(Click on the thumbnail below to enlarge and read the first paragraph)
"We're gonna work hard and make the new ELP a success, whatever the critics say about us!
Those are the fighting words of the P in ELP - their new drummer, tough-talking, hard-hitting Cozy Powell.
It was just two years ago that Extra Kerrang! clamoured for the return of the Seventies supergroup in an article which charted the history of Emerson Lake & Palmer. Then came the rumours and finally the sensational news: legendary keyboard wizard Keith Emerson had decided to team-up with his old mate bassist and singer Greg Lake to reform the band who created such classic LPs as Tarkus and Pictures At An Exhibition and put on a show that pioneered every aspect of modern concert rock.
But instead of Carl Palmer rejoining the band, originally launched back in 1970, Keith and Greg called on the services of hardcore rocker Cozy. And as Cozy explained in the first interview since the reformation of the group, it wasnt just because his initials fitted the bill!
The trio spent the last year recording their recently-released album, Emerson, Lake & Powell (Polydor), and are now busy rehearsing for their debut American tour.
IT WAS a peaceful, hot Sunday afternoon when I went to visit Cozy, ostensibly resting down at his farmhouse deep in the Berkshire countryside, not far from where Traffic once got it all together in the country. Cozy was his usual cheerful, communicative self, explaining how ELP got together, describing their reaction to savage UK press reviews and mapping out their future plans.
We sat out on the patio chatting, and later Cozy took me on a guided tour.
Having this place keeps me sane. he chuckled. I dont farm myself, although the house is literally a farmhouse. I have got horses here in the stables, but no cattle. I come from Cirencester originally which is an agricultural town.
Cozy then took me on a walk across the meadows to a high ridge where we could see the borders of five counties. He revealed that as a boy he could see the house he now owns, never dreaming that one day it would be his.
Sometimes if Im feeling energetic I go and help the local farmer get the hay in! Its all a far cry from some of the seedier places in the world of rock n roll that I've played in. It makes a pleasant change to arrive here. Its the only thing that keeps me going.
When people ask how I still manage to play with the same enthusiasm, I think its because I've got this place. Its so relaxing. It brings you down to earth. You cant get away with being a superstar down here. Not that I do that anyway, but if I tried theyd just take the mickey. Everyones on the same footing round here.
Cozy doesnt spend too much time in the local pubs either. He potters about on his powerful Yamaha motorbike, which he uses to roar into London for rehearsals, or else burns up the dirt roads in his Corvette, which glistens in a barn when not in use.
I dont go hobnobbing with Rod Stewart in the night clubs; why go out when youve got a nice peaceful place like this? I'm on the road for eight months of the year and when I come home I want to relax.
Cozy certainly has been busy for the past six years - indeed, ever since he first came to fame with Tony Joe White at the start of the Seventies, when he was hailed as the funkiest young New Star drummer.
Since then he has worked with Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, David Coverdale, Robert Plant and many more. What happened to him in the months prior to the formation of ELP?
Its been up and down. Let me see...following the Rainbow era, which was very hard work, I went on to play with Michael Schenker in MSG which was...interesting. Umm. That was a very good band, I thought, it had a lot of potential. There were just loads of problems which I wont dwell on: it all fizzled out and I more or less got asked to leave that band because I was getting fed up with Michaels antics.
Then came Whitesnake and I had high hopes that would last a lot longer. I still dont know what happened there. I dont think any of the other members knew what happened either. There were daily personnel changes in that band.
When I last saw Cozy with Whitesnake, the flames and the general pyro used during his drum solo had threatened to melt contact lenses in the audience.
Ah yes, I had loads of pyro then and I've got some more up me sleeve. That barn over there is where I do all my experiments. I've blown half the roof away as it is!
Now let me see. . .the Whitesnake situation was very hectic and we did a lot of American touring. The last tour finished it off really. The aggravations were brought to a head on that little jaunt. I parted company with them and came onto the musical transfer list again.
