Keith Emerson Interview
by Phil Gorner
with kind permission of Lancashire Evening Post (Preston, North West
England) and Phil Gorner
October 3, 2003
(Preston, October 3, 2003 ) - "PRESTON? That's near where I was born in Todmorden, says Keith Emerson ... down the phone from sunny Santa Monica. "I went back to Todmorden four or five years ago and went into a pub and asked where Canal Street (now demolished) was. Started a discussion that did. After a couple of hours of all the locals arguing it seemed nobody knew where it had been so I went off to the Town Hall to find out. Beautiful part of the country." Keith Emerson: keyboard maestro, one third of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the consummate showman whose speciality is playing Bach's Toccata and Fugue from the other side of the organ and, once upon a time, sticking knives into his Hammond, is coming back to the North West. OK, so he left Lancashire when he was one, but we'll still claim him. He's appearing with his old muckers from The Nice - and three more musicians of whom more later - at Preston's Guild Hall on October 20 performing Nice, ELP and whatever else comes to mind at the time. So ... armoured armadillos and Fanfare for the Common Man notwithstanding, what can we expect from Keith? "What we're doing is a retrospective, a refined look at how far we've come in what's known as progressive music and investigate and explore that," he said. "We'll be presenting a broad spectrum of the music and looking at how the younger guys can carry it on."
In other words, a greatest bits of the last 35 or so years of stunning prog rock played to an older and (hopefully) younger generation with a bit of torch-passing thrown in. He's enlisted three newer musicians to supplement The Nice line-up of himself, Brian Davison and Lee Jackson. Dave Kilminster, Pete Riley and Phil Williams were already ELP fans when the call came from the man himself. The Nice initially got together again when Keith wanted a band to help promote his Emerson Plays Emerson album. "I didn't want to do a concert of just me on the piano. I don't care how good the keyboard player is technically, even if it were Keith Jarrett or Chick Corea on their own up there without a band, I - and I'm sure an audience - would get pretty bored after a bit. "It was suggested I should reform ELP but I don't think Greg Lake..." - he tailed off with a laugh and anyone who knows of Emo and Lake's clashes can fill in the unstated gaps - "so off the top of my head I said what about The Nice? We've remained friends down the years and they said 'OK, we'll help out'. "Brian and Lee, bless 'em, know what they can and can't do and I needed some accomplished musos for the ELP and more complex stuff ..." Hence the three new boys who "already had my stuff off pat". "In the future I'd like to go into the studio with these new guys and see what we come up with," he added.
As for the new musicians they're no slouches. They each have a marvellous pedigree and, listening to guitarist Dave Kilminster follow Keith note for note playing the killer Hoedown, fans need have no doubts they're up to the job ... heck he even sounds like Greg Lake when he sings on Tarkus. "Dave's a really marvellous guitarist," said Keith. "He sometimes speeds up on Hoedown by a third and I'm looking at him and saying 'Just what are you doing?!? OK, we'll go there...' " "The best thing about this band is I'm the leader! There's no clash of egos - unlike ELP," he added. "The great thing about playing with The Nice is we're getting back to rawness rather than getting every single detail perfect as with ELP. The Nice were a lot more accessible to many fans than ELP but not so refined in musicianship. This way, with the new lads, I get the best of both worlds." The line-up first played last year and there's a 3CD album imminent - Keith Emerson and The Nice: Live Glasgow 2002 Vivacitas (Sanctuary) - which offers a clue as to what to expect. "It'll probably be starting off the song, going off wherever (like extracts from Sabre Dance ... and Van Halen) and finishing at some point ... should be fun." He's also expecting some kind of fun from his autobiography Pictures of an Exhibitionist in which he details, amongst other things, life on the road with ELP an orchestra and small-town sized touring rigs ... oh and his 1970s rivalry with a certain Rick Wakeman. "Yes we were rivals," he admitted, "but we were young then. He's a mate now and, unfortunately, he's reviewing the book!"
Surprisingly Keith wants to branch out into drums 'n' bass. "I just love playing," he said. "I don't regard myself as a great classical or jazz pianist. I like country music but I'm not a great player. I just like music. Drums 'n' bass is pretty exciting and I'd love to explore it." So the man who's played with the peerless Oscar Peterson ("I was really scared but he's a true gentleman") and who regards one of his prized possessions as a Dave Brubeck autograph is open to the future. The word dinosaur isn't in the lexicon and his Guild Hall date promises to be an experience for lovers of music and virtuosity. So ... welcome back my friends to the show that never ends...