Keith Emerson With The BBC Concert Orchestra

The keyboard king holds court in London

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It only takes a minute for the keyboard king to puncture any notion that working with a vast orchestra might involve pomp and ceremony. “Welcome to our project, Three Farts… er, sorry, Three Fates,” Keith Emerson announces. “This one’s called The Endless Enema… er, Enigma. I should’ve gone to Specsavers. Is Rick Wakeman here? I should leave the jokes to him.”

Naturally, Fanfare For The Common Man is a highlight. Our host explains that composer Aaron Copland never quite “understood” Emerson’s nine-minute arrangement. The orchestra play the original, then the band do it, in full, “the way I messed it up”, complete with jam-section bluesy harmonica from Emerson. While he’s less of a wild man onstage these days, more of a bemused benevolent uncle, the 70-year-old gets some mojo working here.

And if much of the music tonight resembles film scores, it’s the epic finale of the Tarkus suite that gives us blockbuster, edge-of-the- seat action. The arrangement delegates much of the heavy lifting to Mikkelsen’s orchestra and Bonilla, with Emerson’s synth sashaying in at peak moments. It’s great to hear the piece played with such respect and panache.

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.