I didnt know whether to take another sabbatical or whether to carry on. Then a phone call came through saying that Keith and Greg wanted someone to come down and help them do an album. They had already tried two or three drummers, apparently. Ive known Keith for years anyway, and he said, Come on down and have a blow. I had just got back from Rio and I went down to his house only to find Id left my sticks at home. I felt a right pratt!
REHEARSALS BEGAN in February last year with Cozy proving himself the ideal man for the job.
I went in the snow to Sussex where Keith lives and began working on material. Then Keith said, Do you fancy having a bash through Fanfare For The Common Man? We started playing, one thing led to another and the next thing I knew theyd ask me to join!
It seemed that Keith had done a load of film soundtracks, and Greg had made a couple of solo albums and been on tour with Gary Moore since ELP first split, and they were just going to make an album together called Emerson & Lake. Nothing more sinister than that. When I arrived on the scene they began to think, This guy can perform, theres a possibility of getting a band together here. Then everybody started saying, Oh, Cozy has only got it because his last name starts with a P.
Its just a coincidence that I have the same initials as Carl Palmer, I dont get jobs on the strength of my initials, I get them because of the way I play! They could have booked Carl Perkins for that matter, although he might have had difficulty getting round a drum kit!
After all the furore [sic] died down, we decided to get on with the work. I didnt want to copy Carl Palmers style, I wanted to sound like me. You know our styles well enough to know the difference between us. I go in there, bang, do my stuff and let the album speak for itself.
Cozys drums speak with a different bark from Carls. Whereas the former is solidly on the beat, with the occasional explosion, Carl - with ELP - created a non-stop accompaniment. Both are equally exciting soloists and it would be fun to see them do battle royal one day.
At first, Keith was very reluctant to go back to touring again because ELP had been on the road so much in the past. Both Keith and Greg got sick of the road and each other. The band just drifted away in the end. They were forced into making another album by the record company which they didnt want to make (the notorious Love Beach on Atlantic), and none of them liked it. A shame.
So the feeling was, if they were going to come back they wanted to do it properly. Carl was away with Asia when they started the album, which was originally all they intended to do. Then when I arrived they realised I could do the job onstage as well. It all worked and we get on very well. I really enjoy the music anyway.
It wasnt the only offer I had at the time. I could have done a number of other things, but obviously when you get the chance to work with musicians of that calibre, you take it. Ive been with guitar-based bands for ten years, so it was nice to get into a keyboards trio. Ive always wanted to work with a trio ever since I saw Ginger Baker years ago with Cream.
This is almost too good to be true. There were a lot of problems to overcome before we could set the thing going - business-wise. A lot of people came and went in the organisation. Now were ready for the first tour, and were gonna make a second LP straight away and tour again next year. Im looking forward to it, because Ive been off the road for 18 months and if I stay away too long I get withdrawal symptoms.
The last gig I did was with Whitesnake in Rio (January 85), and I still cant understand why it all fell apart, but thats the way this business goes. There were any number of personal and business problems which werent resolved.
Cozy readily admits he tends to speak his mind when things arent going the right way within a band, which can land him in hot water.
Im not known for being particularly patient with people who say theyre gonna do things and then dont deliver. I give everything when I play and I expect the band to give the same amount of enthusiasm. If they dont - then Im gone.
Its the same with every band I've been in, and Ive probably not made many friends by doing that. But I figure you get value for money if you get me in a band!
IN THAT case he should make a good team-mate for Keith Emerson, because thats just the way Keith has performed ever since the earliest days of Gary Farr And The T-Bones, The Nice and ELP.
Thats right. Since Ive been with them people have said a lot of things about ELP. And Ill tell you, it has been the most pleasurable working relationship Ive ever been in. I've never met two more professional guys. Lets hope we dont fall out over something silly.
But I dont think there will be any ego trips to worry about. Theyve both been around too long. Ive had to work hard with them, learning a lot of the old stuff. Its not just a three minute 12-bar blues you have to learn.
