King Crimson Biography

Almost by definition, this will be a biography of Robert Fripp until 1975. He has been ever present in the existence(s) of King Crimson, so he will be, obviously, the dominant personality. However, he had numerous fellow musicians, so they will receive a certain prominence, as well as individual short biographies, which appear elsewhere.

If you take all your information from one source, it’s plagiarism. If it’s from several sources,

In the Court of King Crimson book cover

it’s research! My sources for this piece are many and varied, but the significant ones are…

The book “In the Court of King Crimson” by Sid Smith (cover copied alongside) – a big, big source, which dotted a helluva lot of i’s and crossed even more t’s. Don’t just sit there, go out and buy the bugger!

Another book “Fripp” by Eric Tamm, which I downloaded off the Internet. I thought it a lousy work – too philosophical, but some useful information, even though some of it is wrong (e.g. Jamie Muir’s departure from KC).

The accompanying literature to many of the King Crimson CDs, especially the booklet that came with “The Great Deceiver”.

http://www.planetmellotron.com– thanks Andy.

Planet MellotronThe “Elephant Talk” web-site (and some of its links) – slightly muddled, needed an English speaking forum (if it ever existed, I couldn’t find one!) and possibly TOO American, but that’s just a personal (and unintentionally slightly xenophobic!) opinion. Still, lots of info and the original source of the Eric Tamm book. It looks like the site is no longer being updated.

My memory! Some of my personal recollections stem from what I read in the music press of the time (“Melody Maker”, “Sounds” and the “New Musical Express” – NME) and the occasional interview on the radio (e.g. Fripp gave an interview to the late Allan Freeman sometime in 1973)

There are numerous unanswered questions and queries that I have listed/detailed at the end of this piece. It is hoped that someone out there can answer some of these questions, or at least stimulate some debate such that a ‘consensus’ could even be agreed upon.

THE CONCEPTION AND THE GESTATION

 Robert Fripp was born on the 16th May, 1946 at the Bear Cross Nursing Home, located between Wimborne Minster and Bournemouth in the county of Dorset on the South coast of England. He was the second child of estate agent Arthur and Edith (nee Green) Fripp, as their daughter, Patricia (formerly a writer1), is a little over a year older than Robert. From the age of five, he attended Broadstone Primary School, located about halfway between Wimborne and Poole, the latter being a town adjoining Bournemouth. He did sufficiently well enough to be accepted at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in his hometown of Wimborne. He seems to have had few friends at school and appears to have found little in the way of academic interest, though his favourite subject seems to have been English. However, one of these friends was a Gordon Hionidies, who shared, with Fripp, a sense of being ‘outside’ the mainstream of school life and would later be part of King Crimson.

The only apparent aspect of life that interested Fripp was music, particularly ‘trad. jazz’, as practised by the likes of clarinettist Acker Bilk. His parents gave him his first guitar as a Christmas present in 1957. Although naturally left-handed, he decided to play right-handed and took lessons from Kathleen Gartell at a music school in Corfe Mullen, a village two miles west of Wimborne. Although primarily a piano teacher, Ms Gartell taught young Mr. Fripp via a number of books as well as putting him through a local orchestra, where he played violin as well as guitar. It is generally thought that the greatest contribution made by Ms. Gartell was that she taught Fripp the basics of Music Theory. Fripp outpaced Ms. Gartell and her books, so she sent him to specialist jazz guitar teacher Don Strike2. In later years, Fripp was to cite Strike as his most important initial influence. Strike also gave instruction to Greg Lake, but Lake and Fripp didn’t cross paths at this point, though Lake says otherwise. Whilst with Strike, Fripp came into contact with modern jazz music, in the form of the output of musicians like Charlie Mingus. After Strike, Fripp took several lessons from Tony Alton in Winton (a suburb of Bournemouth), who taught Fripp a Latin-cum-Flamenco style.

In 1961, at the age of 15 and with the active encouragement of Don Strike, Fripp formed his own band, which was later called The Ravens. His first recruit was Gordon Hionidies, who coerced Fripp into teaching him the rudiments of bass guitar (and would later join King Crimson). Graham Wale joined as lead vocalist and drummer, but he didn’t last long. Another drummer, Christopher Ferguson, came into the fold, along with vocalist and guitarist Tino Licinio. The Ravens occupied Fripp’s time until spring 1962, when his O-level examinations gradually appeared on the horizon. Fripp left The Ravens (which triggered its demise) in order to concentrate on his academic studies. He was successful, emerging with seven O-levels. He left school and joined his father’s estate agency in a junior role, though his heart was never in it. His love for music rode over everything. He went on a holiday to Jersey, in the Channel Islands where his sister was staying. He took his guitar with him and had hours of uninterrupted practice. At the same time, Fripp decided that he wanted a working life in music, so on his return home to Wimborne, he told his mother of his decision. She was considerably less than happy about it, being reduced to tears, so Robert had to put his ambitions on hold.

Whilst working full time at his father’s agency, the young Fripp was playing with a number of dance bands, the principal one being The Douglas Ward Trio at The Chewton Glen Hotel3, New Milton, some 8 miles east of Bournemouth, in 1963 and 1964. At the same time, he was teaching guitar to people of his own age, one of his pupils being Al (“Year of the Cat”) Stewart. In the spring of 1964, as well as his engagements, Fripp formed another band, with Hionidies and Licinio from the erstwhile Ravens, together with Reg Mathews as vocalist and Stan Levy on drums. They called themselves The League of Gentlemen, taking their name from a British film with the same title. Note that this aggregation had nothing to do with the band of the same name that Fripp formed in 1980. It has been alleged that the band name came from something said by Hionidies as the band were sat, drinking in a hotel bar, adjacent to the Gentlemen’s toilet! The band lasted for about a year, playing church halls and youth clubs in the Bournemouth area. They recorded a couple of singles – ‘Each Little Falling Tear’ that was released on the Planet label (Cat. No. PLF 109) and ‘How Can You Tell” on the Columbia label (Cat. No. DB 7666)4. They were released after The League of Gentlemen folded, which came about when Fripp decided to return to academia at a college in Bournemouth with a view to going to university. Even though they had ceased to function as a musical group, the former members of The League of Gentlemen still got together for socialising reasons. It was at one of these ‘reunions’ that Fripp and Licinio became involved in a fight. For some reason, a John Johnson decided that he wanted to re-arrange Licinio’s facial features. Licinio was saved from very serious damage when Fripp intervened. However Licinio’s face was severely battered and Fripp had his mouth ripped open. Both required medical assistance and Fripp had ten or twelve stitches inserted in his wound. Their assailant was jailed for two years.

At Bournemouth College, Fripp met John Wetton and Richard Palmer-James, as well as getting to hear about Greg Lake, who was making waves with his musical prowess. None of these meetings, however, gave rise to anything musical. As well as studying for his A-levels, Fripp was now playing at the Majestic Hotel5, having replaced Andy Summers (later of The Police) who, with George “Zoot” Money, had tried his luck in London. Fripp stayed with the Majestic Dance Orchestra, entertaining the local Jewish community, for the entire time he was at Bournemouth College, where he studied Economics and Economic History. Eric Tamm states, in his book, that he also studied Political History. He was so successful at college, he took his examinations early in January 1967, and passed all his subjects. His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps, and if he had got his way, Robert would have gone to university in London to study Estate Management. However, on 16th May, 1967 (his 21st birthday) Robert announced that he was to become a professional musician.

At about this time, Fripp had formed a band called Cremation, but nothing came of it. They did have a few gigs booked, but Fripp cancelled all of them, on the grounds that the band simply weren’t good enough, breaking the band up shortly afterwards. Now with no income, Fripp saw an advert for a band looking for a vocalist/organist. Although primarily a non-singing guitarist, he did have some keyboard experience, so he answered the ad. It had been placed by Michael and Peter Giles.

 Michael Rex Giles was born on the 1st of March 1942. His brother, Peter, emerged into the world on the 17thof June 1944. They grew up in the Winton district of Bournemouth, though their father was an ‘immigrant’ from Herefordshire. Michael started out as a washboard player during the ‘skiffle’ period before progressing to

Johnny King and the Raiders

Johnny King and the Raiders, with (far left) Peter Giles and Mike Giles on drums

a small but conventional drum-kit. He joined Johnny King and The Raiders in January 1960, who played in the Bournemouth area. One of those who regularly supported the band from the audience was brother Peter, who later replaced the original bass guitarist. The brothers stayed with the band for some twenty months, when they were spotted by the premier band in the Dorset area – The Dowland Brothers (sometimes billed as The Dowland Brothers and the Soundtracks.) The Dowlands asked the Giles to join – they said yes, and they played their first gig together in November 1961. One source states that the Giles brothers played for 2½ months with Dave Anthony and the Rebels (a.k.a. Dave Anthony and the Moods) at the same time as playing with the Dowlands.

