Led Zeppelin were breaking ELPs attendance records.
Most bitter of all, the rumours that the three were going to split, which had been so common in the first six months of their collective existence, now began to reappear. After all, wasnt it Emerson who said, when he left the Nice, We could all have stayed in our groups and continued to earn a lot of money. But I think three years is the normal life-span of a group before you get stale. For ELP those three years were nearly up.
It was inevitable really. When you set out to launch a band and end up almost conquering the world then it always is tricky to come to terms with reality. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were having to adjust to their place somewhere near the top of the big- league, losing out a little on album sales, gaining a few points on live performances.
Also, the band were finally coming face-up against one of the perennial problems of the creative music business. It is very difficult to keep three people, each one exceptional in his own right, working together on a single harmonious career.
The particular strength of the format, however, is well illustrated by the case of the non-existent solo albums. Emerson was reported to have finished three tracks early in 72, and the official story is that they are all working on an individual recording project. Yet, no sign of a finished LP. As Keith put it, If I write something good, Im going to want to put on a live performance. That means ELP.
In 1973, apart from working on Brain Salad Surgery and doing their usual round of concerts from London to Tokyo, they began to organise themselves and their other interests as they wanted. First, they started their own record label, Manticore, which gave Greg, who has always produced the bands own records, the chance to have a go with someone elses as well.
Carl has been learning all about some branch of the martial skills, and is obviously ready to cope with anyone who tries to steal his equipment. Keith has been indulging his passion for electronic equipment, a passion hard to guess at when you see him maltreating that delicate circuitry on stage, and he and Robert Moog, inventor of his namesake, are said to be cooking up something bigger and better between them.
As a show, their stage act has travelled well beyond the believable and whereas it was only Keith who used to dress for a performance, however minimally, they all now go to the effort of adopting a stage appearance. It seems a small burden compared with that of the Roadies who have to shift three lorry-loads of equipment.
With so many people around, it almost seems that the three musicians involved are nearly incidental. Something that happened on their 1973 Italian tour shows that they arent. After all those experts box lifters and wire checkers had done their job in Milan, rain prevented the first night and by the second Greg had come down with laryngitis. The second night had to be called off too.
The incident summarises all that is extraordinary about the modern, technically dominated process of giving a concert. A private army spends the whole day setting things up so that three musicians can perform, and the effort is wasted because one of them has a sore throat. The band members are the only items that cant be duplicated in case of emergency.
For Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer the artificial lives they lead when working, protected by an army of helpers isolated from the cares of fuse-wire and jack-plug and mounted in a multi-thousand pound setting of equipment, are the necessary consequences of their art which is the mounting of spectacular concerts. The success of the show depends on all the necessary bits and pieces getting to the right place at the right time. As far as organising this is concerned, manager Stewart Young, is more of a part of the band. He came in as a friend. He would make the final decision on such arrangements. It is only the music itself which is sacred. No-one at all interferes with the musical policy of the band, theyll only say what they like or dislike. To have musical direction given to you by someone else is very weird when youre an outgoing musician.
Theyre very cool superstars, hardly involving themselves in the public life their position could lead them into. An exception was their meeting with Norman St John-Stevas during his spectacularly short career as Minister for the Arts so that he could present them with Gold records for Brain Salad Surgery, a record that had, on the whole, been given the thumbs down by the critics. During the brief ceremony, the Minister showed how much he had in common with the group by talking about one of Slades singles. Greg, keeping what he had thought to himself, said, These guys from the Ministry are a lot cooler than we thought.
Critics knocked Brain Salad Surgery, the Minister demonstrated clearly that he hadnt got the faintest idea what ELPs music was about, and they are still under one of the longer-standing bans from the Royal Albert Hall, but as Mr St John Stevas said as he handed over the gold record award for thier [sic] fifth album Culture is what people enjoy.
Eruption of an Iconoclast
KEITH EMERSON WAS BORN IN 1944, IN Todmorden on the second of November. His mother had been moved north to have her baby in case the Germans invaded the South Coast. Both his parents played instruments themselves, his grandmother was a piano teacher and the infant Emerson was lulled to sleep by the sounds of parental musical evenings.
When he was seven he began piano lessons and took a dislike to the rules and scales that the three Worthing piano teachers who first had a hand in Keiths involvement with keyboards forced into his mind, but he persevered. At the age of ten he entered a piano competition, he came third, and his conventional musical development continued until he became interested in jazz.
He did some spare-time performing with the local big-band, sponsored by Worthing Council, doing Count Basie numbers. He was still at school, without a serious thought about what he was going to do, and when he organised a pop group it was only to make money. As a jazz purist he thought that pop had no musical value.
When the time came to earn his living full-time, Keith got a job in a bank. He was still rushing off in the evenings to play with either a jazz trio or a rock group and some of his working day was spent reading the rock papers. There was obviously a gap of sympathy between the young Keith and the world of High Finance.
I tried it for almost three years, but it got to the stage where it took somebody else to decide for me, and that was my employer who fired me. Thank God he did.
I was on the dole for a bit and I kicked around with local musicians. They had an interest in jazz and I was playing with a lot of different people at this particular time. I mean like, dig it, I have been taught by conventional music teachers, went through the whole thing and Ive done it you know.
I had a liking towards it, and then you reach the rebellious stage. In everybodys upbringing theres a certain amount of rebelling and jazz, to me, had this element of rebellion which I was looking for. All the rules were completely broken down and smashed and the whole image of jazz just fascinated me.
The fact that it was played in dirty clubs and that the people who played it were junkies, oh, you know, you rebel against society, and everything and thats it.
Yeah. I guess Im still rebelling now. To this day Ive been against all the rules which were opposed to music.
Failure in banking forced Keith completely into the world of music. His first pro band, the T. Bones, then the VIPs with whom he had a first taste of success, the hit single called I Wanna Be Free, and then P.P. Arnold asked him to form a backing group for her. He got hold of Lee Jackson, David OList and Brian Davison and they called themselves The Nice.
That band became famous, and not least for the heavyweight wrestling match between Keith and his organ that was featured in most gigs. The crescendo of sound was matched by what appeared to be a titanic struggle between the man and his machine.
After four years, Keith felt that he was no longer getting what he wanted from music with his involvement in The Nice. The band split and ELP was formed. It is the live gigs with this band that most fully express Emersons personality. Here he blends his actions with the sounds they are producing.
