On This Day (August 23)…The Show that Never Ends Begins

This is what we sound like.

Keith Emerson introducing the band.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer performed on this day in 1970 at the Plymouth Guildhall in Plymouth, England.

Poster advertising the show. Retrieved from here.

Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer had never before taken the stage together. While the trio had already all but finished an album together, which would be released that November, the public did not yet know what they would be getting with ELP. The three members of the group were already established musicians on the nascent prog rock scene: Keith Emerson thanks to his work with the Nice; Greg Lake because of his work with King Crimson; and Carl Palmer first for his time in the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, then with Atomic Rooster. While their performance at the Isle of Wight just about a week after this concert skyrocketed them to international fame, it was this concert which saw them introduce themselves to the world.

800 people reportedly showed up to this show to see the group’s first performance, unknowingly coming in for a taste of history. According to Garry Freeman, the group played “The Barbarian”, “Take a Pebble”, “Pictures at the Exhibition” (possibly without “The Sage”), “Knife-Edge”, “Rondo” (which according to Freeman was played twice more!), a small part of “America”, and “Nutrocker”. “Rondo” also featured Carl Palmer’s first drum solo with the band. It set the tone for the drum solos to come both in length and ferocity. It also featured some of his standard tricks, notably the use of gongs. “America” is particularly noticeable, as it was dropped from the setlist before the year was out. It would not reappear regularly on ELP setlists until the 80s, when Emerson, Lake & Powell took the stage.

Ticket for the show. Retrieved from here.

After the concert ended, the group apparently got a fifteen-minute standing ovation.

Amazingly, three songs from this concert were recorded, “Knife-Edge”, “Rondo” and “America”. They are in circulation online. The sound quality is quite poor, but their importance to history cannot be overestimated.

The Venue

Plymouth had apparently had a Guildhall standing on the spot of the building since at least the late fifteenth century! The one at which ELP performed is the fifth known building to carry the name. It opened on August 13, 1874.

File:Plymouth Guildhall.jpg
Exterior of the Guildhall in 2018. Retrieved from here.

As with many other English venues, the Guildhall was severely damaged during the Blitz. While suggestions were made for its demolition, the venue was spared and instead restored, reopening on September 24, 1959. During the restoration, some alterations were made to the building’s plan, notably placing the entrance where the stage originally stood.

The band would have played in the Great Hall, the main room of the building. While it apparently seated a couple thousand people in the late nineteenth century, its present capacity is given as 820. This means that, if the capacity of the hall is the same today as it was in the 70s, ELP’s debut concert was pretty much sold out.

Image of the Great Hall. Retrieved from here.

The Plymouth Guildhall is still in use today. Its website can be found here.

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