Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 (Manticore M-CD-101)

Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 (Manticore M-CD-101)

Isle Of Wight Festival, Alton Down, Isle Of Wight, England – August 29th, 1970

(68:22):  The Barbarian, Take a Pebble, Pictures at an Exhibition (Promenade 1 / The Gnome / Promenade 2 – The Sage / The Old Castle – Blues Variation / Promenade 3 / Baba Yaga / The Great Gates of Kiev), Rondo, Nutrocker.  Bonus:  Interview

In the space of forty years the great rock festivals have ascended into the realm of pop-myth and have attained their own cultural signifiers.  Woodstock is the height of the hippie ideal, while Altamont several months later is the death of those very ideals.  The 1970 Isle of Wight festival, with half a million attendees the biggest festival ever in the UK, is considered to be the passing of the torch.  It was the final major live appearance of both The Doors and Jimi Hendrix who were iofficially released by ELP’s own Manticore labelnstrumental in shaping the sixites pop culture. 

For newer acts, it was the time when The Who and Chicago hit superstar status and is the first major appearance of Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

They formed earlier in the year when Greg Lake left King Crimson and Keith Emerson left The Nice.  There was talk of Mitch Mitchell and even Jimi Hendrix joining the band (who was supposed to jam with the band after this festival, but never got the chance), but eventually setting upon Carl Palmer.  Their first show was in Guildhall, Plymouth, on August 23rd.

ELP played on Saturday night, between Ten Years After and The Doors.  Although many praised the performance including Melody Maker’s Chris Welch, BBC DJ John Peel called it “a tragic waste of time, talent and electricity.”

The soundboard recording first surfaced on the old unofficial release Debut (IOW-70CD) with the show except most of the drum solo was cut from “Rondo,” clocking in at under four mintues.  Manticore gave this an official release in 1996.  It is excellent quality, although a bit raw and sometimes unbalanced.  Manticore is a bit more clear but is still has the major cut in “Rondo” which seems to be lost forever. 

The tape starts with compere Ricky Farr announcing their “first debut performance ever” before “The Barbarian.”  Lake’s “Take A Pebble” follows and is the only original composition played in the entire set (the rest are all covers in one way or another).  “Take A Pebble” includes a gorgeous jazz piano melody in the middle.

Emerson introduces “Pictures At An Exhibition” which features “the moog synthesizer, which doesn’t weigh three tons.”  At thirty-five minutes, it occupied a majority of the set.  It is played in its entirety although some parts like the “Old Castle” blues variation will be sped up in future performances.

But this show is important for the use of the moog in a live setting.  It had been used in studio work before, but this opened up many possibilities and is one of Keith Emerson’s chief sfor fame. 

 Lake misses a few cues throughout the piece and Emerson’s moog cacophony in the middle of “The Great Gates Of Kiev” falls a bit flat (“awwww, make it sing” Lake can be heard off mic).  The very end of the piece is punctuated by loud cannons on the final chord, ending it with a BANG.

“Rondo,” an adaptation of jazz pianist Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” has only the beginning, a small bit of the drum solo and the ending present on the tape.  And what is left is very sloppy.

“We’re short on time” Lake asks before “Nutrocker.”  “Do you really want one more?”  They play a quick, four minute rendition of the B. Bumble and the Stingers hit single before leaving the stage.  A bonus track is a six minute interview with the three of them, offering their recollections of the event from thirty years on.  They don’t share many details except to say how exciting it was for them to play. 

This isn’t the best ELP performance available, but it does have historic import for both the band and for progressive rock in general.  One could argue this to be the first major festival appearance by a progressive rock band to make much of an impact and helped other bands such as Yes.  For such Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 is worth having. 

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