‘Father Christmas,’ the Greg Lake Enduring Holiday Classic

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Greg Lake was celebrated in 2020 with the release of a career-spanning retrospective. The Anthology: A Musical Journey, a collection of his songs and iconic performances.

The collection offers tracks from his years with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and King Crimson, earlier bands as The Shame and the Shy Limbs, and more. Happily, it includes his holiday classic, “I Believe in Father Christmas.”

Inside The Anthology is an extended essay from author Chris Welch alongside a host of unseen photographs alongside contributions from ELP manager Stewart Young and Lake’s wife of 40 years, Regina Lake, and many heartfelt tributes from other friends and colleagues.

Lake was born on November 10, 1947 in Poole, Dorset. He was given his first guitar by his mother at the age of 12 and he took individual lessons with guitar teacher Don Strike, who also taught Al Stewart, Andy Summers and Robert Fripp. Once Greg learned some basic chords he wrote his first song, “Lucky Man,” which would become one of ELP’s best loved tracks.

At 17, Lake joined the group Unit Four as lead singer and guitarist. Unit Four split up in 1965 and in 1966, Lake formed the Time Checks. His next group was The Shame, who in 1967 recorded a Janis Ian song, “Don’t Go ‘Way Little Girl.” After The Shame came the Shy Limbs who recorded two cult psychedelic singles in 1969, including “Reputation” with Lake singing lead vocals on the B-side, “Love.” He was later invited to join The Gods, with Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake, who went on to form Uriah Heep. Six months into a Gods’ residency at the Marquee Club in London, he returned home to Bournemouth where Robert Fripp had asked him to become lead singer and bass player with the band that was to become King Crimson.

On December 10, 1969, at San Francisco’s Fillmore West during a U.S. tour, King Crimson were billed alongside fellow British group The Nice, led by showman organist Keith Emerson. When King Crimson arrived in San Francisco, members Ian McDonald and Michael Giles announced they were leaving the band. Lake and Emerson met backstage and discussed a partnership that would lead to the creation of a phenomenal, ground-breaking new rock group.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer via their Facebook page

On their return to London, Lake left King Crimson and Emerson quit The Nice. They recruited virtuoso drummer Carl Palmer, formerly with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer was born. Signed to Atlantic Records in America and Island in the U.K., ELP premiered at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival.

ELP soon achieved global success, with a succession of Gold and Platinum albums including Tarkus, the live Pictures at An Exhibition, Trilogy, Brain Salad Surgery, the triple live Welcome Back My Friends…To The Show That Never Ends and Works Volume 1. Stewart Young became the band’s manager at the request of Lake and the pair remained close friends until the Lake’s death in 2016.

In 1975, Lake’s recording of “I Believe In Father Christmas” became a #2 solo hit in the U.K., blocked from the top spot by Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Lake wrote the song with his former King Crimson bandmate Pete Sinfield. It’s one of the most enduringly popular Christmas songs and has become a perennial holiday classic.

In 2016, the Financial Times wrote, “The lyrics are mostly Sinfield’s, and the first two verses juxtapose his own early memories of Christmas (‘eyes full of tinsel and fire’) with his subsequent loss of innocence (‘And I saw him and through his disguise’). At this point Sinfield was concerned that the song would be too bleak, so he resolved matters with a more uplifting final verse (‘I wish you a hopeful Christmas’).”

In 2020, a 4K, high-resolution version of the original promo video was expertly restored to a very high standard from a recently discovered rare copy of the original film.

In 1977 ELP released the ambitious two-record set, Works Volume 1, which had one side devoted to each of its members and a fourth by ELP with an orchestra. In 1978, after a farewell tour, ELP broke up.

In 1981 Lake released an acclaimed, eponymously titled solo album. Lead guitarist Gary Moore joined his band and they went on tour. A concert they recorded at Hammersmith Odeon in London featured a version of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

Eager to revive the spirit of ELP, Emerson and Lake teamed up with drummer Cozy Powell, as Palmer was involved with Asia and unavailable.

The original ELP reunited in 1992. The band embarked on a successful tour of America but lapsed into inactivity later in the decade. Determined to stay musically active, in 2001 Lake toured with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band and in 2005, the newly formed Greg Lake Band toured the U.K. playing new interpretations of ELP classics.

In 2009, Lake and Emerson decided to write together and, in the breaks, played some ELP numbers. They were intrigued by how they sounded with just the two of them, taking the songs back to their roots. A U.S. tour followed, yielding a live album. In 2010 the original ELP made their final appearance at the High Voltage rock festival held in London’s Victoria Park.

In 2012 Lake embarked on his “Once In A Lifetime” tour where one of the gigs was recorded live at the Teatro Municipale, in Piacenza, Italy.

In 2014, Lake was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Stewart says, “I went to see Greg just four days before he passed away. He was obviously in terrible shape, but I took a little portable player with me and his new album, Live in Piacenza, that he’d recorded in Italy. I’d also got the final mix of his new version of ‘Closer To Believing,’ which I thought was fabulous.”

Stewart asked Lake if he’d like to hear the track, even though they were in a hospice and the music was quite loud. Should he turn it down? Lake replied: “Well it’s only four o’clock in the afternoon – turn it up!”

“And he loved it.”

Just days before he died, Lake asked his wife, Regina, if she would help reinstate Manticore Records. “Greg had already put everything into my name, ready for me to take his place,” she says. “He said it was entirely up to me. If I wasn’t tempted to take it on, I could just let it go.

“I told him, as I am sentimental about Manticore, having been there in the early days, I would give it my best, with a lot of help from my friends and advisers, including Greg’s long term manager Stewart Young, and Martin Darvill, co-manager since 2008.

“I would like this label to be devoted to Greg Lake Music and Songs to keep his legacy alive for us all in years to come.” The first project will be a definitive collection of Lake’s solo catalog.

Related: Our Greg Lake obituary

A live performance of “I Believe in Father Christmas” from 2005, filmed at Shepperton Film Studios in the U.K., was released on Dec. 1, 2021.

Lake’s solo studio and live material was the subject of a 2023 set, Magical.

Best Classic Bands Staff

3 Comments so far

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  1. Goodwolf
    #1 Goodwolf 11 September, 2020, 00:31

    And not to mention also a good record
    Manoeuvres in 1983

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  2. old rocker
    #2 old rocker 20 December, 2022, 12:48

    never got to see ELP. saw greg lake at a trans siberian orchestra show years ago as a guest artist. he did karn evil 9 with TSO. was awesome!!

    Reply this comment
  3. JohnyScope
    #3 JohnyScope 22 December, 2022, 09:55

    RIP Greg (& Keith). Saw them live in ’78… Still remember walking out drenched in sweat just from following their surreal energy & musicianship. NO ONE came close!

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