EMERSON LAKE & PALMER
This supergroup came together from a collection of flourishing bands to become one of the most successful major players in the world of Prog Rock. Keith Emerson had learned piano as a child and played in a number of bands prior to being in the backing band for American singer PP Arnold. The band quickly outgrew their backing duties and became a band in their own right, calling themselves The Nice. Along side Lee Jackson, Brian Davidson and Davy O’List, they became a popular live attraction and soon recorded their first, well-received album The "Thoughts Of Emerlist Davejack" in late 1967.Guitarist O’List left the band during the recording of the second album “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” After considering replacement guitarists, they decided to continue as a three piece – a forerunner of the future. Combining traces of jazz and classical elements within a rock structure, a further three albums were released with diminishing success before the band split up in 1970.
Greg Lake had been in a number of bands in and around his local area in the southwest of England, including The Gods, with future members of Uriah Heep. Following his departure from the Gods, he teamed up with old friend Robert Fripp as bass player in the newly formed King Crimson. As lead vocalist, co writer and co producer, Lake played a huge part in the success and influence of the bands stunning debut "In The Court Of The Crimson King". Following a US tour supporting The Nice on their farewell tour, Lake left Crimson to join Emerson in the formation of a new band pausing only to complete Crimsons second release, "In The Wake Of Posidon".
Carl Palmer played in a number of bands in his teenage years. His main influence in his early days was jazz drummers. Following a stint in Chris Farlow’s Thunderbirds, he was drafted into the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown to go on tour, when the original drummer, Drachen Theaker, was forced to leave the band due to a phobia of flying. The band pretty well disintegrated during the tour of the States and Palmer left with Keyboard player Vincent Crane to form Atomic Rooster. Palmer only stayed for one album, the self-titled release in early 1970.The music was similar in style and feel to the Crazy World, heavily dominated by organ, although by the time of Palmers departure, guitarist John Du Cann had joined and was influencing their sound.
Upon meeting Emerson and Lake, Palmer found an immediate connection and musical empathy and it was agreed they would form a band. Before finally agreeing on Palmer, Mitch Mitchell, the drummer with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was approached. Rumour has it that after declining the invite he mentioned the aspirations of the others to Hendrix who was keen to experiment. A session was planned between the four but Hendrix died before this was finalised and the three decided to commence as a trio. Who knows what the outcome would have been had HELP ever formed?
Following some extensive rehearsals, the band made its debut in August 1970 and for their second gig, played at the giant Isle of Wight festival. Signed to Island Records, their first album was released in December 1970 and crowned a busy year. This self-titled debut was an intriguing affair. Despite effective contributions from L & P, the keyboards from Emerson dominate proceedings. Borrowing (unaccredited at the time) from a variety of classical pieces, and heavily influenced by complex jazz time signatures, the album takes some listening but rewards those brave enough to last the pace. The opening track, "The Barbarian", swirls with a mixture of keyboards, as does the powerful “Knife-edge” There had to be a drum solo and it duly appears in the turgid “Tank” Both “The Three Fates” and “Take A Pebble” showcase Emerson’s virtuosity but it is the last track, the melancholy “Lucky Man” that seals the success of the album. Added at the last minute at the request of the record label, this timeless ballad, written by Lake at a very early age, became a hit single release. The Moog synthesiser solo that closes the track illustrates the full potential of this unique instrument. In Emerson’s hands, this stunning noise truly sends shivers down the spine and perfectly celebrates the death of the lucky man of the title with its mournful, spectral sound. The release met with the approval of their increasing fans who sent it high into the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dropping most of the restraint they showed on the first album, the follow up, released in June 1971, was a concept album. “Tarkus” told the story of a mythical, half mechanical armadillo type creature that battles other like creatures before being defeated by the Manticore! Taking up one side of the original album, the title track, references religion, war, and famine. It did not take long for the band to wander into pretension and over indulgence. Again expertly played, with Emerson’s keyboard wizardry to the fore, this time the spark of passion has gone and you are left with an emotionless, cold sound. The remaining tracks are mostly below standard, shorter tracks. Already a favourite at live shows “Tarkus” became a staple part of their theatrical performances for many years with the poor Tarkus itself blown up and restored countless times. The album hit the right note with old fans and won new recruits, sending it to the very top of the UK album chart for a week.
Now established as a major live and recording act, the next release combined the two. “Pictures At An Exhibition” an interpretation of Mussorgsky’s original work was recorded live at the Newcastle City Hall and released in November 1971 as a budget set. Hugely successful hitting the top ten in both the UK and USA, it is a showpiece for all things keyboardy. Again you can only marvel at the musicianship but it rarely involves the listener and so many notes are crammed into the shortest space.