The band will be playing a good selection of old ELP favourites and Cozy has been busy working out the new drum routines involving his double bass-drums to fit the tunes.
Its been interesting working out on Tarkus. Its opened up my musical vocabulary. They are clever pieces of music and Keith isnt exactly a three-chord wonder. He comes up with some very clever stuff, and Greg as well. Ive had to learn Pirates (from Works Volume 1) which runs for 14 minutes.
They are also playing Pictures At An Exhibition, which, as Cozy says, is not three choruses, verse and fade out. He thinks he probably couldnt have coped with it all 20 years ago. To play this stuff you need a lot of experience and confidence. Its not beginners music, thats for sure.
To get him through rehearsals, Cozy has notes about each tune pinned up in front of his kit. Pirates runs to three foolscap pages!
Its been a real challenge and its brought me out from being a backing drummer, which I was in MSG and Whitesnake. I can express myself now and play a solo as well! So Ive been practising hard and Ive even stopped drinking, which a lot of people cant believe.
Indeed, as we sat on the sunny patio outside the farmhouse, with only the birds and the bees making the slightest sound to break the silence of the deep countryside, we sipped glasses of iced Perrier water, feeling virtuous and healthy.
I am determined to make this successful, vowed Cozy. Im going to give it my best shot because the band is worthy of a good crack.
If Keith and Greg had got tired of touring what made them want to come back?
I dunno, mused Cozy. It wasnt for financial reasons. Enough time had elapsed - eight years, I think - for them to try again. Keith has kept very fit, doing marathon work, and Greg had tried having his own band but didnt like the worry. He preferred being part of a band. I've tried solo stuff myself, so I know the feeling.
Keith had tried writing with other people but it didnt work too well; he and Greg just found they brought out the best in each other. All they need is an idiot like me to come along and ruin it! But I've seen a whole new enthusiasm from them. If the original three had tried to do it again it might not have been the same. Old wounds would have re-opened. All that sort of thing.
Had Keith and Greg considered asking Carl back?
I dont know. I cant say. But they did have a couple of drummers working with them before I came along, one of whose name ends in P!
Could this have been ace sessionman Simon Phillips, I mused. Of course it was, but Simon hadnt turned out to be the right man for the job. I thought on this as Cozy was called away for a long phone call with ELPs manager, who was probably checking up on what sort of questions I was asking. Such is the paranoia in rock music these days, engendered by the combination of a hostile weekly music press and the sensation-seeking daily papers. It all makes the job of the earnest seeker after truth that much harder.
For example, originally Keith and Greg were going to take part in a joint interview, but they then decided not to speak to anybody after a wave of sarcastic comments broke about their ears on the release of the album. Said Cozy: They thought that all the slagging off had ended in the Seventies and that theyd be allowed to get on with it in peace. Instead, the knives were out and being plunged in with a vengeance. They thought, Oh no, not again!
WE TALKED about the album, and Cozy was pleased I liked the jazz track Step Aside, where he drums with great finesse, and the powerful arrangement of Mars, The Bringer Of War. Im doing Mars. . . as a featured number. Funnily enough, I did that to a backing tape with Whitesnake, so when I brought it along Keith said hed like to play it himself. He learnt it in a few minutes. Makes you sick doesnt it! Why use a tape when Keith can play it?
Ill be doing that onstage with all the usual Powell idiocy - thats where the pyro comes in. More and more over the top. I dont know whether Ill survive this drum solo. If you read that half of Texas has been wiped out, youll know the pyro went wrong! It gets more dangerous every year. We put out a warning over the PA for anybody with a dangerous heart condition.
Have Keith and Greg been warned about this?
Oh, I dont think theyll worry. Not after watching Keith chucking his organ around the studio the other day. The daggers have been sharpened and the old Hammond has been glued back together.
