Saturday, October 10, 2009

Happy birthday King Crimson

It is 40 years since King Crimson’s debut album In the Court of the Crimson King was released. It still sounds amazing. The opening track, “21st Schizoid Man”, probably invented heavy metal. The title track was spooky as. Other pieces were delicate pastorals with lots of flute and acoustic guitar (“I Talk to the Wind”) or doomy cinematic epics of vast dynamic range (“Epitaph’). The Mellotron was a big feature throughout.

Maybe it helped to have four great players – guitarist Robert Fripp (that’s him on David Bowie’s “Heroes” and loads of Peter Gabriel albums), sax and keyboard player Ian McDonald (later of Foreigner), bass player and singer Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and jazzy drummer Mike Giles. Boy, they could play.

This version of the band broke up when they toured the US to support the album – apart from the usual personal problems, the music was so dark that they couldn’t all handle it. But this one album set a bar so high that no subsequent prog rock album ever reached it again.

Amazingly, King Crimson is still a functioning unit though with a new cast alongside Fripp. Even more amazingly, their music in the 21st century is still as genre-bending and challenging as their early stuff was in the 60s. Unlike that of any of their contemporaries. Fancy a new Stones album, anyone?

I can’t find any YouTube clips of that first edition of the band, so that one above is by a good later one, with Adrian Belew on guitar (Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads), Tony Levin on bass (Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Seal – more good music than you’d think humanly possible) and Bill Bruford (Yes and jazz) on drums. The song is from this unit’s first album Discipline and is called Elephant Talk. Possibly because Belew can make his guitar sound like an elephant. Bit of Fane Flaws in the performance too, if you ask me. The famously serious Fripp smiles at 1:35, and again later at 2:25. This is probably late 1981, so 28 years ago.

And here they are playing “Frame by Frame” on The Old Grey Whistle Test about that time. Which is mostly 7/4.

Any version of the band is worth hearing but this one was followed by an even better one IMHO, a double duo – two guitars, two basses/Sticks and two drums. Again there are no YouTube visual clips but this track from the live double album B’Boom will give you an idea of the power of the double power trio. Play it loud.


Chad Taylor said...

Always in two minds about Adrian Belew - disliked Elephantology but loved Beat ('Neil and Jack and Me') but you can draw a straight line from Frame by Frame to Pearl Jam and and even Chris Cornell's vocal style.

Do you know Fripp's League Of Gentlemen LP? Barry Adamson and Sara Lee (she'd just come off The Gang of Four). Makes Talking Heads look paunchy.

Chris Bell said...

Picture the audition:

RF: "Mr Belew, what do you do?"
AB: "I can make my guitar sound like an elephant."
RF: "We'll call you. Next!"

Of course he didn't need to audition. He also does a mean rhinoceros (as demonstrated on his 1980s solo album 'Lone Rhino', which was very good.)

I was fortunate enough to see the Belew/Levin/Fripp/Bruford line-up around the time of 'Discipline' in a small theatre in Lower Regent Street or Haymarket in London. The Lounge Lizards were support. It was one of the best gigs I've ever seen.

As Chad says, the League of Gentlemen were/are also excellent, and somewhat in the vein of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra - at least as far as cyclic structure and dynamics of the compositions was concerned.

Stephen Stratford said...

"Do you know Fripp's League Of Gentlemen?"

Not really, have just heard a couple of tracks. Liked them though - very lean and dancy. With hindsight you can hear how Fripp got to the Discipline/Beat band from the earlier versions of KC.

Chad Taylor said...

If we are wandering into the girlfriendless wastes of prog may I also nominate Fripp's 'Exposure' as being pretty kick-ass for 'You burn me up I'm a cigarette' feat. Daryl Hall.

Then he married Toyah Wilcox.

Stephen Stratford said...

Re "Exposure' - absolutely. Also Daryl Hall on "North Star", "Here comes the flood" with Peter Gabriel and the title of the song "I may not have had enough of me but I've had enough of you". Plus the photo of Mr Fripp on p6 of the booklet of the remastrered version showing that sir definitely dresses to the left.

And at least he never got Toyah into the band to be Linda to his Paul.

Chad Taylor said...

'Here comes the flood' is from an earlier Gabriel LP tho, right? The Exposure arrangement is better.

Wings without Linda would be salad without the dressing. Srsly. That band was so fucking all over the place. Sure, there's the live recording of her singing flat but there are as many of Joe Strummer et al sounding twice (half?) as toneless and I don't recall them being sent off.

I alas do not have the remastererered version, only the cassette (somewhere) that I bought for £1.99 at HMV. I'm going for that haircut nowadays.

Doesn't everyone dress to the left? I always forget to ask.