Black Moon Risin'
Blazing cannons saluted the launch of ELP back in the super-group Seventies. Now with a new Album, 'Black Moon' in the can, CHRIS WELCH welcomes back the show that never ends.
Roaring keyboards, thundering drums, flashing knives, cracking whips, full-blooded vocals and soul-stirring anthems. The sight and sound of Emerson, Lake & Palmer in full cry was entertaining and awe inspiring.
The trio were at the forefront of technology, pioneering the use of synthesisers, and special effects. The music was a sometimes bizarre, anarchic mixture of Aaron Copland, Mussorgsky and Bee Bumble & The Stingers! From Pictures At An Exhibition to Nutrocker they played anything they liked, with astonishing power, and usually at breakneck speed. And they created their own kind of sci-fi Heavy Metal, with such menacing creations as Tarkus. ELP played their debut gig at the Isle Of Wight in 1970, touching off two cannons that signalled the start of an extraordinary ten year career. They roared round the world, with ever more elaborate stage shows, and a succession of hit albums, including Tarkus and Pictures At An Exhibition. Brilliant pianist and composer, Keith Emerson formed the band in 1969 with ex-King Crimson singer and bassist, Greg Lake. Keith, formerly with The Nice, absorbed all kinds of influences, from Jazz to the classics. Greg, a rich, melodic singer, brought lyrical depth to their instrumental fire power. Completing the unit was Carl Palmer, the fastest drummer on two legs!
An ELP concert at its best was a thrilling experience. They marched to glory alongside Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Yes. But success and hard work brought a heavy toll on their nerves. The battle to keep up the pace resulted in tension, and the disappointing Love Beach album in 1978 signalled the end. Keith devoted his time off the road to writing movie scores, then formed the band 3, and even revived ELP briefly, with Cozy Powell. Carl spent the Eighties with Asia, while Greg played with with Gary Moore.
1991 saw the original ELP set to reform. Encouraged by Victory Records boss Phil Carson, they began work on a new album Black Moon, produced by Mike Mancino and due for release in May. Keith, Carl and Greg gave Rock World this exclusive insight into their hopes for ELP in the Nineties.
How did Keith feel about the reunion?
Its quite amazing, says Keith. I feel optimistic about it because we have all our old friends around us. Ive always felt this nervousness about working with other people. You dont know how theyre gonna react or behave. Ive worked with some fine musicians, but when it comes to getting a band together its a different story. You worry about how the guy will be on the road. Ive had some really good working situations, but sadly they didnt come to fruition. Being with ELP, the family is back again. We all know each others idiosyncrasies, and in the autumn of our years we have become more forgiving, which is a very important quality!
In the early days it was a very volatile union between Greg, myself and Carl. We didnt know from one moment to the other if anything was gonna blow up, emotionally. And it reflected in our stage performances though thats not a bad thing. Now we work together and a lot of the strain has been taken out of it by having a producer. I didnt think Greg would want to be removed from that area of control. That was one of my worries. But we all agreed, before we went into the studio: You play the bass, you write the lyrics, Ill play the keyboards and Carl will play the drums. Well keep each other informed on a business level. Well let the producer produce and the manager manage! Then well be okay!
In the past we took on too much responsibility, and it just wore us down. That was part of the problem. For many years I didnt want the band to come back together. But I found myself comparing whatever I did after ELP to the past. A lot of what I did was excellent, but there is so much more to a band than just the music...
Keith recognised it was difficult for a non-singing keyboard player to establish a solo career.
Dont laugh! I sing so bad, deaf people refuse to read my lips...but I often feel, if I had a voice, I might have been able to hold my own band together. But I have been able to utilise my keyboard abilities in other mediums, like writing film scores. Eventually Ill end up being just a composer. I love sitting down and writing.
Keith is pleased with the new album and came armed with sheaves of material, but wanted Greg and Carl to feel happy playing it.
In the past I have demanded: Look you guys, either you play this, or I am not gonna be in this band - na, na, na! That always caused problems, but...Im not like that anymore. I havent fallen in love with the pieces until Im sure everyone is happy.
Emerson buffs will be delighted to know hes using his old Hammond organ, beefed up with modern technology.
Thats why it came out so sexy on the album. Im using my old Moog synthesiser, too, as part of my keyboard set up.
Will Keith still be throwing the famous daggers at his organ?
If I put me glasses on! Its one thing Id rather not plan on. People have always thought of me as an exhibitionist. But Im not, Im pretty quiet actually. Until I get on stage, I dont know what is going to happen. But I feel optimistic about it all.
It has to work this time, because Im not going to give it another go.
Greg Lake admits, after some years off the road, it was a challenge to return to the vocal demands of ELP.
It took some doing. It was a bit of a shock to the system! But Im very happy with the record. There are some good songs on it, and we know we can play it live, because weve done it in rehearsal. Weve got good material and everything is a great improvement on the way we used to work.
I wrote all the lyrics, and there is quite a variety of songs. Its the same old thing really, but hopefully we have done it better. Farewell To Arms is a nice song, which is restrained.
When it gets to the chorus you think its gonna go - but it just stays there simmering. A lot of the album was written during the Gulf crisis. The song Black Moon came when I saw the oil wells burning in Kuwait. Another song, Burning Bridges was written by the producer Mike Mancino who is a great talent.
It was timely and something we all wanted to do. For all of us ELP was the best thing wed ever done. Also the climate is right. There has been so much computer-driven music, we felt its time for some live Rock music. When we started in the Seventies, it was meant to be progressive music, in the true sense of the word. Music was going places, and now its going nowhere. Its even going backwards! Its not that we were so wonderful. Its just that the band had a certain power Ive never felt anywhere else. To feel that energy again is great. Emerson, Lake & Powell did a tour in 86 - but the chemistry wasnt right. We are very happy to be able to play together and we have learned to value each other a lot more. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!
How did Carl view the revamped ELP?
Its obviously very fresh again, because its been a long time since 1979, when ELP broke up. We did try once before and wanted to go on tour, and play and have some fun. But we had some problems. Keith came off his motor-bike and sprained his wrist, so nothing came of that! Its fresh for me after being in a songs-orientated, formulated rock band like Asia for ten years. We have new technology now, which is really good for this type of music. When we played things like Tarkus on stage, Keith couldnt have the piano going along with the Hammond because there wasnt any MIDI then. We put it on the record but we couldnt reproduce it on stage. So its a lot healthier now. This is a perfect time for ELP to come back because weve got a lot more access to a lot more gadgetry.
When we go on tour Ill have a hard disc which stores up to twenty drum programmes and each programme has 16 sounds. At the push of a button I can have a new drum set with all the levels perfect every time. There should be no reason for not hearing me!
Would ELP come back with special effects on tour?
I think we should, without making it look cabaret. You want to see Greg on his carpet and Keith sticking the knife in. Ill go round in circles again with my revolving drum kit... I see nothing wrong with that, as long as it looks better. Weve got to be up date... maybe Ill go round the other way this time!