INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Record Collector JULY 2019 - by Sid Smith
"OUR AIM THEN AND NOW? TO BE THE BEST BAND IN THE WORLD"
With their 1969 debut album, King Crimson had a dramatic impact on the UK's burgeoning underground rock scene: Jimi Hendrix was stunned, Pete Townsend declared its brilliance in a promotional advert, and unveiling it at Hyde Park the band almost blew The Stones offstage.
Fifty years on, the effects of the "uncanny masterpiece" are still being felt while a rewired Crimson remain a byword for progression. Record Collector speaks to KC ideologue Robert Fripp and celebrates the group Then and Now. Schizoid fan: Sid Smith
TOMORROW AND TOMORROW
May 2019: King Crimson are hard at work in a large rehearsal facility near Bedford, ahead of a tour that will see the band performing in London, across Europe and in North and South America. This will be no ordinary series of concerts but a celebratory lap of honour to mark the band's fiftieth year and one in which they're booked in to play in such decidedly un-Crimson locations as the stage at Brazil's Rock In Rio festival, reputedly one of the largest festivals on the planet.
The rehearsals are efficient and business-like. Each player in the eight-strong team makes adjustments to settings and sounds on their various instruments. The newest recruit, saxophonist Theo Travis, located behind a keyboard rig, sits in for regular Mellotronist and sonic fairy-duster. Bill Rieflin, who is on leave from the band in order to attend to family matters. Powered by the three-drummer set-up featuring Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison, saxophonist Mel Collins, bassist Tony Levin, guitarist and vocalist Jakko Jakszyk, and new boy Travis, wait for mainman Robert Fripp's nod and they're off. The ensemble rumble through some new additions to the repertoire - which already clocks in at over three hours of available music - that have to be ready to go in case Fripp decides to include them on the setlist. Travis' surprise addition to the line-up was announced at a London press conference hosted by Fripp on April 6. As Travis & Fripp, specialising in ethereal but powerful ambient soundscaping between sax, flutes, and guitar, the pair had been working together since 2007, so Travis' appearance in the Crimson backline, albeit as a keyboardist rather than a saxophonist, is not entirely out-of-the-blue.
What is unforeseen, however, is the decision to bring to an end Travis' brief spell in the court of King Crimson. After just three days, and with his customary directness. Fripp moved to tell his friend his time in Crimson was over. "Theo was first choice as Bill Rieflin's dep for 2019 touring. But not every idea works out, even good ideas among excellent musicians - no blame! - and should in no way be considered any form of failure on Theo's part," explained Fripp. "Theo's response was with the decency, straightforwardness and graciousness that I know in him. I also mentioned to Theo that I do not see this as the end of our professional work together, merely this particular aspect of it. King Crimson decided, in Bill Rieflin's absence, to proceed as a Seven-Headed Beast. The decision was taken unanimously by all Crims. Tacitly, we accepted: regardless of the quality of player depping for Bill, simply, Bill is irreplaceable. It's not the notes that are played, it's the Billness of Bill that Master Rieflin brings to the group."
For his part, though obviously disappointed, Travis accepted the decision with equanimity, noting that, "Robert and Bill are very close both musically and personally and I understand and respect the decision. The rehearsals I attended were very enjoyable and the band sounds great. I particularly enjoyed getting to know Mel Collins a bit better and hearing his wonderful stories and fabulous sax- and-flute-playing."
As Fripp notes: "So, a surprise for all of us. But - hey! - this is King Crimson. The good news: Theo is out and stomping with Soft Machine; and King Crimson is beginning again, again."
1969 AND ALL THAT
"Beginning again" is something King Crimson base been doing on a regular basis since their dramatic arrival on the music scene in 1969. Over the intervening fifty years, King Crimson have been reinvented both in terms of their musical direction and the players brought together to bring that material to life - no fewer than nine times, according to Fripp. The differences in sound and approach from album to album have been marked, especially in the '70s, following the break-up of the original band while on tour in the US in 1969, following the October release of In The Court Of The Crimson King.
That album was the culmination of several months of hectic activity, which saw a bunch of completely unknown musicians come together to create their own distinctive sound and, in a matter of weeks, become one of the most talked-about bands of the year among industry observers.
So just who were these characters?
