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Carl Palmer Band, Central Studio, Basingstoke
Saturday 18th November 2006

There was, I concede, a high chance that this could have been one of those gigs where one member of a (has-been) famous band is trying to keep the sad dream alive with sub-standard stand-ins replacing the more famous people. (for example, I saw the New Seekers when they were reduced to the original bass player plus some other people, and it wasn't really the bass player that had caught my eye when there was all that thigh on show from the lovely ladies in front of him).

But it was not the case.

Indeed, the lack of Emerson was noticable - there was not even a keyboard on the stage, let alone the latest Moog, a flying (spinning) grand piano or anything made by Hammond. But, joy of joys, there wasn't Greg Lake or his cheap vocal technique, either.

I freely admit this is a minor digression: this wasn't pretending to be ELP; it was an entirely different beast altogther.

What was there, were two sensationally expert musicians supporting the techniquemeister himself. Bassist Stuart Clayton (any relation to Adam? Perhaps) was thoroughly enjoying himself, demonstrating a slap and tickle style which gave a chordal, arpeggio, rhythmic and often melodic bottom end to the sound (except when his plugs came out and everything stopped until a man in a beige pully ran on and fiddled with everything until the lights came on again - anyone looking less like a roadie I have yet to see at a concert, except perhaps Elaine Patience).

And on the other side of the stage, in front of a rock 'n' roll-sized stack of amplification, and slightly behind a full set of foot pedals and an electric toothbrush was the legend that is Paul Bielatowicz (pronounced Bella-toe-vitch). Here were blurring fingers on a Scarratt scale, with the sensitivity of Gilmour and the melodic qualities of Holdsworth (oh, yes, praise indeed), all rolled into some ludicrous 70's Moog-alike sounds. He was recreating early synth noises and tricks, but with little more than a phaser, wah-wah, volume and octaver pedals, plus vigorous whamming of his tremolo arm. Quite unbelievable.

There were several times when I was convinced that the noises were being played by a backing track, but then it became clear that no, it was the bass or the guitar, and the admiration for these gentlemen which was rising in the auditorum reached fever pitch.

The fully-seated audience of mostly men in their late forties and schoolboys with silly haircuts was mesmerised to the point of slack-jawed astonishment as Paul & Stuart amazed and amused us all evening.

How many concerts have I been to where the drummer leaps out from the behind the kit to announce 'The next number's by Rimsky-Korsakov!'? Er, just this one. But this happened, and a breakneck speed version of the Flight of the Bumble Bee took off.

And then Carl Palmer introduced Toccata, a track from my fave ELP album (reckoned even by Palmer himself to be their best), Brain Salad Surgery. While it's hard for any band to perfectly reproduce the recorded track when playing it live, it's particularly hard for a band which has a different line-up both in terms of musicians and instruments. But somehow Paul became Keith and laid Bach on our eardrums.

Not content with this, the band then rosined up their plectra for the big finish, a version of Aaron Copeland (yes, the Police drummer's brother)'s Fanfare for the Common Man, with an extended solo from Palmer (you always know it's going to last a few minutes when the other musicians unplug and clear off with the look of chaps about to put the kettle on and have a couple of games of chess, perhaps followed by an unabridged public reading of War & Peace). What followed was a masterclass in eyebrow-waggling and a demonstration of what can only be described as teeth and elbows, as Carl Palmer explored almost all of the sounds which can be made using the variety of drums, cymbals, rims, skins, bells, metal sheets, things that go twoink and a tambourine as well.

He entertainingly and brilliantly explored everthing in front of him, working his way around the toms, crashes and rides, other toys and even spent a little while playing the sticks against each other (but not in the count-in style). The only percussive sound he didn't include was the one made famous by Slim Gaillard, who played so softly that he wound up playing thin air - and yet somehow you could still hear the rhythm. Biggest laugh/cheer was raised by a cheeky rubbing of the big end of a stick across the K pattern on a ride cymbal.

The show ended with a well-deserved standing ovation.

Well worth the journey and the ticket price, despite the vast difficulty in finding the venue and the frustrating lack of staff to answer the telephone.