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When Emerson, Lake & Palmer played at the Isle of Wight
Festival on August 29, 1970, the band was virtually unknown.
Each of these three musicians had fine musical pedigrees from
their respective former bands: Keith Emerson was with The Nice,
Greg Lake had been with King Crimson, and Carl Palmer was a
member of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The term
“supergroup” was used when describing their new band, and
after their performance at the Isle of Wight Festival, their
reputation was sealed. Of course, it didn’t hurt that there
were roughly 600,000 people in attendance at the festival,
which was a larger crowd than the one at Woodstock, which
was held the previous summer.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s set at the festival is chronicled in
the documentary, “Emerson, Lake & Palmer: The Birth of a
Band – Live at the Isle of Wight.”
Their performance was
released on a 67-minute DVD by the Eagle Vision label,
during 2006. Much of this film also features separate
interviews with the three musicians during 2005, wherein
they provided their individual recollections and thoughts,
in hindsight.

The Isle of Wight Festival footage is interspersed with
other film footage, including some aerial shots of the
audience and general populace of the island, circa 1970.
Keep in mind that during these early days of filmed concerts,
the camera personnel had to change reels while shooting.
During these short intervals, they would use background
footage that was not in sync with the sound. In other words,
their entire set was not included on this DVD. Nevertheless,
I believe that we should be grateful for the footage they did
manage to capture. In this sense, the Isle of Wight Festival
footage is somewhat similar to films such as “Woodstock,”
and the “Monterey Pop Festival.”

In a 2005 interview, Keith Emerson provided an informative
demonstration of his revolutionary use of the Moog synthesizer
in a Rock context, indicating how it exceeded the capabilities of
the Hammond organ. An abridged version of Modest
Mussorgsky’s (1839-1881) “Pictures at an Exhibition” was the
featured work of the Emerson, Lake & Palmer set, even though
it was not included on their first album, “Emerson, Lake & Palmer,”
released later in 1970. Other tunes in the set included
“Take a Pebble,” and “Rondo.”

Emerson, Lake & Palmer drew heavily from the Classical
music repertoire, with performances that could seem
extravagant and overblown. They played “for all they were
worth” at this Festival and clearly, the audience had never
seen anything like them before. Keith Emerson would
habitually rock his Hammond organ back and forth, knocking
it about as if he were a keyboard playing version of Jimi
Hendrix (who also performed at the Isle of Wight Festival),
and Carl Palmer played an impressive drum solo. During much
of the set, shots of people on the island were used, which
gave the film a “montage” quality.

When interviewed, vocalist, bassist and sometime guitarist,
Greg Lake, admitted that the band may have been pretentious
at times, but stated that “…greatness isn’t going to happen
when you’re playing it safe.” With this performance, Emerson,
Lake & Palmer did indeed achieve some great things, hitherto
unheard of from a Rock band. At this time, they were virtually
“one of a kind.”

Incidentally, the remastered Dolby sound was surprisingly
quite good, given the year of the concert. While the
aforementioned camera work may not have been great, it
provided viewers with a “you are there” vibe. Although
thought of by many as somewhat haphazard, this DVD
contains valuable footage of Emerson, Lake & Palmer from
its earliest years, and I’d definitely recommend it to fans,
as well as those who have enjoyed “Woodstock,” and
“Monterey Pop Festival” films. This DVD is a great snapshot
of a bygone era in Rock history, one we’ll never see again.