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Interview with Carl Palmer: Keeper of the ELP Legacy

Carl Palmer

“I had E.coli which was extremely severe; I was bedridden for nearly eight weeks and as you can imagine I lost quite a bit of muscle definition. It was the first tour of my career that I have ever cancelled.”

- Carl Palmer

 

Interview By Dean Pedley

He may have left Birmingham whilst still a teenager but Carl Palmer is very precise on the area of the city he is from. “Make sure you make it clear that I was born in Handsworth Wood, the Wood part is very important; we had trees in our street. I’ve still got family in the area, my mother, my brother and my nephews are all there. I left Birmingham when I was 15; I finished school on the Friday and moved on the Sunday and to be honest with you I couldn’t wait to get out because I had an opportunity for a job in London with a guy called Chris Farlowe. He was a soul singer who had a number one single with a song called ‘Out of Time’ written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and he offered me a job in his backing band.”

Growing up in a musical family Carl initially studied classical violin before receiving a drum set for his eleventh birthday, being inspired by flamboyant American jazz drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. In 1965 he joined Motown influenced The King Bees who evolved into The Craig, both names associated with the Brum Beat era. “We played with bands like the Idle Race which featured Jeff Lynne, Carl Wayne and The Vikings which became The Move and I played personally for a while in a band called The Locomotive which was Jim Simpson’s band. We played a lot at a jam place in Livery Street and Steve Winwood was there and so I played with him once. But as I say I left when I was 15 and so people like Tony Iommi have become friends of mine after the event if you see what I mean.” Carl will soon be bringing his Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy show to Birmingham Town Hall, the very venue where he was spotted by Farlowe. “I first played there when I was 14, they used to have all nighters that would start at seven in the evening and go right through until the following morning.”

 

Carl spent his 18th birthday as a member of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, touring the US with Hendrix and The Grateful Dead, before forming Atomic Rooster with Vincent Crane. And then in 1970 he auditioned for a spot in a new trio being put together by Keith Emerson and GregLake. For much of the next decade Emerson, Lake and Palmer enjoyed huge success with their innovative approach, pushing the boundaries of what constituted progressive rock. Carl’s current band are reinterpreting ELP’s legacy in a different way. “Paul Bielatowicz on guitar has been with me for about ten years and Simon Fitzpatrick on bass has been with me approximately three years. They are both excellent players and born slightly out of time really if they were around in the 70’s they would probably have been in some of the biggest prog rock bands of the era. They are superb musicians they’ve enabled me to take ELP music and other classical adaptations that I’ve chosen into a rock / metal style of prog rock by using guitars instead of keyboards which gives it a harder edge. The music has never really been played this way in the past so this is something new; it’s an instrumental band, no keyboards and that’s the way we like it.”

Some may be surprised at the absence of a keyboard player for what is show based around ELP’s history, although as Carl stresses his band are taking the music into a new direction and not simply recreating the past. “The music has already been portrayed with keyboards, synthesisers and with an orchestra on ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ but not in this way. I realise it’s an acquired taste, more of a delicatessen than a supermarket, but it hasn’t been done this way and it couldn’t have been done this way until now. It’s only in the last ten years that we have had the virtuoso guitar players that we have got in this country and I think if someone like Paul Bielatowicz had been around when ELP first existed then he would probably have been in it. But we could just never find anyone who was so advanced as a guitar player, there were more advanced keyboard players at that time but now it has turned around completely. In the show we’ll be playing things by Bach, Leonard Bernstein, something by Wagner alongside ELP pieces including ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, ‘Knife-Edge’ and ‘Tarkus’. It’s basically a classic rock show which continues with what ELP did in regard to interpreting classical pieces alongside original material.”

 

The 1980’s saw huge success for Carl as an original member of Asia along with Steve Howe, Geoff Downes and John Wetton. Although Howe has recently left the reunited band the other three are continuing to tour and record and have recruited new guitarist Sam Coulson. “First time around there was a lot of success and that was fantastic but of course we couldn’t sustain that because of John’s illness with alcohol but we managed to get through it and the band today, with or without Steve in it, sounds better than it ever did to be honest. We are on our fourth album since got back together which we’ve just completed. Demand is still at a reasonable level in America where we can play to two or three thousand people in the casinos and we all enjoy it. We work together touring between four to eight weeks every year and everybody in the band has their own thing outside of Asia but we find time for it.” Unfortunately the last Asia tour of the UK in December 2012 had to be cancelled when Carl was struck down with a serious illness. “I had E.coli which was extremely severe; I was bedridden for nearly eight weeks and was only signed off in July. As you can imagine I lost quite a bit of muscle definition. It was the first tour of my career that I have ever cancelled. I picked it up in a casino called Turning Stone about six hours north of New York; no one in the crew or the band picked it up apart from me and they seem to think I might have had food poisoning on the one day and then I got E.coli on the second day. I had eaten in two different restaurants within the casino and so I think I had a double whammy.”

