This “Cat” has been active since 1964 and is still going strong in 2018. He has played with a lot of acts – among them is The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Asia, 3, Qango and his own Carl Palmer Band.
Very influenced by jazz and eager to play riffs in 10/8, but not a stranger to playing more basic rock`n`roll, he is someone that many people would like to have in a band. One of the great drummers in modern rock music and prog, he is now a “household” name for many. Enjoy this great interview from way back.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer were shortly to Jumbo jet across to North America for a nationwide tour, but drummer Carl Palmer was having problems closer to home. The GPO seemed reluctant to install a telephone in the new house he has just bought near London. Could his manager send a letter stressing how important it was for a rock star to have a telephone? He could. That pleased the drummer. Now he could relax to examine the character of the rock triangle of which he has been one side since the sneer days of a “second Nice” to their recent triumph in sweeping up awards in the SOUNDS poll.
Interview: Dick Meadows
Pictures: Spud Murphy
Can we talk first about your new cut-price album “Pictures At An Exhibition” which will be released here while the group is on tour in America. It was originally made in conjunction with a film, but there have been delays and problems I believe?
As you know, that was going to be released very cheaply. But the film and everything was so bad, and the soundtrack on the film was so bad that we just had to re-record it. That`s what held “Pictures” up, which was a shame. It was due to come out about two to three months ago. Anyway, we had to re-record it because the soundtrack was no good at all, and we did this in Newcastle City Hall which has an amazing atmosphere.
The album has a nice sleeve which is very interesting. The different pieces of music in “Pictures” have their own names and the different paintings on the sleeve refer to these movements. The sleeve opens up and on the inside the pictures are complete but on the outside the pictures aren`t quite finished. So it`s quite freaky, and they are actual paintings because I have bought one!
Why do you think the sound-track was so bad?
Well, we never had Eddy Offord, our engineer, there, and he is a great cat. For me it could have been much better than it was. I think there was something wrong with the organs too. It was recorded live at the Lyceum and didn`t come off anything like as well as the second time at Newcastle. So this is why there have been delays and why the price is not as cheap as we wanted it to be. We had hoped to get it out for about 99p instead of £1.49 which is what the price is now.
As far as the film of Emerson, Lake and Palmer is concerned, because a friend of ours is doing it, that is the only reason we have let him release it. The film, in my opinion, is shocking. It is a sort of 1959 rock and roll film, because the modern filming technique put into it was nil. There are lots of basic shots of the band; it is sort of nothing, as if someone has filmed a band live on stage and that`s it.
We had a lot of ideas about modern filming techniques which we wanted to see done, but instead the person who did it – who is a friend of mine anyway and I won`t mention his name – didn`t do it exactly how I wanted it done anyway. It was done as a straight film, it could have been like an early Beatles film, it was so straight you know.
I believe the film has been shown so far at the Lyceum and various other places. There`s not a lot we can do about it now. I mean, we will make money out of it but I don`t really like making money from a product that I`m not happy with. The original soundtrack has in fact gone out with the film; it could have been changed but the people didn`t want to spend any more money on doing it. So we said, “Okay, we can`t release an album like that, so we will spend more money, we`ll pay for it ourselves and we`ll get a unit up to Newcastle with all the tape recorders and things and our own engineer, and we`ll do it as best as we can.” And that is of course what we did. We got to Newcastle at 10 o`clock in the morning and ran through things for several hours. And I think we got a live recording that is worthy to go out as a “live” album. I think most “live” albums, even if people have been very careful, are really a glorified bootleg, do you know what I mean, just a professional bootleg.
Does the original soundtrack sound like a “professional bootleg” to you then?
No, no, but the general feel of the thing was done a lot better the second time. There was a lot of pressure put on us at the Lyceum that day because of the film, so the music didn`t hit it off. It wasn`t that bad, but it was bad to us in the group to release as a “live” album. That was why we held back, and we got a lot of letters and we were slagged for that but it was for the good of everyone you know. We wanted a good product on the market, and we thought that if we released the original soundtrack we would have been slagged on top of being slagged for keeping people waiting. I hope now that everyone is happy. We have done a good job on the album sleeve. But there you go, it`s just one of those things.
