Palmer doesn’t skip beat after cardiac procedure

As a drummer, Carl Palmer is known for keeping perfect time.

His heart was having trouble doing the same.

Last month the drummer for Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Asia had a heart ablation — a procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat — and shared a post-op video to social media.

During a phone interview Monday, Palmer said he is on the mend and ready to hit the road in July for Welcome Back My Friends: The Return of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, which comes to the Robins Theatre on July 21.

“I’m feeling pretty good now,” Palmer said. “I had atrial fibrillation last year, and they did a cardioversion, which is where they put the defibrillators on your chest and one on your back and restart your heart. I went back into (normal rhythm) and that lasted about four months. After four months I went back into atrial fibrillation.”

He went to see a cardiologist — one of the best in London, Palmer said — who recommended the ablation because he was in good shape and physically active.

“The real deal here is a lot my age can’t have one of these, but I could. The sooner you do it, the better chance there is of getting atrial fibrillation stopped. Leave it too long, and you’ve got it the rest of your life, and you have to manage it with medication. I already take medication. I want to keep working, I want to carry on playing, so I got it done. Sixteen hours later, I was out of the hospital.”

Five days after that, he started playing the drums again.

He needs to be in shape for this tour, because some of his bandmates are frozen in time.

For Welcome Back My Friends: The Return of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Palmer and the musicians he plays with ELP Legacy — Paul Bielatowicz, guitar and vocals, and Simon Fitzpatrick, bass — will perform with video footage of Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, who both died in 2016, that is taken from a 1992 concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Palmer initially considered touring with holograms of Emerson and Lake, but he wasn’t a fan of the technology.

“I had to see if I could connect myself, and I couldn’t connect with holograms,” he said. “It didn’t work for me.”

His manager suggested checking out the footage from the Royal Albert Hall show. It previously had been released on DVD by Sanctuary Records in 2007, but three weeks after the release, Sanctuary was acquired by Universal Music and that release “got lost in the wash,” Palmer said, so it wasn’t widely seen at the time.

“It ended up being the absolute best thing ever for me, but it was an absolute disaster back then.”

It was a five-camera video shoot, and the audio was recorded separately, which gave Palmer plenty of options for video and allowed him to remove his original drum tracks.

“I play the drums. You see Keith playing, you hear Greg singing, and I’ve got my band on stage as well. I play six, seven songs with Keith and Greg and six, seven songs with my band and we integrate all the tunes together. I play things like ‘Tarkus,’ ‘Hoedown,’ ‘Carmina Burana’ with my band and things like ‘Lucky Man,’ ‘From the Beginning,’ ‘Welcome Back’ and ‘Fanfare’ I play with Greg and Keith.”

“It’s better this way because, one, it’s honest; two, it’s approved by the band; and three, it gives the fans a chance to see these guys at their absolute best. The Emerson and Lake families are in complete approval, which is the most important thing to me. And I’m pleased with the standard. It’s all systems go as far as I’m concerned.”

Many veteran acts change the key of some songs to make them easier to sing or slow the tempo a bit to make them less demanding to perform.

That’s not an option for Palmer when he’s playing alongside the 1992 versions of Emerson and Lake, and it’s not an option Palmer would choose even if he could.

“I wouldn’t need to, and if I did, I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” he said. “If I wasn’t playing as well as I play, if I couldn’t do what I do, I wouldn’t be here. I would just disappear, and people wouldn’t know what happened to me.

“My philosophy is very simple. Whilst I’m still improving, I will carry on playing, and I am still improving. My feet, my bass drum work, is getting better. Once I can’t get any better but I can maintain a standard, I’ll be here. But once I can’t maintain a standard — ciao, ciao, baby, I’m gone.”

To maintain that standard, Palmer said he keeps up with the latest medical advancements and leads a healthy lifestyle.

“For me it’s all about eating well, sleeping well and trying to keep an open mind on things. I’ve never smoked cigarettes. Yes, I’ve done some drugs, who hasn’t, but I’ve never smoked a cigarette. I’ve never drunk a pint of beer. I’ve never had a lager. I do drink. I’ll have a glass of wine, I’ll have something or other, but I don’t drink excessively. Maybe every three weeks, I’ll have a glass.

“I’m a drummer, and the only way I can play is the style I’ve already set a standard to. This is my standard, this is the way people expect me to play. They expect me to play like an 18-year-old kid and I’m 73 years old. What can I do? I’m not going to cheat them. I’m going to play like an 18-year-old kid. That’s my whole game.

“To do that, I have to not make sacrifices, but I have to do what it takes to do that, and for me, the end result is greater than any sacrifice I have to make, that’s for sure.”

Palmer has made some changes in the show since last year’s initial run of dates, and he said it’s a show that he can continue to tweak and change as he takes it to more cities. He also hinted at footage from other ELP performances that could be adapted for future tours.

That is where his focus is now. While there was talk last year of a tour coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Asia’s multi-platinum-selling debut album, Steve Howe and Geoff Downes are busy with Yes and Palmer is booking additional dates for Welcome Back.

“I’m more interested in doing this now,” Palmer said. “I’m not saying I would never do Asia, but there are no plans at all. I don’t see anything on the horizon immediately, that’s for sure.”

If you go …

WHAT: Welcome Back My Friends: The Return of Emerson, Lake & Palmer

WHEN: 8 p.m. July 21

WHERE: Robins Theatre, 160 E. Market St., Warren

HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $40 to $55 with VIP tickets available for $154 and $144 and are available at the Robins box office and online at robinstheatre.com.


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