Michael Giles and Robert Fripp had joined forces with Peter Giles to record The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles & Fripp for Deram in 1968, selling a worldwide total of six hundred copies. Greg Lake, a big fish guitarist in the small pond of the West Country music scene, bided his time as a no-hit wonder with a couple of singles under his belt with The Shame and The Shy Limbs. Ending '68 as an ex-member of The Gods, when his old pal Fripp called, offering him a job as a bassist and vocalist, he jumped at the chance. Multi-instrumentalist sax and woodwind player Ian McDonald had only just returned to the UK in mid-'68 after a long stint in the army. Teaming up with ex-Fairport Convention vocalist Judy Dyble, they dallied with Giles, Giles & Fripp until Dyble moved on and McDonald brought in his mate, hippie poet Peter Sinfield, who contributed lyrics and lashed together a home-made light show from tin foil and plywood, among other things.
From the nascent King Crimson's first formal rehearsal on January 13, '69, in the basement of a cafe on London's Fulham Palace Rood, their razor-sharp playing and strobe-heavy light show caused a flurry of interest from the music industry and several record companies wanted them to sign on the dotted line. Meanwhile, the chemistry between what Fripp would later call "these unlikely characters" resulted in a standard of musicianship that caused bands such as The Moody Blues, Yes, a young Steve Hackett and other professional outfits who saw them around London to drop their jaws in disbelief. Even Jimi Hendrix was witnessed jumping around to the group at The Marquee, loudly declaring them to be "the best band in the world."
Their appearance supporting The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park on July 5 in front of six-hundred-and-fifty-thousand people garnered several standing ovations and catapulted Crimson from cult favourites to "band-most-likely-to" status overnight. Initial sessions with Moody Blues producer Tony Clarke at Wessex Studios didn't work out, resulting in the band deciding to fire Clarke and produce their first album themselves. Recorded in between gigs in London and the provinces, the album was completed at around 8.30 on the morning of August 21, with Fripp delivering a solo in one take.
Though not a concept album as such, at Fripp's suggestion it was subtitled An Observation By King Crimson, lending the LP's five songs a thematic unity. Released in October '69, The Who's Pete Townshend waxed lyrical in a half-page advert taken out in the music press; his verdict that it was "an uncanny masterpiece" helped cement the band's reputation. From absolutely nowhere, and a little under nine months after they first formed, King Crimson, guided by EG Management, went straight into the Top 5 of the UK album charts and stood triumphantly in the US Top 20.
Part of the impact wax due to the sleeve art, courtesy of Sinfield's friend, ex-art student Barry Godber. It had an arresting quality that caused those passing record shops to stop and stare; rarely had an album design so accurately reflected listeners' shock-and-awe reaction to the extraordinary music. Even the advent of the CD and the jewel-case format did little to dilute the force of its iconic power. King Crimson's innate virtuosity, thoughtfully woven into the fabric of the album;s intricate arrangements, had a widescreen scale and scope which other bands of the era, and well beyond, could only aspire to.
AFTER: THE FLOOD
In The Court Of The Crimson King is widely regarded as the "ground zero" progressive rock album - the first mature expression of a form that took a conscious and decisive break from the blues-derived rock of the late '60s underground in order to forge a distinctive vocabulary all its own.
Such a statement is inevitably open to vigorous debate, as a visit to any one of the internet's music forums will tell you. There, you'll find fans indulging in a prog punch-up, arguing about whether their favourite act or album deserves that particular crown. Indisputably, however, In The Court Of The Crimson King stands out from the crowd, arriving seemingly fully-formed.
A simple compare-and-contrast with other prog debut contenders bears this out. Dominated by an earthy blues feel that showcased Mick Abrahams' ebullient lead guitar and lan Anderson's provocative, zesty flute, Jethro Tull's This Was (1968) gives little hint as to how Tull would turn out. Anderson's development as a formidable and sophisticated songwriter would ultimately begin with 1969's Stand Up, recorded, coincidently, at Morgan Studios at the same time that members of Crimson were checking out the studio's facilities. The self-titled debut by Yes, released in the summer of 1969, is wreathed in the multi-coloured trappings of psychedelia and West Coast-inspired harmonies. With some material carried over from pre-Yes ventures and suitably trippy cover versions of tracks from The Beatles and The Byrds, just before its release, members of the band watched King Crimson performing, leaving them jaw-dropped, Jon Anderson advising his bandmates that they really had to up their game. It wouldn't be until 1971's The Yes Album and Steve Howe's arrival that the band really got their prog-rock groove on.
