Legendary ELP drummer is coming to Israel for a one-time gig on May 3rd, 2014. He will perform with his Carl Palmer band, in the Reading club in Tel Aviv bay. I called him in his UK home for a short interview about the upcoming show.
1) Is this your first time in Israel – ever?
Yes, it’s my very first time. Looking forward to it. I’ve been wanting to come over there for a long time and play, bring the music to the people. It’s going to be a great experience.
2) Many people in Israel will really like to meet you in person. Will that be possible?
I won’t be bringing merchandise to the country, but if they have something to sign, I’ll be only too pleased to sign it for them, of course.
3) Are there places in the world that you still want to reach, maye China or India?
We’re looking at China for next year, just been to the World Bank to discuss the possibility of playing with an orchestra in China. We haven’t finalized anything it, we’re still looking at the details, is it very possible that could happen in the very near future (not India).
4) Bill Bruford has stopped performing live recently. How do you feel about his decision? have you talked to him about it?
I never take any notice of what other people do, what they play or how they do it, I look at my situation. I have always been a musician. I don’t think Bill has always been a musician, he had other jobs and things. It was never in his psyche to make it a life-long profession. I come from a family of loving musicians, and have always played and always worked. So to me, It’s not something you can just give up. It’s a bit like if somebody asked you to stop eating Latkes one day, it would be difficult for you, wouldn’t it? you couldn’t do it. You have to carry on being yourself. I don’t even relate to what he did. It’s not something that interests me at all, to tell you the truth.
My philosophy is – I carry on playing as long as I play in the high standard that I play at. I am still improving at the moment, which is really good for me, and as long as I improve – I’m happy. If I can’t improve any more but I can mainatain my standard, I will carry on playing. If I can’t maintain the standard, then yes – I will stop, because I will only go out there if I can prove a point, and prove to the people how good I am, and I think I can do that for a few good years yet, I’ve had a few right now, this evening, tomorrow can be different.
Do you still do some Karate, or maybe Jogging?
I ran this morning. I don’t do Karate anymore. I’ve had both my hands operated on for Carpal Tunnel Snydrome (CTS), it was a very succesful operation, I was very lucky indeed, I managed to save them just in time. That came from punching an object called a Makiwara which you do in a Karate exercise. (Carl got as far as Shodan, the first black belt, and a teaching certificate). I gave it up must be nearly thirty years ago now.
5) Arthur Brown is an important figure in your past, notably the late 60’s. Are you still in contact with him?
Yes, two years ago. I don’t think that performing with him is something I would consider.
6) How about Frank Zappa? did you ever get to play with him or see him live in the 70s or 80s?
Oh yes – Frank Zappa was a very big fan of The Crazy World of Arthur Band. We went to Frank Zappa’s house in 1968, in Laurel Canyon (Los Angeles neighborhood), he very was interested in signing the Crazy World band. We spoke about percussion and things, he actually gave me a book, we never played together, that was the only time I’ve met him. I would never play with someone like Frank Zappa because I’m not a hired gun. I only play for myself. I don’t play for money, I play for percentage. I’m not a side-man.
The Carl Palmer Band, now active for about 13 years, doesn’t have any keboards, although it perfoms the “ELP Legacy”. It’s just Palmer on drums, Paul Bielatowicz on guitar, Simon Fitzpatrick on bass. I didn’t want to bring it up on the interview, after Carl has been asked about the no-keyboards issue so many times. He says that “to have a guitar driven band, was the most honest way to go about things…for me to use keyboards would be very, very silly after all those years..guitar would be the real way out because it’s possible to do with guitar now”. It’s a bold approach, it could have worked, but frankly – after seeing this band on DVD I’m not sure it works as well as ELP fans would want. Maybe if the CP band had two guitarists (both solo & rythm), they could have pulled it off very nicely. But one guy just can’t handle the harmonic complexity of ELP music, at least for me, who has been listening to this music for almost 30 years now.
8) What’s the hardest ELP piece to play?
We’re dealing with guitars and not keyboards. I have to find a way to make it sound fresh and new and exciting. I try to make this music in a different environment, a different way. Using guitars with the virtuoso players that I have. Tarkus and Pictures in an Exhibition, let’s say they are difficult. It’s a different sound, a different approach, I think it’s a younger approach, taking the music to another direction really, more of a prog-metal progressive band, using guitars and not keyboards. It’s quite rewarding to play, we can play different versions of those pieces. That’s what I’m hoping to do.
9) Are you going to visit some sites in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?
There’s no time for that at the moment. I might go through a radio station. We have to check the equipment and the PA system, how good the sound is. A lot of those things will occupy a lot of my time. There’s aweful a lot to do, so sightseeing is not on my personal agenda. It’s not that I don’t want to. You have to understand taht I’m there for the business of music, that’s my main priority. To be able to play to the people of Tel Aviv as well as I possibly can, and as professionaly as I can. The show is 1 hour and 50 minutes. We’re playing music not just from ELP. We play things like the Fugue in D minor by Bach, Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, Mars the god of war by Holst and also 21st Century Schizoid Band, we might be playing that too. I’d be talking about everything in the set and explain what this is all about.
7) Now that you are a Vegan, does it cause some problems on the road?
I can get most of the things I want, like vegetables and bread. There’s not always soy milk or a vegan dish on the menu. But for the last 17 monthes I have been doing it now, it’s improved my health immensly. Obviously I miss certain things but I don’t crave for them. It is a bit difficult, it depends what country you’re in. Certain countries are very easy to accomodate. It’s easy to get good food at restaurants, also Chinese restaurants are very good. Unfortunately, a lot of the Jewish food that I used to love I can’t eat anymore. Some things I miss but there’s always a way around it. If I can’t eat one day as well as I would like it, hell I don’t care.
10) Did you ever catch a gig be the Keith Emerson band?
No, I didn’t.
Did you watch their DVD?
No, I didn’t.
11) I hope that maybe one day we can talk to the three of you (Emerson Lake Palmer), but it won’t happen in Israel, that’s for sure.
I don’t think it will happen at all. I played with ELP in 2010, at the High Voltage Festival. I decided after that concert that I no longer wanted to carry on with ELP, it was the time to stop it. I felt we done our very best. We’ve had our a great 40 years together, on and off, not 40 consecutive years. And I thought that when a band reaches the end of its day, when they don’t play as well, and you can’t achieve what you used to achieve, you can’t reach the same heights – it’s then time to stop. That’s my philsophy. We had a great time, we said goodbye and thankyou for the London crowd. I explained to Greg and Keith, who possibly wanted to carry on, that I would be making that my last venture, my last outing with the group. We only meet for business because we still own all of our catalouge and our publishing, but we don’t actually meet to talk about music or reherse, becasue that’s not going to happen.