A notable recent development has seen Carl release his first signature collection of fine art, Twist of the Wrist, which offer some stunning visual images created entirely from rhythm. The concept has been developed over a long time frame. “Believe it or not the idea started in Birmingham back in the 70’s, to have light bulbs on the end of drum sticks and to have these cables running down to a battery on the floor and then for me to mime playing the drums. We got some really amazing shapes and arcs and colours but obviously I was miming because I couldn’t play the drums with light bulbs on the end of the sticks. Going on about fifteen years after that they did develop some LED drum sticks and the lights were built into the sticks and they came in four colours, red green blue and yellow but they didn’t really work because as soon as I started playing the lights would go out. Roll forward another decade or so and they developed an LED drum stick with the colours I previously mentioned but the stick was so robust that I could physically play the drum kit. And they were absolutely perfect so I went on to team up with SceneFour in Los   Angeles and we put the drums in a pitch black room and used different camera angles and a very slow shutter speed.”

“When we looked back at it about three out of the ten camera angles really worked so then I started to develop what I would play such as ‘Tank’ or ‘Tarkus’ and I found that the patterns were really interesting and that I couldn’t repeat anything. In other words if I played the same rhythms, same camera action position and speed I couldn’t reproduce it so everything was a true one off. It has worked out really well, been very successful and shown in two galleries, one on Sunset Strip and another outside of Washington DC. I think there are about 70-odd canvases left and I made 217. I’ve done another catalogue that will be ready for April or May and its something that is developing all the time and could only really take place now with the technology we have available.”

 

 

Despite all of this hectic activity Carl still finds time to lecture at the University of Southampton and interact with his fans through social media. “I love the Internet and I do spend around two hours every month just on YouTube investigating new players, new bands and keeping up with what’s going on. I have a Manager in North and South America but I manage myself here in Europe and elsewhere and so on average I spend around two hours every day on emails. Whilst I don’t always have time to visit Facebook or whatever I have a good team around me including my partner Katie and so, together with my Manager in the US, there are a team of five of us and we get it done somehow.”

With touring commitments for his own band and Asia, Carl is already booked up well through 2014, including back to back cruises at the end of March on the Monsters of Rock cruise immediately followed by The Moody Blues Cruise. “I played Cruise to The Edge back in April along with Yes, Steve Hackett, UK and other bands and it offers a fantastic way to see top end music and visit some superb places in the Caribbean. Over the course of five days I played twice, we have private dining areas for the bands or we can go out and eat where the public are which I did after the first day and you meet some really nice interesting people. It’s probably the new way of presenting this type of music, you will get to see a band play twice either inside at the main theatre or on one of the stages out on deck and the company that we go through have ordered a ship twice the size for 2014. I decided to do Monsters of Rock this year because my band is really more in the prog metal style and then I got an invite from Justin Hayward to do the second one to which I said yes; it’s the same ship and I might not even have to change cabins!”

 

Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy tour England starting in Hull on January 24th and arriving at Birmingham Town Hall on February 20th. For more information check out:-

Official Website
http://www.carlpalmer.com/

Fine Art collection – Twist of the Wrist
http://carlpalmerart.com/

 

 

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  1. Peter S. Sakas says:

    Great interview. Carl Palmer is one of my rock icons. I am honored that you used my photo of him in this interview. I reviewed and took photos at two of his shows when he was in the United States. Here are the links if you would like to read them.

    Asia http://rockchicago.net/asia-bring-the-heat-of-the-moment-to-the-arcada-theatre/

    Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy http://rockchicago.net/carl-palmer-brings-the-legacy-to-the-arcada/

    I had seen him numerous times with ELP from the 70s to 90s. The Legacy Concert was great because for once he was the focus of the show, not just sitting behind the drums and only having his always dramatic solos. He walked to the front of the stage and spoke to the audience between songs. It was great to see him in the “headliner” role. In addition, the reinterpretation of ELP music with no vocals or keyboards with his extremely talented band mates on bass and guitar was outstanding. I thoroughly enjoyed that concert experience.

  2. DP says:

    thanks for the positive comments all, our esteemed Editor is already asking what else I have up my sleeve…

  3. MartinShort says:

    Really enjoyed this article Dean. I knew he was with Atomic Rooster and Asia but never realised he was with The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown !! I hope I am able to get a tcket for the Birmingham show next month. Well done !

    • Peter S. Sakas says:

      Check out the video of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown performing “Fire” on youtube. Carl Palmer is wearing a mask and looks kind of creepy!

  4. Grumpy says:

    Very interesting article – didn’t realise he was from Birmingham. Looking forward to seeing his new band next month, ELP were never one of my real favourites at the time but this looks like a good show to see.

  5. Brian McGowan says:

    Another good one Dean…I still drag out and play my ELP albums even now, until my wife and children beg for mercy.

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