Discounting the introspective juvenilia of 1969's From Genesis To Revelation, Genesis' real first LP, Trespass (1970), marks the band's first proper step towards global stardom. Reputedly keeping a copy of In The Court Of The Crimson King's sleeve pinned to the band's rehearsal-space wall for inspiration, they would also buy their first Mellotron from King Crimson's surplus stock. As beguiling as Trespass' haunting pastoralism and quirky rock might be, its not until 1971's Nursery Cryme - and the input of new recruits. Steve Hackett and Phil Collins - that they really begin to hit their stride.
Though 1969's The Aerosol Grey Machine was released under the banner of Van Der Graaf Generator, it was technically and contractually a Peter Hammill solo record. Nevertheless, Hammill's distinctive vocals and idiosyncratic writing are already in place. However, their sound is not properly honed until 1970's The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other, which includes a fleeting nod to 21st Century Schizoid Man via David Jackson's rasping flute solo on After The Flood.
With ELP, Greg Lake finally found a home for Lucky Man, a song which King Crimson originally played in rehearsals but quickly rejected. Whatever it might lack in terms of subtlety, ELP's 1970 debut showcases a heady mix of virtuosity and showmanship that would become the blueprint for their subsequent career. Their special blend of technical facility and new technology launched ELP into the commercial stratosphere, where their bluesy vamping and classical-infused rocking-out wowed crowds, even if, in time, they would become a byword for excess.
With the implosion of the band at the end of their US tour, In The Court Of The Crimson King could well have been the last will and testament of a band who seemingly flew too close to the sun and paid the price, casting them as a glorious one-hit wonder in the progressive music firmament. Yet thanks to the steely determination of Fripp and lyricist Sinfield, the name was kept alive as the pair pulled together guest spots from Greg Lake - then still waiting for Keith Emerson to fulfil his obligations with The Nice - and Michael Giles, who was happy to return to Crimson as a session player. Released in the spring of 1970, second album In The Wake Of Poseidon contained some startling moments, and though it aped the grandiose structure of its predecessor, it lacked the same precision-guided impact, even if it did maintain Crimson's momentum.
Also released in 1970 was third album, Lizard, but this time with a different retinue of Crimson courtiers pushing heavily towards a frenetic, jazzy intensity, brought about in no small measure by Fripp co-opting pianist Keith Tippett and members of his horn section. Islands (1971) witnessed the first stable live lineup since 1969, featuring Mel Collins, bassist Boz Burrell and drummer Ian Wallace. Almost pastoral in comparison to its precursors, only the metal-edged ferocity of Fripp's guitar solo during Sailor's Tale hinted at what was to come in 1972, when the roster of players changed once again, with Fripp head-hunting drummer Bill Bruford from Yes, then just finished recording Close To The Edge, and Family's bassist, John Wetton. Joining them was violinist David Cross and avant-garde percussionist and future Tibetan monk, Jamie Muir. Larks' Tongues In Aspic (1973), though potent and signposting a decisive break with the past, didn't entirely capture the full extent of the monstrous, magical energies the quintet were capable of invoking in concert; still, it marked out new, bold territories for Crimson to explore. With Muir quitting to follow a life in spiritual retreat, the remaining quartet distilled and refined their near-telepathic improvisations with 1973's Starless And Bible Black, and King Crimson's final studio album of the decade, 1974's Red. What made Fripp's decision to break up the band so astonishing to observers and group members alike was that they seemed poised to finally break through in the US and fulfil the commercial promise of In The Court Of The Crimson King, their most commercially successful album both then and now.
FRIPP IT UP AND START AGAIN
In 2019, just as he did in 1969, Fripp onstage with King Crimson cuts a remote and austere figure, his face impassive and unmoving as his fingers clinically navigate the freeboard to produce runs that can be fiendishly complex, gut-wrenchingly plaintive or just plain old, hairy-arsed rockin' - and sometimes all of the above in one song. His cool, professorial demeanour is almost as legendary as his playing.
Offstage, however, he's the polar opposite. Courteous, attentive, and with a wickedly dry sense of humour, he's quick to laugh. In formal settings, such as answering questions about the whys and wherefores of King Crimson, several seconds of silence will tick by before he delivers his reply, often preceded by a heavy sigh. "The quality of the question determines the quality of the answer," he'll often say.