The third studio album “Trilogy” was put out in July 1972 and opened with the appropriately named “Endless Enigma” which reappeared a couple tracks later. Still incredibly popular and able to chart seemingly at will. The overindulgence had by now firmly taken hold. Most tracks sounded just like other ELP songs and only the obligatory novelty track “Hoedown” and another Lake ballad “From The Beginning” moved away from the norm.
After extensive touring in the States, “Brain Salad Surgery” was next up in November 1973. The first release on the bands newly formed Manticore label. Boasting a fantastic sleeve by Alien creator H.R.Giger there was some hope that the band would take some steps forward… Dominated by the half hour long "Karn Evil 9", pretty well every one of Emerson’s vast arrays of keyboards are played. “Karn” 1st Impression Part Two" is the most pleasing with some continuity and playful lyrics co written by Lake’s old Crimson cohort Pete Sinfield. An interesting version of the hymn “Jerusalem” opens proceedings and one of Lake’s hauntingly beautiful ballads “Still You Turn Me On” offers some variation with some nice guitar but apart from that, it’s the same old ELP. Technically brilliant but filled with their pomposity. This release is held in high esteem by fans and it has everything the ELP connoisseurs demand. To the outsider, it is relentless, almost painful.
And just when the hammering stopped, they released a TRIPLE live album to celebrate their extensive world tour. Recorded during 1973/74 and released in August 74 it contained the lot. The whole of the track “Tarkus” the whole (plus a bit) of “Karn Evil 9. “Take a Pebble” extended to 26 minutes and incorporating “Lucky Man” among others, a bit of King Crimson and a lot more of ELP. The audience loved it. As rock theatre it was unsurpassed. By now ELP could do no wrong “Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends” (they weren’t kidding!) went top 5 in both the UK and the States.
Exhausted by the continual touring, they took a sabbatical, pursuing solo projects, and return to the studio after a three year break to record “Works” Vol 1". Taking its cue from Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, this double album release gave one side to each member with the band combining on side four. This did not go down well with the fans that had waited a long time for a proper “ELP” release. Instead they got one side of a piano concerto. One side of acoustic ballads, one side of pseudo classical pieces plus a track featuring one of the Eagles and, finally, two tracks from the band. These tracks were among the best that ELP had produced. “Fanfare For The Common Man” a re working of a Copeland piece, was released in edited form as a single and gave the band a final single chart placing. And “Pirates” probably the most complete and realised track the band recorded. This tantalising glimpse of what the fans wanted was not enough to help the album sell and for the first time the band contemplated a lack of success.
Coupled with a vast change in the musical climate, the realisation that their time had been and gone hit the band hard. The same year they released “Works” Vol 2". This was almost an acceptance of defeat and was the most un ELP like album. Containing twelve tracks and none over five minutes this attempt, finally, at brevity was brave but pointless. Most of the tracks were leftovers from previous sessions and the quality variable. To fulfil contractual obligations, “Love Beach” recorded in the Bahamas and released in 1978 to critical ridicule was enough for the band to take the hint and they disbanded the following year.
Following brief excursions with other bands and solo projects, Emerson becoming involved with film scores, Palmer forming first PM and then another supergroup Asia and Lake producing a couple of solo works, Emerson and Lake formed another version of ELP this time with Cozy Powell on the drum stool. Just one album was released and the band toured. Ditching Lake, Emerson teamed up again with Palmer and Robert Berry to form the unsuccessful “3”
In 1991, the original ELP reformed. An album of all new material was released in 1992 and the band hit the tour trail again throughout 92/93 to support “Black Moon” The tour and the album proved to be moderately successful and encouraged the band to record a follow up, 1994’s “In The Hot Seat” and that was the last album release although the band did carry on touring right up to 1998.
Keith Emerson continues to score for films with notable success. He has also released many solo albums and tours to small venues at regular intervals. He reformed The Nice in 2003 for a short tour.
Carl Palmer achieved huge success with Asia, has released some solo albums and gives drum clinics all over the world.
ELP were a band of their times. Indulged to be pretentious with little self discipline they never the less achieved tremendous commercial acclaim selling around 40 million albums. While later albums showed a lack of restraint, their debut contained many moments of inspiration and classic prog. Their musicianship was never in doubt but their music rarely stimulated the emotions after that first release. They became targets for the Punk/New wave movement and were easy targets, held up to be the worse that “old rock” offered. As critics jumped ship and embraced the new sounds, ELP were left high and dry, held up to ridicule with their Persian carpets, two ton drum kits, revolving keyboards and convoys of trucks, they didn’t help themselves! They became completely out of step with the musical times and were swept away by the spiky haired, plastic clad army that were encouraged to hate them. In this time of financial restraint and environmental issues it is unlikely we will see their like too much in the future.
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