Magical by Greg Lake

Release date: November 10, 2023
Label: Spirit of Unicorn Music / Manticore Records

We are, each of us, flawed, imperfect human beings, less saintly than we’d perhaps to believe. In that sense, Greg Lake was just like anyone else. In the course of his career, he’d undoubtedly upset some people along the way, the price perhaps of being someone who set himself high standards in his creative endeavors and expected others to match them. Yet there’s also ample testimony to his act of kindness, his words of encouragement and compassion”.

Sid Smith’s article on his tribute to Greg Lake from issue 73 in PROG Magazine says it all. He wasn’t just one of those artists that broke the door down to superstardom from the first mark of King Crimson (In The Court of the Crimson King, In The Wake of Poseidon), to global status with the mesmerising super group Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, but he wanted to prove himself that he was more than just the founders of those two bands.

He embarked as a solo artist, collaborated with Asia, Gary Moore, Emerson, Lake, and Cozy Powell (E,L,Powell), Geoff Downes (Ride with Tiger), the seventh incarnation of Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band, and playing bass for The Who in 2003 on the single ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ a year after the loss of their fellow comrade, John “The Ox” Entwistle.

When Greg died on December 7, 2016, not only it marked the end of an era, but what an amazing ride Lake took his listeners on. That and this 7-CD box set from the Cherry Red label the Spirit of Unicorn, takes an insight from his solo albums, rare bootleg recordings which have been collector’s items, and live albums. Magical is a trip down memory lane, showcasing Greg’s history.

From the psychedelic power between The Shame’s ‘Don’t Go Away Little Girl’ to Shy Limbs’ ‘Love’ to a boosting take of ‘A Man, A City’ which would later turn into ‘Pictures of a City’ from King Crimson’s second and final album featuring Greg Lake in 1970 before achieving superstardom with ELP. The performance from the Fillmore West which was featured in the 1997 release Epitaph, covering MK I of the original King Crimson’s live recordings in 1969, shows how the band were at the peak of their game.

Once you delve into those first two solo albums which were originally released on the Chrysalis label, you can tell that he wanted to get away from the Prog sound and go into a harder approach which is evidential on tracks such as ‘Love You Too Much’, ‘Nuclear Attack’, ‘Too Young To Love’, and walking into Judas Priest’s territory with ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight’.

 

Hearing that track from the Manoeuvres album with Gary Moore, Greg could have dipped his toe into the NWOBHM movement in a parallel universe. It would’ve been interesting, but that’s for another time. Now let’s go back to ELP’s universe where go into a heavy bluesy clavinet shuffle from a recording in Dusseldorf in 1971 entitled ‘Preacher Blues’.

It was set as an intro to their take of Kim Fowley’s ‘Nutrocker’ at the time they were promoting their second album, Tarkus. Greg can sing the blues, amazingly well. There’s not only the Hendrix approach, but elements of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf-like arrangements in the lyrical structures.

Going through the 2-CD compilations; From the Underground Volumes 1 & 2, which I knew about many years ago, it’s like a scrapbook from his solo work and collaborations. One of which is his teamwork with Toto, tackling an incredible take of ‘You’re Good With Your Love’ which has this Hall & Oates sound, and his love of Motown with a powerful approach of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ ‘You Really Got a Hold on Me’.

Taking over lead vocals with Asia with their hit single ‘Heat of the Moment’ replacing John Wetton at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on December 6th, 1983, the first concert broadcast by satellite on MTV in the States until Wetton’s return in the new year. Then it’s back into the prog form once more with Keith Emerson and Cozy Powell with the fanfare approach by soaring into the heavens at the Lakeland Pavilion in Florida on ‘Learning to Fly’.

He also touched people when it came to performing at a benefit concert by raising money for the National Association for Missing and Exploited Children with the somberring composition ‘Daddy’, inspired by the tragic tale of 12-year-old girl Sara Anne Wood after watching the story on America’s Most Wanted. You can tell that Greg is not only a musician, but also a family man when it came to other families who lost their child from abduction.

The last three live albums (Songs of a Lifetime, Live in Piacenza, and with Keith for the last time in Live from Manticore Hall), is where all good things must come to an end. Greg is an excellent storyteller when you listen to the Lifetime release. He basically gives audiences inside depths behind the striking cover of King Crimson’s breakout debut album, his love of Elvis with an amazing take of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, and a pastoral take of The Impressions’ ‘People Get Ready’.

Once he brings a bit of Christmas cheer 11 years ago in Piacenza performing an unplugged version of ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’, it gives a bit of calm, relax, and joy throughout the festival while Annie Barbazza, Le Orme’s Aldo Tagliapietra, and PFM / Acqua Fragile’s Bernardo Lanzetti lend Lake a helping hand with ‘Lucky Man’.

During that time frame in Italy, ELP had a huge fanbase in their home country. Not to mention Greg Lake signing Premiata Forneria Marconi while the band were on tour promoting Brain Salad Surgery. The Piacenza album is where Greg came full circle and giving out one last swansong to the Musiche Nuove in Piacenza festival which occurred in a sold-out show at the historical Teatro Municipale in Reggio Emilia.

Very much like a sequel to Keith Emerson’s Variations box set, Lake’s work will continue to inspire many generations who are discovering his work for the first time. Whether its King Crimson, ELP, or his solo work, Magical is an admiration to prove how much that Lake was loved, admired, and the music he gave to his fans. And yet, nearly eight years later after his passing, the legacy lives on. And what a Lucky Man, Greg Lake really was.

 

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