I've been asking Fripp questions in an informal and formal capacity since 1972, when I first encountered him at the stage door of Newcastle's Odeon Cinema after having my brain cells rearranged by the Larks' Tongues In Aspic line-up. Since then, whether at his home or in hotel lobbies, on tour buses or at press conferences - such as the one he gave in London in April at London's October Gallery, where he spoke for four hours - what come through loud and clear are Fripp's passion and humility when he talks about the act of making music and the intensity and power with which it has touched his life and some of those he has worked with. When he reflects on the breath taking speed at which King Crimson travelled in their first six years of existence, the sense of awe, wonder and undimmed emotion are discernible in his voice and eyes, which on occasion brim with tears.
"One of the prime principles of King Crimson's raison d'etre was progress; moving forward," he recently told this writer, during a typically blisteringly erudite encounter, albeit one prone to ludic digressions. "What was important was to honour the spirit but not the form; you honour the spirit, not the letter, of the law. Similarly, with the creative and musical impulse. For the '69 Crimson, the creative explosion was utterly remarkable, and anyone that got near the band came into a world where that creative power was present. This includes the people in the band, the management, the record company, [journalist and Island Records publicist] BP Fallon, and all these characters including The Moody Blues - 'blown away' were the words that might have been used at the time. This was a remarkable creative explosion that happened despite the people involved and not because of them. Now, its very difficult to argue for the notion of a benevolent creative impulse that so wishes to give itself away in the world that it sometimes calls upon unlikely characters to give it voice, and unlikely characters to give it cars. Nonetheless, I suggest that it's true. The difficulty after the event, when the juice seems to be in abeyance, or the good fairy no longer seems to bend over and whisper in the ear, is, 'What do I do now? Where does it come from? Where did it go?' In other words, we're confronted with the poverty and inadequacy of our nature; or, as I would put it, that is exactly the situation when the muse is not leaning over and taking us into its confidence. At the time, the explosion was such that it carried everything before it. It changed not long after Hyde Park."
Fripp is referring here to Crimson's mindblowing Stones support slot in July '69. "Any group has to have a common aim," he continues. "The '69 band's common aim was to be the best band in the world. Not the most successful; not the most famous. And while you share that aim and that is your primary focus, together things might happen. To begin with, the focus and commitment of all the players and probably Peter Sinfield, was completely on this. Then the success and the explosion; and for those who were more interested in women or a girlfriend, the attention moved a little and the focus on King Crimson began to disperse within the band, perhaps immediately after Hyde Park. But at the moment, the set up was so strong it kept everything moving until it fell apart in the December of that year. Would we have sat and articulated in 1969 the view that a core principle is that we continue to progress? Well, Michael Giles was probably the closest to articulating it, and for him it would have been: attitude. That's the word he would've used - whether you had the right attitude. It would have been, 'Were you a hairy or were you a straight?' If you were a hairy, well, of course, you keep things moving. If you were straight, well, of course, you would seek to say, 'Now we know how this is going to be successful, lets stay with this.' In terms of my conversations with Michael, we may not have used the words, but we could have said, 'Yeah, we're going to keep moving.' So was that part of the band's statement of aims? Yes, probably, though it may not have been articulated."
That desire to keep things moving forward led Fripp to further reinvent King Crimson, who, between 1981 and 1984 recorded three albums, of which the first, Discipline, was the most influential. This line-up featured a returning Bill Bruford, veteran session bassist and Peter Gabriel band member, Tony Levin, and ex-Zappa/Bowie guitarist and Talking Heads sideman, Adrian Belew, whose onstage energy and penchant for coaxing exotic animal sounds from his guitar all gave a decidedly post-punk/new wave pep to pointillistic gamelan rock sound Fripp had devised.
Following a gap of seven years, Fripp reanimated King Crimson, adding guitarist Trey Gunn and ex-Mr Mister drummer Pat Mastelotto to the '80s quartet. Released to critical acclaim, 1995's THRAK contained bulldozing riffs, hook-laden choruses and turbulent squalls of dark improvisation. Downsizing from the "double trio" to the "double duo" after the departure of Bruford and Levin, KC issued 2000's The ConstruKction Of Light and 2003's The Power To Believe. Featuring their trademark control of dynamics and fearless playing, King Crimson's thirteenth and, to date, last studio album is a masterclass of tension and release. Beset by ongoing disputes with the record industry, in 2010 Fripp announced he had retired from public performing.
