Another Monday, another obituary.

Keith Emerson with The Nice

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.

10 Responses to “Azrael”

  1. John B. Says:

    I’m pretty sure Purple was not on the bill for the August Summer Jam show at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in ’74. ELP and the Allmans were the big headliners that day. The Eagles were also scheduled but they were a no show.

  2. IAN DOUGLAS Says:

    I enjoyed the Emerson Lake and Powell album too + later live re-issues!

  3. IAN DOUGLAS Says:

    Yes I highly recommend the Boys Club set with Glen(n) Hughes indeed

    • simon robinson Says:

      It’s perhaps understandable how some albums kind of get forgotten amongst the massive collection of Purple related stuff, I’ll dig my copy out again.

  4. Danielz Says:

    Yes, it’s a great shame about Keith Emerson. It’s been reported that he had had enough of violent social media trolls that kept on writing distasteful comments about him. Those people now have blood on their hands and should in some way be brought to justice. It’s disgraceful that this kind of ‘cyber-bullying’ cannot be stopped before it happens again to someone else. Keith was one of the world’s greatest keyboard players.
    I saw ELP at a time when they were at their peak – in 1973 in Germany. They were absolutely fantastic, with Keith at the helm with his amazing playing of the Hammond and Moog. His stage antics were blazing, and I will never forget the ‘fight’ he had with the Hammond organ stabbing it with knives and belting out Karn Evil 9. He was a true showman, and someone that will never be replaced.
    As far as Prog Rock was concerned, ELP to me were at the forefront of that particular kind of music, and were the only band of their kind to actually bring a ‘rock’ element into a scene that I wasn’t really a fan of as I was never into that Genesis, Yes, type of music. Keith, I have read, was a gentle soul who didn’t deserve that kind of personal criticism by those idiotic people who slagged him off constantly. ELP were bombastic, they were self-indulgent…but so?? ELP were part of my childhood and together with my music taste of T.Rex, Deep Purple, etc…they were also included in my record collection, and Brain Salad Surgery remains one of my fave albums of all time…R.I.P Keith – you were one of a kind and I loved you all the more for it!

    • simon robinson Says:

      I didn’t know about the internet abuse Dan. I spoke to a friend yesterday who knew Keith and worked with him on a couple of projects, and he said Keith was such a great guy to meet and the last person he would have imagined ending it like this.

      • Danielz Says:

        People can be so cruel. It was in the Daily Mail who mentioned the verbal abuse, and again in today’s press his girlfriend mentioned the online cyber abuse/bullying. I guess his crippling hands, his depression, and the criticisms all was too much for him in the end….a terrible sad waste of life…

  5. Richard Lord Says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this Simon; very moving and eloquently put ! I find it’s always easier to “share the pain” as it were by reading such obituaries and musings such as the above. Take care.

  6. SpeedkingATL Says:

    Purple and ELP both played at the August Jam at Charlotte Motor Speedway in NC a few months after the California Jam. Surprisingly The Allman Brothers were the final act for that show and as much as I love them, playing after Purple and ELP they seemed a little out of place even in NC USA.

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