Its a natural instinct for me to perform this way on stage. The music is very important, but the music can only take you to certain heights. After that its like trying to achieve the Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon, or whatever. You dont know quite what it is, but whatever it is you cant grasp it through music alone. You have to go one stage further and my complete climax comes through violence. Its through exercising this violence on stage that I can be so subdued off stage.
A lot of artists can pin down their works and say that what theyre doing is definitely this, I cant pin down my music at all.
Its really a question of what comes first. With my music I have a natural built-in thing for improvisation. If anything goes wrong with the equipment or the roof falls in, and I have been faced with riots, Ive been faced with equipment breaking down and complete disaster and God knows what, I have this built-in thing which pulls me out of it.
Its difficult with words. I mean, if Im trying to explain something I usually lose the thread of it, completely frozen and thats the end of it.
My views on how I do things change every day you know. I can say something one day and totally believe that what Ive said is true. Then the next day Ill have moved one step farther forward and I realise it is complete rubbish. But over the top of it all, I think, my music is the only thing that remains constant. Thats the only thing I can rely on.
The wild sound and fury of an ELP performance coming to a climax may look like a technological brainstorm, but their effects are premeditated. The original musical ideas usually come from Keith.
I have a feeling inside me. Its not a question of visuals or whatever, its just a feeling inside me. Its an effect and I try and live that effect which Im after. Its amazing when I create something which I know is right, because the whole of that day after Ive created it is a most incredible high. I mean I can just walk around as if Im floating on air - just living off that sensation.
Every time I play it, I know its right.
The existence of these inspired feelings is essential to ELPs continuing musical success. Having brought the trick off once it becomes even more important to keep it up, Keith has no idea what brings it on.
It frightens me, the fact of where it starts, because I cant pin it down to anything. It can happen at really weird moments. Bolero happened to me when we were packing away after rehearsal and I just started playing it and everybody looked round.
They said What are you doing? and I said I dont know, but stop packing away your instruments and get them back together again now because somethings happening and I dont know what the hell it is! And we did and it started building from there.
Its frightening. It gets to the point where you think that youre not doing it yourself. Thats how amazing it becomes after a while.
This band has a reputation for playing other peoples material. You should respect their intentions in the piece. In much the same way as when I write something I expect my original intentions to be respected and the same when Greg writes something, I respect his original intentions, even with somebody outside the band, it can be somebody dead for how ever many years, their intentions still have to be respected.
Copelands music fitted very naturally. Bachs music fits very naturally and so did Ginasteras. To me the ultimate praise that I could have received was when I visited Ginastera to obtain his permission to use it on the album. I was very nervous about meeting the guy. I mean, here is an international composer, very well respected, and here is, to him, a rock and roll band playing his music. You can imagine how I felt.
As a musician Emerson relates more directly to the tradition of classical composition than to Chuck Berry and rock and roll. The mixing of the two streams happens on stage when he reaches for that ultimate moment. Uniting the disciplines of his music with a true rocker's surrender to the excitement of the performance.
Ive been through phases where Ive had electric shocks and not felt them. Ive cut myself and not realised until Ive come off. When youre performing, you are the music; you are the instrument; you are creating.
Telling the Tale
Terry McGregor retrospectively examines the five LPs since Emerson, Lake and Palmer, relishing again the good bits and tidying up the trios music.
THE PROBLEM FOR groups with stage reputations as strong as ELPs is: Can their records ever do justice to their talents as displayed in live concerts? Several facets of a bands total impact must be lost once the sounds are left etched on vinyl, perfectly preserved unchangeable for posterity. It is certain that, in the case of a band like ELP, they cannot be held up to be definitive versions, the one performance to which all others aspire.
What is more likely is that they serve as a basis for improvisation and development during stage performances which provide the conditions for the band and their music to thrive and blossom. What the albums do give us is a record of how the music has changed and developed during the career of a true super-group.
In Pictures At An Exhibition, ELP have attempted to lay down the elusive dynamism of the live performance in plastic. Although it is the groups third album chronologically, it consists of a performance recorded in Newcastle City Hall of a piece of music which has been a highlight of their concerts since it was first performed at the Isle of Wight concert in 1970.
Pictures At An Exhibition is Keith Emersons transcription of Mussorgskys composition for piano, later orchestrated by Ravel.
The release of this album seemed very much directed towards the wishes of ELP fans. Pictures has always been a great favourite among concert-goers and it was available on record at a budget price. As live records go it is probably rated among the best that any group has produced.
When they are badly done, In Concert records are among the worst, but the best can be quite exhilarating experiences.
As one would expect from a group with ELPs reputation for precision, the live recording is immaculate and the performance matches the technical quality of the sound in all respects.
The opening track, Promenade, is performed true to Mussorgsky and the melody must be familiar to anyone who has ever been exposed to the pop classics, one of those where you can whistle the tune perfectly but have no idea what on earth it is. Now you know, Pictures At An Exhibition by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. What follows Promenade old-timer Mussorgsky would certainly not recognise.
Carl Palmers musical interpretation of a picture of what looks like a blind gnome features Emersons various keyboards and is followed by a vocal version of the original theme in which Lakes lyrics concern the great Promenade of life. It also contains a very neat touch of his Elizabethan-style guitar playing. Emersons frantic keyboards play the main role in The Old Castle.
The second half of Pictures is mainly concerned with Baba Yaga, his hut and his curse. Although he lives on top of a pole next to a ploughed field, his curse is apparently something to be reckoned with. He obviously has something up his sleeves almost as tricky as Emersons arms.
The Great Gates Of Kiev is another tune we all know well, or used to know well anyway. So, if Mussorgsky deems it necessary to turn in his grave I feel that the least he could do is turn with the beat. The old B. Bumble (and, dare I say, it Tchaikowsky [sic]) classic Nutrocker provides a fitting encore to an album that captures as well as any the feel and atmosphere of a really dynamic live performance.
The classical influence which is so dominant in the groups music as represented on Pictures is one which Emerson seems to have brought to the band and is found in much of his work with The Nice. On the bands first album, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the classical themes are featured very prominently.
Janacek and Bartok are acknowledged as having provided the basic themes for The Barbarian and Knife Edge but other composers seemed to have provided inspiration for many of the other tracks.
Take A Pebble includes a guitar passage in the best Vaughan-Williams pastoral style and whenever Emerson lays his hands on a pipe organ one feels his arrangements could have been done by the great Johann Sebastian. However, playing spot-a-composer is not the only pleasure to be derived from this album.