Yet, somehow, he couldn't let go of King Crimson, or perhaps King Crimson itself wouldn't let go of him. His announcement in 2013 that a new seven-piece line-up would be taking to the stage again the following year was met with incredulity from fans who'd assumed they'd seen the last of live Crimson back in 2008 when they briefly came together for a handful of live dates with Porcupine Tree's Gavin Harrison added as a second drummer.
Since 2014, one of the defining characteristics of the band has been its ability to move at will to revisit tracks and albums that had for years been deliberately avoided. With a handful of notable exceptions such as 21st Century Schizoid Man, Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part II and Red, from the '80s through to the early 00s King Crimson eschewed material from the '60s or '70s. This was due in part to temperament, plus a desire to put some clear water between the old world and the new sonic territories Crimson sough to explore.
As Fripp explains, with coruscating frankness, "In 1981, it was impossible to play very much of the material from the earlier band because we were seen as prog rock dinosaurs set to bum you out. In terms of the audiences of the time the music would have been perceived as historic and out-of-date. Here, fifty years later, we've moved outside fashion. There are generations of music, musicians and audiences. It shifts in a major way about every seven years. For example, when was the birth of rock'n'roll? What preceded Elvis? I'd say Muddy Waters and electricity. So, what followed Elvis? The next major generation: The Beatles. What followed that next generation? Underground rock. And then it moved to art rock, then it really went downhill [laughs]. In the '90s it was called 'prog' and then it was called..." He groans loudly in mock-despair, casting back to the early '80s Crimson. "The succeeding generation looks on the preceding generation as old hat... Playing to post-punk and new wave audiences in 1981, Bolero is really not going to go down a storm. CirKus? No, I don't think so. Cadence And Cascade? You have to be joking! So, an entirely new repertoire was needed."
Right now, that means drawing upon a potential setlist that includes fifty songs rehearsed by the new band, which visits all the major chapters of Crimson history. Aside from the shock of having a seven-piece lineup with three drummers at the front of the stage, when King Crimson returned to active service in 2014 there was the thrill of hearing the hand play music that had, in some cases, not been played for over forty years. From their groundbreaking 1969 debut through to The Power To Believe and around forty-five minutes of brand new material evolving in rehearsals and tested out on the road, these completely reimagined classic Crimson tracks ("Regardless of when they were written," as Fripp notes) felt paradoxically innovative.
"What is different about this incarnation of King Crimson? Fripp ponders the question. "Musically, this is the first King Crimson that has embraced the entire repertoire. It's the first King Crimson that has had the capacity to actually do that. What is different about the musicians in this King Crimson? Well, the first is that there's a lot more of them," he laughs. The players in the later iterations of Crimson, from the '80s through the "double duo" that made The Power To Believe, couldn't play the music played by the earlier incarnations of the band. "And neither should they," he affirms, "Because it's not part of who they are."
As for the present line-up, they "don't get in the way of what they're playing and they don't get very much in the way of themselves or each other. It's a remarkable band to be in."
Fifty years after the release of In The Court Of The Crimson King, still regarded as one of the cornerstones of progressive music, the challenge for this King Crimson is to take the music produced over the last live decades and present it to a new audience, or what he calls "innocent ears." It's of greater interest to Fripp that King Crimson should be heard and seen, "Free from the weight of received opinion and the baggage of expectation, than that KC are actually liked. So, part of our approach for 2019 is to perform in spaces and events that we often decline, such as large open-air festivals and venues."
Fripp doesn't worry too much that the predominantly younger audiences attending these outdoor arenas might not be familiar with the band's long and occasionally controversial history. It's the opportunity for them to connect to the music itself, regardless of the age of the players onstage, who are largely what Fripp smilingly refers to as "post-mature".
He cites his own experience of one generation of players witnessing another when he and the members of the Majestic Hotel dance hand, with whom he worked when he was eighteen years old, went to see the Duke Ellington Orchestra at Bournemouth's Winter Garden in 1965. Duke was in his mid-sixties and black - neither fact mattered to the young Fripp.
"Duke was free of any ethnicity or class, and he was 'young', and it was astonishing," he declares. "Although I'm not putting King Crimson on a par with Duke Ellington and his orchestra, I'm hoping that young people can come and see us and hear the music, and that it has the same charge for them that Duke had for me."
