Keith Emerson: I was jealous of Jon Lord
Three Fates features the best of ELP (such as Tarkus and Fanfare For The Common Man Pt. 1 and Pt. 2), solo songs and brand new compositions – all in new classical arrangements, as rendered by the Munich Radio Orchestra. If you’re expecting the album to packed full of face-melting keyboard frenzy, you’ll be surprised to hear the opposite is true. Three Fates might be billed as “the most important Emerson record since his ELP days” but the iconic ivory-tickler’s presence is remarkably understated on it. Indeed, Keith almost plays a cameo role at times.
“Three Fates is a departure to the effect that I’m asserting myself more as a composer and an arranger than as a player,” Emerson explains. “I really didn’t want so much focus on myself as a performer. In certain places I’m just a member of the orchestra… in fact, I’m sort of buried. Which was a position I was quite happy with, actually.”
Of course, Emerson has worked with orchestras throughout his long and illustrious career. But recording Three Fates was a substantially different, and more pleasurable, experience than, for example, bringing The Nice’s Five Bridges Suite to fruition (at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, of all places) way back in October 1969.
“Modern-day orchestras are quite remarkable,” enthuses Emerson. “Their youth and flexibility is nothing like what I experienced in the 60s and 70s. It was really tough back then due to the bureaucracy of dealing with symphony orchestras, philharmonics and what have you.”
Back in the day, Emerson’s early – some might say primitive – attempts to meld rock’n’roll sensibilities with the classics were often met with resistance, even derision, from the highbrow orchestral hierarchy.
“It was very much a case of them and us,” he reveals. “They would stick cotton wool in their ears. It was very stuffy; they really weren’t helpful at all. If the [sheet music] copyist had made a mistake, they would just play along regardless. They wouldn’t put up their hands and say: ‘In bar 67 there’s a b-natural, shouldn’t that actually be a b-flat?’ In which case it would’ve given me the opportunity to say: ‘Correct, it should indeed be a b-flat. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.’ No, there was none of that. If it’d been written wrongly, then that was exactly how they’d play it. They’d look at you with sneers on their faces, as if to say: ‘You think you’re good, do you? So you’re a composer, are you?’”
For Three Fates, says Emerson, “we had the orchestra in the studio from nine o’clock in the morning until 12 noon, lunch break, and then back into the studio until the early evening. It was very live. It was wonderful. I feared that the orchestra wouldn’t be able to handle it, because it was very demanding music. But Terje, the conductor, really fired them up. He got them playing less like an orchestra and more like a rock’n’roll band.”