Interview With Marc Bonilla – by John Wenlock-Smith

In this piece I talk to Marc Bonilla of The Keith Emerson Band about the recently released Tribute concert cd/DVD set celebrating the music of Keith Emerson, the composer and musical innovator.

John Wenlock-Smith (JWS): Good day to you Mark, I trust you are keeping well in these strange times?

Marc Bonilla (MB): Hello John, Yes I am doing fine thank you for asking.

JWS: The CD/DVD set is fabulous, such a great cast and epic performances all round.

MB: I am glad that you like it, I think it has all come out well. I especially like the artwork by Joey LoFaro who has done remarkable job of re-imagining ‘Tarkus’ for the modern day.

JWS: Yes indeed, I was really impressed with that too. Apparently he is selling prints of the artwork.

MB: Yes and T shirts too, here is the link  https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/jerry-lofaro

JWS: It all looks great and interesting, plus all profits go to Keith’s chosen charity, so everybody wins.

MB: Yes, Joey is an awesome artist. I had seen some of his earlier work with dinosaurs and thought what if he could reimagine ‘Tarkus’ for today? what would it look like? I think he is pulled it off very spectacularly.

JWS: The concert looks fabulous on DVD and sounds fantastic too.

MB: Thank you, we had cameras everywhere to capture it all. It was only a small venue with about 900 people in it, mostly musicians who wanted to pay tribute. there was no seating and it was a long show.  Everyone wanted to do their bit to honour the life of Keith as he had meant so much to so many of them. 

It was an exceptional event and there were no ego issues with anyone. It was all supportive and very joyous, although tinged with sadness for the loss of Keith. I was astonished at the outpouring of love and respect from the musical community in Los Angeles. Many of these people took the career paths they did because of the influence Keith had made on them when they were younger. Certainly folk like Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather (both of Toto) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) clearly acknowledge that influence, as they said during the artist interviews.

JWS: Yes, those interviews are fascinating, you really sense the appreciation, acclaim, and respect of Keith that was felt by those musicians. It was quite a set list too, although I was surprised that no one chose Jerusalem to do, that would have been epic.

MB: Well we had so much music to do, we could not do it all sadly. As I said, it was a small standing only venue and with folks all being of an age, standing for 3 hours is a big ask but we could have done even longer and covered more music.

JWS: How did you choose each player for each song?

MB: They did it themselves mainly, Steve Porcaro had seen ELP as a support for Edgar Winter in the early days and he was totally blown away by Barbarian so that was his choice. Jordan had similarly been affected by ‘Tarkus’ so he chose to do that one and so on and so forth.

Another remarkable thing was that we only had one day of rehearsals for the event, everyone was gathered backstage watching each other. It was very much a communal event with no ego’s whatsoever, it was like they were all auditioning for Keith really.

I lost my voice in the run up to the event and so much of the vocals were handled by Rick Livingstone and Travis Davis, although I did send a few prayers upward to Keith to help me get through it all. Thankfully he heard me and I was able to get through it all and even managed to hit the high note on Karn Evil 9 where I must hold the note at the end.

JWS: I really enjoyed the film, especially Jordan Rudess’ Tarkus and Rachel Flowers’ take on The Endless Enigma.

MB: Yes, I felt she really bought something incredibly special out of that piece, she was remarkable.

JWS: I think everyone give a great job, all playing at their peak.

MB: I Agree, we wanted to show Keith as the composer and not just as the keyboard master. I think some of those performances managed to capture that side of his personality, you have to remember that before Keith there was no one fusing classical with rock, making the classics accessible and inviting rock musicians in.

He was breaking fresh ground by doing so, literally carving his way through with his daggers! He also invited classical listeners to hear his work and see his skills and talents and his music.

JWS: I Interviewed Keith a few years ago, around the time of the ‘Three Fates’ album. That was a real treat, I can say. He was cooking his tea and called me back, he was a lovely man and very gracious to a Fanboy like me.

MB: We did shows in London at the Barbican and in Birmingham, I think, did you go?

JWS: Sadly not, I would loved to have gone, though I did see ELP on the Black Moon tour though, in Birmingham and that was special to me.

MB: I remember spending time on those tours with Keith laughing, he loved comedy like Victor Borges and Derek and Clive. He adored Dudley Moore (who was also a particularly good pianist actually). 

By that stage Keith had lost some versatility in his fingers so we wanted to show his compositions rather than his prowess. I think that project managed to do that really.