As with the first albums of many groups this one has a fresh new quality which is produced naturally, when three talented musicians begin to pool their musical ideas to produce a totally new synthesis.
It is this quality which makes Emerson, Lake and Palmer such a satisfying piece of work. And it is satisfying, whatever opinions one has about the success of the album as an attempt to create new directions from the fusion of classical and rock music.
Looking back on this record and considering the music they have recorded since it is possible to see the occasional moments when the combination of two very different musical traditions produce ideas which are really different and new, moments which indicated how their music would progress in the future.
The album features the group in contrasting moods, from the springtime-in-the-countryside feeling of Take A Pebble to a heavy and threatening Knife Edge, courtesy of Janacek. The latter provides one of the best classical adaptations that ELP have produced.
Emersons fuzzy organ adopts and strengthens the atmosphere of the original beautifully. The Three Fates finds Emerson making the most of a spell on the Royal Festival Halls organ in Clotho, while in Lachesis and Atropos the themes are developed on piano. From the grand and somewhat sparse atmosphere of the suite the band expands into the lush multi-layered electronic fog of Tank sounding very much like a swinging Soft Machine and featuring a Palmer drum solo. The album ends with Lucky Man, which is about the nearest ELP could possibly come to an acoustic folk sound. It also has some fine multi-tracked harmonies and whooping, buzzing Moog. On the whole then a pleasing and refreshing first album but most of all an album which makes one look forward to the next. Having done so one would have been surprised, perhaps even disappointed, when first confronted with Tarkus.
Tarkus, it appears, is a caterpillar-tracked armadillo which totes vicious-looking canons [sic] and rocket launchers. The first side of the album charts the beasts adventures, which includes brushes with jet-powered pterodactyls, and the manticore, a mythical creature, lion with human face, which subsequently found fame on the bands record label.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, ELPs sound turned out to be well suited to the sci-fi take of Tarkus. From its birth in lava of a volcanic eruption to its final confrontation with the manticore in Battlefield, the irrepresible [sic] energies of ELP follow the half-mechanical half-animal juggernaut on its relentless course overcoming or destroylng all that comes before it.
The second side of the album is in an altogether more flippant vein. Jeremy Bender has strange sexual habits on which I neednt elaborate. On Bitches Crystal, one of the highlights of the album, Emerson uses practically every piano style at his disposal, from tinkling musical box to ragtime, then reverts back to the pipe organ for Infinite Space.
The album closes with Are You Ready, Eddy? a tongue-in-cheek rocker which fades out with somebodys imitation of the canteen lady. Overall, this is an album with few highpoints but which sustains interest consistently throughout.
Surprisingly they have developed few of the ideas which they began to explore in the first album but have changed emphasis, moving towards an evenly-paced sound influenced by modern jazz musicians.
One thing they had done to some extent was to develop the use of electronic effects to the stage where they didnt have to depend on their novelty alone to maintain interest but were being used to convey musical ideas in an enormous variety of ways.
This is the first step in elevating instruments such as the Moog to the situation where they are instruments of great expressive power, which they must someday become. As Emerson becomes more aware of the possibilities of electronics, his use of them matures and their possibilities are opened up.
Their fourth album, Trilogy, provided most of the answers to the problems of the bands musical direction. With Trilogy, the promise and expectation aroused by ELP is truly satisfied. The various talents of the musicians blend and balance, and the unconfrontable in interesting conflict of styles is resolved to produce a fine album.
ELPs most successful album to date opens with The Endless Enigma which belongs very much to Emersons cultured, stylish keyboards. It is interrupted by Fugue which contains some fine piano. From The Beginning is quiet, restrained, almost Latin-rhythmned and features Lakes guitar. This is probably the nearest thing to easy listening that ELP have ever produced.
The band complete the side looking to the Wild West. The Sheriff is a bad boy brought to justice ballad in which Emerson demonstrates his talent as a barroom pianist. Hoedown is one of those tunes that sound as though they were written with Emerson in mind.
It is doubtful, very doubtful in fact, that Aaron Copeland had heard Emerson pound out America or Brandenburger with The Nice, but Copelands composition is a perfect vehicle for him in his more energetic mood.
The second side opens with the title track, and another one of those damned familiar tunes! Played on his Steinway, Emerson sounds as if hes in tails before the concert audience, then suddenly the piece explodes into another spell of Moog madness. Driven along by Palmers urgent rhythms the synthesiser hoots and wails in the most astonishing fashion, only to meet an abrupt end in Stripper style closing bars. Living Sin is one of the most conventionally catchy songs Ive heard on an ELP album. It even includes Lake doing a Mr. Bass Man effort and is one of those songs which seems to be obvious single material after the first few bars. The pop classics provide the closing number, a very grand version of Bolero building up from a barely audible level to a pounding climax, horns bellowing, faithful Moog wailing in the background and drums crashing.
Altogether an album to leave you breathless, as much by the contrast of moods as by the power of the finale, for in Trilogy ELP have obtained a near-perfect blend of the various styles at which they excel. The more restrained music it includes provides the ideal foil to those pieces in which all of their energies are let loose. It also represents a considerable advance creatively on the first two studio albums, showing an altogether more imaginative use of the facilities which studio recording can offer.
The result is a sound which is lush and grand without being over-produced. The use of classical compositions is still very prominent, but they now appear in a far less congruous and more natural manner, and they now play a more logical role in the conception of the album as a whole.
Trilogy undoubtedly won many new supporters to ELPs cause and the bands fifth album was awaited by many people who regarded Trilogy as the most accomplished performance by the band to date. Brain Salad Surgery finds them with a different approach to the production of a record.
It opens with a roaring rendition of Jerusalem as youve never heard it before (a phrase which seems to be applicable to much of ELPs music). If Lakes vocals do not stir patriotic hearts as much as a choir, then Emersons embellishment of this old hymn add a dimension that has certainly never been achieved in traditional versions.
Similarly there are certain parts of the Toccata from Ginasteras 1st Piano Concerto which I do not seem to be able to find on the score of the original laying in front of me. As Palmers percussion drives the track to a climax we are treated to Ginastera Meets Dr. Who courtesy of Emersons maniacal box of wires, sounding once again as though it has finally solved the problem of the indispensable human operator and is functioning with a will of its own.
From the horrific implications of the electronic age we are brought gently back to sanity with Still You Turn Me On, soft, lilting even and Benny The Bouncer, a brief ballad of the bar-room, featuring a piano backing appropriate to the setting.