I remember Keith doing it in the old days and watching him now...well, hes fitter these days than he was then! Its absolutely great to watch. Nobody is doing anything like that anymore. Pete Townshend has stopped smashing his guitar and to see Keith in full flight, with two daggers in his teeth and a Hammond organ two feet up in the air... you gotta see it to believe it!
Cozy emphasises that ELP are not entirely living on past glories. As well as playing old classics like Rondo the band will also be featuring new material and utilising new technology.
Were doing a good cross-section of stuff, and now we can make it sound even more exciting because of the technology available. Keith has got a load of computer stuff and its quite amazing the sound that three people can make these days. Its fantastic. And the special effects weve got have never been seen before anywhere in the world. Things have been built for this tour that will be unique.
A lot of people have said, Well, why do it again? The reason is simple: because its a NEW band. I've brought in a load of ideas and Keith and Greg have been all fired up again. Were gonna put on a show thats gotta be seen to be believed. ELP were always noted for being outrageous and thats gonna be the policy now. ELP certainly pioneered a lot of the things we now take for granted, like having their own stage-lighting and sound with them on tour, not to mention the use of synthesisers and explosive special effects. Its all causing wild excitement amongst ELP fans, but as Cozy says: As soon as the band came back it was greeted with total press derision in this country and absolute uproar everywhere else. America has gone potty about it. The album - as we speak - is 28 in the Billboard charts within four weeks, and every major magazine is interested in us. And yet over here ELP is a dirty word. I just dont know why. None of the reviews (except in Kerrang!) talked about the music, they just criticised the individuals. We werent sulking, we just thought, What is the point of talking to anybody?
This is why there have been no interviews in this country - apart from with you. I stopped reading the weeklies a long time ago. Theyre all full of politics and I prefer to read about music. I've never heard of any of the bands they talk about anyway. Kerrang!, however, has always supported me and Greg and Keith. We dont EXPECT good reviews, we just want fair reviews not general negativity.
When will ELP be playing in England?
I honestly dont know. It depends if anybody wants to see us! Cozy laughed.
At the moment the band are most concerned about playing at Madison Square Garden in New York, where they can be sure of a warm welcome, and after that heading out on a world tour.
Obviously, we do want to play in England, and were going to film it anyway. Well do a European tour next year as well, but we only go where were wanted! The press here put the mockers on things for us at home.
COZY TOOK me for a stroll around the house and its environs. Inside, oak beams threatened to crack ones skull, while in the old barn across the yard there was a games room complete with a massive billiards table and a music room with Cozys old touring kit on standby for practise sessions. Cozy forbade me to touch the drums and we had a game of snooker instead.
A lot of the older bands are doing well, said Cozy, neatly potting a black. Like GTR, The Moody Blues and Jethro Tull. You see, in America they give you a chance. Doesnt matter what you look like or how old you are. If you can play, youre in. Over here if youre not in vogue - youre OUT! Nothing to do with music, its what you look like and how many people you can be seen ligging with. Thats all they base credibility on over here which is terribly sad. It doesnt encourage anybody to play music. Its just how daft you can be and how many headlines you can score in a week.
I suppose its always been like that in pop music, but never quite as bad as it is now. Apparently, the guy in Sigue Sigue Sputnik had never played drums before he went to the audition. Whats that all about? I suppose there is a place for everybody, but it makes me laugh - a bit. When we put our album together we thought it would be quite well received over here. Nah. Nothing. Nobody even plays the bloody thing, but in America it gets major airplay.
At least Cozy had the satisfaction of hitting back at the media by trouncing me at snooker. We went back into the house for tea and videos, including one of Cozy breaking a world drumming record on BBCs The Recordbreakers show; he hit 400 drums a beat each in under two minutes.
I got into the Guinness Book Of Records for that, said Cozy proudly.
Hes a real showman and just the man for ELP. Unless they all go mad, the re-vamped band should have a productive and enjoyable time ahead.
Were bringing ELP into the Eighties. Its looking good!