Another Monday, another obituary.
Some people will I’m sure remember the hotly contested Sounds Poll which the music paper ran each year. You got a little printed form, clipped it out and filled in the various categories and then sent it off.
Inevitably the top three names year after year in the keyboard vote were those of Jon Lord, Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson, who died late last week. I have a suspicion that my brother, who was a big fan of The Nice, went for Keith, I went for Jon, so our votes effectively cancelled each other out and we could probably have saved ourselves the 2.5p second class stamp.
But the point is that these three were the rock keyboard triumvirate, and while other names would figure further down the poll, they dominated the keyboard scene at that time for many of us. And certainly dominated our musical listening in the early Seventies.
Hearing of Keith Emerson’s sudden death left us feeling very miserable and, like many I suspect, we kept returning to the subject of his career over the weekend, as well as the manner of his passing.
I count myself enormously lucky to have seen all three players as their respective bands reached an artistic peak. The Nice Album (their third) was one of the first rock albums I ever heard, and inevitably Keith made a great impression. The arrival of ELP was a very big deal in the rock world; The Nice had issued top five albums and it was a bit of a puzzle to us as to why Keith would want to end that to start a new group.
It didn’t take long to see the wisdom of his move, and the first ELP album remains one of my favourite rock albums, while Tarkus is one of Ann’s, and we still play them regularly. I saw ELP just the once, on tour in 1972, when they headlined the City Hall circuit. It was a great experience, and there was a real buzz around town for the show. We skived off school to watch the soundchecking and wander onto the stage to gaze in awe at the massive synthesiser rig, then marvel at the equally impressive drum kit. It was like nothing any of us had ever seen before. After that tour ELP only played a few times more in the UK, so I never got the chance to see them again.
By the time of the show Trilogy and the Pictures at an Exhibition album had also been issued (I think my brother bought the former, I certainly got the latter as I still have it), Pictures adding to the small but important clutch of classical / rock works. It was Keith’s pioneering recordings in this area which enabled Jon (and then others) to follow with his Concerto ideas, mainly as it showed Deep Purple’s manager that such work could be commercial as well as interesting.
There was no doubt that the three musicians kept an ear out for what each other was up to either; there’s a nice little nod on the old Deep Purple Kilburn album when having introduced Ritchie, Ian and “the new boys” someone shouts to Jon and asks him his name. “I’m Rick Emerson” he deadpans back. I know some of us always hoped Jon and Keith would get it together musically (as we used to say) and there were clear areas of musical experimentation common to both players, but sadly it never came to pass.
Their paths did cross, both Keith and Jon were on the same bill with their respective bands at festivals, Sunbury in 68 and Essen in 69, and Berlin in 1970, one of the last gigs by The Nice. With Purple , Keith and Jon jammed together on a piece before doing Lucille with Keith as an encore. A low-fi cassette of the occasion does circulate.
Of course ELP and Deep Purple had a bit of a run-in at the 1974 California Jam event, but despite Ritchie’s show-stealing efforts, from watching the video of ELP that night they still managed to close the evening in considerable style.
People have been reminding me of other connections over the last 48 hours; the interesting (and quite promising as I recall) Boys Club set with Keith, Glenn Hughes and Mark Bonilla; the Rock Aid Armenia single; even albeit more tangentially Emerson, Lake and Powell.
That aside, it’s to his glory days that people inevitably look back and I’m sure Keith’s playing with The Nice and ELP will continue to inspire and influence fans and musicians for generations, and I know will continue to be much played at DPAS Towers, albeit with a certain amount of sadness from now on.