‘It just proved to be so unwieldy’: Greg Lake on Emerson Lake and Palmer’s budget-busting 1977 orchestral tour

Greg Lake can pinpoint the exact moment when he understood that Emerson Lake and Palmer’s outsized decision to tour 1977’s Works with a full orchestra was going to bankrupt the band.

“I remember one night, I was looking for the tour manager,” Lake says, in a newly posted concert Q&A. “We used to book hotels — not rooms, whole hotels. And I went looking for the tour manager, and I’d go up floor by floor on the elevator, and I’d pop my head out. I’d look down the corridor and there would be all of these room service trays, with buckets with wine bottles stuck upside down in them. And I realized I was paying for it all!”

The idea of combining rock with classical music had been at the heart of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s goals from the beginning, but recording vs. touring in that format were two very different things. Besides the obvious bank-draining budget concerns, ELP was also working in an era of terribly antiquated equipment.

They only got through 10 dates with this group of 70 hand-picked musicians, conducted by Godfrey Salmon. Thankfully, an August 1977 date in Montreal was taped for posterity, though even then there were technical issues. Keith Emerson salvaged what he could for a subsequent 1979 release called Emerson Lake and Palmer in Concert, which has subsequently been released as Works Live in 1993 and — in an expanded format — as Live in Montreal 1977 last year.

“There was six people mixing the sound,” Lake says. “There was 140 people on the road, I believe. It cost us $3 million of our own money, back then. I don’t know what it would be now. It was a hurtful amount. In the end, it just proved to be so unwieldy.”

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