British ‘prog rock’ drummer brings more than music

Musician displays artwork at National Gallery

Carl Palmer with an example of his artwork at the Cayman Islands National Gallery. – PHOTO: MATT LAMERS

At 66, Carl Palmer’s energy – and ambition – are undimmed, and while conscious of his “celebrity” status, and persuaded of his “artistic” credibility, the acclaimed British “prog rock” drummer nonetheless manages a certain charm.

Recruited by friends for a private performance on Saturday in East End’s new high-tech recording studio, The Mill Cayman, Mr. Palmer arrived in Grand Cayman late last week on a mission to raise money for the National Gallery, promote his line of startling, glossy artwork and work with disadvantaged children on drum sessions.

Starting Friday morning, the former Emerson, Lake and Palmer percussionist – currently touring internationally with “The Rhythm of Light – Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy – Remembering Keith and the Music” – huddled for an extended drum session with students from George Town Primary School, West Bay’s Sir John A, Cumber Primary School and SteppingStones’ after-school program for at-risk primary and secondary students.

At the weekend, Mr. Palmer performed at a closed-door event in East End with guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and bassist Simon Fitzpatrick, while exhibiting – and hoping to sell – his artwork, donating the proceeds to the National Gallery.

Summer tour

Mr. Palmer is currently on a 24-date summertime U.S. tour – a revue and reminder, advertised as “bold new arrangements,” of the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the 1970s British rock ‘n’ roll band that recorded nine albums in a sporadic career spanning almost 30 years.

The founding musicians, led by keyboardist Keith Emerson and accompanied by guitarist Greg Lake and Mr. Palmer’s furious drumming, were among the creators of Britain’s “progressive rock” movement.

The trio’s efforts spanned top-40 success with “Lucky Man,” from their eponymous debut album, to a global series of live performances to a permanent spot on the all-time greatest “prog rock” list with their fourth studio release, 1973’s “Brain Salad Surgery.”

Remembering Keith Emerson

This November 1977 handout photo shows British rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer, with, from left, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer. – PHOTO VIA AP
This November 1977 handout photo shows British rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer, with, from left, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer. – PHOTO VIA AP

In an interview at the National Gallery on Friday, Mr. Palmer, trim, gray-haired and professionally poised, spoke about the late Mr. Emerson, who died in March of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 71 in his Santa Monica, California, home.

“I will deeply miss Keith and I want you all to know I will carry on flying the ELP banner and playing the great music with my band for many years to come,” Mr. Palmer said in a prepared statement. “We have lost a very talented and gifted musician, but this great music will continue for a long, long time.”

He was guarded about his East End appearance, saying only that it was a private, corporate event, declining to name the sponsor.

Artwork

Mr. Palmer’s latest venture is a series of prints, created digitally on a hand-held camera in a 12-foot-square Los Angeles studio, then transferred to canvas on a specially built IBM printer.

He uses a unique set of drumsticks, tipped with nearly indestructible light emitting diodes, while the camera operator records the frantic arcs, blasts and bursts of brilliant color in the darkened room.

“I can play the drums full-on,” he says, which includes a pair of enormous Chinese gongs placed behind his shoulders, “and the LEDs won’t go out.”

The process – and result – “is completely unpredictable and unbelievably exciting,” he said.

Augmenting the production process, Mr. Palmer is able to manipulate the digital images, painting in additional colors, adding lights and superimposing imported images.

He has already produced two sets of prints. The first, created in 2013, is titled “A Twist of the Wrist;” the second, in 2014, “The Rhythm of Light.”

Marketed globally, each canvas can be reproduced according to demand, he said. “I have sold about 400 of these in the last four years,” earning anywhere from $300 to $6,000 per piece.

Mr. Palmer said he has never had any formal art training.  He also insists his artwork is not intended as a way to make his living. “I will always be a musician, so this [artwork] is not ‘instead of,’ but ‘in addition to.’”

Rather grandly dubbed “electronic fusion crossover art,” his latest effort is, for now, a single canvas dedicated to the memory of Mr. Emerson, and includes a shadowy image of Mr. Palmer’s face and a Moog synthesizer, among Mr. Emerson’s signature instruments.

The drummer has already produced a handful of copies of the work, which took between seven and 10 hours to complete. This piece, he said, was to be part of Saturday night’s exhibition.

All proceeds from the event and art sale will go to the National Gallery, with the aim of boosting its annual fundraising needs of $400,000.

Student drum sessions

Mr. Palmer said the student drum sessions worked out nicely, “We played some games with the special-needs children, and they wanted to see how this new art form worked,” he said.

The sharp audio and swift-moving lights proved particularly compelling, he said, “because it’s almost like a video game, so we had some fun with it.”

His performance at The Mill Cayman, which has not yet announced a public opening, was meant for some people Palmer has worked with creatively and also on some other projects, he said.

“We played some games with the special-needs children, and they wanted to see how this new art form worked,” he said.

The sharp audio and swift-moving lights proved particularly compelling, he said, “because it’s almost like a video game, so we had some fun with it.”

His performance at The Mill Cayman, which has not yet announced a public opening, was meant for some people Palmer has worked with creatively and also on some other projects, he said.

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