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Keith Emerson A Musical Celebration of His Life – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Surely there must be a few ‘Heads’ here tonight who saw The Nice at Mothers, Erdington,1968 – for those brief few years the utterly coolest and most ludicrously sweaty venue in the UK? Maybe even more who witnessed ELP’s second (but really their debut launch) gig at the IOW Festival 1970. Emerson’s defiant struggle to escape from under the revenge of his dagger-abused, toppled Hammond organ, just retro fitted with an RSJ by the incensed tech-crew, was fitting kismet – or maybe just proto Spinal Tap.

$5000 Persian carpets to keep Greg Lake’s feet comfy on stage and rotating drum risers were stadium de rigueur until Punk arrived and gobbed all over their hybrid armadillo/tank windscreen. Perhaps some here tonight still treasure Emerson’s alleged balcony hopping dash to access the monumental organ loft during ELP’s October ’70 gig at Birmingham Town Hall, thwarted only by the absence of a willing bellows pusher and embarrassed Security. So, in the timeless words of their trans-global Calling-On song, ‘Welcome back my friends/to the show that never ends/We’re so glad you could attend/Come inside, Come inside.’

This evening’s host, long time devotee and concept producer, Jim Davidson (yes, the same) announces that as well as a celebration of Emerson’s life, tonight highlights the work of UK charity Care after Combat. The £20 guilt-captive, souvenir programme clearly adding to the cause. Evidently, Davidson has serious traction when calling in favours for tonight’s guest spots, not least with conductor Terje Mikkelsen and The Keith Emerson Symphony Orchestra.

Part one of the show features an enchanting and eclectic baton-stroke of Emerson’s orchestral compositions, many of which may have passed by all but the seriously devoted. Meanwhile, Gandalf clone, Rick Wakeman, man of a thousand grumpy, recycled on-the-road, into the ditch anecdotes, sets the ivories afire with Abaddon’s Bolero.

Multi-instrumentalist, Rachel Flowers, losing her eyesight at barely three months old, seems a wisp of a thing – deceptively so. When seated in her comfort piano zone she proceeds to wreak melodic transcendence. Likewise, Emerson’s son, Aaron, and grandson, Ethan, whose keyboard wizardry continue to carry the paternal torch with incandescent passion.

Shameless decadence comes no better indulged than with Thierry Eliev’s exotically extemporised take on the ELP debut album track, Just Take a Pebble. His subsequent, carnally teasing, Skat riff-play with vocalist, Celine Poggi and cellist, Yan Garec is aural ambrosia. Damian Joyce’s When Your Around (NYC) is an impassioned homage to Emerson’s endearing capacity to wriggle his gregarious way into any gig or recording session that caught his eager ear.

Noddy’s Puncture, ELP beatification driven tribute band with a moody Moog passion for head-in-the clouds time-warp-Prog-Rock irony free passion, brings the evening’s delights to exhausting closure – notwithstanding one or two last minute surprises. Some enchanting evening, indeed.

Selling his classical soul for a Faustian Pact with rock n’ roll, Satan was to everybody’s profit. For as much as in 1968 he enraged an older generation for bastardizing Bernstein’s America and burning the Stars & Stripes for good measure, his eclectic pick n’ mix plundering from the pantheon of classical composers certainly impressed a lot of earnest parents. Further, some argue that Emerson’s pyrotechnic heresy inspired Hendrix’s Star ‘Mangled’ Banner evisceration a year later at Woodstock. Whatever: Ave Mr. Emerson – Ars Longa Vita Brevis.

Reviewed on 28 July 2017| Image: Contributed

Reviewer: John Kennedy Surely there must be a few 'Heads' here tonight who saw The Nice at Mothers, Erdington,1968 - for those brief few years the utterly coolest and most ludicrously sweaty venue in the UK? Maybe even more who witnessed ELP's second (but really their debut launch) gig at the IOW Festival 1970. Emerson's defiant struggle to escape from under the revenge of his dagger-abused, toppled Hammond organ, just retro fitted with an RSJ by the incensed tech-crew, was fitting kismet – or maybe just proto Spinal Tap. $5000 Persian carpets to keep Greg Lake's feet comfy on stage…

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5 comments

  1. A very well rounded view of the night. The Symphony Hall was a perfect place for this celebration of Keith’s undoubted talent. It produced a clarity of sound from all of the artists and forms of the rich musical legacy. It was a truly magical and emotional experience. I liked very much the historical references of Keith’s past and the so called “Excesses” of ELP.

    Yes, it was true (My wife was at the Town Hall in 1970) It was frowned upon to let any rock musician” play such a cherished musical instrument!

  2. I think the correct names of the wonderful french trio are:
    Thierry Eliez : Piano/vocal
    Ceilin Poggi : vocal
    Yan Garac : cello

  3. Sometimes jaded cynicism disguised as wit is appropriate, here it is not. But that’s not a criticism of the whole review, I never expect a fawning review, but hopefully not one littered with irrelevant carping digressions.

    I enjoyed the comment about Rachel Flowers and other lovely observations about the other artists with whom I am less familiar, yet surprised at the lack of mention of Lee Jackson (bass player with The Nice), Frank Scully and Tom Szakaly closing the show with America. Makes me wonder whether you lost patience with them trying to fix Lee’s amp and left before this highly significant closing number which took us back to the beginning of Keith Emerson’s fame.

    Great show with great variety of styles with huge thanks to Jim Davidson for putting it on and keeping the show going, belly laughs were had as well the audience being enraptured enough to rise to their feet after each number. :-)

  4. The Reviews Hub - London

    Thank-you for your comment, Paul. Not every aspect of a review is going to be to everyone’s taste; however, suggesting that our reviewer left before the end of the show is a serious allegation. If you have any evidence to support this other than “this isn’t the way I would have written it”, we’ll be happy to investigate.
    Editor

  5. I was gutted that I had to leave just before 11 (during Tarkus) for a quite undignified dash for the last London train. Was there anything else we missed, other than America as mentioned?

    I knew Lee Jackson was coming so I’m sorry to have missed him and it would have rounded off the set well to go back to the start. At least I’m glad I caught The Nice a couple of times in the 2000s.

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