Welcome Back, My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends! This Is Carl Palmer's “ELP Legacy Tour”

Carl Palmer is widely known as one of the most dynamic and talented drummers in music, having recorded and toured the world for five-plus decades, primarily, with the legendary progressive rock bands Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), and Asia. And despite the tragic loss of his long-time, iconic band mates over the last couple of years, keyboardist Keith Emerson and front-man Greg Lake, Mr. Palmer forges on, currently recreating the classic ELP songs under the title Carl Palmer's "ELP Legacy Tour.”

Article and photos by Joe Milliken

Turn back the clock. Entering the new millennium, and after working on projects with a reformed Asia in 2000 (which never did quite get off the ground after the unexpected departure of keyboardist Geoff Downes), and then touring with the late-great John Wetton in a band called Qango, Palmer participated in various drum clinics and classes, before deciding to form his own band. In 2003, Palmer formed a progressive-rock power trio with guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and bassist Simon Fitzpatrick, called “The Carl Palmer Band.”

"My band reinterprets the music of Emerson Lake & Palmer from a different perspective," Carl Palmer recently said in an exclusive, Standing Room Only interview. " There are no keyboards, but we have to keep it similar in a lot respects, to the way ELP did it. The idea is to reinvent the classic music of ELP, in a way that takes it to another place. So, that helps us keep it fresh. Plus, we run video through the whole show because we are an instrumental band, and that gives the audience something to focus on while they listen."

The guitarist, Bielatowicz, was 24 at the time, teaching at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM), and freelance writing for guitar magazines, when he joined Palmer's new band.

“I got a call from a fellow BIMM tutor, Guthrie Govan, who said that he'd passed my name on to someone about a possible band, and the band turned out to be 'The Carl Palmer Band,'” Bielatowicz said in an exclusive, SRO interview. “Carl was looking for a new guitarist, after Shaun Baxter (a childhood, guitar hero of mine) developed tinnitus. Shaun had recommended Guthrie for the gig, but he was busy playing with 'Asia.'

“So, I called Carl to introduce myself and express my interest in the gig, and despite telling me he had already found a replacement, he also said I could send him a CD, so I did. The following day, I received a call from an excited Carl Palmer, saying that he really liked the stuff I sent to him and that the gig was mine!

“From there, I had a couple months to learn a couple hours worth of the most demanding instrumental music I've ever had to learn in my life! I locked myself away to learn the material, before we had a few days of rehearsing. Then we did a short tour of Italy. This period of preparation, rehearsing and touring was probably the single most intense period of learning I've ever experienced, and through it, felt I was finally being given the opportunity to play the sort of music I really wanted to.”

From 2006-2010, musician, Simon Fitzpatrick, was studying in a music college in London. He made a connection with Palmer through one of his music teachers, who just so happened to have previously been in Carl's band.

"One of my teacher's at the time, was a bass player named Dave Marks, who was the original bassist in Carl's band until 2006," Simon Fitzpatrick told SRO. "When his previous bassist left, Carl called Dave for recommendations, and he gave Carl my name... and now I'm hoping that he won't have to give Dave another call anytime soon!"

The results are a power trio that re-constructs classic Emerson, Lake & Palmer songs into complex explorations of powerful energy! The big difference between these versions and the original ELP songs, is that this power trio is guitar-driven, whereas the original ELP, of course, was keyboard/synthesizer-driven, featuring the aforementioned Emerson. What especially makes this approach work (for this writer)? Instead of attempting to replace the vocal prowess of Greg Lake with another singer, Paul's and Simon's incredible guitar and bass work, respectively, “sings” Lake's lyrics, if you will, through unique and remarkable phrasing. The results are simply fluid and brilliant!

“Luckily, I had spent time in my formative years, attempting to arrange classical piano music for guitar,” Paul said. “It was the ideal foundation for what Carl would ask me to do in his band, and it seemed like a natural progression for me. It was a challenge, arranging keyboard music for guitar, but also using pedal effects, tapping techniques, and playing in different octaves, helps solve that.”

