December 9 2013 Latest news:
Nick Ames, Reporter
Monday, May 21, 2012
ELP sticksman hits the road
For almost the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll Carl Palmer has been providing the backbeat to a succession of top bands, writes Nick Ames.
From Chris Farlowe to Arthur Brown to the world’s first supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer (ELP) and onto prog-rockers Asia, Palmer, born March 1950, has been recognized as a brilliant technician and a dynamic showman.
Later this month, he will be playing some classics from his back catalogue, along with a selection of other numbers at Sevenoaks’ Stag Theatre with his three piece band.
“I’ve just come off a series of 18 European dates,” said Palmer. “And I’m looking forward to it as it’s a venue I have never played before.
“I shall be playing a one hour 50 minute show with some original material from ELP, some classical adaptations and Pictures at an Exhibition (compositions by classical musician Modest Mussorgsky recorded by ELP for a hit album).
“The Carl Palmer Band is instrumental rock, but on the cutting edge so it’s very interesting.
“We have been playing to crowds with people from different age ranges, some are around my age, I’m 62, then there are their children in their 30s and sometimes a third generation of younger people as well.
“We have some grunge and metal fans, as although the music is instrumental it’s not soft and delicate.”
Palmer joined his first professional band aged just 14 and two years later he was playing with Chris Farlowe, alongside guitarist Albert Lee, who went on to play with Eric Clapton.
At the age of 18 he joined The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and played a US tour with the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix.
A stint with Atomic Rooster followed as Palmer’s reputation for virtuosity and speed with the sticks spread.
“Then I got a call from Tony Stratton-Smith, who was the manager of Keith Emerson, who was putting together a band,” said Palmer.
Emerson was achieving success with The Nice while Greg Lake was riding high with In the Court of the Crimson King with its famous track 21st Century Schizoid Man – later covered by Ozzy Osbourne, sampled by Kanye West and used in the Guitar Hero computer game.
But the three joined forces to form ELP – a legend in rock music who defined the progressive rock genre and split opinion across the music world.
“Our first show was at the Plymouth Guildhall, ahead of the Isle of Wight Festival of August 1970,” said Palmer.
“It only held about 430 people, so it was a pretty small venue. But we went down a storm and earned around £400.”
The show at the Isle of Wight has recently been re-released on CD and features a 33 minute version of Pictures at an Exhibition – the current mainstay of Palmer’s show.
Emerson had arranged for a cannon to go off during the performance and a member of the road crew had put double the charge inside it. The resulting explosion slightly injured an Italian cameraman.
Although the band’s performance – alongside The Who, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix – has gone down in rock legend not all were impressed. Radio DJ John Peel branded it: “a tragic waste of time, talent and electricity”.
Speaking about the festival, Palmer said: “I don’t recall how well we played. All I know is that we went down incredibly well.”
The following month the band released a self-titled debut album and the stage show became more and more elaborate.
In April 1974, ELP were on top of the bill during the California Jam Festival, pushing co-stars Deep Purple to second billing.
The trio’s stage show was broadcast nationwide in the United States, and attended by more than 200,000 paying fans. By the end of 1974, ELP were rivalling The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin as the highest grossing live band in the world.
On stage, the band exhibited an unorthodox mix of virtuoso musicianship and over-the-top theatrics. These included a Persian carpet, a grand piano spinning end-over-end, a rotating percussion platform, and a Hammond organ being thrown around to create feedback.
Emerson often used a knife given to him by Lemmy – of Hawkwind and most famously Motorhead who had roadied for The Nice – to force the keys on the organ to stay down and keep the sound going.
Follow up albums included Tarkus and Brain Salad Surgery as Palmer performed the world’s first electric drum solo and grandiose projects such as the triple live album Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends kept the band at the forefront of 70s rock.
But as musical fashions changed the band stopped performing and recording, with Palmer joining Asia – a group which included John Wetton of King Crimson, Rick Wakeman of Yes and Geoff Downes of The Buggles.
“Asia is still playing together and so I am in contact with many of the people I have performed with and had as my contemporaries – well those who are not dead.
“Keith and Greg it is more through accountants, there is not much to be said after 40 years but we played together a couple of years ago,” said Palmer who is set to tour the USA with Asia later this year.
“I still really enjoy playing, this is what I have done all of my working life.
“I play around 97 concerts a year and even if it is seven nights in a row I do not have any problem getting up and playing as I love my art.”
Palmer plays the Stag Theatre on Tuesday. He has also just announced an innovative new iTunes mobile app, Play Carl Palmer’s Drums, developed by Dynamic Websites. This allows the user to download his drum kit and play along with fingers to any music playing through their iTunes program. Also included in the app is a myriad of rare Palmer archives and instant updates from his official website. Fans can purchase the app at the iTunes store.
See www.carlpalmer.com for concert and tour information.