Neil, please stop banging on the table.
— Mom
 

My head was filled with rhythms and I tapped them out on anything that was available. I wanted to play the drums. I don’t know where it came from. No one in my family was a musician. 

By the time I was 14, I was playing in a band. We practiced in my basement. Since none of us was old enough to drive, my father became the designated roadie. Our first paying job was scheduled for Friday November 23, 1963. It was a private party at the local VFW. We were all very excited. 

I went to school that day thinking about the gig. When the announcement came over the loudspeaker it didn’t register at first.

“John F. Kennedy the President of the United States has been assassinated.” 

We didn’t play that night. The country was in turmoil. I was very disappointed, but there would be other gigs and more bands.

In high school I was in a band called “The Knights Of Soul”. Ralph Raola was the lead singer. He defined “blue eyed soul”. Ralph was a real showman. I swear when he went down on his knees and sang in falsetto, it made the girls cry. We played at most of the high school functions. There was intense rivalry between the football teams from different schools and fights would often break out. 

The bands self-appointed bodyguard was Lyle Alzado. Lyle was the toughest guy at school and played defensive end. Both on and off the field Lyle was pure terror. Nobody screwed with him. He went on to become one of the most feared players in the NFL.

At the University of Vermont I joined a folk rock band called Talbots Bus. It was a good band but we weren’t going anywhere.

In 1969 during my summer break from college, I took a job in a hospital in New York City. I rented an apartment in the East Village a few blocks from the Filmore. A once famous rock group called the McCoys lived in the same apartment building. They had a hit song a number of years before called “Hang On Sloopy. I became friendly with Rick Derringer the guitar player. 

He was busy forming a new band with Johnny Winter, a Texas born albino blues guitar player. 

Rick knew I wanted to be a drummer. I left for school at the end of that summer hopping to hear from him.

A year later, he offered me the job as the road manager for Johnny’s brother Edgar. Edgar’s band White Trash was a kick ass band that played a unique style of southern R & B. I really liked their music. Although I was disappointed I wasn’t going to be the drummer I took the job.



I spent about a year with Edgar, much of it on the road. It was a great time to be in the rock and roll business. Record companies cared about artists and they had real A&R guys. It wasn’t about albums sold in the first week. It was about building careers.

 Edgar Winter's White Trash

Edgar Winter's White Trash

My days with White Trash came to an end. I don’t remember if I quit, got fired or it was mutual. I went back to college in Vermont. It wasn’t that I wanted to be in school. I couldn’t find another job in the music business and I didn’t know what else to do. Almost immediately I knew it was a mistake.

CHOM-FM was a very hip album oriented rock radio station out of Montreal. A DJ I respected went on and on about a great band in the Montreal area that desperately needed a drummer. He gave a phone number. I called. You never know. I didn’t want my life to be about missed opportunities.

It was a good band. Not really my style but accomplished musicians. We lived together in a house about an hour north of Montreal. The whole episode lasted a few months and this time when I left, no more school. I went to New York City.

 Dee Anthony with ELP

Dee Anthony with ELP

A lawyer I knew introduced me to a rock impresario looking for an assistant. Dee Anthony managed Humble Pie and The J Geils Band. He also took care of Emerson Lake and Palmer in the States. Dee took me under his wing.

Part of my job was to be the bagman. Although groups got paid a guarantee up front, someone still had to collect the remainder of the money. An amount determined by the number of tickets sold. I went from city to city, carrying a briefcase overflowing with cash. A short Humble Pie East Coast tour and Dee thought I was ready to go out with Emerson Lake and Palmer.

ELP was the most important group I had been with and they didn’t travel light. They had elaborate staging with a large crew. Their road manager had his hands full and I ended up doing a lot more then box office. The band saw what was happening. Stewart Young, their soon to be manager, approached me at a gig in Miami. He offered me the job as tour manager. It would mean moving to London. I was torn. Dee had been very good to me and he had taught me a lot. But this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

 Peter Watts (Sound Engineer - Pink Floyd) and Neil Ratner.

