Last month, it was discovered by chance that English keyboardist Keith Emerson, a key contributor to psychedelic and progressive rock, and co-founder of bands The Nice alongside Keith Jackson, David O’List and Brain Davidson, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer with Greg Lake and Karl Palmer, was doing tour dates at the Barbican Theatre in Silk Street, London.
Accompanying him, was regular collaborator, guitarist Marc Bonilla, bassist Travis Davis and drummer Ralph Salmins. Conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra that evening was Terje Mikkelson, of Three Fates, Emerson’s orchestral side project that was released in 2012 under the Keith Emerson Band, founded in 2008.
Taking our seats (I was with my aunt and uncle), we didn’t have to wait long after entering the theatre doors – which opened at half seven, the concert starting at 8pm – as roughly ten minutes in, the orchestra flooded the stage, and took their positions. For the first five minutes, there was the practice of the instruments, mainly the trumpet and violins. There was speculation on it being a well-known Emerson, Lake and Palmer piece; and following the dim of the light, Mikkelson arrived, with Bonilla and then Emerson himself entering the centre stage. The piece was confirmed to be Toccata and Fugue by John Sebastian Bach (shortened to Toccata), which the band covered on their album Brain Salad Surgery (1973). Following, was an original composition by Bonilla (Emerson, bless him almost forgot, as he was about to introduce one of Three Fates’ pieces); then came a trilogy piece from The Keith Emerson Band’s Three Fates, something Keith called ‘a little bit of this, that and the other’.
The original conception was called Malambo (Part I and II), the piece started as energetic, forthcoming, dramatic, and then when it entered the second chapter, it transformed into something tragic, and mournful. I found myself stirred by the strong emotions, and felt tears form in my eyes; the conceptual narrative drew me into this orchestral story.
Further on through, a second course of Emerson, Lake and Palmer took place; including Endless Enigma, an instrumental piece featuring on their album Trilogy (1972), with Keith Emerson orchestrating Greg Lake’s vocals upon an acoustic piano, accompanied by the orchestra, alongside the story of the cover of The Fanfare of the Common Man. The orchestral piece was composed by Aaron Copland in 1942, and the original was over three minutes long, and when Emerson, Lake and Palmer were requested to play it for the Olympics in Montreal, in 1976, Keith Emerson had been the one to extend it to over nine minutes.
In Emerson’s own words, he ‘cocked it up’, to the amusement of the audience, and in tribute to Copland (1900 – 1990) who had expressed disappointment to the long piece, but was happier with their edit when he had been interviewed at the time of the song’s release, Keith played both the original composition and Emerson Lake and Palmer’s.
Keith Emerson had then taken to becoming the composer for one stint, and introduced with a story (at first not with a microphone, so had to be told to speak up) about how he was commissioned to compose an original soundtrack for a military film, a film that unfortunately never got completed, and he allowed us to hear what he had done, a piece that referred to the march of the soldiers into battle.
To our surprise, the concert’s duration was shorter than we imagined, so time had passed quickly. To end the night, Keith Emerson introduced the fourth piece from ELP, Lucky Man, composed by Greg Lake at the age of twelve, and after disputes, was eventually featured on their debut album, Emerson, Lake and Palmer (1970), with Marc Bonilla taking control of the vocals, and surprisingly, he emulated Lake’s voice perfectly.
To round it all off, Emerson was as superb as he had been at the High Voltage Festival, London in 2010, when he, Carl Palmer and Greg Lake reunited as Emerson, Lake and Palmer for the first time in fourteen years, when was when I last saw him live. He, along with Marc Bonilla, Terje Mikkelson and the BBC Concert Orchestra were on point; and Keith’s brief moments of forgetfulness were quite endearing and funny.
It was a shame, and to The Barbican’s error that this concert was not more publicized – it had only been discovered by chance a couple of months before, as someone as musically influential and dynamic as Keith Emerson should be experienced, and recognized, especially as this concert was only for one night. I’m very glad, and fortunate that neither my aunt or I missed out on this, because Emerson took loyal progressive rock fans onto a whole new level, it felt new and nostalgic all at once, and I will never forget it.