The rest of the album consists of Karn Evil 9. It is on this track that the band have the opportunity to display the full extent of their talents. What is very noticeable on this number, very much a showpiece for the individual to use to develop ideas, is that Emerson no longer completely dominates the proceedings.
The voice of Lake is used to maximum effect, possibly because the material is much more suited to his abilities. Palmers drumming comes over as impressive but unobtrusive, the way good drumming should, and includes the use of various exotic percussion instruments such as steel band-type drums. However, Keith does appear now and then and his playing seems to be less frantic and more studious than previously.
This is not to say that his work is unexciting, just that the atmosphere is generated in a more effortless fashion, less speed but no less tension. The credit for the vocals on this track is shared with Pete Sinfield, more evidence of the groups apparent desire to spread the responsibility for their sound more widely.
Looking at a bands records retrospectively ought, in many ways, to allow one some extra insights into the progress of their music over the years. It ought to be possible to detect exactly along which lines the music is moving, knowing where its going as well as where it comes from.
Emersons belief that there is an enormous wealth of invention in the modern classical composers which can be used to enhance the rock style in which they are played and vice versa has been justified, though the task has not been easy. But increasingly in the later albums we find the uncomfortable bedfellows producing highly original ideas. Recent albums indicate that much of the bands impact lies in their improvisatory talents.
The tightly-structured numbers appear only briefly but serve to emphasise the longer, looser sessions. Perhaps it is this aspect of their performances, combined with the astonishing precision and sheer professional musicianship which makes ELP such an exceptional band.
Three people with a united goal
EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER IS AN INSTITUTION structured so that three virtuoso musicians can make music together. The impression of sheer size that goes with it merely mirrors the strain of one unit containing such a variety of talent and style. Yet the band is a stable one. It exists only on a musical level. The three members dont automatically seek each other out every time they feel lonely or in need of being drunk. The only activity they have in common is their music. The band that plays together stays together.
It is a striking indication of how well the arrangement works that, although they are all meant to be working on personal projects, none of them, with the exception of Gregs forays into production, have ever sought to express themselves outside the context of the band. It gives the impression of a surprising dedication to music through the group, even more surprising in that this is the real story.
With us, says Greg, there are no what I would term petty frictions, none at all. Apart from if anybodys been up for eighteen hours in a studio, then theyre going to get very tired and to that extent there are petty frictions, but overall we really never have a cross word because we do very much see eye to eye, and we are all after one end.
But the frictions that are there are much, much deeper and theyve always been there. Thats when you get to know somebody terribly well; its like a man and a wife. Its almost a love relationship. There is friction somewhere, there always will be between human beings.
I dont analyse it and I dont analyse relationships. I think its a very unhealthy thing to do. Thats one of the main reasons weve always been well suited together, its because weve never really analysed our relationship with each other. I think if we did, maybe wed find out a lot of things that would be better not found out, or not realised.
Greg is the cool member of the band. Hes a strong contrast to Emersons violent musical personality and to Carls intensely energetic approach. In many ways he is the least flash technically, for vocal brilliance is more connected with feeling than identifiable skills.
Carl says of him, I think he probably has the urge to play guitar more and sing more on stage. As a musician hes of a different make-up to Keith and myself. Hes very levelheaded; not too many things stir him up. I doubt if hed ever get into smashing a guitar, though I have heard that he did throw a couple of guitars at some road managers - but I dont think hed ever use it in the act.
The act. It dominates the thinking of all three. What they do have in common is a long musical apprenticeship and a very serious attitude to their music.
The process of working out a piece involves all three, but it usually starts with Keith. From him come the bulk of the original musical ideas. The words are written either by Greg or, on some of Brain Salad Surgery by the poet/musician Pete Sinfield.
The final form of the piece is thrashed out together in the rehearsal rooms. Each has sufficient confidence in the mastery of the others over their own instruments that they have no hesitation in leaving the responsibility for each part to the performer responsible. Neither of course is there any hesitation about offering advice and criticism. Carl describes the process.
We always rehearse in such a way that if Keith has written a piece of music he will give Greg the chords. Then he will play with Greg and then I will come in and sort out all the timings, where they stop and where they start, see if theyre playing the right amount of bits in each bar. Then I will learn my bit. I will have to work out exactly which instrument to play it on, see where it sounds best.
Rehearsals usually go quite smoothly because the individuals in the band prepare themselves for the rehearsals by practising at home the material theyre going to play on stage. So theres no friction actually taking place then. It only really happens when youre writing, perhaps when Im trying to work something out and Keith might hear it straight away while I might not.
There usually is some friction somewhere over somebody being able to play something and the other guy not being able to work it out. You know, everyday working conditions.
In this company of equals, one of the trickiest jobs is that of record producer, for he is the one who does encroach on the territory of the others, if only to the slightest degree. Greg Lake does the job for ELP.
Originally I did it because I have had more experience in production than Keith or Carl. I co-produced the first album and then learnt a lot from our engineer on that session.
To be a record-producer you have to be a great listener. Because youre listening on behalf of all those people that are eventually going to hear the record, and if you hear something that grooves on your ear then sure as hell its going to groove on other peoples, and if something really stimulates you then theres a fair chance its going to stimulate everyone else, because were all basically the same.
It comes into a balance. The more you know musically, the better you can explain and define whats wrong and what you want to hear in its place. There certainly is a need to be skilled musically, but theres more of a need to see the whole picture.
I sometimes get frustrated when Keith wants to change one note. I say, Listen, that really makes no difference because although that run isnt perfect it sounds perfect. I mean like a grace note or something is missing, which not one person, not the most acute ear, is ever going to hear, but we have to go through it and put the note in, or re-do the run.
I would never call myself a producer-dictator, but that is truly not what a producer should be anyway. A producer is not there to command the artists but to perform their wishes. Probably the skill lies in being able to draw an artist out, put him in the right frame of mind so that when he plays he feels like God. Its a very sensitive area. One wrong word in the studio and you can deflate a guys ego and the sessions wasted.
An example of the way the band work together to bring out the best from each other is the story of the development of Toccata from Brain Salad Surgery. Based on the fourth movement of his first piano concerto, it brought the name Alberto Ginastera to an unusually wide audience.
Keith had caught the end of the first performance of the work and was inspired to get hold of the piano part which he started playing at home.
Its a very percussive piece of music, with the piano hammering away dramatically, and Keith remembered that, Carl had always wanted to do a percussion piece that was well arranged. It was only when we were getting this album together that I realised this was the ideal number. I rang him up and played it to him over the phone and he liked it, so we began working on it in rehearsals.