Whilst with the Dowlands, the Giles came into contact with the upper echelon of the Bournemouth music scene, such as Zoot Money and Andy Summers. Bear in mind that Michael and Peter were backNOT full-time musicians – yet. Both had left school and were working; Michael worked for a number of different types of firm, e.g. at a tailor’s shop, and Peter at some sort of furniture store. Despite the hefty jump up the musical ladder the Giles had acquired by joining the Dowlands, they wanted to go further. To that end, they turned professional in April 1964 and joined Trendsetters Ltd. (Note – the above-mentioned source also claims that between the Dowlands and Trendsetters Ltd. the Giles’ were members of a band called The Sands for 6 weeks, immediately followed by a 3-week stint with The Interns)Trendsetters Ltd. was a manufactured band, set up by Roy Simon, a Bournemouth based businessman, who wanted to cash in on the current interest in ‘pop’ music. Bear in mind that The Beatles had exploded on the scene at about this time, with numerous bands and artists sitting on their coat-tails. Trendsetters Ltd was set up to be one such band, based in London.

Trendsetters Ltd – Peter & Mike Giles at the rear.

They acquired a recording contract with Parlophone, but their output failed to capture the imagination of the record buying public. As well as being a band in their own right, they were hired to back American acts touring the UK. One such act was The Drifters. Despite endless tours of the UK and Europe, the band were making no real progress, and Peter was composing material for use by the band – one being “Nightmares in Red”. In various attempts to ‘crack it’, they recorded under the names The Trend and The Brain. It was under the latter appellation that they recorded “Nightmares in Red” which later attracted the attention of Crimson aficionados. For some reason, they believed that Robert Fripp played guitar on the track, but this was not the case. Although he was aware of the single, Fripp contributed nothing to it at all. This single failed too, resulting in disillusionment setting in. In May 1967, Trendsetters Ltd simply broke up and the Giles’ returned to Bournemouth.Michael and Peter realised that they simply couldn’t sit around waiting for fame and fortune to simply drop into their collective lap; they had to do something locally, then return to London. They scoured the Bournemouth area for suitable musicians for a few months. They felt that a line-up of drums, bass and keyboards would best express their musical ideas, so they placed an advert for an organist who could sing. One who responded to that ad was Robert Fripp.Despite not being the organist they wanted, the Giles auditioned Fripp at the Beacon Royal Hotel, Bournemouth on the 28th of August 1967, and he was accepted. However, the reasons for taking him on weren’t purely musical. Apparently, the Giles’s learned that Fripp had a gig already set up in London, which they could use as a starting point. This gig was at a restaurant with accordion player Douglas Ward, whom Fripp played with five years earlier. The new band rehearsed for about a month in and around Bournemouth whilst Fripp continued playing as part of the Majestic Orchestra until mid-October 1967. However, there was a real prospect of playing behind The Flowerpot Men, who had just scored a massive hit with “(Let’s go, to) San Francisco”. So in September, Giles, Giles and Fripp (GGF) went up to London, but gig fell through, so they drove back home on the same day!However, GGF weren’t to be discouraged and on the 16th October, they moved into 93a, Brondesbury Road, in the Kilburn district of North West London. On the very next day, GG&F together with Douglas Ward, started a residency at ‘La Dolce Vita’ Restaurant in Frith Street, Soho, London. However, Ward was injured in a car accident, so the remaining band (i.e. GG&F) transferred to the sister restaurant ‘La Dolce Notta’ in Jermyn Street backing an Italian singer. This contract ended on the 4th November 1967 after a dispute about money. In parallel with this, the band met Peter Shelley, of Decca Records and spent October and November negotiating a record deal.Despite spending the vast majority of their time writing and rehearsing at Brondesbury Road, they took some time out to socialise with fellow musicians. The Giles’ spoke with Noel Redding (who they knew from their time in Germany with Trendsetters), who was working with drummer Mitch Mitchell and a black American guitarist – Jimi Hendrix. Fripp chased up Gordon Haskell (nee Hionidies!) who had travelled to London some 18 months earlier. Haskell had joined the Dowland Brothers a year after the Giles’ had left and stayed with them for about a year. He then joined Southampton R’n’B band Fleur de Lys, who had successfully transferred to London and had made a name for themselves as house band in a number of clubs, such as The Speakeasy. Haskell had come into contact with Hendrix when Fleur de Lys backed him on a few recordings. Haskell did Fripp a favour, by bandying his name about. Vacancies for a guitarist and bassist came up in pop group Cupid’s Inspiration, so both Haskell and Fripp applied. Haskell got the bass post, but Fripp was rejected. However, Haskell’s stay with the band was short-lived.The live work coming in for GGF was minimal, and the band existed on state benefit(s). Fripp returned to Bournemouth for the Christmas Season at the Majestic Hotel and to spend time with his family. On his return to London, work continued at Brondesbury.Peter Giles, Mike Giles and Robert Fripp – an early publicity shotOn the 14th February 1968, GGF managed to secure a recording contract with Decca’s subsidiary label, Deram, for two singles and an album, for which the band secured an advance totalling £750. They went into the studio about six weeks later, with Liverpudlian Wayne Bickerton foisted upon them as producer. From these sessions emerged the album “The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp” and the single “One in a Million” c/w “Newlyweds”, the latter being released on the 10th of May. One fortunate side effect of these sessions was that GGF had found their own identity – they knew who and what they were in the music firmament and a rough idea as to what they wanted to become. To further this new identity, they had to take on board additional music personnel. To that end, they answered an ad, in the Melody Maker, purporting to have been placed by Judy Dyble, but originated by Ian McDonald and Peter Sinfield. This changed everything. Ian McDonald was born on the 25th of June 1946 in Osterley, West London into a house full of music, courtesy of his parents. As a young boy, he aspired to be a drummer, but nothing came of it. In 1958, the family moved to Teddington, near Kingston upon Thames, in South West London. He attended a school in Clapham, South London where he was a year below later modern jazz stalwart and Soft Machine member Elton Dean. He learned guitar, formed a band and played at school concerts. His attitude at school gave his parents cause for concern, so, at the end of 1961, when Ian was 15½, they took him out of school and put him into the Army!!! The young McDonald was, understandably, less than enamoured by this, but if he was going to have to stomach the army, he was going to combine it with music, so he became a junior bandsman. He wanted to learn saxophone, but it wasn’t considered a ‘military’ instrument, so he chose the nearest thing to it – clarinet. Whilst with the army, he met a number of like-minded musicians (some of whom were in the RAF) and formed a band, performing at evenings and weekends. He managed to get some sort of placing at the Military School of Music, but it didn’t last long as he was posted to Northern Ireland (fortunately before the ‘troubles’) then transferred to British Guyana, on the northern coast of South America. He hated his time in Guyana. The Beatles were dominating the airwaves and the jukebox at the barracks, but it was all happening in the UK – and he was stuck some 6,000 miles away in South America! However, he was transferred back to Northern Ireland and shortly afterwards, in 1967, he bought himself out of the army.Ms. Judy Dyble – a shot from the timeHe returned to his parents’ house in Teddington and got a job working in a record shop. This gave him almost unlimited access to the music of the day. Being close to London, he regularly travelled to the clubs, where it was ‘happening’ – places like the Middle Earth, where Pink Floyd

Ms. Judy Dyble, taken in the late 1960′s

regularly played. Fairport Convention also played there, when their vocalist was Judy Dyble. This was before they became a folk-rock band and, at that time, were probably closer to being a British version of Jefferson Airplane in their early days. She struck up a friendship with McDonald and they worked together writing material. Meantime, McDonald auditioned for a band being formed by Peter Sinfield.

Peter Sinfield was born on the 27th December 1943 in Fulham Palace Road, near the Putney Bridge, in West London. He seemed to be a bright scholar, with predictions of him becoming a member of a respected profession. However, he left school at 16 and wandered around Europe, taking a variety of temporary jobs. By the middle of the 1960’s, he was a computer programmer working in West London, but in his spare time, he was writing, moreso in view of the music revolution going on in London. Primarily, he was writing poetry, but he was also trying to set it to music. He formed a band with Ian McDonald (having passed his audition) on guitar, Dik Fraser on bass and Mike Nicholls on drums, which was originally called Creation. They weren’t completely happy with their initial attempts at Poetry/music, but they persisted with them. One of these songs was “21st Century Schizoid Man”, but it would be barely recognisable compared to the version we all know. Sinfield claims, with a little justification, that this was the conception of King Crimson, pre-dating Fripp’s assertion by some eight months. The band changed name a few times. Creation was dropped in favour of WDIES, which was an acronym for World Domination In Easy Stages, but then quickly became Infinity. Under this name, the band broke up, but Sinfield and McDonald stayed together as a songwriting partnership. McDonald, however, continued to maintain his links with Judy Dyble, introducing her to Sinfield. McDonald and Sinfield then placed an advert under Judy Dyble’s name (with her knowledge) in the Melody Maker on the 1st June. Peter Giles responded to the ad and arranged for McDonald, Dyble and Sinfield to meet at Brondesbury Road.