Peter Watts (Sound Engineer - Pink Floyd) and Neil Ratner.

It was an exciting time to be in London. Progressive rock was just developing with bands like ELP, Yes, and the Pink Floyd.

After a few ELP tours, I had an idea. There were sound companies, lighting companies, trucking companies. Basically any type of company to fulfill a groups touring needs. But there were no companies that could provide all of those services.

I put together the pieces. I had become friendly with Peter Watts, the sound engineer for the Pink Floyd. He introduced me to a boutique UK sound and lighting company called Kelsey Morris. Having come from a family in the trucking business, I had access to tractor-trailers. Circus Talents Ltd was formed.

When Peter needed my company to be a part of the Dark Side Of The Moon Tour, I gladly agreed.


Ratner Heads Multi-Service Co.

Billboard, 10th Feb 1973.

New York - Circus Talent Ltd., is being designed as a flexible, ‘under one roof’ service operation that will provide touring musicians with complete technical and managerial facilities for live performances.

The Circus organisation will receive its professional baptism later this month with initial duties slated to include stereo sound for the Bee Gees, scheduled to begin touring with a 30-piece orchestra on Feb 23. Also due are trucking duties for Pink Floyd, representing the first time that highly technically-oriented group has permitted an outside organisation to assist in production.

Circus will also handle full production responsibilities for Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s European tour in April, now being touted as ‘bigger than the Stones’ with regard to production preparations. That group may be touring the US later in the year, and Circus is expected to be involved in bringing that production here.

Utilizing specially designed tractor-trailers, Circus will provide a portable proscenium for stage productions, a 96 000 Watt lighting system utilising four hydraulic towers for light placement and a 24-channel, custom-designed sound mixing system. Richard Vickers, general operations director for Circus, stresses that the sound system in question, designed by Circus’ own staff, is distinct from ‘hard-sounding’ American p.a. facilities. Vickers stated that the Circus system will offer American audiences a softer, rounder, fuller tone that has characterised sound abroad.

Circus will also arrange all transportation and lodging throughout each tour, supply lighting and sound crews and assist in box office management and tour expense accounting, according got the client’s demands.

The special trailers will provide a cushioned ride for all equipment, with all equipment handling to emphasise care of instruments and other equipment. The lighting system is also designed for video and film illumination, providing intensified colours and thus avoiding the need for conventional white floodlights.

Principals in the operation are Neil Ratner, president, formerly tour manager for Edgar Winter’s White Trash, general operations director for Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and special assistant to Dee Anthony of Bandana Enterprises; Jim Morris, vice president, former partner with Kelsey, Morris Sound of London (designers, builders and operators of custom sound equipment for many English acts and halls, including the Rainbow Theater) and special assistant to Robert Stigwood; and Vickers, formerly stage and production manager of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Circus Talent will initially operate out of New York, with plans calling for possible activities on the West Coast and further work in Europe. Services are expected to eventually include provision for remote recording of touring acts.

Circus Talents is located at One Lefrak City Plaza, Flushing, N.Y. 11368.


ELP... The Ultimate in Rock Theatre?

Chris Welch, The Melody Maker, March 31, 1973.

A casual, laissez-faire approach to the presentation of rock music has long been the accepted pattern. As “music of the people” it deliberately turned its back on the traditions of what it rather contemptuously termed “show-biz”.

Even the very name “Hollywood” became something of a dirty word and “theatrics” became a synonym for all that is plastic and phoney.

No curtain up for the stars of rock; no compere in bow-tie ingratiating himself with cries of “Ladeez and gentlemen, we ‘ave here the finest act in the world”.

Instead, rock bands have taken pride in shuffling onto the podium, unshaven, a pint of beer slopping from one hand, a fag pasted on the lower lip, hair shedding dandruff and a line of patter little more than a series of grunts, burps and oaths.

