One of the most enduring and creative musicians in Rock Music Greg Lake's stellar career takes in King Crimson, ELP and his solo top ten hits singles.
With the successful release of the recent Warner Music Vision/Classic Pictures DVD 'Greg Lake Live', Greg resumes his solo career in the company of a superb band and a full blown tour that includes an Albert Hall date on Wednesday the 13th September.
The Greg Lake's UK tour starts on 3rd September; for tickets call 08702 72 73 74 - Artist website
The DVD provides the focus for both the tour and the band, did you enjoy the project?
Yes I did if only because it raises your game. Filming a concert can be tricky business. One night you can all be playing superbly well and then another night it might not work so well. You always obviously try and play your best every night but with this band they give me consistency and commitment and it all came off so well.
Did the quality of the band influence the fact that the concert and DVD would be a composite of your career?
Partly, but it was a combination of elements. In fact I wanted to get back to playing guitar again. I was playing guitar seven or so years before I joined King Crimson. I started playing bass with them really and it stuck with me, for 25 years (laughs), which was OK, but I saw this as an opportunity to get back to the guitar.
I enjoy bass playing but I still regard the instrument as being primarily a supporting role in a band. In that sense ELP was a little frustrating for me. For example, when I switched to acoustic guitar, Keith would switch to bass pedals and that wasn't the same as playing the proper bass parts.
A good bass player should simply be part of the rhythm section and really no more than that. Once a bass player gets too busy and into soloing, then there is no low end, or no platform to speak of. So that being the case, as a guitar player - harmonically speaking - you crave that freedom, and with this band I can do that.
Above everything I had the feeling that this was a timely chance to play to people again, with the combination of the perfect band, the new DVD. It was the perfect opportunity really.
So ultimately the band was the determining factor in touring again?
As regards the band I don't think I would have undertaken either this project or tour with a lesser band. The musicianship is immense; they give me everything I could ever ask for. They play the music to its optimum, and in fact they have brought a new dimension to many of the songs.
I knew Brett Morgan and Trevor Barry from the past and David Arch comes from a film background and has worked with John Williams on 'Star Wars', and was on 'Harry Potter' etc. Quite simply he is an immense talent. And I met the young guitarist Florian Opahle in Germany at the Franz Liszt University in Weimar. It was an interesting project that looked at the commercial aspects of classical music. I think they were interested because we had sold millions of copies of 'Pictures of An Exhibition' with ELP. Playing wise we took a Liszt piece and adapted it with the university orchestra. It was a demonstration really, and I was impressed with Florian.
But more than that, the thing about this band is the mixture of musicianship and chemistry. It is rare to get both, I did have it with both King Crimson and ELP although the chemistry was sadly lacking at the tail end of ELP. But with this band I get both and it couldn't be better.
Was there a feeling that you needed to update some of your earlier material for the tour?
Good question! Again the answer is partly. In the past I had played most of my stuff as a trio and there was some frustration there as I wanted to hear them as I had originally envisaged them. But the important thing for me is always to try and preserve the essence of something. So yes, you might try and improve on something and bring new ideas to a piece, but for example if you go and see someone who has had a lot of hit records, you still want to hear the essence of them. So there is a compromise I guess. I believe with this band we have the right blend, and I'm very happy with the results.
As regards musical influences, on the DVD you mention the dichotomous American and European musical influences in songs. Did the European classical influences in ELP come mainly from you?
They came from both me and Keith. But from my side it goes way back to when I played guitar. I was taught by a guy called Don Strike in Westbourne, near Bournemouth, and he also taught Robert Fripp and Andy Summers etc. The original lessons were based around things like Paganini's Violin Concerto and stuff like Django Reinhardt. So yes I had an essential Euro musical grounding and I suppose that acted as a counterpoint to the prevailing American music which is played by instinct. So when it came to King Crimson we set out with the idea to be original. Everyone was doing the mid Atlantic Soul and blues stuff at the time, and that was great. But we decided to be different, and in a sense more European.
The DVD of course emphasises the wide range of your song writing some of which clearly stands outside of the Prog field.
Well I've always believed all music is essentially commercial, no matter what the style. It is either good or bad, and a composer writes for a reason, and with a purpose, even if it's just to get paid. My aim is to write music with integrity whether that is in a three minute or 30 minute format. In spite of the times in the early 70's, it was never the case of being anti commercial. The underlying sentiment in the early days may have been to write to a three minute format and certainly King Crimson helped change that, but a song is a simple thing is essence. Some are best being short, others are best being long. It's a bit like a story or a joke. It will be as long as its takes, quicker or slower depending on the fabric of the material or the song concerned.
Certainly many of your songs are diverse and seem to have stood the test of time?
Strange things can happen and often it's more to do with the context of the time. 'Farewell To Arms' was written in the early 90's but now in a second and even third life has taken on a prophetic feel, and seems to have a ring of truth about it, some of it with very sad consequences for people.
Both 'Lucky Man' and 'I Believe in Father Christmas' weren't conceived as singles. In fact the latter was recorded as album track and was meant to be a comment on the rampant materialism of Christmas instead of its real meaning of a time of peace on earth and good will to all men etc, while 'Lucky Man' was something I wrote as a 12 year old and was brought to ELP originally as an album filler.
The Bob Dylan collaboration on 'Love You Too Much' came about as I had always been a big Bob Dylan fan and I was searching round for something of his to cover. I wasn't looking for an obvious choice and maybe something as yet unreleased. I knew his tour manager and discovered that Bob had an unfinished song, so he sent me a couple of verses and I finished it. It was a one off thing but it worked.
What about the rearranged songs on the DVD?
Well they are worked out to fit the concert obviously. On 'Take a Pebble' Florian brought lots of ideas for the solo but we had to settle on something consistent if only for the sake of timing, as he would play all night if he could (laughs). Playing an acoustic in a concert hall situation is also fraught with difficulties so we settled for that Spanish style solo and it works well.
Your recent return to touring has been your most concentrated effort since 1981. What do you think has changed since those days?
Well I think the music industry has gone from bad to worse, and let's face it we have all got older. But in many ways this is as good a time as any for me. The mid 80's to the mid 90's were dull musically speaking. I am now happy to do what I do with a sense of reflection. My concerts might convey a feeling of nostalgia even, a shared feeling between the players and the audience, that we have lived all this together.
How do you feel about your new found role as a band leader?
Well I think that is really a question of perception. I don't really see it as much of a change. I am out there with a bunch of musicians I totally believe in and I simply get great pleasure in fronting a band of players that really excel in what they do. I can't ask for better than that.
There is a bonus version of 'I Believe in Father Christmas' recorded in church featuring Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson. How did that come about?
Most people ask me about the royalties for that song (laughs). But the seasonal content aside it's still a good song. I've known Ian since about 1946 (laughs) - well many years since the late 60's and our tours with ELP and Jethro Tull - and more recently we have played in Germany together. But Ian is a great person and great musician and we regularly email each other and he was perfect for the piece.
Your recent return to touring it begs the question: did you miss being off the road for a number of years?
Yes I guess I did. For me the essence of music has always been playing live to people, and in retrospect that connection was missing in my life.
Interview © June 2006 Pete Feenstra
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