The end result of all these co-operative efforts - and perfecting a new piece can take ELP as long as eight months - comes on the stage, lit by the battery of lights, as the three of them reproduce the music before an audience of twenty, thirty or forty-thousand people.
For the spectators, the effect of the piece is a composite of the individual musicianship of the band, the stunning volume of the equipment, and the visual drama of the performers, centring [sic] on Emerson as he works at his keyboards.
It is often noted that a particularly athletic piece of gymnastics from Emerson gets a better reaction from the crowd than a finely surmounted musical problem solved when hes standing almost still. For many people, too, the band is inordinately loud. Its all part of the price for being more than a jazz-rock band, for being a show.
Carl says: Keith needs to get a buzz from the volume itself, though he could get rid of that buzz, he could adapt. For the band itd be better if he used smaller equipment, but if it meant he wasnt going to play as well, Id rather he kept all of his distortion. Great. So were going to lose something. Thats life.
Inevitably theres a certain trepidation before a performance. The most tense point is just before you go on, because its got to happen, and its got to happen then. If you spend time thinking about whether youre going to make a mistake, you certainly will. But youre going out there to play before twenty or thirty thousand people. Youve just got to feel some type of fear, but you learn to control the fear and try and think logically about what youve got to do.
After the concert is finished, the band reacts differently. Emerson relaxes immediately, but Carl spends a couple of hours going through everything in his mind before hes ready to celebrate. For the roadies, though, it takes almost the five hours necessary to set things up before all the gear is dismantled and stowed away.
Those cats suffer, says Greg. Its like moving a town. They are people with, at the least tremendous experience in trucking and setting up complex equipment. Its not just putting the mains plug in the back of an amplifier. I dont know how many kilowatts we have on stage, but its enough to fry a person if they touch it.
They have to be totally in control of their emotions. They have to know what to do in awkward circumstances. If someone runs on the stage theyve got to know the difference between a maniac with a gun or a knife and someone whos just a little bit freaked and wants to put his arms round you.
Theres an average of fourteen of them for every letter in ELP, and they represent the problems of mounting the show. Some people have criticised the band for an excess of technicality and technique, for overskill [sic] with size and volume instead of soul.
Keith Emerson observes bitterly, A musician today might as well be black. People are dubious about artists. They're worried about them. They dont understand them. Five gold albums call him a liar.
ELP TOURS (Europe)
Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer have a reputation as a live band even greater than that earned by their records. This is not just a British and American taste. As the maps on this and the following pages show they have toured widely everywhere this side of the Iron Curtain, and their international audience has responded by asking them back again. These maps show just how widely their musical imperialism has spread.
ELP TOURS (Rest of the World)
Benny The Bouncers' Blues Variations
CARL PALMER WAS BORN IN 1950, IN BIRMINGHAM on the twentieth of March. As the percussionist with Emerson, Lake and Palmer he spends much of his time on tour, or rehearsing. As a band, ELP have the reputation for being keen on their live performances and Palmer is no exception. Despite the waiting around in hotel rooms, the anxiety that precedes each concert and the sheer physical strain of performing in front of twenty or thirty thousand people, he genuinely enjoys touring.
Yes, I do very much actually. I dont enjoy flying, and I certainly dont always enjoy the hotels, but the actual concerts I enjoy very much. Its a big relief for me to tour because when youve been working on an album for several months you finally get out there and play it to people and that is the final way of expressing it to people.
Theres more to one of the bands performances however, than merely getting up on stage and boogieing. Its a very organised and disciplined performance they give. Palmers own style of drumming is an essential part of the final effect.
I think that being a musical drummer means playing tuned percussion and Ive just started studying tuned percussion, such as timpani and tubular bells. Being a tuned percussionist probably gives you more scope in todays music.
On most of the music that you hear the percussionist probably has the easiest role in the band. He doesnt have to remember chords, he just has to remember when the band starts and when it stops. If you can have a more musical approach to percussion instruments I think you achieve more within the band - you have more colour. To me being a musical drummer makes you more of a musician, obviously, and thats a thing that Im always striving for.
One of the most remarkable things about Palmers music is the equipment he uses to produce it. Like the other two, he is obsessed with the technical aspects of his craft. It took two years to get his drum-kit arranged in exactly the way he wanted. Now that hes got it worked out, he has had the set duplicated in stainless steel with copper trimmings. Its not that he hopes to improve his playing greatly with the new gear, but theres a satisfaction in sitting behind a kit which he designed so that everything is always in the same relation to everything else, and so that its impossible to set it up wrong. A roadie-proof drum-kit of your dreams, with everything so placed that he can reach it without having to straighten his arms completely.
Greg [sic] insists, though, that a large kit is essential. You should have little drums, you should have big ones, theres a need for them you know. Big cymbals, small cymbals. You cant possibly get all of the tonal quality you want from a thirteen inch drum, and a sixteen inch drum.
So he has at least nine sizes of drums, ranging from the little six inch to the big bass twenty-eight. Thats the way I think of the drum-kit. Theres bass and theres treble and theres me in the middle that provides both.
Having perfected, so far as he can, the drums, Greg Lake [sic] is turning his attention to the other half of the percussion section. I have to learn quite an awful lot. I reckon I need to study tympani for about another three years. But what I really need to do is prepare the physical side of my body. The way my arms move. I need to know how to work my reflexes properly. Everyone says that Im quite a fast drummer, I think Im average, but half of that is built up on my reflexes, which I think are good, but after seeing the way some of these guys do fight movements, its very slow. With their reflexes and my technique for playing it would be great. So really Im now thinking about how I get my body to move faster, because my mind is ready for it anyway. The reason why Buddy Rich is the greatest in the world is because the guy is a brown belt in judo. He also can tap dance. Its incredible. He knows where every muscle is and he can move it, and when he plays drums, it flows.
You have to be dedicated to treat your drumming that seriously. Its a quality that all three possess to a most remarkable degree. Theres very little accidental about their actions. They dont get carried away. Gregs [sic] habit of clapping his hands above his head comes from a percussive noise on an old Duke Ellington record that he couldnt identify. When hed worked out that it was simply a handclap he decided to try for himself. The audience took it up, and now its used as a device to involve them and to encourage greater attention to the music.
Even when travelling, and as a member of an internationally successful band Lake [sic] does plenty of that, he shows little interest in the places visited. He once lived in New York for two months without ever going up the Empire State Building.