Did you take “Pictures” as seriously as the album which you are recording now, or can it be classed as more of a fun album?
Well, we took the music seriously, but we didn`t take it seriously in terms of the direction which the band is going. It has been released because everyone wanted it. That`s why we are selling it cheap and slipping it out, and not making a big issue out of it. Who knows, it could still be a No. 1! We were in a strange predicament with “Pictures” because we didn`t want to rob people of having it.
Originally it was going to be a double album, with “Pictures” and the new album we have just started. But because we kept people waiting so long we just had to release it. There has been pressure as well from the record companies because they wanted it. It is only going to be released in England. The album we have just started to record should be released in this country in about February.
How much progress have you made with this album?
We have been recording now for about two or three weeks. We have two completed things – music and words – and one instrumental that we think we will have to do again. We have a lot of different stuff, you know. One number is like the music to a Hammer horror film, sort of very kind of frightening. Another is like a Western, we`ve got a gun-shot on it. The words are about this cat who doesn`t want to get shot, it`s quite a comedy number. The other one is just a funky thing, so we have three things done and that`s about all so far.
We will do the rest of the recording when we get back from America in January for a February release, according to how the recording goes. You see, we are trying not to push it at all, but just let it flow along. Not taking too much time but taking it easier. On the American tour we are going to try out the three numbers that we have already recorded, and if any changes occur within a number then we will record it again. We have found that numbers develop so much more on stage.
You talk about letting the recording “flow along”. But the band put the last album “Tarkus” down very quickly indeed. How did you manage to do that?
It took, like, two weeks that album. We were really in the studio every day. The thing is that “Tarkus” took that amount of time, it didn`t take any longer because it was completely arranged and set out by Keith (Emerson). We didn`t rush the “Tarkus” album, it just took two weeks. But the album we are now recording – because it is going to be totally different – will take longer. A third album to any band is so important, and that is not including “Pictures” which you can`t count as a third album.
What do you mean by “totally different”?
Well, what we went into before were highly arranged things and we never really got to jam a lot on an album. On this album we are leaving room for that, but not too much, just enough so you get time to fill out. “Tarkus” was a set thing and it sounds pretty much the same every night but these new numbers, these three numbers I have mentioned, will vary so much. We have two other numbers and numerous ideas but whether they justify themselves to be used or not remains to be seen. We have a lot of ideas and we are being extra-cautious, being very careful, and that is why we are taking more time out to do it.
I do think that the third album of a band does set up the life of the band. The first one is the initial effort of a band, with the second one, people know what you are into, and with the third one you have got to be into what you are into! Do you know what I mean?
What we are trying to do with the new album is get the arrangement thing in there which we are known for, but never lose any of the basic funk which at times I think we did on “Tarkus”. On the actual recording I think it could have been funkier in places. But now we have been together that bit longer you would be surprised how much that has helped. We are a lot tighter now, and having had more time to think about it, I think this album will be the better one of the three.
I`m not dissatisfied with “Tarkus”. I just know that if we recorded it now it would be better, because the album has got an American and an English tour behind it, and things come together on stage so much more. At the time “Tarkus” was recorded I thought I was playing great and so did everyone else.
After the new album is released I think we shall start recording the next one in August or October. Oh yes, we have already planned that, planned when we should record and allowed two months off to record it. I don`t know about material yet, but after the present one is finished and we have played it on the road we shall have more idea about future recording.
What is more important to ELP, gigging or recording?
They are equally important. You must never give up live appearances you know. We belong on stage, and we belong in the recording studio; it is basically a very hard-working band. I couldn`t just record, nor could Keith or Greg (Lake), but on the other hand I couldn`t just do gigs because I need the satisfaction of being in the studio and hearing your own sound played back.
You`ve just got a new drum kit. Will you be using it on the tour of the States?