 The meeting, held on or about the 7th of June, was thoroughly successful, especially for Peter Giles, as he felt that Ian McDonald would be of enormous benefit to GGF. The ‘merger’ of GGF and McDonald/Sinfield/Dyble acted as a starting point for a plethora of productive work. Peter Giles introduced some of the compositions that he wrote whilst in Trendsetters – “I Talk to the Wind” was tried out. However, the atmosphere was too much for Judy Dyble – it was too rigorous when compared to how she worked with Fairport Convention, and she left GGF sometime in July 1968.

 During July 1968, with McDonald and Sinfield on board, the band (still called GG&F) made further studio recordings for Decca/Deram, such as “She is Loaded”, “Under the Sky” and “Drop In” – the latter would be used live by King Crimson in 1969 and later metamorphose into “The Letters” on “Islands”. However, Deram rejected them as being unsuitable. It should be pointed out that McDonald was playing a variety of instruments, like flute, saxophone and keyboards. He also provided some financial stability, courtesy of a loan from his uncle. Many of these recordings subsequently turned up on a CD released under the supervision of Peter Giles, titled “The Brondesbury Tapes”. The demo for “I Talk to the Wind”, with vocals by Judy Dyble, appears on “The Young Persons Guide to King Crimson”.

Partly for publicity and partly for money, GGF&McD took part in a TV advert for Dunlop tyres. A model, Mary Land, masqueraded as the band’s singer and later married Michael Giles! Shortly after this, “The Cheerful Insanity…” was unleashed onto the world on 12th September 1968. It racked up world sales of about 600. On the same day, the band had an appearance on the BBC radio programme “My Kind of Folk”. Decca got the band to re-record “Thursday Morning” (with McDonald) and it was released as a single, coupled with the original “Elephant Song” on 11th October 1968. It rose to the level of obscurity. Six days later, they performed “The Elephant Song” on the Eamonn Andrews TV show. The band also made an appearance on the BBC2 TV programme “Colour me Pop”, which was recorded on the 16th November and transmitted two weeks later. Peter Giles worked hard to get this, but there were problems developing, initially due to different song writing styles. Peter was producing light, lyrical pop music, whereas Robert was dispensing with lyrics and was producing longer and harder pieces, mostly in minor keys. Michael Giles favoured Fripp’s output – the two of them having an intense discussion on the 15th November, in the kitchen at Brondesbury Road, as to the direction the band should be taking. Fripp reckons this date was the ‘conception’ of King Crimson. He also believed that the band required a physical focus in the form of a photogenic frontman and singer, and reckoned that Greg Lake would fit the bill. Fripp deduced that Lake, who was equally proficient on guitar as well as bass, would have to replace himself or Peter Giles. Peter was not happy with the direction the band were taking and left, paving the way for Lake to be installed as bass player and lead vocalist. Peter relocated to Clapham Common and firstly became a computer programmer then a solicitor’s clerk, though he retained his interest in music and worked, temporarily, for King Crimson about 18 months later. Lake’s recruitment effectively brought Giles, Giles and Fripp to an end.

Greg Lake was born on November 10th 1948 and raised in the Oakdale district of Poole, a town adjacent to Bournemouth. His mother bought him his first guitar in 1960 and he took lessons from Don Strike, a year or two after Fripp. His first dalliance with performance was with the band Unit Four, which Fripp watched and later chatted with Lake (Note – Unit Four bore no relation with pop band Unit Four plus Two). They became close acquaintances. By 1967, Lake’s stature had increased significantly, in the Bournemouth area, to the point that most observers believed that he was destined for much better things. He helped form a band, The Shame, for which he played guitar, and secured a recording contract with MGM. Apparently, Fripp roadied for them for a week while Shame played in Penzance, and in that time, Fripp and Lake became firm friends. He left Shame and joined The Gods on bass, which also had future Uriah Heep keyboardist Ken Hensley. He got a phone call from Brondesbury Road offering him a job, which was backed up by a personal visit from Michael Giles. Lake accepted and joined the band at Brondesbury Road in December 1968.

The component parts were all in place – Robert Fripp on guitar and occasional keyboards, Ian McDonald on reeds, keyboards, flute and backing vocals, Greg Lake on bass and lead vocals and Michael Giles on drums and backing vocals. Peter Sinfield ‘sat’ in the background, mostly writing lyrics, but would have additional tasks later. The lease on Brondesbury Road was to expire early in 1969, so new lodgings were needed. With the purchase of a Mk II Mellotron, a semi-permanent rehearsal facility was a must, at least to store the ‘Tron, as man-handling it was injurious to human physical health (i.e. it weighed a ton!) Despite having effectively been dissolved, GGF got their first booking – a week long residency at a night-club in Newcastle-upon-Tyne called “Change Is”, owned by comedian and scriptwriter, the late Bob Monkhouse. A rehearsal facility had been found, in the form of the basement of the Fulham Palace Café at 193, Fulham Palace Road, West London, owned by Peter and George Calatychos. It would be the ‘spiritual home’ for Crimson for the next few years.

On Monday, 13th January 1969, they finally moved the Mellotron into the rehearsal room. This day is, according to Fripp, the day that King Crimson was born.

Notes

1 – Patricia is now a Speech Coach, based in San Francisco. See http://www.fripp.com.

2 – Don Strike also gave lessons to Andy Summers. He (Strike) has a shop in Bournemouth, which has been in business since the 1920’s. The author is unaware if Mr. Strike is still alive.

3 -   The ChewtonGlenHotel is still in business. See http://www.chewtonglen.com

4 -   There is some doubt as to whether Fripp participated in these singles. Either there was another band with the name ‘League of Gentlemen’, or the remainder of Fripp’s band recorded them after he left.

5 -   The Majestic Hotel is also still in business.

THE INFANCY

The first rehearsal took place, as noted earlier, on the 13th January, consisting of an ‘introductory’ jam, lasting well into the evening. As well as writing lyrics, Peter Sinfield was elected ‘Road Manager’ along with Dik Fraser (who slowly took on all road duties) and given the job of preparing the light show for live concerts (note – this explains his credits on record sleeves as “Words and Illumination”). He also came up with the new name for the band on January 22nd, which was a synonym for Be’elzebub – Satan’s assistant. The band practised, using numbers like The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, Joni Mitchell’s “Michael from the Mountains” and self-composed material, like Fripp’s “Drop in”, Michael Giles’ “Tomorrow People” and Greg Lake’s “Lucky Man”, which became a mainstay of ELP. The band needed some form of management, so they recruited David Enthoven and John Gaydon, who left their positions at the Noel Gay theatrical agency, and formed E.G. Management, taking the name from the initials of their surnames. They immediately set to work trying to get a record deal. Their first port of call was Decca Records, as their subsidiary (Deram) had signed GGF. They (Decca) sent Moody Blues producer Tony Clarke to investigate, who returned with a very favourable report. The N.M.E. say that Graeme Edge and Justin Hayward (of the Moody Blues) also checked out the band, and seriously toyed with signing them to their fledgling Threshold label, distributed by Decca.

On the 22nd February, the band travelled up by train (with Sinfield & Fraser driving up the motorway with the gear) to Newcastle to fulfil their obligations to the “Change Is” night club. Although billed as “Giles, Giles and Fripp”, they announced to the audience that they had changed their name to King Crimson. The band went down well enough to pick up a return booking, though it was never fulfilled. Upon their return to London, they found that they were in print, courtesy of the International Times (IT) which was an ‘underground’ paper, comparable with ‘Oz’. The article was written by Simon Stable, who was a great fan of the band, and would later marry Judy Dyble.

The band impressed the booker of The Speakeasy Club, and they were signed up for an appearance on April 9th. The Speakeasy Club4 (at 48, Margaret Street, London, close to Oxford Street) was a meeting place for musicians, music journalists and, most importantly, record company workers. Descriptions of the Speakeasy as being a musicians drinking den were a little harsh. Crimson went down very well that night. Amongst the audience were Bill Bruford, Steve Hackett (later of Genesis) and Yes guitarist Pete Banks. On hearing Crimson, it is reputed that Banks was so knocked out by the sounds they were making, his pint never left the bar. Ian McDonald reckoned that the Moody Blues, Ginger Baker and Manfred Mann1 were also in the audience. The word began to spread, and to encourage this further, a friend of Peter Sinfield’s, Barry Godber, was roped in to design and print posters of the band, which were fly-posted in certain parts of London.

Fripp was (and probably still is) irritated by certain facets of the music industry, such as the demands of music ‘society’ upon performers. This includes the aspect of image. First & foremost, Fripp was/is a musician, therefore the creation and performing of that music is fundamental, even to the exclusion of everything else. He paid scant attention to any of the peripheries (like image) and in some cases, fought against them. One of these irritations was the expectation that the Rock Guitarist should be somewhat outlandish – he countered it by sitting on a stool, as he found playing the guitar this way was more comfortable. This was something that Lake found hilarious, saying that Fripp would “…look like a mushroom!” Nevertheless, Fripp was adamant, and sits on a stool to this day.

