As the sole surviving member of the prog rock group Emerson Lake & Palmer, drummer Carl Palmer has felt compelled to keep the band’s legacy alive. With that in mind, he’s put together a tribute show of sorts that he’s dubbed Welcome Back My Friends — The Return of Emerson Lake & Palmer. It’ll feature live footage of the late Keith Emerson and Greg Lake on massive video walls alongside Palmer and his band as they play live. According to press materials about the tour, Paul McCartney's duet with John Lennon at the end of his recent Got Back tour offers a good example of what to expect from the show.
The tour comes to the Goodyear Theater in Akron on Saturday, Dec. 3.
In a recent phone call from his home in England, Palmer spoke about the origins of the tour and ELP’s continuing popularity.
Keith Emerson and Greg Lake both passed away in 2016. What was that like for emotionally?
I talked about it a lot in 2016 when it happened. With what I’m doing now, I’m now paying my respects to them. I’m using something they were crazy about, which is technology. That’s what this new show is all about. Losing Keith in March and Greg in December was something I didn’t expect. I didn’t even know Greg was that ill. The whole ethos of the band was that we were always involved in technology. We’d use the latest keyboards and instruments. What I managed to do is to put a show together now where I can bring them back for a short period of time. I have them back for about six songs. It’s not a hologram. I went through the hologram stuff, and it never worked. It never worked. I even went to a hologram show featuring Frank Zappa. It didn’t work. The holograms are spooky.
What made you realize that the film of ELP’s sold out-run at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1992 would suit your needs?
Those two nights which ended up on film. It was done professionally and was a five-camera shoot. Everything was recorded individually. It got released as a DVD. We were very proud of it at the time. Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately now — it got lost between the takeover of Sanctuary and Universal. It fell between the cracks. It didn’t sell that many copies. It only sold about 10,000 products worldwide, which is absolutely nothing for an ELP product. I got ahold of the original footage and had a look at it. I discovered that here were the guys playing at their very best. It sounded great, and I could even make it sound better because of the way it was recorded. Here was some footage of them looking great. Why wouldn’t I use that instead of using a hologram of some actor dressed up as Keith Emerson? It was Keith Emerson playing the keyboards in real time. All I had to do was transfer it to huge screens.
So what does the show look like?
I have a screen I can project myself onto it and have Greg and Keith at the front. I would be stage center, and I spent a bit of time editing with a friend of mine. We went through the whole thing and got six tunes that I’m happy with it. Sonically, it’s absolutely perfect. We ironed out any problems when we released the original DVD. The actual footage of them playing is superb. It’s not exactly IMAX, but it’s damn good quality. I got the blessing of the Emerson and Lake family. They’re really happy. It’s an honest way of doing it. I know the two guys if they were here would love it because it’s technology and they love technology. We will play ten shows in America and see how it goes. If it’s accepted, we might play the rest of the world or come back to America. We’re already getting offers from places like Switzerland. Yesterday morning, we had an offer from Israel. I want to play American first because that’s where the band got its real start back in the early ’70s.
In addition to the six songs, what will the rest of the set look like?
I have my band, which is Paul Bielatowicz on lead guitar and Simon Fitzpatrick on Chapman Stick. We can create a huge sound. I integrate my band. We play a full version of “Tarkus,” and play a full version of ‘Carmina Burana.” We play “Hoedown.” I integrated six songs from my band with the six songs featuring Greg and Keith, so we have a complete show. On the initial recording at the Royal Albert Hall, we only played the opening part of “Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends” up to the keyboard solo, and then we stopped and went into something else. I looked at the footage, and it was so good that I said to my guys, “I’ll play with ELP and then when the solo hits, we can carry on and play the rest of the piece.” It’s half my band and half ELP.
Was that Paul McCartney duet with John Lennon an inspiration?
I heard about it but didn’t actually see it. My manager called me up about it and said it could be accepted. From my point of view, the hologram thing got hit so hard that people haven’t taken to it. It wasn’t honest. When you can get live footage — and I think Paul was happy with the footage of John — of that quality like I’ve got and the sound that is modern-day, which we’ve got, it’s worth doing this way. This is the way our business will go eventually. People will still be able to see some of these great artists. I haven’t done it all myself, but the editing was spread out over a two-month period. Still, yesterday, I saw something in “Lucky Man” that I wanted to correct. The sound was spot on. I know Keith and Greg would have said the sound needed to impeccable.
You also oversaw the vinyl box set of singles. What was it like putting that together?
People call ELP a prog rock band, but we had more than that to offer and not like Dream Theatre who only play prog rock — and I’m not putting down the band — we had “Footprints in the Snow” and “Lucky Man” and “I Believe in Father Christmas.” We had these ballads and and folky songs. I wanted to show we started and got on radio and then got people to go three or four three or four cuts deep into the album. These opened up the world for ELP. It didn’t go down very well at the beginning and a year later, I sent them notes and gave them a list of singles. They added one or two. I said that we had to get the actual packaging and duplicate that as much as we can and get the artwork right for the period and put them out. This is the boxset that was the start of ELP on American radio. I say exactly that in the liner notes.
To what do you attribute the band’s continued popularity?
It’s difficult to say. You can’t put your finger on one thing. On thing is the quality of writing in the music. It was keyboard-driven and not guitar-driven and a choir-boy type of voice. For it to be popular, there was something you wouldn’t expect. Also, the actual playing was way above the bar at the time. Whether it is today, that’s for the individual to decide. I think it was the writing and the depth of it really. We had a piece like “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which was a classical piece and a concept piece called “Tarkus,” which was a blueprint for bands that followed. To say what has made it popular is difficult. The staying power is that it’s extremely eclectic. But I just don’t know. If I knew, I would bottle it and sell it. Coming soon: Cleveland Scene Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting Cleveland stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing. Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]