Keith Emerson – Maximum Punk until the end.
I’ve never understood the divine worship of the Sex Pistols mythological defeat of the dusty old guard, supposedly symbolised (with an equal amount of vitriolic hate) by Emerson Lake & Palmer. To me, using whips and daggers to play a Hammond organ was far more punk than nearly swearing on TV.
Yet again it’s time to bid bon voyage to another musical great; Keith Emerson was a rare musician whose ability was only bested by his high octane performance. His assault on his Hammond and the playing of a spinning piano to huge stadium audiences can be found on You Tube, however it’s time to close our eyes and listen to my favourite Keith Emerson album.
Before ELP had even thought of its first Opus, Keith found fame with The Nice, formed out of PP Arnold’s backing band. Their debut “The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack” was released in the heady year of 1967, the LP is often mentioned in passing as the first proto-prog record, it is in my view one of the finest psychedelic albums of all time. Like many of its contemporary releases, Emerlist Davjack swerves from the lighter pop of the title track to the heavy rock of “Bonnie K” with alarming ease. Whilst the psychedelic box is ticked on tracks “Dawn” & “Flower King Of Flies”, while “War & Peace” is a full on rock jazz freakout with classical undertones, overtones and wombling free tones. Side 1 concludes with a Hammond offensive on Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk”, side 2 concludes proceedings with the Floyd meets Pretty Things epic “The Cry Of Eugene” which cuts out at around four and a half minutes, almost just before it reaches what you think will be the ultimate crescendo finish. This is more than just a historical curiosity; it’s a truly great under the radar album.
My copy is a mono version which I believe is a dedicated mix rather than a fold down, having just listened to a stereo version for the first time. It has the splendid pink label which puts to rest a sometimes quoted “pub fact” that the Immediate grey labels were mono & the pink were stereo.
Keith would move on to grander musical ventures in 1970 with ELP who were at the shaper end of progressive-rock throughout the upcoming decades, giving performances that made other Prog bands of the era look like a bunch of woodwork teachers playing to a pub filled with real ale enthusiasts. The albums “Pictures At An Exhibition” & “Brain Salad Surgery” will always have a soft spot in my record collection but my heart will always be with Emerlist Davjack, a genuine black eye kaleidoscope in all its raw punk beauty.
Keith Emerson & The Nice are neatly summed up on an Immediate sampler of the album by the great late John Peel thusly:-
“1967 was a strange year for pop music with groups experimenting with new sounds and bouncing on and off bandwagons with dizzying speed and agility. They were calling themselves ridiculous names and regretting it shortly. The Nice came together in a void and will be here when the others are in pantomime in Wolverhampton.”
Or making butter commercials…