Crimson at the Marquee
Crimson at the Marquee – Lake (in the distance), Fripp & McDonald.

Then the news that virtually made the band. Messers Enthoven and Gaydon had negotiated a spot on the Rolling Stones Hyde Park concert. The entire event was a form of excuse for the Rolling Stones to introduce new recruit, Mick Taylor, to the public. However, events overtook them when Taylor’s predecessor, Brian Jones, died in his swimming pool on the 3rd of July. This put the entire gig into jeopardy, but it was turned into a eulogy for the former Stones guitarist. As well as the Stones and Crimson, other acts to appear were the unknown Screw, Alexis Korner’s New Church, Roy Harper, Pete Brown’s Battered Ornaments and the Third Ear Band (see note 2). On the 5th of July, to an estimated audience of 650,000, Crimson played “21CSM”, “Court of the Crimson King”, “Epitaph”, “Get Thy Bearings”, an improv, “Mantra”, “Travel Weary Capricorn” and “Mars”. One of the 650,000 was future Crimsoid Jamie Muir. The Hyde Park gig made Crimson’s reputation and the word spread worldwide. They attracted positive reviews from publications as diverse as Melody Maker, The Listener and The Guardian.

Two days after Hyde Park, Crimson went back to Morgan to try and record further sessions for Tony Clarke, but after four days, the same problems re-surfaced and, again, the sessions were scrapped. This scuppered any possibility of a recording contract with Decca or Threshold. However, there was

Ian McDonald
Ian McDonald

good news on this front as EG had negotiated a deal with Island Records. Their A&R man, Muff Winwood (elder brother of Stevie) had seen them at a gig at the Marquee, but had then refused to sign them on the grounds of their image – he felt they didn’t have one. However, after seeing them at Hyde Park, he changed his mind. Later in July, the band assembled at Wessex Studios3, a converted church in Highbury New Park, Islington, North London, to begin another session of recording. This time, the band would do their own production. It took Crimson about 4 weeks to record what would be “In the Court of the Crimson King”. Afterwards, Crimson continued to gig, picking up excellent reviews wherever they went. John Wetton, then in Mogul Thrash, saw them at London College. He thought they were perfect, with no weak points. Gordon Haskell also saw them at The Marquee, but he thought they were wrong for the times. Although the ‘Summer of Love’ was 2 years old, it had a residual effect, and Haskell saw Crimson and Fripp as being diametrically opposed to this. He saw them “…as Satan”, something which the cover of “In the Court…” would have probably confirmed to him.

Barry Godber
Barry Godber admires his own handiwork

The ‘Screaming Face’ cover was designed and painted by Barry Godber (pictured on the right), who had met Sinfield at Chelsea Art College when Godber was studying painting there. Sinfield used to hang around there when he had some free time. Godber tired of painting and got a job as a computer programmer at the same firm as Sinfield and Dik Fraser. As well as designing a fly-poster, Godber regularly turned up at rehearsals and did a paint job on Michael Giles’ drums to a design based on one of the fly-posters. Upon hearing the tapes of the finished album, he went away and created the outer and inner cover artwork, basing the two faces on himself. The outer cover face became known, to Crimson fans, as “The Schizoid Man” – the face on the inner cover came to be called “The Crimson King”. One feature of the cover was that there was no identification on the outer cover – no album title and no indication of who made it (except on the spine).

An early Crimson
An early Crimson – (l – r) McDonald, Giles, Sinfield, Lake & Fripp

You had to open the gatefold sleeve to seek out details. Tragically, Godber died of a heart attack the following year. He was only 24.

“In the Court of the Crimson King” was released on the 10th October 1969. The band asked (paid?) Pete Townshend to endorse it, and he described it as “…an uncanny masterpiece!” The music press weren’t too far behind. Melody Maker said that “this is one you must hear”, IT (Simon Stable?) called it “The Ultimate Album” and Disc enthused over the mixture and variation of music. The only black mark was awarded by the New Musical Express (NME) who said that the power and energy of their live performances wasn’t reflected in the album – a comment that would hang like a millstone around the band’s neck for the next 5 years or so. Rolling Stone (Lester Bangs?) were also less than complimentary, but their review had factual errors, which rendered it largely irrelevant. The senior management of Atlantic Records picked up on the reviews and sent their boss, Ahmet Ertegun, to secure a recording contract with EG. This gave the band something to sell on their forthcoming tour of America. The record buying public certainly agreed with the press; it effortlessly made the top 5 in the UK and the top 30 in the USA. In Japan, it replaced The Beatles “Abbey Road” at the top of the charts.

Mike Giles
Mike Giles

Crimson left Heathrow for a tour of North America, only 17 days after the album’s release. It would be a tour fraught with trouble, which would be symptomatic for the next five years. Firstly, it was the first tour proper that the band had undertaken; the gigs in the UK had been just those – individual gigs, but lots of them. The band were experiencing problems with their Mellotrons – the US mains voltage wasn’t stable enough and when McDonald played a chord on one of more that three notes, the pitch of that chord dropped by a quarter of a tone. They played a gig in Chicago, but the theatre they performed at, the Kinetic Playground, was burnt down shortly after the gig by the local Mafia in an insurance wrangle. Most of the equipment was saved, but a Mellotron was badly damaged by the fire-fighters water – it caused the wooden keyboard keys to expand. However, the biggest problem was Michael Giles and Ian McDonald; Giles hated touring and McDonald was homesick. Giles had been contracted by the Melody Maker to provide a diary of his experiences in the USA, and he didn’t pull any punches. He detested life ‘on the road’. McDonald was writing at least one letter a day to his girlfriend back in Blighty. His consumption of amphetamines (speed) and cannabis wasn’t helping either, particularly with all the free time they had. He and Sinfield did manage to write new material whilst on the road, e.g. ‘Cat Food’ and ‘A Man, a City’ (which became ‘Pictures of a City’) were written on the tour bus whilst travelling between gigs. (Note: “In the Wake of Poseidon” has “Fripp, Sinfield” as writers) However, this wasn’t sufficient distraction, and he insisted that his girlfriend be flown over. Despite the ‘no girlfriends on tour’ policy, he got his way and she stayed with McDonald for about four days. However, within hours of her leaving him to return to the UK, his depression had returned. It is unknown if McDonald and Giles were aware of each others problems, but Fripp got a whiff of them when Giles suggested to him that Crimson should become a studio band. On the 7th of December, Giles and McDonald decided that they were leaving the band. Fripp was stunned, as he felt that Crimson was a success, both musically and commercially and he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to surrender that. He tried to take some of the blame by offering to leave if Giles and McDonald stayed, but to no avail – Giles and McDonald were adamant. The NME (in their “Encyclopaedia of Rock”) said that their reasons for leaving were the ‘plasticity of Rock and/or the USA’. Some other writers believed that there was too much pressure on a young band (the average age of the band, at that time, was only 23), particularly as they had hit such a high peak so early in the band’s career. Despite announcing their impending departure, the rest of the tour went fairly well, though at the last gig, at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, Ian McDonald quite clearly said “Goodbye”, which can be heard on the “Epitaph” set. The band returned to the UK on the 15th of December.

Notes

1 – It is not known if this was Manfred Mann the band, or Manfred Mann the keyboardist.

2 – It is believed that Family also participated.

3 – Wessex Sound Studios (to give it its full name) were owned, at the time, by George Martin. They closed in 2003 and converted into housing.

4 – The Speakeasy Club closed circa 1978. It is now fronted by a beauty salon, but there is a Night Club called Cameo on an upper floor.

SAILING BEHIND A SEA-GOD

Fripp, Sinfield & Lake
Crimson, early 1970 – (l – r) Fripp, Sinfield & Lake

The remnants of the band reconvened early in 1970. One of the items on the agenda was the dissolution of the band, but Fripp did not want to waste the achievements already made. His demeanour was not improved when Greg Lake announced that he was leaving the band to form a new unit with Keith Emerson. Crimson had shared the stage with The Nice in the USA in 1969, where Lakeand Emerson had a little chat. The role of EG Management must now be focused upon. They were set up to run the peripheral affairs (as Fripp saw them) of King Crimson, but as they (EG) increased in personnel, so did their ambition. Totally behind Fripp’s back, an EG employee, Mark Fenwick, (who later became a director of EG) took it upon himself to hire Elton John as a singer. When Fripp heard about this, he listened to one of Elton’s albums, given to him by Mark Fenwick, whereupon Fripp immediately cancelled the arrangement without retrieving Elton’s session fee of £250. They (Fripp & Sinfield) looked at other singers.

Catfood Crimson
Catfood Crimson, early 1970 – (l –r) Keith Tippett, Greg Lake, Mike Giles standing behind Fripp.