He was persuaded to look round Vienna because of its connection with music generally, and Beethoven in particular. In fact its quite impossible to find an interest to which he gives any time which is not connected in some way with his drumming. His solo project at the moment is a version of Stravinskys Rite Of Spring played entirely on tuned percussion instruments. Greg Lake [sic] has been a drummer, in his own eyes at least, since he was eleven years old.
I was with my Father one day and we were driving through a place called West Bromwich and we went past a shop window that was full of toys, it was near Christmas, and I saw this red glitter snare-drum, which at the time was called an Eric Delaney drum. It was like one drum, plastic, on a wooden stand with a cymbal. I said to my Dad, Id like that, mainly because I liked the colour and nothing else. I wasnt at all interested in drumming.
I had this drum and I played with it over Christmas like most kiddies play with their toys and then left it in the corner, looking at it you know.
My Father was always interested in drumming, and he started messing about on it one day. Being a selfish child I said Leave it alone. It belongs to me. He said In that case, if it does belong to you, you should play it. So I said OK and he happened to get out, I cant remember whether it was an Art Tatum record or a Lionel Tatum record, it could have been a Buddy Rich record, which he happened to have in the house because my Father was a jazz-freak.
Anyway he put one of these records on and the track that he picked out was of a drummer playing time. You know, ting, ting, ting. He said Thats generally what they play, So I said Yeah, thats cool, and got behind my drum, picked up my brushes and started playing this, which knocked them out. I thought it was a bit silly because it was so easy.
From then it just went on and went on. Next minute Id got a drum teacher, ld got rid of this drum, no, it had got broken up, and Id got another small drum kit. Still red glitter. I dont know why I was crazy on red glitter. I hate it now.
When I was about twelve I did my first gig after not really having much tuition or much idea what was going on. It was round about Christmas time the following year, with an accordion player. His name was Gil. He had a glass eye, I remember that, and his wife was enormous, but enormous, and I got on and started playing and everything was cool until they came to a waltz. I was only playing in 4/4 time, to leave one out was quite heavy for me. I thought Christ, what are you going to do with this one? As you can imagine I got very tangled up, but it was quite exciting and I wore a kilt.
Like a true professional, the young musician soldiered on and has now been hitting things rhythmically in front of an audience for a good ten years.
His concern with ELPs success ends right there, with the music. Carl doesnt feel, nor have any need to feel, famous. He doesnt relate his own activities to what other bands are doing. He just wants to play his drums. Its always the way, too, that public attention is centred on those at the front. Somewhere at the back is a large, shining pile of drums and cymbals with a blurred figure working away behind them. Is Carl at all conscious of this? Does it worry him?
That they cant see my face? It does worry me a little, but as long as they can hear me thats all Im really interested in. If they could see my face more, great, but its just one of those things. I need it all there and I couldnt possibly get rid of some things so that the kiddies in the fourth row could see my face. Id rather keep that thing there and play more music to them.
The only way that you can get over that problem is to have what they call a riser. This is something that puts you higher up in the air, eighteen inches in actual fact, and people can see you a little more. Its also good musically because one thing that Ive discovered through playing over the years, is that as music has got more complex youve had to look at each other, to get nods and things, and they always have to look down at a drummer.
Ive had my own riser built which has my own lights built in which light up the sides of my drum-kit, similar to the way Fantasia was lit. Not to light me, but as lighting effects.
Palmer is uninterested in being seen and the other trappings of conventional stardom, but when it comes to the band he is fiercely arrogant. Its his private belief that ELP is the best rock band ever to have existed. Certainly it ranks as an institution with its army of assistants and vast stacks of amplification. In the end though, its the musical talents of the three people on stage, dwarfed though they are by their equipment, which determines the quaIity of the music.
Carl Palmer is sure of his place on that stage. If it is the finest band in the land, then it needs a worthy drummer, and hes sure hes good enough. They say a band is only as good as its drummer. Any instrumentalist, solo players such as Keith, would tell you that. If he hadnt got what he needs behind him, then he cant possibly lay the cream on top.
Still He Turns Them On
GREG LAKE WAS BORN IN 1947, IN BOURNEMOUTH on the tenth of November. Hes the cool one, standing on the stage with his bass guitar, a strangely isolated figure next to Emerson with his serried ranks of keyboards and Palmer with his mountainous drum kit. Lakes excess is not in the things he uses to get something done, but in the vast range of activities he is involved in.
Firstly, as a third of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, he is the bass player and vocalist, sharing the responsibility for composition with Keith Emerson, and hes also their record producer. The band always work hard, and when theyre not touring or recording they are usually rehearsing and working on new material. Yet Greg also produces several other bands, and helps the groups whove now been signed to Manticore with advice and encouragement.
On top of all that, Lake is the member of the trio who takes an interest in the business set-up which surrounds them. They were all experienced enough when they got together to know that musicians often get a rough deal financially, so Greg told the others Let me deal with it and I guarantee we wont get robbed. Thats what hes done.
Despite his involvement with the marginal aspects of the bands existence, however, he is as much a perfectionist musician as the other two. Its been part of his character for a very long time.
My early musical influences stem from my mother who was a pianist. She bought me a second-hand guitar and I went to lessons where this cat taught me these awful Bert Weedon things. I really wanted to learn to play like Hank Marvin.
After he left school, Lake worked as a draughtsman for a while, working in the evenings with some local semi-professional bands. It was in Bournemouth that he formed his first pro group and it was when they broke up that he joined his first viable outfit, The Gods. It was a band which wrote its own material, but there was a surprising similarity between what they did write and the music they most admired.
They were fairly successful, touring the small clubs and college dances, earning enough to keep body and soul together. Most important, perhaps, it was when with them that Greg switched from playing a six-string guitar to the bass. This early experience on the lead instrument has contributed a great deal to his dexterity and speed on the bass.
These early years on the road were far from comfortable. One of Gregs favourite stories, now that he is comfortably established at the top of both the music and financial heaps, is how he nearly died of pneumonia after travelling home from a date in Carlisle after having lived for a week on loaves of bread stuffed with chips.
Things changed when he joined Bob Fripp in King Crimson. It was there that he began to make the reputation which led Tony Stratton-Smith to suggest that he join up with Keith Emerson. Although their characters are quite different, Greg has none of the flamboyance and showmanship of Keith, they share a percussive attitude to their music which helps them to communicate artistically through rhythmic patterns while developing very different approaches to melody.
