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: For it to be an instrumental and get to Number One in the charts in some magazines was quite amazing really. We then went on tour with the orchestra for about three weeks…

YOUNG: They were all dressed up formally in tuxedos, but it didn’t take very long before they all looked like they were rock’n’roll people. They got into it.

LAKE: ELP as a three-piece was a totally different thing. But when you hear it through the prism of an orchestra, it completely changes. We would be following the orchestra, whereas as a three-piece you were on your own, free-flying as it were.


YOUNG: The three Madison Square Garden shows were amazing. I still remember them. We had four trumpets doing the “Fanfare…”. It was fantastic.

LAKE: When we did “Fanfare…” live, we’d all play along and it would all sort of blend, as most things would. What you often get with bands when they play with orchestras is this terrible lagging of time and this delay, because orchestral instruments tend to speak late. And, of course, orchestras are not used to playing in time. They really couldn’t play in time at all with us, so in the end we had to play in time with them. We had to follow the conductor which was a bit unnerving. The whole of your life you’re used to coming in on time, and all of a sudden you find that beat number one is actually halfway to beat number two. And you have to sort of delay your instinct to play, which is very unnerving – I found it very difficult, personally. The conductor really did the very best that he could, but the thing is instruments like French horns, they just don’t react that quickly. Whereas the piano or guitar reacts straight away, no delay.

PALMER: It cost roughly at the time about $200,000 a week to keep the orchestra on the road, everything ticking over.


YOUNG: I think the shows were successful, but at a certain stage it was too expensive. I went to the band and said, “We’re going to have to cut the orchestra, it’s too big.” We had a meeting with the orchestra and told them about this, and everyone was quite upset, and a lot of them came to me and said they were having a fantastic time, and could they continue if we didn’t pay them. But there are union rules, and unfortunately you can’t do that in America.

LAKE: No-one really could predict the expenditure. You have 140 people on the road – we had our own doctor. I think we had 11 tractor trailers, one of which was only carrying spares – it was an enormous undertaking. So eventually, even though we were selling out the shows, we were losing a vast amount of our own money. So we decided to continue the tour as a three-piece. What we discovered was that, strangely enough, the public enjoyed the three-piece more. The shows were better and better with just the three of us.

PALMER: We did record a video for “Fanfare…” at the Montreal Olympic stadium, though.

LAKE: I remember we were rehearsing in a basement beneath the Olympic stadium. It was the only place large enough to fit the whole orchestra in to rehearse. A phone call came in and I had to go up and take it, and everybody took a coffee break. So during that break I took the elevator up to the ground floor, which actually took me to the Olympic stadium. We had just heard that they wanted to release it as a single. My initial reaction was like, ‘Well, no, we’re too busy doing the rehearsals with the orchestra.’ And I went up to the stadium and I was looking at this absolutely mind-blowing site, covered in virgin snow, with the Olympic rings lit up in neon lights at both ends. It was an eerie sight, begging for something to happen, and I thought, ‘Video.’ we got the crew to move the gear up to the stadium the next day to start recording. Of course, what we didn’t plan was for it to be way below zero. My fingers would literally slip through the strings. So we had to record it in fairly short bursts, but it was a lovely film in the end.

PALMER: It was something like 20 degrees below, it was extremely cold. We managed to shoot three times – a few cameras on one person, a whole take, the same on the next guy, the same on the next guy – and then one take of all of us playing together. But it was very, very cold. The music has lasted, though, it has endured and it’s been truly fantastic. I mean, quality always lasts, and I sincerely believe that we had a lot of quality going there – we weren’t just a prog band, we had pretty songs as well. So it was quite eclectic.

LAKE: I know I like “Fanfare…”, because at the time we loved it. We knew that was us, that was ELP. A classical influence, building up to this absolutely intense, innovative, almost out-of-control music that it developed into. It’s almost a definition of ELP.

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Written by: Aaron Copland, arranged by Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Produced by: Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Carl Palmer, Peter Sinfield

Performers: Keith Emerson (keyboards), Greg Lake (bass), Carl Palmer (drums)

Recorded at: Mountain Studios, Montreux

Released: March 1977

Chart peak: UK 2; US –







The group embark on an epic world tour, afterwards taking a long hiatus



The band regroup at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, recording the basis of “Fanfare…” while setting up their equipment


March 1977

After gaining Aaron Copland’s approval, “Fanfare…” is released on the fourth side of Works Volume 1


May 1977

ELP embark on a world tour with a full orchestra, later slimming down to three-piece format


The December 2019 issue of Uncut is on sale from October 17, and available to order online now – with Bob Dylan on the cover and an exclusive unreleased Dylan track on our free CD. Elsewhere in the issue, there’s Robert Smith, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Pink Floyd, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Prince, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Lynne, Booker T, Tindersticks and much more.


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