One of them was singer/dancer Peter Straker, who had been in the original London stage production of “Hair”. That fell by the wayside when Straker’s management asked for too much money. Straker continued as a dancer and singer and also took on some acting. Island Records, via EG, were applying pressure for Crimson to record another album, so Fripp bit the bullet. He called GregLake to rejoin purely as a singer, as he (Fripp) didn’t think Lake was a natural bass player. Lake agreed to sing, but wanted Crimson’s PA system as payment. Fripp also called BOTH the Giles brothers, who also agreed (resulting in the accidental ‘reformation’ of Giles, Giles and Fripp). They also hired Keith Tippett (nee Tippetts) as pianist. Both Fripp and Sinfield had seen Tippett the previous year and were impressed. With this line-up, they hurriedly recorded “Cat Food” as a single, backed with “Groon”, which was a partial improv. The latter was played by Giles, Giles and Fripp. To publicise “Cat Food”, the band secured their one and only appearance on “Top of the Pops”, where they mimed the song. Their appearance sparked rumours that Tippett had joined the band on a permanent basis. Fripp did invite Tippett to join, but Tippett said no, preferring to go his own way. The “Top of the Pops” appearance would be their only gig of any description in 1970.

The band then returned to the studio to complete the recordings. Mel Collins was brought in to, effectively, replace Ian McDonald’s role. Lake actually deserted the studio before recording was finished (but still received the PA as full payment), so Fripp called in Gordon Haskell to put vocals on the final track, “Cadence and Cascade”. When the album, titled “in the Wake of Poseidon”, was released on the 15th May 1970, the music press were struck by the similarities between it and “In the Court…” Despite this, the reviews were generally good.

IN REPTILIAN MODE

 After the release of “…Poseidon”, Fripp immediately got back to work re-assembling the band. He needed to tour again in order to maintain the reputation and credibility of King Crimson, moreso on the back of two best-selling albums. Despite his problems, Fripp was accorded the highest musical respect by the rock community. He was invited to replace Pete Banks in Yes as well as being asked to join Aynsley Dunbar’s Blue Whale. He declined both.

As mentioned, Lake had gone for good. Fripp asked Peter Giles if he would stay, but Giles felt that Fripp’s personality would be too over-powering, and would not benefit the band. He returned to his computer programming job. Michael Giles refused point blank to tour and went into session work, via a brief alliance in the studio with Ian McDonald. Tippett returned to his jazz aggregation, though his services would be called upon at a later date. Mel Collins was invited to be a member, and he jumped at the chance, though, as he admitted later, if he knew then the trouble he was in for, he wouldn’t have bothered.

Mel Collins
Mel Collins

Keith Emerson had property near Drayton Park in North London. Staying at this property was tenant and drummer, Andy McCulloch. Presumably as an act of contrition, Emerson (with some assistance from Greg Lake) recommended McCulloch to Fripp, who accepted him. Fripp also called his old friend Gordon Haskell to be both bassist and singer. Haskell initially declined, as he had been made an offer by pop band White Plains, one of Tony Burrows’ many projects. In addition, he wasn’t keen on Crimson’s music. However, after a long chat with Fripp, Haskell decided to join King Crimson, but he still had reservations. With new personnel in place, including the recalled Mel Collins, Crimson went back to the studio to record what would turn out to be “Lizard”.

Recording “Lizard” was problematic for McCulloch, as he couldn’t fathom Fripp’s working practices. As well as complaining about it to Gordon Haskell, he was venting his spleen to fellow Drayton Park tenant and future Crimsoid Ian Wallace. Fripp and Sinfield weren’t happy with the drum sound at Wessex Studios, so McCulloch spent a lot of time performing simple drumbeats whilst microphones and baffle boards were moved around. After seeing this, Haskell felt that Fripp & Sinfield were behaving like amateurs, whereas Fripp was perfectly happy with the way things were shaping up.

Lizard line-up
Lizard line-up – (l – r) Collins, Fripp & McCulloch behind Sinfield & Haskell.

For the album, Fripp called upon Keith Tippett as well as his cohorts Nick Evans and Marc Charig. This did little for Haskell’s musical state of mind, as he was feeling decidedly out of step with everyone else. He was at odds with Fripp as to the direction the music was going. There was one passage that Haskell couldn’t handle, as he didn’t have the vocal range. This was “Prince Rupert Awakes”, for which Fripp brought in Jon Anderson of Yes to sing on. Despite this, the album was completed, though Haskell hated it.

After “Lizard” was finished, everybody took some time off, prior to rehearsing for forthcoming tour duties. This would put extra pressure on McCulloch, Haskell and (to a lesser degree) Collins, as they had to learn the Crimson back-catalogue. This presented a problem for Haskell, as he wanted to contribute some of his own compositions as well, but it looked as if this wouldn’t happen. When Haskell asked to lower the key of “21st Century Schizoid Man” so that his vocal range could tackle it better, Fripp said no. This was the start of a short, vicious, verbal argument, resulting in Haskell walking out of the band. For his efforts, EG gave him a session fee of £275, though Haskell reckoned it should have been a lot more. For decades after, there was a great deal of animosity between Haskell and Fripp, though they have since buried their differences. McCulloch felt intimidated by the unpleasant atmosphere and left as well. “Lizard” was released on the 11th of December 1970. Tensions between Fripp and Sinfield were also starting to come to the surface. Fripp didn’t think much of Sinfield’s lyrics, but recognised that the music that he was writing was a mis-match to Sinfield’s style.

As a sort of antidote to the upheavals, Fripp accepted Keith Tippett’s invitation to play on and produce a project called “Septober Energy” by a massive aggregation he (Tippett) had brought together, which came to be called “Centipede”. The personnel included Ian McDonald, Elton Dean, Marc Charig, Nick Evans (the last three from Tippett’s band) and Mel Collins. Boz Burrell was also present as a backing singer. Fripp carried out production duties, but he was so busy with these in the control room, he didn’t have time to contribute his guitar. However, he did play guitar on a Peter Hammill solo album, while the latter took time off from Van der Graaf Generator.

MASSES IN EARTH’S WATER

By now, Fripp was in despair with King Crimson. For reasons he couldn’t understand, he seemed unable to find the right musicians capable of understanding his musical ideas and keeping them together. Fripp gave serious thought to bringing Crimson to a conclusion, and said, in effect, to Mel Collins, “if you want Crimson to continue, you do the auditioning!” So Collins got to work. At about the same time, John Gaydon (the G in EG management) left. He was effectively replaced by Sam Alder.

Ian Wallace on his traps
Ian Wallace on his traps

Collins very quickly recruited Ian Wallace, who had played in East Lancashire band The Warriors, which had Jon (then Johnny) Anderson on vocals. Fripp returned, and with Collins, Wallace and Sinfield, auditioned bass players and singers. It took an age. One of the singers that tried his luck was, the then unknown, Bryan Ferry. Although unsuitable for Crimson, Fripp felt that he had considerable potential “…in other areas” and suggested he pay a visit to the EG offices. If only he knew then what he knows now!  They also considered joint-manager John Gaydon, who had experience as a band member.

Boz (Raymond) Burrell

Eventually, they settled on Boz (real name Raymond Burrell) as a singer, who had, initially, come into contact with Fripp via the Centipede aggregation. Rick Kemp, later of Steeleye Span, was considered as bass player and actually said yes, but a few days later, he changed his mind. This cast an air of gloom over Crimson, who sensed that the end was nigh. In a free moment, Boz picked up a bass guitar that was lying around and idly played around on it. Fripp heard this, and asked if Boz would consider being bass player as well as singer. Boz said yes, so Fripp taught him! He also got some additional coaching from Wallace on elements of rhythm. In less than 3 months, Boz felt confident enough to perform on stage. Prior to a full-blown tour, Crimson had a short four-date residency at the Zoom Club in Frankfurt, Germany, which suited Wallace, as he had already played there whilst with The Warriors. The first night was a nightmare for Boz, and he seriously considered leaving the band then and there, but he recovered in less than 24 hours.

In early May 1971, Crimson set out on their first tour proper of the UK. By this time, there had been a few new compositions written, such as “Sailor’s Tale”, “Ladies of the Road” and “The Letters”, though the latter was a re-write of “Drop in”. During auditioning at the Fulham Palace Café, Sinfield had been experimenting with a VCS3 synthesiser, which acquired the nickname ‘Vick’. He subsequently came up with the idea of feeding Wallace’s drum sound through the Ring Modulator section of ‘Vick’. Wallace approved, and it became part of the stage act, with Sinfield controlling ‘Vick’ from the mixing desk. They also used it to occasionally process Boz’s vocals.

The Crimson atmosphere improved considerably. The tour had gone well, receiving critical approval wherever they appeared. Fans were more than happy to see the band on the road and seen to be a fully functioning unit. This restored Fripp’s faith in mankind, and it triggered a stream of creativity, though most of it was unusable. One of these pieces was part of what would later become “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 1”, but Fripp retained it, deeming it beyond the capabilities (musically and intellectually) of the then-present version of King Crimson. At about the same time, Fripp completed his production tasks for Centipede. Despite his initial acceptance of Boz as a bass player, he started having second thoughts about this, and toyed with the idea of bringing in John Wetton on bass and retaining Boz purely as a singer. The rest of the band disagreed with this and Wetton had gently rejected the offer (sensing that his recruitment would cause problems within Crimson), so Fripp quietly dropped the idea.