Naturally, there has to be some compromise. It is nothing to do with the fact that the personality spotlight concentrates on Keith, its only the pride he takes in his work which concerns Greg. Ive got an artistic ego, but it embarrasses me. If youre all of a sudden made aware that you have a personal ego, then youre embarrassed about it, and its the same artistically, as soon as you become conscious of it, it disturbs you a little bit.
Thats why I dont want to become too arty, you know, too much like a guy who lays down that hes an artist. Because they are seen as more of a cultural unit than a simple rock group, people are always trying to get ELP to lay claim to heavy artistic objectives.
Probably because theyre afraid of thinking of us just as musicians. If youre not careful, you end up talking to them in a cultural way and it sounds like an interview with Stravinsky.
A similar mistake is made about the lyrics of the songs. Greg usually writes the words and sometimes I get letters about the lyrics in the songs, and people have read the most unbelievable things into them. Sometimes I wonder how much lyrics are an influence on people and sometimes I hope that theres no influence at all. In fact I think I do. I hope that my lyrics dont influence anybody to do anything!
I remember once hearing the Beatles, during the peak of their reign, and they were in America and McCartney said Do you know I could be Hitler if I wanted, and do you know, he could.
There are thousands of followers of the band whose dedication is as great as anything the Beatles encountered. Greg prefers to think of them as appreciators rather than fans. Its still true, though, that their appreciation of the music has led to some pretty hairy scenes. Sometimes the demonstrations of enjoyment become little different from a riot.
I never get turned off by people getting enthusiastic to the point perhaps of wanting to see you after a concert. I cant see anything bad in that. I did it myself when I was younger, with people I admired. I used to go and watch Speedway racing and I used to wait to see the guys who used to race, and I would have been really insulted had they felt insulted.
I get annoyed when people do silly things which endanger other people. Ive seen it at a lot of concerts. Somebody will throw something because somebody stands up, theyll pick up a Coca Cola tin or a bottle and throw it. That really annoys me. Ive really had to get strong with people sometimes because of that. But, as a rule, I get off on it.
This enthusiasm can make it difficult to move around, especially after a big concert.
If you cant cope you just make use of whatever you can lay your hands on. If you can con the local police force into using a police wagon, or an ambulance, anything you can do to get out of the gig. If its too heavy you just have to find another way out, or stay in there until they go.
In Milan, when Greg went down with laryngitis and the performance had to be cancelled, the disappointed audience reacted dramatically.
Theres more to that than meets the eye. When you cancel a gig, weve only cancelled perhaps two or three in the whole of our career, its a heavy thing because maybe some of them have had to hitch-hike a hundred miles and they reach the door, only to find out that youre not playing. Perhaps they havent even got the money to return home.
In Milan thats what happened. You pull the gig and the people want to know why it happened. Im lying on my back and I cant tell them why its pulled. I cant speak. So the promoter writes up a notice on the board which may say Rain Stops Play or anything else he feels might just get the people away quickly. In Milan the people werent happy, and they came to the hotel.
I was in the Milan Hilton and this crowd of people arrived outside, quite orderly, and they just wanted to know why the gig was cancelled. As we went on it got a bit more riotous and a bit louder. I still didnt know why all these people were downstairs and I asked somebody to look out of the window and find out. One of the roadies looked out and said Somebody famous must be arriving. So I said When they arrive, call me and Ill just get out of bed because I want to have a look to see who it is. Just to be a bit nosy.
Then the Police Commissioner came up and said that they were there waiting for me. By this time they were throwing stones and everything, which was really heavy.
All the extremes which characterise ELP and their devotees come finally from the music. Gregs contribution is the least dramatically displayed of the three. He has no van-load of equipment with which to awe spectators, just his three guitars. Yet he has a voice which has been described as one of the best authentic rock instruments of the seventies.
I think of myself principally as a singer. Theres a totally different set of rules to your life-style for a singer than for a keyboard- player or a drummer. Its like, there are no polls for lyric-writers in the music business. Have you ever noticed that? People dont think that that is a vibe. Its a hell of a vibe. There would be no songs if people didnt write words to them and yet people dont regard a lyric writer as an artist.
In the same way, instrumentalists really dont respect singers. They live together with them, they need them, they enjoy them, but they do not respect them. So I get respect in the band as a bass-player, and when Im talking about music everythings great, but as a singer, you know, Sing us a song man. See you, and theyre gone. They neednt be there when Im singing. Its really cool. They know Im good at what Im doing so they dont really care.
Keith can relate to Carl musically but neither of them can relate to me musically, as a singer. My art is as far away from what they do as a painter is.
Its to do with words, its to do with your voice. Its part of you that is making the sound. Its not something you control by a technique and an amount of knowledge, its part of you. If you make a mistake it registers so quick on your brain. If you make a mistake within your throat it hits your head within a split part of a second. If you make a mistake on a bass it takes quite a while for it to register.
The embarrassment, or sensitivity to a feeling for me as a singer, is so much quicker, so much more acute, than as a bass player. Thats why Im principally a singer, because it relates to my emotions twice as quickly, twice as vividly, as something that I merely control.
I think if you can have any gift in music, the greatest gift is to be a singer.
A Time And A Place
How music by ELP affected our ears
First, a few comments:
I write what I hope is classical pop (Keith Emerson).
From the start we wanted to avoid being a sort of band in bluejeans with no show and pretending to be the same as the kids down there (Greg Lake).
A shame to see such talent wasted on pompous, self-gratifying trivia (Watford Evening Echo).
Not worthwhile music (Melody Maker).
ELP - simply, the best (Melody Maker).
- which shows that whatever their strengths and failings, Emerson, Lake and Palmer have not failed to make their presence felt. A monstrously successful group, they have spawned imitators by the handful - few have the instrumental ability to compete - and whether you get off on their stuff or not, you cant deny that nobodys applied such dedication and intensity to the purpose of charting the limits of the particular field in which ELP operate - theyve gone further than any of the competition.
The idea of formalising primitive art - whether music, sculpture or what have you - is nothing new. In the thirties, Gershwin and Duke Ellington were among many who tried to turn jazz, originally the voice of underprivileged blacks, into salon music. The currently-fashionable Scott Joplin tried to refine ragtime, originally the music of brothels and honky-tonks, into a serious music to be played in tie and tails in concert halls around the turn of the century. Before that, a whole pantheon of composers wandered around gypsy encampments looking for folk melodies they could synthesise into their studied works.
