Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’ – an oral history

Greg Lake, Carl Palmer and manager Stewart Young on their one-mic wonder

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PALMER: It was the days of vinyl, so on Works we each had a side and then we came together on one side – which featured “Pirates”, with an orchestra, and “Fanfare For The Common Man”.

LAKE: It would be true to say that Keith was driving this orchestral route. He felt some desire to be recognised for his classical musicianship, and I think that he really felt that that was something that was going to be established by performing with orchestras. Whereas I was personally keener on making innovative music as a three-piece band.

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PALMER: We were at Mountain Studios for some time, about six months.

LAKE: It was fantastic. It was actually built beneath the casino in Montreux. It was just one of the top studios of the time. You’d book the studio out – 24 hours a day – and so it was a kind of living environment. But things did start to become undisciplined. When you record in a city, and you book a session, you turn up, you do it and then go home. When you’re in a residential setting situation, you start coming and going at odd times. The discipline breaks down.

PALMER: “Fanfare…” was done there when we very first moved in. It was recorded on a single microphone.

LAKE: We were in the studio and Keith was playing “Fanfare…”, as per the orchestral version – quite slow and sedate. And as he was playing along I was setting up my gear. And I just started playing a shuffle behind it, and he then joined in. The whole thing just fitted together – it was a sort of instantaneous coming together of elements.

PALMER: John Timperley, the engineer, just switched on the tape, and we started jamming away on “Fanfare…” and it was really, really good. He played it back to us and we thought, ‘Wow, that’s exciting.’

YOUNG: I remember coming in to the studio the next day and I heard the jam and it sounded amazing. I thought – “Oh that’s great, we’ve got one track done.” They said, “Well, this is just with the stereo mic, we’ll have to record it properly and stuff.”

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