Yes, I fly out in a few days time before the other fellahs, just to get used to sitting behind the new drum kit! This is very important to me, because there is a whole scene behind it. I shall spend the first night just looking at it in my hotel room where I shall set it up, getting used to all the heights and sizes. It`s like a toy. After that the band will be rehearsing in the Fillmore East, New York.
The audiences in America, as far as taking solos within numbers are concerned, are beautiful. They just know when to clap, it`s as if you have rehearsed them in the afternoon and got all these cats together and said, “All right, clap now”. For that part, people are unbelieveable, but for the general living part in America – the food and the actual environment – doesn`t suit me personally. Some parts of the States are better than others, Detroit and Chicago I`m not too keen to walk about in. I just get in a cab as soon as I can. I would never live in America, I thought I would a few years ago, but not now. I would rather live in the country in England.
In America everyone hustles furiously and doesn`t get that much done, but in England everyone hustles but they are cool about it and get things done. It`s done slightly slower but slightly better and with more taste. If I was to record in America I wouldn`t feel as relaxed as I do here. I would pick up strange vibes the minute I walked into the studio – there`s that hustle there – and there would be an American engineer saying, “Okay you cats, what are you into” and all that kind of scene. That would put me really up-tight.
I don`t let America get on top of me on tour because I take about 12 drum books, my text books, my guitar, my cassette, so that if I have a night off I don`t get hung up. I can play, practise, listen to the cassette or even watch the television. There`s only New York City that you can ever do anything in. When we had nights off in other towns I tried to get a local paper and there was nothing on, just local bands. Probably the local bands are good, I`ve got nothing against them, but you really don`t want to go out to a rock club to hear them after you have just done ten clubs yourself.
At the moment the band is right at the top. You swept the board in the SOUNDS poll awards for instance. Where do you go from here?
That is hard to say. I think we will get into as many other things as we can, we might even try our record label, or a business venture together. We would also like to get into a proper film of ELP, a documentary film and a live thing joined together which we have always wanted but could never get. It`s very, very hard `cos once a band gets to a certain level you must keep the interest together within the band. I think we will probably all make solo albums but not giving any indication that there is a split because there would never be one.
We can all play together for long periods but we all must do that little thing of our own at some time. If you can combine the two without having to make a split then I think it is a sensible way to go. I would personally love to make my own album. What I would like to see is ELP do a big London gig somewhere, and everyone come on, me with my band, Keith with his and Greg with his. Then at the end it is ELP together, that to me would be one of the biggest musical outlets I could imagine. It would have to be really well worked out, that is one of the next musical steps we could try and do. I think we are big enough for the people to accept it.
You sound confident that ELP has a long life ahead of it, that the band won`t split up.
I think, now, that the band has got a long life. I had my doubts at the beginning, but now I think, yes, it has. For two reasons. One, we know now that individuals must do their own thing like solo albums. If you admit that then you are half-way there, because that`s why groups break up; they want to do different things but won`t talk about it. See, we talk about it. And two, as yet, as far as I`m concerned and I think I can speak for Greg and for Keith as well, there has never been any musical conflict at all. I think about these two things and they to me are the ingredients for a band that lasts a long while.
Why did you have doubts at the beginning?
I was worried at first about people calling ELP a supergroup. I wasn`t really known then and I thought if I am going to make a name for myself I want to start off without having any labels put on me at all. That was the only doubt I had. As it happened we came through all that shit quite well, about us being a second Nice, that sort of thing. I must confess that bugged me more than Keith or Greg `cos I just couldn`t take it. I was against doing “Rondo” you know, we do it, but I realised it was such a great number that I would want to do it anyway even if the Nice hadn`t made it famous. I really believe that. Yes, it was the deal with the Nice that bugged me at the beginning but we have all got over that.
At the beginning there were a few people putting us down, I could even name a reporter, but I won`t because it ain`t worth it, who said this, that and the other. And that doesn`t help a band trying to get something together. You really do need people, who although they are not totally in agreement with what you are doing, to say “Yes fellahs I really believe what you are into and I like it”. It just gives you that bit of encouragement, but instead we weren`t getting that. What we were getting was the supergroup thing and “Is it a second Nice?”