So Keith Emerson isnt doing anything particularly new. But in his case, its more of a two-way process. He both draws from the classics and attempts to write new classics. A particularly striking example is to be found on Pictures At An Exhibition - as an encore (its a live album) the band plays Nut Rocker.
This tune, originally written by Tschaikowsky, was turned by some gloriously crass pop producer into an immensely boppy rock and roll single by B. Bumble and the Stingers; when ELP do it, however, they go a long way in restoring the tune to its former classical glory. It certainly wouldnt make a pop single at their hands. Not that they need such things.
This high seriousness is part and parcel of Emerson, Lake and Palmers public stance, and may be partly traced to Emersons general dislike of rock music. (He was once quoted as saying that nothing on the pop scene interested him in the slightest). At any rate, when he was in the Nice, you could see all the elements which have gone to make his contribution to ELP what it is.
The Nice grew out of Gary Farrs T-Bones and set up as the backing band for Pat Arnold, an American soul singer of some distinction who was working in Britain in the late sixties.
Before long, their warm-up sets before Pat took the stage soon began to arouse highly favourable critical reaction. As the improvisations of the band developed. Emersons characteristic Jimmy Smith style of Hammond playing began to suddenly open out into dramatically Bach-like sequences, usually played at breakneck speed and accompanied by a rich, surging rhythm. Classical rock was born. A whole new dimension was added to the concept of the rock jam: the word progressive was used.
At any rate the Nice at full stretch on a smoky night down at the Marquee was invariably one of the more memorable experiences in rock. Graham Bonds organisation had taken steps in the same direction a few years previously (Jack Bruce, bassist in the band, once said that in his opinion Bach would have been the greatest bass player of all time) but Bond made only token attempts to fuse his occasionally-glimpsed classical expertise with the predominantly jazz-blues flavour of the group.
They werent a popular band, either, until Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker left and formed Cream. The Nice, and latterly ELP, were dead certs for the hall of fame all the way.
Dave Brubeck had already taken an old folk melody and turned it into a pop hit as Rondo; Emerson took it up and several stages further in much the same manner as previously mentioned on Nut Rocker - and this number, with its cascade of Bach-like organ running over a thudding rhythm section, became the groups most popular number; several times they tried to leave it out, but irresistible public demand ruled otherwise.
Later came America, a typically Emersonian fusion of Leonard Bernsteins tune from West Side Story and Dvoraks New World Symphony. It was the first full-blown classical synthesis from the wild man of the organ.
Even in those days, he displayed a penchant for acts of violence and destruction on stage - this tune was frequently accompanied by burning an American flag or perhaps a draft card from some American in the audience, and of course there were the daggers he assiduously rammed between the keys of his unfortunate Hammond at moments of particular emphasis. In ELP, he has continued to play on a sense of spectacle.
Though they couldnt drop America and Rondo from their stage act, the Nices second two albums were more by the way of serious works than their delightful Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack debut. The portentiously-titled Ars Longa Vita Brevis not only had a Latin name but was produced by a noted classical recording engineer - they wanted a classical sound mix - and the group had a go at Sibelius Karelia Suite and one of the Brandenburg concertos, happily re-worked and renamed Brandenburger. Undoubtedly these tracks were the high points of the album, but they did suffer rather when heard after classical interpretations.
Pretentious, said some. Others, however, saw the dawn of a new strain of super-technical, super-accomplished form of rock which had finally cut itself off from its American roots.
The last Nice album, in 1970, was the Five Bridges Suite, which was written about the same time as Jon Lord (of Deep Purple) did his concerto for group and ork. Reportedly the two men sent each other telegrams of congratulation; at any rate, it seemed as if there had been discovered a great big well full of goodies for those with the ambition and technique to go down and get them.
As well as liberating rock from its traditional limits with the classics, Emerson also undertook a reverse liberation job on his Hammond. Unhappy that it wasnt a very visual instrument he took to heaving it all over the place and taking liberties with its insides - a process which appears to have led him to the synthesiser, an instrument - if such it may be called - with which he has a close connection, having worked with the inventor, Robert Moog, on his personal TV-equipped model he uses in ELP.
By tinkering with the Hammonds generator, he produced startling noises all sorts of wailings, shrieks of pain and angry spitting that hadnt been heard before in pop from a keyboard.
When the Nice split, only Emerson continued with classical rock, and in the event, only he went on to greater and greater success. For his new colleagues, he chose in Greg Lake a man with a track record in serious rock (ex-member of King Crimson) with a voice nearer choirboy than blues, undoubted talent on both bass and guitar, and previous experience as a record producer.
In Carl Palmer, he found another instrumentalist with as great a wonder-boy reputation as his own. Though suspected of lacking funk, Carl had shown in the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster that he could wield his sticks like half-a-dozen junior Buddy Riches at once. Like Emerson, he also had a flair for putting on a good show.
The image they presented and, still do today, though it shows signs of softening somewhat was that of distant figures dedicated to the loftiest heights of musical achievement with little sense of humour and a good line in shock treatment.
At any rate, the band have been playing for four years now, piling success upon success, continuing to tread the same path laid down by Keith Emerson in his Nice days. The music tends to fall either into the dazzling pyrotechnics of the master musicians or the more pensive acoustic stylings of Greg Lake, both styles invariably played immaculately.
When on stage, the group still look like three characters from Modern Times (Charlie Chaplins film of men and overwhelming machines of mysterious complexity) with Keith surrounded by his banks of keyboards, Carl spotlighted in the middle of a gargantuan drum kit and getting up to do a J. Arthur Rank on a full-sizeJapanese gong with his shirt off, and Greg Lake adding a little of recognisable human form as he stands on his particularly expensive piece of carpet.
Their last album Brain Salad Surgery, is a fairly important step back towards the day-to-day world. It shows a refreshingly high content of soul and humour for ELP, and one feels that were in for less grand statements from the band in future.
Certainly, theyve proved their point that the classical approach to modern music can provide the exhilaration and suspense to make it a vastly popular commodity.
As to their influence on other bands, the point has already been made that there simply arent very many musicians who could hold a candle to ELP in terms of competence, but Yes must certainly be held as rivals and Genesis also show signs of indebtedness.
A few years ago, many bands took it on themselves to try and work with orchestras but penguin suits do not classical music make, and most experiments were not well received. Anyway, ELP would make an orchestra redundant; they do it all themselves.
(WebMistress' note: Special thanks to Mark L. for providing this magazine and to my Office Assistant for his photo-editing skills.)