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28-30 August 2005 - The Six Bells, Chiddingly

by Dave Gooding

Just got back last night from 4 amazing days in Chiddingly in a state of shock after witnessing one of the best gigs of my life.

I'd promised Tom that I would go down to the "Six Bells" for the last three years, but on each occasion some last minute hassle had prevented this, so I was determined to honour my promise this year. We (brothers & fellow aficionado) arrived early Saturday morning at "Horam Manor" (camp site) and the first thing to say was that throughout the whole period the weather was fantastic - acid blue skies and mid Summer temperature.

The journey to the "Bells" necessitated a 90 minute walk along beautiful country lanes with some sections canopied by knitted hawthorn others with panoramic views and also glades lined with monumental mansions. In the final lane approaching the pub stood Emerson's mansion wherein most of the early ELP compositions were transcribed. During the walk I couldn't help thinking back to that 73 piece in "Melody Maker" (70s Rock Rag) where Keith had described getting inspiration whilst walking the local country lanes - I can certainly understand why.

We arrived early at the pub and Tom was busy setting up, which gave us a chance to figure out the best vantage point - 2 feet in front of Tom!

I was surprised that Steve was playing in his own compartment - a choice necessitated by the structure of the room. Tom had got an amazing midi set up linked to midi pedals (played by Phil) to trigger some of the samples and enough wiring for a telephone exchange. It was wonderful to see the Leslies spinning away and to hear that real Hammond sound - puts my CX3 to shame.

The introductory track was excellent with edited samples of ELPs output spliced together (I must get a copy Tom!), a much more tasteful job than the "Re-Works" piece used on the 02/03 Nice tours. I'm not going to give a blow by blow account of each track - sufficient to say that Tom had obviously spent a great deal of time perfecting the patches and getting all samples cued precisely. "Lucky Man" was absolutely "Spot On" (sorry about me shouting Tom).

All three members played with a vigour that is rarely seen nowadays and, as far as Noddy’s Puncture goes, I think Saturday was their best night.

Steve's drum solo was totally amazing (where has this guy been?) and I honestly don't think that Palmer could have bettered it. Phil handled all the bass and guitar with ease and has a great voice - "From the Beginning" was played with panache and the "Hut of Baba Yaga" bass solo was superb - all of this watched by Phil's daughter (5?) whose ears were plugged with cotton wool - she seemed to approve of Tom's Hammond knifing!

So, that was Saturday, perched on flightcases, three feet from Tom, double brandy in hand watching three brilliant musicians play my favourite music in an idyllic setting - it couldn't get any better - or could it?

Most of Sunday was a repeat of the previous day - did the walk again (and decided to break it to the misses and kids that we're moving to Sussex!).

About eight in the evening we were eating outside the Six Bells watching the transformation to dusk when (brother) Neil went to "get a round in" and came back feverishly excited.

He'd been standing next to Tom and Aaron Emerson (who'd just come in) at the bar. Tom had asked about Keith and was told that he was "about 45 mins behind us"! Then we were all feverishly excited and discussed the possibility that this was just a wind-up. Still not knowing what to expect I regained my perch and watched Tom launch into "Hoedown".

Half way through I was nearly knocked from the perch by brother Neil hammering my back - "He's here, he's here". I turned to look through the leaded window four feet behind us, which was where the mixing desk was, and there was Emo’s face looking back at me!

I missed the rest of Hoedown in securing a white wine for the old fella - as was mentioned he looked in great shape.

I returned to position shaking with excitement, decided that telling Tom might throw him and wondering whether KE would intervene or just watch.

Keith "sat it out" for a while, probably not wanting to phase Tom, but finally the choral pad of Tarkus was too much for him and he came and stood behind Tom as he started "Stones" - if ever I want a definition of "gobsmacked" it would have been Tom on turning round and finding himself face to face with KE.

The rest is history. As has been mentioned Keith contributed on most of the following tracks and replayed "Hoedown" alone with Phil and Steve. The minimoog improvisation was great and it was easy to see why he has the arm and finger problems because he played with such ferocity - breaking Tom's Ensoniq clean off the stand. Rondo was fantastic with Tom on Hammond and Keith on the JD800 Fanfare patch, and then swapping. Tom had integrated the start to "Arse Longa Vita Brevis" into the piece (including that sliding down the reverb spring bit) and I was amused that Keith, not wishing to be outdone, decided to "show him how it was done" - (full hand rather than fingers) an interesting comparison of techniques - I'll have to talk to Tom about this. The band finished with an excellent rendition of "Sylvia" (Focus) with Tom giving the Hammond full throttle.

After the gig I waited for my chance for a few more words with Emo (though he was a popular draw!). Saturation over, I brought up the subject of Greg's tour, which he seemed to know little about. I asked him if he was going to get a ticket - to which he just gave me - a LOOK. Keith's mom then came in and I got chatting to her simultaneously. She was extremely happy to be there and flushed with pride when I told her what an impact his music had made on my life.

After around 15 mins they left with Keith in the driving seat.

The next day it was hard to believe that it wasn't a dream.

A big thanks to Tom, Phil and Steve for a weekend I'll never forget.

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