“We’d like to play a number called ‘Acne Blues’ - because we come from ‘Ackney, Take it Bert - Christ, who’s pulled the bleeding plugs arht?”

Audiences and musicians alike have come to accept the minimum of presentation, as long as the music rocks and the light ale flows.

But the original rejection and antipathy to “shobiz” is so long established, that it has become a kind of tradition in itself. And of late, more and more bands have found new excitement in discovering the fun in putting on a good show, as well as getting the tunes together.

Alice Cooper, Genesis - bands on both sides of the Atlantic have delved further into the art of lighting, costumes and even scenery, of a kind. At their recent Rainbow, London concerts, Genesis draped the stage in white which gave the effect of a wall-to-wall blizzard.

It can’t be long before we see bands set up in a library, complete with sunset, glowing (as Laurie Henshaw once said in British repertory) “like Hiroshima through the french windows”, a maid dusting, and a police inspector questioning weekend guests about the paper knife protruding from the shoulders of the Master.

Probably the greatest breakthrough in this new flirtation with footlight and greasepaint, is the plan recently announced by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, to take with them what has been described as a ‘portable ambiance’.

And this is not, as you might imagine, some kind of field hospital, but a mobile theatrical environment, that the group will be lugging around the world at great expense during the forth-coming months.

ELP are never a band to sit back and rest on their laurels. They could sell out a tour, even if Keith Emerson pawned the knives he occasionally hurls at his organ. Their music is strong, exciting and needs no props. But the group enjoy finding new ways to knock out audiences, and there is a strictly practical aspect to their latest plan to take their own proscenium arch with them from Europe to America and beyond.

For some time, the group have been rehearsing feverishly, new material and a new act for their world tour, called “Take A Ladder” (how else do you get high?).

Never a band to do things by halves, they have taken over their own cinema in West London for rehearsals and hired a sound studio at Shepperton’s film industry headquarters.

At Shepperton this week the group went to inspect the massive proscenium arch which resembles a giant piece of Meccano, assembled under the watchful eye of the astute young American, Neil Ratner, whose company Circus Talents Ltd. is hiring it out to ELP.

Neil has a speaking voice not unlike Lee Marvin, and despite his ungrizzled features, could probably manage a fair rendition of “Wanderin’ Star”.

“My father was in trucking for about 35 years,” he explained as we gazed up at the enormous erection.
“This company is very new and my father has given very useful help and advice, like handling unions in America when we take this thing over there.”

“I’ve done some things for the Pink Floyd in the States, but this is the first time we have used this arch. The idea came from the boys, and we built it, at a cost of around £30,000.”.

“Incidentally”, said Greg Lake lighting a Turkish cigarette, “we’re not taking it”.

Lee Marvin laughed, but seemed likely to draw a six-gun if crossed. “I own the equipment, and it’s on loan to the group. But this arch will never be used by anybody again, after the tour.”.

- Did not the Rolling Stones use a similar arch on their European tour a couple of years ago?

“Yes, but the Stones arch weighed four times as much and wasn’t really portable. It took either hours to put up and this you can get up in two hours. The arch is sixty food wide, twenty-five deep and…”

“Three inches high” said Carl Palmer, impatient to attack his brand new set of tympani.

“Twenty foot high” continued Neil. “It will enable the group to use its own lighting, and curtains, and there will be special effects like Multi-Malanx, which is a very durable mirror effect, dry ice and smoke effects.”.

Said Carl: “We got the idea about 12 months ago. Originally it was going to be a whole circus scene. We were going to live in the caravans and play on common land. But this is more practical. I like my room service and the circus life is a bit too gypsy for me.”

Somewhere behind us, technicians dimmed the studio lights and turned on the spots and ultra-violet that can be so damaging to eyesight. Fortunately it was turned away from us, to play upon two giant nudes looming in pastel shades and Grecian splendour over the top of the arch.

