The gentle barbarian

Never meet your heroes they say – the idea being that they can never measure up to what you perceive them to be.

In 2003, keyboards maestro Keith Emerson released his autobiography Pictures of an Exhibitionist and I had a chance to interview him.

It was a daunting prospect given the profound influence he had on my own playing in the 1970’s so even though I am not the type to get starstruck, this was different.

I had seen The Nice in 1967 when I was just 10 years old and ELP in 1972 – the memory of his incendiary performance still with me 48 years later.

Never one for practising my finger technique, it became fun once I started teaching myself those 20th Century classical and jazz-tinged riffs of pieces like Aquatarkus – final movement of the epic Tarkus – Knife Edge and Aaron Copeland’s Hoedown.

It also meant building up a bank of keyboards – the obligatory Hammond organ, electric piano and various synthesisers.

Because of Keith, my first vehicle had to be a van to carry my gear to gigs. That soon graduated to towing a massive trailer too.

Still, I had mentally prepared myself for him to be completely unmoved and focused purely on a cursory 10 minutes Q&A to plug the book.

How wrong I was.

I had enough material for the piece I was writing within the 10 minutes allocated, but realising that my knowledge went beyond that of a jobbing interview, he spent the next hour discussing all sorts of off-the-record stuff. He gave me his number, which I still have.

We spoke about the nerve damage he had sustained to his right hand, how he had played all the parts on the Black Moon album with his left hand and the operation that the book claimed had saved his career, but even then he admitted quietly to me that his capabilities had been impaired.

Four years ago last week, on the eve of a trip to Japan, Keith put a gun to his head. The years of having to play for people when he knew he was no longer capable of meeting his own expectations just became too much and he couldn’t face it anymore.

It was a tragic end, but at the same time I completely understood it. From our conversation 13 years earlier it was obvious that although he was a showman, there was no persona with Keith. He was honest, open, supportive in ways I could never have imagined and, above all, being a musician is what he was, not just what he did.

When I think of the fear he must have felt every time he had to play in public knowing that right hand was going to let him down it breaks my heart.

The world is a worse place without Keith in it, but I have to say, in his position I think I would have done exactly the same.

What utter b*****ks!

The worst part of social media is that now everyone has an opinion about everything – and worst still, they have the platform to voice it, no matter how ridiculous it may be.

Case in point: England rugby ace Joe Marler has been banned for 10 weeks after grabbing Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones by the testicles for everyone to see.

Now this sort of thing has been happening for decades at all levels – although admittedly usually in the scum hidden from TV cameras. It’s a wind up designed to unsettle and incite a reaction. It’s part of the psychological battle, nothing more.

It’s against the rules of course, but since when has that made any difference in team sports? It’s a physical game and they don’t come more physical than Rugby Union.

When Vinny Jones was caught tweaking Paul Gascoigne’s nadgers in a Wimbledon v Newcastle game in the 90s it was seen as a laugh. In today’s age of social media it’s even being called sexual assault by some idiots online.

I’m betting these are the same people whose garages are full of toilet rolls.

Stupid TV Quiz answers of the week:

Back to the twits on Tipping Point and geography wasn’t Monday’s winner Lisa’s strong point.

Q: In which country is the Augusta National Golf Club?

A: Scotland

Q: The airport dedicated to George Best is in which Northern Ireland town?

A: Dublin?

But Saturday’s Celebrity Mastermind takes some beating with three of the four contestants not even making it into double figures. Special mentions for footballer Darren Bent, who scored even lower than Bez from The Happy Mondays, and actress Maya Sondhi, from Line of Duty who thought Hitler was still alive in 1989.

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Edward Case

Columnist