During August, ’71, Crimson played a number of single gigs around the country, including The Marquee, as well as another appearance at Hyde Park. They went down a storm. On the shirt-tails of this acclaim, they went into the studio. Instead of using Wessex Studios at Islington, North London, the band recorded at Command Studios, 201, Piccadilly, in the heart of London’s West End purely for economic reasons. Unlike “…Poseidon” and “Lizard”, the material for the new album had been tried out on the road. In fact, in September and early October, Crimson alternated between recording and gigging in the provinces. Fripp always felt that touring was an absolute necessity. The album was completed by early October, whereupon the band embarked on a tour of the UK, taking up the rest of October, followed by a month’s touring of North America, during which the new album, “Islands”, was released on the 3rd December 1971.

Sinfield, Wallace & Fripp
Sinfield, Wallace & Fripp at Heathrow Airport

Round about this time, there had been a change of atmosphere between Fripp and Sinfield about royalties and how they should be distributed. Fripp became anti-social to the point that conversation with him was minimal. Fripp did not do drugs, but the rest of the band freely indulged, which distanced Fripp even further. Fripp discussed his relationship with Sinfield with the rest of the band, saying that he felt unable to work with him. After a short while, Fripp rang Sinfield telling him that working together was no longer viable. In effect, Sinfield was out. The writing was on the wall when Fripp had been quoted as saying that Sinfield wrote, “…some of the most indigestible lyrics ever heard in Rock”, referring specifically to the “Islands” album.

Fripp posing on Motorbike
Fripp posing on co-manager’s John Gaydon’s motorbike at a famous photo-shoot at the 1971 Hyde Park festival

On leaving Crimson, Sinfield very quickly re-established contact with Greg Lake and he started work for ELP’s fledgling Manticore label. He wrote some lyrics for ELP, cut a solo album, “Still”, and part-produced the album “Photos of Ghosts” for Italian band PFM, who had signed for Manticore. He also produced Roxy Music’s first album.

With Sinfield gone, Fripp called a meet of the band members just outside Bournemouth in early January 1972 and put Crimson on a more democratic footing. He distributed the income equally and expected creative input from the rest of the band. As a result of this meeting, there was a more positive atmosphere, despite the loss of one of the mainstays of Crimson. However, ideas submitted by the other band members were deemed by Fripp to be unsuitable, as he felt they weren’t ‘Crimson’. This happened to Collins, who took Fripp’s rejection very badly. When Collins related his episode with Fripp to Wallace and Boz, they confronted Fripp, accusing him of hypocrisy and destroying the ‘State of Democracy’ that was supposed to be in place. Wallace dropped his drumsticks, said he was leaving the band and departed. Boz did the same. Fripp packed his guitar and left. As far as he was concerned, Crimson was finished.

When they got wind of this altercation, EG management told Fripp that Crimson were contractually obliged to tour the USA1 in February 1972, so breaking up the band would be financially crippling. David Enthoven successfully persuaded Wallace and the rest of the band to get back together. The actual tour went well, as far as Wallace, Collins and Boz were concerned, as they took some of the initiative. They were greatly influenced by fellow touring companion Alexis Korner and would improvise a 12-bar blues during gigs. This infuriated Fripp, who detested 12-bar blues, and he generally just sat there refusing to join in. Fripp had decided that there was no future in having Crimson with this group of musicians. He had spoken to Bill Bruford of Yes when they and Crimson shared the bill in Boston in late March. He also had words with Jon Hiseman of Coliseum, but that came to naught. Despite this, there was sufficient material recorded live off the mixing desk, intended for future release. The tour ended in early April and the band promptly broke up; Fripp returned to the UK, whilst Wallace, Collins and Boz remained in the USA. There, they joined forces with Korner, together with Danish singer Peter Thorrup, forming a band called Snape. They recorded a studio album “Accidentally Born in New Orleans” and a live album. Ian Wallace stayed on in the USA and did a considerable amount of session work, particularly for Don Henley (ex-Eagles) and Bob Dylan. Mel Collins returned to the UK and joined Kokomo, as well as continuing with his session work, which never stopped whilst he was with Crimson. Boz joined (the inexplicably successful) Bad Company. Fripp was now on his own.

Crimson were contractually required to release something, so Fripp put out “Earthbound” on the 9th of June 1972, despite its poor recording quality. Their US label, Atlantic, refused to release it, on the grounds of quality, and they felt the record-buying public would return it in droves. In later years, Fripp would describe “Earthbound” as “…the first official bootleg album in rock”. This wasn’t totally correct, as Frank Zappa issued “Live at the Fillmore East” in 1971 and made certain that it looked like a bootleg to compete with the plethora of illicit Mothers material in circulation, particularly from continental Europe. “Earthbound” was universally slammed, and put a shadow over Crimson’s reputation. In later years, Fripp tried to get “Earthbound” deleted – permanently.

 

Notes

1 – It has been alleged that Fripp was of the opinion that the “contractual obligation” was a fabrication made by EG management.

DELICATE FOOD IN HARD MATTER

After the debacle of “Earthbound”, Fripp retreated to a cottage near his ‘spiritual’ base at Wimborne, near Bournemouth. Combining rest, thought and writing, he put together the latest incarnation of King Crimson. He had contacted Bill Bruford in May 1972 and asked if he was still interested in joining. Bill said yes. The fact that he was spurning financial security with Yes, gave an indication of the (musical) respect that the Rock ‘industry’ still had for Fripp.

Bill Bruford earns his keep
Bill Bruford earns his keep

Bill Bruford was born in Sevenoaks, Kent on the 17th of May, 1949. His father was a vet. Whilst at school, while his friends got into pop music, Bill was into jazz. He had talent as a musician and took up the drums. In 1968, thanks to a successful set of A-level results, he went to Leeds University to study Economics and Sociology, but early in his stint, he decided to become a professional musician and left academia. He had a short spell in Savoy Brown before joining Yes. They first came to prominence when they supported Cream at their Albert Hall farewell concerts. Michael Giles watched them both at one of these concerts, and reckoned Yes were far superior. Bruford admitted that Yes aspired to what Crimson was doing, regarding “In the Wake of Poseidon” as some sort of artistic target.

John Wetton
John Wetton

Fripp now needed a bass player, but it has to be said that his one and only candidate was John Wetton. Their paths had crossed many times over the past 10 years and he thought about recruiting Wetton to King Crimson within the last year. Bruford and Fripp had a long talk about the possibility of Wetton joining. In later conversations, they admitted that they saw nothing but individual and mutual benefits in all three working together.

John Wetton was born in Derby in the East Midlands of England on the 12th of June 1949. He became musically minded thanks to his elder brother who was a church organist. In 1961, the Wetton family transplanted to Bournemouth, where John involved himself with the local R’n’B scene. Along the way, he met Richard Palmer-James and joined his band, simply called Palmer James. When that band broke up, Palmer-James joined Supertramp on guitar, appearing on their first album. Wetton linked up with former Coliseum guitarist James Litherland to form Mogul Thrash. They recorded one album and released a number of singles, one of which was a great success – in Belgium! The band collapsed due to overwhelming heavy indifference and contractual problems.

Jamie Muir
Jamie Muir on Saw and Bow

Wetton managed to relieve himself of these problems and, after a 2-month stay in the USA, joined Family, replacing John “Willy” Weider, on bass and violin. It was while he was with Family when Fripp contacted him. Wetton agreed to join Crimson.

Over the years, Fripp had been in regular contact with Melody Maker journalist Richard Williams, inviting him to the Fulham Palace Café several times, giving him exclusive previews of finished albums and granting him interviews. Williams had been championing an experimental free-form jazz band called Boris, but they broke up, due to lack of patronage. He suggested to Fripp that he check out the drummer and percussionist, one Jamie Muir. Fripp duly turned up at Muir’s place and was impressed with what he heard. He invited Muir to join, and Muir accepted.

At about the same time, Fripp received word from EG that there was a band rehearsing in the basement of the Fulham Palace Café, which Crimson had now vacated. The band was called Waves, which featured a violinist called David Cross. Fripp liked what he saw and asked Cross to come to a rehearsal session at Covent Garden. This put Cross in a very difficult position, as, at the same time as the rehearsal, he was due to attend the funeral of his grandfather at his home town of Plymouth. He went to the rehearsal and was subsequently asked to join the band.