The voluptuous, unisex figures seemed to be reaching out for the Globe, and I wondered if they represented the gods speaking peace unto the world, or the Arts as a force for decadence.

“They’re a couple of queers holding a ball as far as I’m concerned.” laughed Carl, with the lighting response that typifies his drumming. “No, the dudes are okay, but lets give ‘em a bit more light”.

“It’s a long way from the Marquee, gents” said Carl.

Meanwhile, as Keith Emerson had not arrived for the proposed run-through, Carl and Greg decided to adjourn to the famous Shepperton studios 24 hour restaurant - which was closed. After threatening to spend money, we induced a local village restaurant to open up at the unheard of hour of 5:30pm to serve an excellent repast.

 

TARKUS

Said Greg “The concept of the arch is to provide more of a West End theatre production as opposed to an effects production. And psychologically, although we will be playing in a different hall each night, we will feel we have the same facilities.”.

Carl recalled their concert at the Odeon, Hammersmith, last year: “We had the rubber bird going up and down in ‘Tarkus’ - and that was a joke. That’s not what we’re into, that’s just too gimmicky. Okay, it was a laugh, but it should add to the music.”

Said Neil: “What you’re trying to create is a multimedia environment.”

“Right” said Greg. “We’re into presenting the music in the best possible circumstances with the least problems to play under, which will make us play better. So often, you don’t even know which side to walk on stage, when you arrive at a venue. Small things, but they can disturb your composure.”

“Rock basically lost curtains” explained Carl. “When you’re at the London Palladium say, you can’t wait for that moment when the curtains go up, and then the excitement hits you. We’re planning to start our show with ‘Bolero’, very quietly, with the curtains closed. Then as the music builds up - the curtains open.”

“Rock and roll rejected the theatre, but what really stopped it was one-nighters. We’ve always been in favour of considering the visual aspect, so this is nothing new for us, it’s just a progression. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but not many bands do consider the visual impact of their act.”

Said Carl: “A lot of bands couldn’t do all this themselves, but we have a production company to help us, and we’ve been able to concentrate on the music.”

And another 46 minutes of new music have been added to the ELP repertoire of favourites like “Tarkus” and “Pictures”. They have adapted a piece by Brazilian composed Jinastera, which they describe as “Very aggressive, violent and nineteen twenties.”.

“The violence is a strong part of us” admitted Greg.

“Something the Faces put across really well is of a goodtime band having fun. We enjoy playing as well, but we put it across in a more serious way.”

“I’m writing a song now that will be more show time. I’ve got one more verse to write and think of a title, but it could be a nice opener.”

“Or show is going to get longer and we won’t really be dropping anything, except ‘Rondo’ which we finally got rid of. There will be no drastic change in direction, although I’ve changed myself, in that I’m playing more guitar now.”

“Keith can play the bass line on the Moog and it gives me freedom to play more electric guitar. You see a drummer has two possibilities. He can lay back and support or become dominant. A bass player, as soon as he plays too much, becomes a nuisance.”

Carl: “That’s why a bass player should always follow the drummer.”

When will fans in England see ELP - this year or next?

“We’ve got to take this show out to Europe first.” said Carl. “We did a Christmas tour here. But when we come back to England, we want the new show to be right. We’d like to play at two or three really big places, like Earls Court and Belle Vue.”.

One of ELPs problems, heightened by the addition of the portable ambiance, is the need for organisation that has to work along the lines of an army operation.

No longer is a jolly roadie, able to pull a pint, mend a fuse and drive the Transit sufficient. Close psychological checks have to be made, to make sure the lighting, sound and truck crews don’t freak out and wreck a Holiday Inn.

Roadies today have to be a combination of artistic director, electronics engineer, weight-lifter and diplomat, able to placate, police, customs men, Mafia, trades unions and hotel managers.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer now have 27 roadies. And says Carl Palmer: “The road crew is so big, we even have a roadie to wake up the roadies!”.