JWS: Well Marc, my time has gone but thank you for taking time to talk with me about this show and the memories that it has for you. Keep safe at this time.

MB: Thanks John and check out my latest release ‘Celluloid Debris’ at www.marcbonillamusic, my first album in 25 years, you will like it I am sure.

JWS: OK, thanks once again Marc, much appreciated.

You can read John’s review os the concert CD/DVD here:

Review – Fanfare For The Uncommon Man – The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert 2CD/2DVD – by John Wenlock-Smith

Keith Emerson needs little or no introduction, he was a monster keyboard player for Emerson, Lake and Palmer of course, though he was also successful in his own right as a composer. Sadly, as he grew older Keith lost some of his astounding dexterity and, despite operations to his hands, sadly felt that his abilities to perform had become diminished significantly. This resulted in him falling into in severe bouts of depression and even alcoholism, which all became too much for him and he took his own life by gunshot on 11th March 2016 in Santa Monica, California. The world was shocked that one of the finest keyboard players of recent times was no more.

Well, that was five years ago now and his life was celebrated in style in 2016 when an all-star band of LA’s finest musicians assembled at the El Ray Theatre in Los Angeles to play his music and remember and acknowledge the inspiration that he had been to many of them over the years. The upshot of this is a concert movie and 2CD set of the event being released this year by Cherry Red Records in a lavish package with simply amazing artwork and production values, along with interviews with the various band members and photo galleries of Keith and his life and times, all of which together chronicles this very special and memorable night for posterity.

The list of musicians featured is mighty impressive including members of Toto and Dream Theater along with Eddie Jobson (UK and Roxy Music), Jeff Baxter (Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan), Brian Auger, Rachel Flowers, C J Vanston and many others, like Marc Bonilla of Keith’s old band and his close friend who was a major mover in getting the show together. The event also featured Emerson’s son Aaron, and members of his solo band and his Three Fates Project group.

The CDs capture live recordings of all the songs featured in the movie although sometimes in a truncated version. The sound is excellent throughout and the material is largely drawn from the first Four ELP albums, with four songs from the self-titled debut, two from ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, three from ‘Tarkus’ and three from ‘Trilogy’ plus Karn Evil 9: First Impression – Part 2, Touch and Go (from ‘Emerson Lake and Powell’) and Fanfare For The Common Man in two versions, one with brass orchestration and the other with Blue Rondo A La Turk improvisation.

I have to say that, whilst this is a fabulous set, there are a few pieces that I would have liked to have seen covered, namely Jerusalem, Trilogy and Piano Concerto to name but three, also there is a marked lack of anything from the latter days’ reunion period, but this is most probably me just nit picking. What is here is perfectly fine and has some incredible musicians performing some extraordinarily complex pieces with skill, style and panache. Everything is played in a very sympathetic manner, with great respect to Keith, who was obviously a much loved, and now sadly missed character.

Marc Bonilla sings very well indeed throughout, as do the other vocalists, Marc also delivers some great guitar lines on here, mirroring and adding to what the various keyboard players are playing. The Performances are all exceptionally good indeed, those of C J Vanston and Rachel Flowers shine especially. Brian Augers interpretation and improvisation on Fanfare For The Common Blue Turkey is quite different and really captures one’s interest. Another highlight is the delight of seeing Eddie Jobson playing the modular Moog synthesizer on Lucky Man.

Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater delivers a powerful performance on the 20 minutes plus rendition of Tarkus, a track he gleefully states as a major influence on his playing. Here he revels in the performance of this in a suite of songs where Tarkus is the penultimate track before the encores are offered, namely Lucky Man/The Great Gates of Kiev and Fanfare For The Common Man, with Are You Ready Eddy? concluding the show.

I know in some quarters that ELP have become a dirty word full of excessive showmanship and not offering much for the listeners of today. However, I disagree completely and suggest that this music needs to be rediscovered again and given its rightful place in the annals of progressive rock. 

So, if you like the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Keith Emerson then this set offers you both two excellent CDs and a full length DVD (plus a second DVD of bonus features) that captures this magnificent concert in all is spectacle and power, just sit back, turn the volume up and let the Moogs fly again. Best played loud, just as Keith would have wanted, this certainly is a most enjoyable stroll down memory lane, if you have 3 hours or so to spare. Brilliantly filmed, well presented and produced, the music offered on these discs reminds us of just how great a keyboard player and composer Keith Emerson truly was, along with why he should be remembered as such. I applaud all who took part for the great music they made and are now are able to share with us, sit back relax and enjoy this again and again.

