"A complete waste of time, talent and electricity"
(John Peel on Emerson, Lake & Palmer's debut concert)
"Take ELP; they are undoubtedly good, in that they play well as instrumentalists, but it seems to me that what they do is, artistically, bunkum.....they'd all paid their dues, they could all play well, and they'd got a good rocking boogie thing, which could make one think that they might get into something, but in my opinion, the pseudo-classical bit was the wrong thing for them....Unfortunately, so many kids haven't had the real artistic background and the intellectual heritage, and they don't appreciate the lack of artistry in a syncopated version of some classical thing. I don't think they add anything, and it's no answer to say that it may lead kids to the real thing, because that's like putting Rubens on a tea towel and thinking it will lead people to visit the National Gallery....."
(John Walters interviewed in Zigzag, issue 24, 1972)
In the light of the above comments it is no surprise that Emerson, Lake & Palmer never recorded a session for a John Peel show, or featured in his playlists. Peel's disappointment at their London debut concert in 1970 (he later admitted to having been reduced to tears) was not simply because of his disgust at the uncritical response of most of the audience. He recalled:
It's a shame about ELP because actually Keith Emerson is a nice bloke, a genuinely pleasant human being. I remember when they first played the Festival Hall, I was surrounded by a lot of dickheads in leather trousers who thought it was wonderful. I remember one berk in front of me talking to some smart Hampstead friends, saying "Oh, man, my mind's completely blown, it's really blown....(quoted in Paul Stump, The Music's All That Matters, 1997, p.97)
All three group members had already made their names with groups who he liked and had recorded sessions for Top Gear. Keith Emerson had become famous as the flamboyant keyboardist of The Nice, Greg Lake had sung and played bass with King Crimson, and Carl Palmer had been drummer with both the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. Together, they had the potential for what was then called a "supergroup", but for Peel at least their music seemed slick and empty.
However, this did not prevent ELP from becoming one of the most successful progressive rock bands of the 1970s and beyond, selling over forty million albums and pioneering the vast stadium concerts which are now common for successful live acts. Despite frequent criticism for self-indulgence and pretentiousness - the US critic Robert Christgau called them "the world's most overweening 'progressive' group" - they gained a loyal fan base. They broke up in 1978 but have re-grouped sporadically in subsequent years, although their commercial heyday remains the 1970s.
In retrospect, they represent the point, around 1970-71, when Peel began to be disillusioned with some of the progressive rock he had championed in the late 1960s. Like other groups such as Deep Purple and Ten Years After, they seemed to him to view the onstage demonstration of instrumental virtuosity as an end in itself. At the time Peel regularly won DJ popularity polls held by the weekly music papers, but he sometimes expressed puzzlement because the winners in the "favourite groups" section of the polls, chosen by the same readers who had voted for him, were bands he neither liked nor played. But while Peel's playlists began to include more rootsy or experimental material, and were later dominated by punk and reggae, ELP and other progressive rock groups were featured regularly throughout the 1970s on other Radio 1 shows, notably those of Tommy Vance and Alan Freeman.
Festive Fifty Entries
Other Shows Played
- 21 March 1977: Fanfare For The Common Man (2xLP-Works Volume 1) Atlantic (show presented by Kid Jensen)
- 09 September 2003: 'Lucky Man (played at 78!)' (Island)
- Peeling Back The Years 3 (Transcript): JP: "A band I still regard as probably being the most awful ever, of all time – which is Emerson, Lake & Palmer, whose stuff was just transcendental in its awfulness."
- Staying Single: Jerusalem