Those of Emerson in Rome

by Marco Ferranti

I don’t quite know how I found myself at table with Michael and Neil. Nor what they were doing in Rome. Actually they were looking for a place to put on a show scheduled for the end of April.

Neil Ratner is the President of a company called Circus. this is an organisation that meticulously organises concerts for the most famous groups in the world. Michael Lowe is the Director of Part Rock and the producer of the show.

That night Michael and Neil were not very happy. They had gone to see the Stadium Flaminio where they’d hoped to give a concert, but found it not to their liking. They toured ancient Rome, however, and found themselves in a place called Caracalla and were greatly impressed with the magnificent scenery, and decided that Caracalla was the place to give their concert. Securing the necessary permits would be extremely difficult since this place was reserved only for opera and the formal arts (you can imagine the names they called the Italian Organisers). But Michael and Neil remained enthusiastic since the Tour was being filmed and this was an excellent location for that purpose.

Each member of the trio is an accomplished and versatile musician and the show will feature both new music and a variety of instruments.

I asked ELP, if they thought their show was repetitious and bore the audience, or if their brand of Rock was the usual, loud and boisterous type, sometime repugnant to the listening audience? Emerson & Company are aware of their limitations. Their response to that danger will come, above all, from their records and from the direction of supervision of Manticore. Michael injected that their next cuts would be enormously different, concentrating on quality, apart from the usual. For this next year, their objectives will concentrate on putting forth new personalities. ‘For example, besides that of the PFM, of which you are aware, Pete Sinfield stunned many people with his new album. Like gregg and Mel Collins, Peter will play many instruments and operate the synthesiser, the first model he can possible get acquainted with.

Leaving Michael to his spaghetti, I proceeded to give my attention to Neil, looking for some further information on this famous Circus. He explained, between one glass of wine and another, that unlike former performances, Circus would provide the lighting, costumes, make up and staging and all the other bulls**t invented. A major part of the rock groups do not make use of these trapping and continue to go ahead with the old road managers and nothing else. Circus was borne, in order to offer all groups the possibility of a show that is adequate and perfect. ‘My organisation takes care of everything; the proscenium incorporates the lights, amplifiers and has technicians specialised in every field from carpentry to hydraulic lifters, so that there are no chances of mishap during a performance. With all this perfect organisation, we are in a process of organising a tour through all America and now in Europe, for groups like Led Zeppelin, Faces and of course, ELP. We are supplying ELP with a travelling theatre, with lavish curtains In addition, Circus is experimenting with new ideas in the presentation of spectacular in pop music designed to get the greatest response from the viewing audience. I do not believe this will estrange viewers from the essence of the music, instead it will greatly enhance it, to further interest and attract the audience.

Putting this discussion aside, I asked Neil what is the difference between the American Rock Musician and his English counterpart. ‘Undoubtedly the difference is innovativeness. In Great Britain we find a number of real musicians, who love music and are content to draw off enough money to meet their expenses. The managers, too, work along these same lines, keeping things simple. They are now cognisant of their potential and organise everything modestly and economically, without any elaborate apparatus which might offer them greater success. The Gentle Giant is a group I greatly admire. American Groups like Alice Coooper, are completely opposite, they are an industry ready to exhaust every modern system of publicity and perfect organisation. Every success is pre-organised with meticulous precision and ability. There is nothing in the American pop music, political or contesting, folk or rock, that does not breed with the characteristics of an industrial operation.

At this point, Michael injected, that the presence of Neil and his organisation perhaps signifies Manticore’s desire to use the American work methods. A major factor in Neil’s association, is his long friendship with the group.

The discussion ended here, and in fact, Neil has drunk so much wine, that all the interesting thoughts just pass him by!

Translation Of Magazine Article from the Italian Magazine 2001, issues dated April 1973.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - 1973 The Manticore Special - World Tour


After tours with ELP, Pink Floyd, T-Rex and Three Dog Night, I took a break from the business of music. I was done for the moment but certainly not finished.