David Cross
David Cross

Some sources say that Fripp, Wetton and Bruford were rehearsing at a studio in Ealing, west London. During a break, one of them wandered to the adjoining studio and witnessed Cross practising. Cross’ reminiscences are slightly different. He maintains he went to the EG offices in Kings Road, Chelsea, to negotiate a record deal. He, apparently, bumped into Fripp leaving them. The only outstanding issue was a singer. Muir was in favour of bringing in a dedicated vocalist, but he was vehemently opposed by Wetton. Fripp asked Wetton if he fancied being vocalist, to which Wetton said yes. The five of them deduced that they considered themselves as adequate music writers, but were extremely limited in the lyric-producing department. Wetton suggested his old boss Richard Palmer-James (then living in Germany), with whom Fripp was also acquainted. The music press later ‘agreed’ that he didn’t improve much on Peter Sinfield. For some time, some parts of the music press (e.g. Melody Maker and the NME) got Palmer-James Christian name wrong1, and credited him as ROBERT Palmer-James. It is believed that a faulty press handout from EG Management was responsible for this error.

Crimson, Mk3
Crimson, Mk3 – (l – r) Muir, Bruford, Fripp, Cross, Wetton

Prior to full-scale rehearsals, Fripp was producing Robert Wyatt’s band, Matching Mole’s second album. Brian Eno had been drafted in to provide some VCS3 synthesiser work to one of the tracks and found an immediate rapport with Fripp. Eno told Fripp of some experiments he was working on. He was feeding back music at a reduced volume via a delay onto a loop of tape. Fripp wanted to know more, so Eno invited him to his home studio in Maida Vale, North London. Fripp was so smitten with the results that, in early September 1972, Fripp and Eno recorded “The Heavenly Music Corporation”. Although not released on disc for another 14 months (as one side of the “No Pussyfooting” album), it made its public debut as introductory music to Crimson walking onto the stage at their gigs. The techniques employed by Eno were taken by Fripp, who developed them into what he called ‘Frippertronics’, which became ‘Soundscapes’. He continues to experiment with them to this day.

Rehearsals started in Richmond, South West London in early September, and it was a trial for at least one of them. Bruford was very unfamiliar with Fripp’s working methods, as it was so different to his experiences with Yes. He was also having problems relating to Muir, due to the latter’s anarchic approach. Muir was also finding the creative process as ‘challenging’. When asked for his description of their collective output, he called it “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic”. Fripp hi-jacked this phrase for two pieces that had been created (including a piece he had recycled, which was unsuitable for the ‘Islands’ ensemble) and as the title of their next album.

Robert Fripp
Fripp, believed to have been taken at Liverpool Empire on 9/12/72

For live work, Fripp felt the need to exorcise Crimson’s musical history to some degree, and his only concession to the past would be “21st Century Schizoid Man”. However, this would be slightly modified within a year, when he re-introduced “Peace – a Theme” followed by “Cat Food” as an encore. It wasn’t considered a good choice and was later dropped. With a repertoire in place, Crimson went to The Zoom Club in Frankfurt, Germany, for a short 3-gig residency, followed by a single gig in Bremen, also in Germany, in mid-October. On their return to the UK, they played a single gig at Redcar, near Middlesborough in the North-east of England before embarking on a 27-gig tour of Britain spanning November and December 1972. They were greeted with unprecedented warmth by both fans and the press. By Crimson standards, it has to be said that this tour had the greatest showmanship, with Muir leaping around the stage dressed in animal skins, thrashing around on his array of tin pots, tubes, Chinese gongs and other percussive paraphernalia. He was, apparently, spitting blood, but he had capsules of red dye secreted in his mouth.

Fripp, taken in a French TV studio in early 1974
Fripp, taken in a French TV studio in early 1974

Early in the New Year, 1973, the band went to Command Studios to record what would become “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic”. They did try Wessex again, but it couldn’t contain both Bruford’s kit and Muir’s set-up. With a repertoire already in place, there was none of the “sitting around, waiting for inspiration” – they just laid down their current stage act. While Crimson were recording in one of Command’s studios, Peter Sinfield, with session support from former Crimson alumni, Mel Collins, was recording his solo album, “Still”, in the other. Recording of the new album was completed in early February and to counter the tensions of recording, Crimson played a couple of dates at The Marquee. The first gig went off without a hitch, but very shortly afterwards, within the space of a few hours, Jamie Muir decided to quit. Three years before, Muir had read a book about an Indian mystic, which had an intense effect upon him. Since then, Muir became interested in Buddhism and went through a number of ‘experiences’ on a regular basis. He felt that he was undergoing some sort of ‘spiritual re-birth’ that he had to run with, so he decided to quit the band then and there. Rather than talk to the rest of Crimson (and risk possible ridicule), he approached EG Management in the form of David Enthoven and Mark Fenwick. They said, in effect, “you bugger off, we’ll square it with the rest of the band”. EG then issued a statement, saying that Muir had dropped a gong on his foot and broken a toe, so he could not play at the second Marquee gig. Muir then left, without making any immediate contact with the band, on EG’s instruction. He pursued his ‘spiritual awakening’ at a Buddhist monastery near Wanlockhead in southern Scotland. Having been told by EG of Muir’s ‘accident’, Bruford was in favour of scrapping the second gig, but the rest of the band disagreed. In fact, they successfully persuaded Bruford to not only play the gig, but to take on some of Muir’s percussion tasks. Bruford relented and the gig went ahead, but as he was to say in later years, this single act made him a much better drummer. Muir, ignoring EG’s instructions, contacted Fripp several weeks later by sending him a postcard, with the phrase “All part of the rich tapestry of life, coo-eee. Love Jamie”, but it appears that he gave no indication to Fripp as to why he had left the band. Muir has since said that he DID tell Fripp he was quitting the band.

Notes

1 – If you check out the reviews on the sleeve notes of the “Starless and Bible Black” CD, you will see that this error had been perpetuated for at least 18 months!

BLACK, RED AND AMERICA

The second Marquee gig was played, but with obvious trepidation. It appears to have been a comparative success. For the vast majority of 1973, the band gigged – and they gigged hard! After a break of about a month, the band embarked on a 9-gig tour of the UK. Halfway through this tour, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” was released on the 23rd of March. The reviews were largely favourable, but more than one journalist commented (again!) that the album didn’t capture the energy of their live performances. Following almost immediately was a 9-gig tour of mainland Europe, quickly followed by TWO tours of North America. This took the band up to early July, when they returned to the UK for a break. Bruford, Wetton and Cross took a holiday, but Fripp returned to Wimborne to write some new material, “Fracture”, “Lament” and “The Night Watch” being some of the results. The main reason for this enforced session of writing was that only “Doctor Diamond” had emerged from the writing that had been done on the road.

When the band got back together, there was a sort of planning meeting. The principal gripe appeared to be a lack of new material that was being created. It is believed that none of the participants were capable of writing prolifically whilst on tour, and preferred to write by rehearsing. Fripp took this on board, which goes some way to explaining “Starless and Bible Black”. Despite this, there was more touring to do. There was a 19-date trip around North America, a short 6-gig flying visit of the UK followed by 18 dates in Europe, which took up November. Most of these gigs were recorded and held by Fripp, initially for archiving purposes. By the end of this crippling schedule, the band were utterly spent, and were grateful for the extended break.

Early in the New Year (1974), the band assembled at AIR studios (owned by Beatles producer, George Martin, now Sir George) in London’s Oxford Street1to, ostensibly, record their next album. Fripp tried something that was, for him, different. A few tracks were recorded in the normal fashion, but the majority of them were live tracks that were modified and/or overdubbed in the studio. Fripp wasn’t the first to do this, as Frank Zappa had done something similar around the time of his “Burnt Weenie Sandwich” album. Slightly more than half of the album’s running time came from a single gig at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, with other bits from Glasgow and Zurich. The entire Amsterdam gig was released retrospectively on a double CD package called “The Night Watch” in 1997. The fact that most of the tracks were live was not made public at the time – Fripp only made it known on the sleeve notes of the compilation “The Young Persons Guide to King Crimson” in 1976. The author never found out until 2003!!! The resultant album, “Starless and Bible Black” (the title coming from the first line of the poem ‘Under Milk Wood’, by Dylan Thomas) was released on the 29th of March 1974. Reviews were mixed.

The album was released midway through a 12-date tour of mainland Europe. This, in turn, was quickly followed by a 17-date tour of North America. By this time, David Cross was experiencing problems. Firstly, he was tired of touring – the endless traipsing from gig to gig, the hanging around in hotels and airports and sitting, twiddling his thumbs on the tour bus. He also felt musically detached and isolated within the band and he was being overpowered, in terms of volume, by Bruford and Wetton. Fripp could compete with them – just, but Cross couldn’t. During a second tour of Canada and the USA, taking in nearly all of June and one day in July, Fripp was beginning to agree, but with slightly different reasoning. He felt that the violin had no place within rock in general and ‘Heavy Metal’ in particular, as it couldn’t compete in terms of presence. He was in favour of ousting Cross, but he first sounded out Bruford and Wetton. Bruford wanted Cross to stay, whereas Wetton wanted him out. The decision was taken to dismiss Cross upon their return to the UK, and it would be done, despite Fripp’s vehement protests, by EG Management. However, it leaked out that when the band entered Olympic Studios in Church Road, Barnes, West London only a week after returning from the USA, EG had still NOT told Cross he was out. (Some notes in the booklet accompanying “The Great Deceiver” paint a slightly different picture. The decision was made to sack Cross, but after the final gig at New York’s Central Park, Fripp said he had pencilled in another tour of the States. Cross’ heart plummeted when he heard this and said he was leaving the band, relieving anyone the task of dismissing him.)