I didn`t want to be associated with Brian Davison because I don`t play anything like him. I just didn`t want to be labelled. At times I thought “Oh no”. But it never got to the stage where I thought the band definitely wouldn`t last because I managed to bale myself out of this frame of mind. I got over that period which lasted for about the first couple of months, and then when I picked up the music papers and read what people were saying and how they were slagging Keith I just laughed at it. If only they knew what a musician Keith was, they would never have said those things.
There have also been accusations that Greg and yourself live under Keith`s shadow on stage.
I`ve heard this before. Musically we don`t and stage-wise I don`t think we do either. To me, if ever a musical policy was split three ways it is with ELP. Not only musically but visually as well; Keith still does the same few things that he did with the Nice because they`re good and they`re Keith Emerson. I`ve been taking my tee-shirt off for years on stage, it started when I was with Chris Farlowe, and I still do it because I dig doing it. Even though Ian Wallace from King Crimson does it now which is a bit annoying, but if that is what the cat wants to do then let him do it. I think Greg, truthfully speaking, has had more opportunity with ELP than with what he ever had with Crimson. With Crimson he never got to play his acoustic guitar which I think he plays beautifully, and he never got to sing as much as he does now. I also think that for the production of Crimson, Greg`s say in the matter wasn`t as big as it should have been. For us he is a quite amazing producer.
Do you consider you were getting sufficient credit in Atomic Rooster where you were doing a lot of arranging?
Well, Vincent (Crane) wrote the songs you see, and I got the bread for it but my name wasn`t put down. That didn`t really bug me because I was experimenting with arrangements like Vincent was, but because he wrote the words and the actual melody and I used to arrange it, even though the arrangement is as worthy as the song, he took the credit. It didn`t really matter to me though. Vincent was on a bit of an ego trip, which, if he wanted to, was okay with me. It didn`t bug me, I let it go, as long as I got the money for it which is what you want in the end. The fame and the extra fortune will always come, and I`ve got what I wanted in the end, recognition as a drummer.
What was your reaction when you were asked to join ELP?
When I was originally called up and asked if I would join, I said no. That was because Rooster was the first band I had ever formed – jointly with Vincent after we had left Arthur Brown – and I wanted to go a bit further with it. The band had a promising single which I thought would do something, but as it happened it didn`t. I realised that the first album was trash but I thought I must give it longer.
So I did, but a couple of weeks later Greg called up and suggested I had a blow with them. I did and they both thought it was great, I enjoyed it, and then Greg called me and asked me what I was going to do. I said, “I don`t know, I have got to think about it”. He said he would phone me up the next day and I must give him an answer. But then he called up the same night and suggested another blow tomorrow. So we had another blow and I went back home. He wanted an answer and was putting on the pressure. In the end I said no again but then he laid it on the line about what we thought the band was going to be and it clicked with me. I had been very worried about the Nice situation. Finally I said yes and we went straight into rehearsals. I was doing five gigs a week with Rooster and I was playing three afternoons a week with ELP, and I did that for about two months solid. I found Vincent a drummer and settled all the outstanding business matters. I helped Rooster as best I could and I spoke to Vincent the other day and we are the best of friends. Me leaving Rooster was the most mutual split ever, and who knows, I might even play with Vincent again.
Did you get fulfilment as a drummer before ELP with bands like Rooster, Arthur Brown and Chris Farlowe`s Thunderbirds?
I wasn`t doing as many things as I wanted to. But then the way I play now I never dreamt of playing like that then because the people I was playing with weren`t that way inclined. When I suggested anything a bit freaky then, people were a bit funny. I had a 10/8 riff when I was sixteen which people didn`t want to know about because they thought it was hard. And of course that 10/8 riff is applied to “Tarkus”. I was labelled as a rock and roll drummer and I couldn`t get out of it. With Rooster I got out of it a bit and with ELP I am fulfilled.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Redbone, Frank Zappa, Redwing, Elton John, B.B. King, Bill Williams, Alice Stuart, Fanny, Robbie Robertson, Lesley Duncan, Dave Burland.
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