Released March 19th 2021

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

Fanfare For The Uncommon Man: The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert, 2CD/2DVD Edition – Cherry Red Records

Review – Esoteric Antenna Reissue Round-Up by James R Turner – Keith Emerson, Colosseum & Nirvana.

Keith Emerson: Off the Shelf

This is a remastered edition of an eclectic collection of more than just ‘odds and sods’ originally released back in 2006 and reissued last year after Keith’s death.

Never one to do anything by halves there’s nearly 70 minutes of music here, which runs the gamut from Keith’s classical inspired compositional work, his TV and film work and the contributions he made to progressive music via both The Nice and ELP.

The earliest recording on this alternative ‘best of’ is a BBC Radio session from the early days of The Nice, where their psychedelia meets proto-prog image belies the fact that they had a diverse inspiration, and here (complete with Davy O’List on guitar) is their unique cover of Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy.

For ELP fans there is a rousing version of Abaddon’s Bolero performed by Keith with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which is as grand and OTT as anything they ever did, I mean if you get an orchestra to go nuts with you, why the hell not? There’s also a 1980’s excerpt from a solo rendition of Pictures at an Exhibition, showcasing Keith’s unique style.

His solo work is well represented on the smoky blues room piano piece And Then January, with its late-night vibe and plaintive mood shows the more reflective side of Keith’s musical personality. Straight Between The Eyes (featuring Levon Helm and Garth Hudson) is the first from the soundtrack to the film Best Revenge and, while being a bit 80’s in its style and execution, has a wonderful drawled vocal by co-writer John Doukas. Also from the sessions but which didn’t make it to the soundtrack, is an interesting version of the old Elvis classic Don’t Be Cruel, where they slow it right down and funk it up, complete with fat bass and slabs of chunky 80’s synths, all of which turns it into an MTV big hair ballad.

Mixing his influences and genres, the interpretation of Walter L (featuring the London Jazz Orchestra) and some moog soloing shows how proficient and comfortable Keith was across all genres and is a testament to how easy he fitted into big orchestral pieces or solo piano work. With solo synth pieces like Motor Bikin’, a reworked version of America featuring Pat Travers on guitar and then the theme tune to Jim Davidson’s sit-com Up the Elephant and Round the Castle finishing off on a cover of Sex & Drugs & Rock n’ Roll, this is no ordinary compilation album. More a snapshot of a career, and one that was always deeper and more musically diverse than the work he was famous for with ELP.

Released 28th April 2017

Order from Cherry Red:

Off The Shelf: Remastered EditionKeith Emerson

Colosseum II: Wardance

This, the third album from the late Jon Hiseman’s revitalised Colosseum, was originally released back in 1977 and see’s Hiseman joined by some of the greatest musical talents of that era. Gary Moore on guitar, John Mole on bass and Don Airey on keyboards.

When you get 4 superb musicians in one band then creative sparks will fly and, as is mentioned in the liner notes, the band didn’t have the luxury of rehearsal times. Instead, the taut and driving fusion of jazz and rock that is on display here was honed to perfection on the road and then recorded as live in the studio due to the limited time available.

From the opening title track, Hiseman proves how effective he is as a band leader, choosing some superb band members to bounce of and work with. His death recently was a massive loss to the musical world as he is as powerful a drummer as anyone around and the way he propels the groove, allowing both Airey and Moore to spar, is exemplary.

Throughout this album it’s hard to pull out a star player, as all 4 work the groove and play round each other with deftness and skill, and, while Moore and Airey moved on to other things, they sound so hungry here. It is a shame that the hard work they put in seemed to be forgotten as band/label decisions ultimately scuppered this line up.

Hiseman returned with the original Colosseum line up later but this line up and era shouldn’t be overshadowed and should be recognised as important to the fusion sound as the original band.

Released 27th April 2018

Order from Cherry Red:

Colosseum II: War Dance, Re-Mastered EditionColosseum II

Nirvana: Black Flower

Originally released in 1970, the third album from Nirvana duo Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropolous was arranged and produced by Tony Visconti and Mike Hurst (who was previously a member of the Springfield’s). Unfortunately, as is always the way, when the tapes were delivered to Island Records Chris Blackwell turned it out, feeling it wasn’t suitable for the label, not to mention the fact he was concerned the title was too similar to the phrase Black Power.

