An Interview with Keith Emerson

Liv met up with Keith for the second time in London in March 1997 to interview him for Issue 4 and, as always, he was very chatty and friendly. This is an excerpt from that interview:

Impressions -
How did you get the idea of playing BACH on the keyboard back to front and how long did it take you to learn it?

Keith -
"Well, I was always playing the Hammond Organ back to front even during the days of the Nice, going back to 1968. Really what I was doing there, was choosing notes at random and trying to make some sense of them, improvising back to front. But I thought that it would be much more effective if I learnt a set piece. And I set myself the target of learning the Bach "Toccata & Fugue" back to front, because I'd used that one anyway in previous organ destruction routines. But I thought, to play it really, really accurately would be much more effective. And the way I did it, actually, was I'd sit with a very small keyboard on my lap, one that you can easily sit on your lap and turn around the other way. And I just sat there on the sofa, watching the TV and learning one part at the time, looking at the various notes and then turning the keyboard around on my lap and then learning that bit and turning it back again. I started doing this with the band Three and this is a funny story:- Robert Berry was there at my Mother's house and Robert was looking at me spinning the keyboard and the next minute the keyboard was turned the other way around. I was still playing it, spinning it around. Robert said to my Mum: "Don't you find this unusual with your son?!?" And my Mother said: "No, not if you're Keith Emerson's Mother, you don't!" (laughs!) Which I thought was rather sweet of her! But it took about 2 weeks to learn, I suppose."

Impressions -
Who came up with the idea of the creatures and storyline for Tarkus?

Keith -
"William Neal was an art student and he actually popped by Advision Studios when we were recording Tarkus and before we had a name for the music that I'd written. He came by with a set of artwork and I arrived there, took one look at it and thought it was amazing. It fully complimented the music. William had painted this mechanical creature and there were a lot of other extraordinary mythical creatures like the Manticore Lion's head with the Scorpion's tail, all incorporated into mad imaginary, really, and I think we pieced it together. It was almost like the painting was made to fit the music and the music was made to fit the painting, we could see some sort of surreal storyline. Although it wasn't really portrayed in the lyrics, it was enough for the imagination to take over. I don't know if you or your readers read Terry Pratchett, but it had something of that element in it, or rather, there's a lot of what Terry Pratchett writes in his works, in Tarkus! But without the humour in it! (laughs!)"

Impressions -
What do you remember of the Rod Stewart session back in 1969?

Keith -
He paid me 50!! (smiles!)

Impressions -
Well, that was a lot of money in those days!

Keith -
Yes, it was! It paid for about three weeks rent! Well, he didn't really have a lot to say, he turned up very late and we just jammed ideas in the studio because he wasn't there and when he finally turned up, he wasn't in the control room, he stood outside the door and listened , said "Thank you very much", I got a cheque and thought "Wow!" He obviously went in after that and wrote some lyrics. I don't know how he went about it, but I wasn't there when he did it. Earlier on, before he got there, we just jammed and stared at each other blankly. "What are we going to play? Have you got an idea?" So somebody came up with something and we just filled in, they recorded it, I got paid and went home! (laughs!)"

You can read the whole of this very interesting interview in Issue 4 of Impressions.


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