"I've always been a big prog rock fan since I as a teenager," Fitzpatrick added. "The biggest challenge for me in learning the music, was the sheer quantity that I had to learn. This kind of music is dense, and the set is close to two hours long, so it took me a few months to get it all down. On top of that, the bass role is much more prominent in this set up, than it would be with other bands. I had to work out how to create a range of new sounds to cover various parts of Keith's (Emerson) keyboards and Greg's (Lake) vocals."

Structurally, the new arrangements don't stray too far from the original ELP compositions, however, the infusion of Bielatowicz's bad-ass guitar shredding injects new life into these epic songs. Add Fitzpatrick's dynamic bass lines and incredibly atmospheric solos on the Chapman Stick, along with Carl's own incredible, dynamic and intricate drum work, and the results are an energetic, heart-felt tribute to the music of one of the iconic progressive rock bands. Since their formation, the "Lagacy" trio has toured the world and thus far, released a concert DVD, as well as three live CDs.

“Playing with Carl was my first proper touring gig, so it was a steep learning curve at the start,” Paul added. There are certain things you can only learn by playing live in front of an audience. The understanding that people were coming to “watch” a show, not just listen to music, was also a big revelation. I also learned that playing on stage is completely different from the practice room! In a live setting, my mind would go into overdrive and I'd make mistakes... it isn't something you can prepare for, outside of a live setting: the raised heart rate, added adrenaline, and the need to communicate and perform a piece to an audience.

"There are many shows that stand out - my first tour in a foreign country (Italy) was exciting, as everything was a new experience. I’ve had the chance to play with some musical heroes while touring with Carl: Steve Hackett and Les Paul are a couple of highlights. But I think the moments that are the most magical for me are when I try something new, usually a solo spot, and for whatever reason everything comes together - no matter what venue or gig I might be playing, a magical moment like that is the one thing I strive for."

"One of the major developments for me (as a performer) has been as a soloist, as Carl asks Paul and I to each perform a piece on our own, as part of each set," Fitzpatrick said. "This was new to me when joining the band, and I felt a steep learning curve. It takes time to get used to performing such technically challenging music, alone, when all the focus is on you. I've also expanded onto playing the Chapman Stick, which is new to me since 2013. Every time we arrange a new piece, I learn a bit more about the instrument in a trio format."

The versatile Palmer is also an avid art collector and accomplished artist. In 2012, the innovative art company, Scene 4, sponsored Carl to create a series of art images based on his musical and rhythmic concepts. The artworks are a surreal blend of vibrant colors and movement through rhythmic light and reflection, and just another example of the creative talents this man possesses, and still thrives at.

"My art project is a big thing now in my life and career," Palmer said. "I am an art lover, and to be able to create this kind of art by playing the drums is just incredible. I am currently doing a collection called My Legends, which includes art tributes to the musicians I knew and played with over the years such as Keith, Greg and John Wetton. We will continue to have art shows as part of my tours, and we usually give a large portion of the proceeds to charity."

It is truly a shame that two-thirds of ELP are no longer with us. However, the remaining link is as strong as ever, and it is well worth your while to witness Carl Palmer's unique tribute to the band that made him world-famous. There are also some new CD and DVD releases to watch for as well.

"I have a new live LP called Live In The USA coming out later this year on (the music label) BMG," Palmer concluded. "We also have done a video of the Pictures At An Exhibition - Tribute To Keith Emerson concert that we staged in Miami last year. That will also come out on BMG shortly. There is also a re-launch of the 'remastered' ELP catalog on BMG, and a new ELP 'box set' due on Sept 27th... which will be very exciting!"

If you get the opportunity to see the “ELP Legacy Tour,” do not pass it up. “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends!”

Please visit Carl Palmer at www.carlpalmer.com