King Crimson shouldn't be measured in terms of album sales, but in terms of their impact and legacy. With barely any coverage in the mainstream media, their stock has incrementally risen. They're constantly being cited either as an influence or a go-to comparison when assessing the quality of a new artist. Musicians as diverse as Radiohead, Mars Volta, Nirvana, St Vincent, Nick Cave, Mark Hollis, Sieve Vai, Tool, The Unthanks, Björk, Phil Collins, Porcupine Tree, Henry Rollins, Rush, Weyes Blood, and more, have all pricked up their ears and taken notice of Crimson's output.
While they remain a relatively niche "underground" act, the music of King Crimson has seeped into popular consciousness. Cover versions of 21st Century Schizoid Man - including Kanye West's sampling of it on Power from 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - are too numerous to mention. Doves' 2002 repurposing of Moonchild as M62 Song and Craig Armstrong's orchestral setting of Starless from 2002's As If To Nothing took Crimson to different ears. On a more intimate scale, singers as diverse as jazz vocalist Kurt Elling and k.d. lang both settled upon sensitive renditions of Matte Kudasai. In movies, Crimson's music has made dramatic appearances (Buffalo 66, Children Of Men and, most recently, Mandy). A video of a performance of Starless from a Japanese tour in 2015 has notched up seven million views on YouTube, and the appearance of their thirteen studio albums on various streaming services in 2019 has added to the sense of momentum: this is King Crimson's moment.
Will that forward-motion continue after this fiftieth-anniversary tour? Fripp sounds enthusiastic while remaining ambiguous. With a twinkle in his eye, he notes, "What happens after 2019 is currently undecided. 'Currently undecided' covers the spectrum of possibilities and should be viewed positively: wonderful things can happen! But we don't yet know how wonderful."
King Crimson tour Europe in June and July. A deluxe fiftieth anniversary box set of In The Court Of The Crimson King is due for release on October 10. The updated version of Sid Smith's biography In The Court Of King Crimson is published later this year.
"WE HAD FAME THRUST UPON US"
Drummer Michael Giles from his home near Bath, on life inside Crimson
"We don't like the term 'progressive rock', but the original Crimson really were progressive. We were pushing the boundaries of rock music. I think In The Court Of The Crimson King remains popular today because it stood alone. We were drawing on classical, folk, rock, jazz and improvisation influences and bringing them all together in one place. I think it was quite broad, whereas most bands at the time, their area of music was narrower. We wanted to explore.
Ian McDonald laid down a really good compositional basis for a lot of what we did. Most of the things were written by him with Pete [Sinfield| and then we all joined in after they presented the basic pieces. When it came to recording the first LP we were working with Tony Clarke. The drum sound that the engineers got at Morgan Studios, where we were first working, was a real, raw, proper drum sound. It wasn't compressed or messed-about-with; it was lovely. I wasn't impressed with the subsequent sound we got after we moved to Wessex Studios, the one on the finished record. People tell me the drumming on that album was influential. Well, I couldn't say if it was or not, but its nice to know your work is appreciated.
A lot of people have said the Moonchild improvisation on side two of In The Court Of The Crimson King was too long. I don't agree. You play the time in which you're living and breathing and the space which you occupy with your fellow players and you just see what happens. I think Robert is exactly right when he talks about the music playing us and not the other way round. Spontaneous musicians are conduits for all that unknown music in the universe waiting to be heard. We bring it down to the ground rather like a lightning conductor going down the side of a building. I refer to this process as reception, transformation and then transmission: you transmit it out to others. When it happens, it magic.
The speed at which Crimson travelled in that first year was quite amazing. Within nine months we went from nothing to being known around the world. It was phenomenal. It was so fast that nobody knew quite how to handle it. Well, I didn't. Success breeds its own problems. Some people seek fame and others have fame thrust upon them and I think that's what happened with King Crimson: we had fame thrust upon us. We were just going about our business making the best music we could and then it just took off. We weren't aiming for fame - well, I wasn't anyway. It's a lovely way of earning a living, making music. It's one of the dream jobs: to be reasonably paid and reasonably well-known, without any mega-fame. That ought to be enough.
After Ian and I left King Crimson, Greg lake asked me to join what he was doing with Keith Emerson. I suppose it would have been called Emerson, Lake & Giles. But I didn't want to go on the road and live that life. I don't like living out of a suitcase and spending twelve hours a day hanging around and travelling for the sake of two hours onstage. There are thousands of film stars, music people, sports people who spend most of their time and energy travelling and staying in hotels. I'm just one of those people not suited to it.