The initial recording of what would be the “Red” album started alarmingly. Fripp said that he would not be expressing an opinion of the music output. Bruford and Wetton put this down to Fripp having another “moody”, but it turned out to be more serious than that. Between returning to the UK and starting to record “Red”, Fripp had encountered the work of J. G. Bennett who, in turn, had been a ‘disciple’ of G. I. Gurdjieff. Fripp was going through a ‘spiritual awakening’ similar to that experienced by Jamie Muir. As Fripp kept himself to himself, Bruford and Wetton did the bulk of the work, in conjunction with engineer George Chkiantz. To add a bit of variation, and to ‘replace’ David Cross, Wetton had been socialising with ex-Crimso Ian McDonald. Wetton reckoned that the time was right for McDonald to re-join Crimson, despite the baggage that would have been brought along. Prior to being formally invited to join, McDonald acted as a sessioneer, as did former member Mel Collins. In a moment of co-operation, Fripp called in Mark Charig and Robin Miller, both of whom had contributed to previous Crimson albums. There was also an unknown and uncredited cello player, who can be heard in the middle of the title track and on the track “Starless”. It has been alleged that John Wetton publicly stated that this was an uncredited contribution by Mark Charig on a bass cello, but truth is stranger than fiction. In one of the other Olympic studios, a hired group was recording ‘muzak’ for airports, department stores and lifts. There were some Musician Union rules in place that said that you couldn’t do more than 2 hours work at this type of music. One cellist thought it was three, so he had an hour to spare. Crimson ‘borrowed’ him, but never noted his name. It is unknown if he was ever paid for his contribution! All that was known of the cellist was that he was male! (See Note 2)

“Red” was released on the 27th of September 1974, but its impact was virtually killed off when Fripp announced the ‘final’ dissolution of King Crimson. He had simply had enough. Not only that, but he had decided to take some sort of sabbatical at J. G. Bennett’s Academy at Sherborne in Gloucestershire. This was a pity, as McDonald had agreed to rejoin Crimson. The Music press gave a virtually unanimous thumbs-up to “Red”, stating that the LP had finally captured the live ‘feel’ of the band. They were also surprised that Fripp had broken up Crimson, considering the quality of “Red”, but they never knew the real reasons until much later. One cynical correspondent made the conjecture that breaking up King Crimson was a publicity stunt to boost sales of the album. He also described the band as “ ‘king Crimson” (note the apostrophe). 

Compiled and edited by messers Fripp and Wetton, “USA” was released on the 25th of April 1975. All but one track was taken from a gig at Asbury Park, New Jersey in late June 1974. There were reservations about the album by the media, the principal complaint being the lack of new material. There was only one new number and that was an improv. In the wake of the demise of Crimson, John Wetton toured with Roxy Music, before joining Uriah Heep. David Cross returned to virtual obscurity and Bill Bruford worked for Gong, Pavlov’s Dog and Genesis.

 A compilation LP, “The Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson” was issued on the 26th April 1976, which had copious notes and press cuttings from throughout the band’s lifetime that showed that for every journalist that lauded their every move, there was another who believed they had nothing in common with music.

Notes

1 – George Martin relocated AIR Studios to Hampstead, London in late 1992.

2 – In Spring 2009, Steve Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) was recruited to assist in re-mastering a number of early albums for King Crimson’s 40th anniversary. Whilst working on “Red”, a document was allegedly found, giving the initials of the cellist as “ALW”. This was (for some reason) thought to be Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s brother, Julian. However, it transpires that this was an ‘April Fool’ initiated by DGM. The author sheepishly admits to have been taken in by this hoax – hook, line, sinker and copy of Angling Times!


 UNANSWERED QUESTIONS AND QUERIES FROM THE AUTHOR

 1)  Who were Fripp’s fellow musicians in Cremation? Where any of them in any of his previous bands?

2)  In about 1999, Fripp put all of his Mellotrons up for auction, comprising (it is believed) 2 MkII’s, and 4 M400’s. Apparently, he received no “acceptable” bids, so the auction was closed, without any of these trons being disposed of. There are photos of 4 of these Trons on this site, which were/are in storage at Fripp’s house in Wiltshire, England. Fripp stated that he had no further need for Mellotrons, as he could reproduce their sounds by other means. As he has sent some of his trons to Streetly for maintenance, has anyone any clue as to why he has retained them?

 

Odds and Sods about King Crimson

1)  For nearly all gigs from 1969 – 1974, the only guitar Fripp played was his black custom Gibson Les Paul. It acquired the nickname “The Lady” or “My Lady”.

2)  For some reason, Fripp has (or had) an aversion to echo and reverb. This was revealed in an interview given by David Cross to one of the music papers of the day in (I think) 1973, and he had a reverb unit of some description. He had instructions from Fripp that it was never to be used.

3)  Mark Charig played session cornet/trumpet on “Lizard”, “Islands” and “Red”. Somehow, someone mis-spelt his name on the sleeve credits of “Red” and spelt it “Marc Charig”. It is correctly spelt as ‘Mark’ on the other two.

4)  Although not about King Crimson, there was something which indirectly involved them and it concerned Tangerine Dream. After they made their first 4 albums in Germany, Tangerine Dream signed for the nascent Virgin label and recorded the “Phaedra” album. To publicise it, Virgin commissioned artwork denoting a 12” vinyl LP that was melting, under the moniker “Music that Melts”. For further publicity purposes, they also held a press conference where the centre-piece was an actual LP that they melted. One of the assembled hacks took a closer look at the LP and noticed that the label had been stuck over an existing one. He carefully lifted the label to reveal the original LP. It was “Islands” by King Crimson.

5)  Mel Collins took apart the 2 Mellotrons that Crimson were using during a gig! According to an interview given by Boz to U.S. journalist Bill Murphy, Collins ‘borrowed’ a screwdriver and a spanner and during a gig (presumably during the last U.S. tour), partly dismantled BOTH Mellotrons. I can only assume that these were the two white ones.

6)  For the purpose of designating the various Crimson line-ups, Fripp devised a system based solely on those that toured. Using his system…

a)  Mark 1 Crimson is Fripp, Lake, Giles & McDonald,

b)  Mark 2 Crimson is Fripp, Boz, Wallace & Collins, and…

c)  Mark 3 Crimson is Fripp, Wetton, Bruford, Muir & Cross.

It is not officially recorded how this system changed when Muir left in 1973, nor how Fripp allows for the “…Poseidon” or “Lizard” line-ups. It is quite likely that he doesn’t recognise them.

7)  There is an error on the credits on King Crimson’s “B’BOOM” album. This album was very quickly released to counter an inferior and very expensive bootleg put out by an Italian outfit that went to Argentina to bootleg live concerts by 3 bands – Crimson being one of them. Crimson transplanted the credits from “THRAK”, including their layout directly onto those of “B’BOOM. As a result, Mellotron is credited on “B’BOOM” as being played by Fripp. Fripp only once used Mellotron after 1974, and that was on “THRAK”. Therefore, there is NO Mellotron on “B’BOOM”. There is a similar situation for the “Live at Summit Studios” album.

8)  On the original vinyl version of the “In the Wake of Poseidon” album, the track immediately preceding “Cat Food” is not acknowledged, let alone credited. It was “recognised” by Fripp when it received a full credit on “A Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson” and given the title “Peace – a Theme”. The CD version of “In the Wake…” also gives the piece the same title.

9)  At the 1969 Plumpton Festival, King Crimson committed a faux pas (that’s Latin for ‘fuck-up’)! Shortly before the gig, they dispensed with their agent in favour of someone else. The original agent were also the organisers of the Plumpton Festival, and they retaliated by putting Crimson into a small marquee, thus depriving over a thousand fans who could hear the band, but not see them.

10)  The ‘spiritual’ home of King Crimson is acknowledged to be the basement of 193, Fulham Palace Road, London, which (from early 1969 to late 1971) was called the “Fulham Palace Café” and was run by a couple of Greek brothers. At the time of writing, it’s now a Greek-Cypriot restaurant-cum-takeaway. It is on the corner with Averill Street.

11)  The photograph on the cover of “Live in Denver, CO” is the same as that for the download for “StanleyWarnerTheatre, Pittsburgh”.

12)  David Enthoven (the E in EG Management) left EG in 1977 However, in the sleevenotes of the “Beat” CD, there is a reprint of a press release advertising the “Beat” album. This press release is dated 3rd June 1982. At the heading of this release is a list of the directors of EG, consisting of Messers Fenwick, Alder and Enthoven.

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