The lush orchestration and sublime production enhance the duo’s compositional skills which were maturing nicely. From the wonderfully uplifting The World is Cold Without You, where the orchestration and the chorus genuinely swells, to tracks like Excerpt From “The Blindand The Beautiful”, where the orchestration drives the music, takes this beyond mere pop psych and into new rock classical crossover sounds.

This cross fertilises elements of singer-songwriter work, the reinterpretations of Brecht by Scott Walker, and the dramatic Gothic rock of singers like David McWilliams, all filtered through the Anglo-Greek pairing of Campbell-Lyons & Spyropolous, whose disparate influences weave together an intense musical experience.

Chock full of catchy tunes, well observed lyrics, a whole spree of bonus tracks, this is recognition at last for an album that slipped under the radar on release and led to the demise of the original Nirvana line-up. Which was a shame, as on tracks like Black Flower or Love Suite, the duo were really pushing themselves forward together, it would have been interesting to see where they went next.

Released 27th April 2018

Order from Cherry Red:

Nirvana: Black Flower, Re-Mastered & Expanded EditionNirvana (UK)

Review – Robert Berry & Keith Emerson – 3.2 – The Rules Have Changed – by Jez Denton

One of the more underrated and occasionally much maligned, outside of those that know, musicians of our time was the keyboard genius Keith Emerson. From being at the very onset of British psychedelia with The Nice and progressive rock with E.L.P., Emerson was both an innovator of new music and interpreter of more traditional and classical works; bringing those works up to date and opening the eyes and ears of multiple generations of listeners and musicians to the possibilities of truly clever brilliantly played music.

Emerson was able to create work that kept alive amazing composers such as Mussorgsky, Bernstein and Copeland and introduced them to new and receptive audiences. Keith was also a prolific writer, performer and musician that led him, in the late 1980’s, along with Carl Palmer, to work with another musician with a prodigious lust for creating music, Robert Berry. This led to a band called 3 and an album ‘To The Power Of Three.’ Despite the critical acclaim the band went their own ways before, in 2015, Emerson and Berry came together again and began to create new music for a reboot of the 3 project, to be known as 3.2.

In 2016 tragedy struck, however, as Keith took his own life at his home in California. No-one can truly say for why he took this tragic step, but, from interviews with his partner, Mari Kawaguchi, the doubts he was having (with all the criticism he was receiving) about his ability to play and perform at the high standards which he set himself was, obviously, weighing heavily on his mind. But what is for sure, is that his untimely death left a hole in the musical world and for Berry not only that, but also a body of work for which a decision was to be made on what to do with it.

Thankfully Berry, after a long period of contemplation and grieving, was able to take the snippets of melodies recorded over the telephone, the arrangements written and shared between them, and to put them together not only in tribute to, but also a celebration of Keith Emerson’s life and music. The first thing to say is that this is a ‘proper’ album. It isn’t scratchy recordings or half formed demo’s put out to ‘cash in’ on an artists demise; it isn’t the hackneyed old cliche ‘great career move’, it is a proper album of eight great songs put out with Keith Emerson’s artistic aura breathing through every chord, bar and note. Robert Berry has crafted an album that reads like a love letter to the unique talent that was Keith Emerson. It is full of the trademark keyboard organ sound that marks out a Nice or E.L.P. recording; there’s more than a passing note to The Nice’s version of ‘America’ throughout, there are moments of classical virtuoso playing. I’d say there is (if I wasn’t as cynical a disbeliever as I am) a guiding hand from another place directing the music and production along. Is the spirit of Keith Emerson on this album? well I should say so.

This comes, though, as much from the playing and production of Berry who, obviously, through his friendship and working relationship, has an understanding of where he would have taken this in partnership with Keith, had he been with us all still. This is the great beauty of the album, with production very much in the polished school of late 80’s progressiveness, the sound gives an evocative feel both looking back at a time when Berry and Emerson first worked together and while looking forward to create a fitting end to the career of Keith Emerson.

If, as it has been suggested, Keith was struggling to keep going not knowing whether he would be able to produce and perform work at the standards he set and expected of himself, this album should have proven to him those doubts were unfounded. However, as this album now marks the end of Emerson’s prolific career, it stands as a fitting tribute to and celebration of one of progressive music’s very best exponents, innovators and performers. Wherever Keith Emerson is looking down from, he should be very happy with this work. The fact he is alive and brilliant in this album should also be of great comfort for those of us who loved his music, and, for that reason alone, Robert Berry should be both applauded for and proud of bringing this work to fruition.

Released 10th August 2018

Order the album direct from Frontiers Records here