When I formed the 21st Century Schizoid Band in 2002 [featuring Ian McDonald, Mel Collins and future Crim, Jakko Jakszyk], I wasn't surprised by revisiting anything from the first album because that original music was so part of my being that I just slipped back into it. Everybody wanted to copy the original almost to the letter, so there was no creative freedom to alter it or develop it, which is what Robert has been doing over the last two or three years with the latest King Crimson. He has stretched the originals and done slightly different things with it."
"I WAS THINKING FIFTY YEARS AHEAD"
Saxophonist Ian McDonald, now living in New York, on the legacy of Crimson King
"King Crimson has this dark image but we had a lot of fun onstage. We used to enjoy blowing the audiences away, especially coming on with Schizoid Man, with the strobe lights and all the rest of it. The bootleg recordings that exist of the band are pretty primitive in terms of their quality but you can hear the music coming through. We were simply playing in the moment. The word that comes to mind for me is 'trust': trusting each other and knowing that you could go off anywhere and the others would follow and support you. Actually, we trusted each other so much that sometimes we wouldn't go where another player went [laughs] - we would deliberately go somewhere else. The fearlessness, dynamics and musicality of that first band were amazing.
When it came to making the first album, we worked with Tony Clarke. We tried to make it work but, as good as those albums he produced with The Moody Blues undoubtedly sounded, we didn't want to sound like that. After a few days we basically said, 'Thanks, you've been great, but we want to do this ourselves.' I ended up leading the production of the album. It was just one of those things that fell into place.
All the while in the studio when we were recording the album I was thinking, 'Will I still want to listen to this in fifty years' time?' So, part of me was thinking fifty years ahead, if you like. But we were also very much in the moment. We didn't really have time to talk about what we were doing. We put down Schizoid Man in one take: it was actually the last track we recorded. We didn't even have time to say, 'Wow, that was amazing,' because we were so pressed for time and budget that we just had to keep moving.
You have to believe that you're the best thing since sliced bread. If you don't believe that then there's no point in doing what you're doing. You have to believe that you're the best in the world - and in our case we actually were [laughs], if only for a brief moment. I didn't really know it at the time and that links up to the fact that I left the band, not realising that we were one of the best - if not the best - bands around. That's why it was such a big deal that I left and Mike Giles left with me. We were just kids, really, in our early twenties, and we made some rather rash decisions. I was relatively immature, having just got out of the army, and then pretty much forming King Crimson after that short stint with Giles, Giles & Fripp. I was in the army at sixteen years old and got out when I was twenty-one or twenty-two. I hadn't really grown up enough to deal with the fact that this thing, King Crimson, was sky rocketing. That, plus the touring, was one of the factors that led to me saying, 'I can't deal with this.'
I went to see the current version of King Crimson when they played the Beacon Theatre in 2017. I was skeptical about the three-drummer thing; I thought it was a bit of a gimmick. But having heard the band live it totally works. They played music from later albums but they did do Epitaph, Moonchild, Court and Schizoid Man and it sounded great, especially Epitaph, which they performed beautifully. It was an interesting experience being in the audience, detached from the performance and these tunes that I had co-written. I'd heard from other people that, when they played songs from In The Court Of The Crimson King, there was a kind of gasp from the audience, and not just here in New York. I think that's understandable because its the first album. Crimson's debut, like the first Stones album or The Beatles' Please, Please Me has an energy and freshness that make it special."
BY ROYAL DISAPPOINTMENT
John Martin on Crimson's nearly-men (and woman)
Elton John was still moonlighting on Hot Hits covers albums when he nearly pocketed £250 for singing on In The Wake Of Poseidon in 1970. Having heard Elt's debut LP, Fripp had second thoughts.
In the same year. Bryan Ferry wrapped his viscous vibrato around Schizoid Man for Fripp and Sinfield, who politely showed him the door. Ferry wasn't gloating when KC supported Roxy Music in the early '80s. Not much.
Having rejected one floppy-haired romantic, Fripp tried to enlist another - Japan's David Sylvian - in the early '90s. Dave demurred but subsequently collaborated with Fripp on two albums and an art installation in Japan.
After avant-garde jazz pianist Keith Tippett guested on Crimson's 1970 single Cat Food, Fripp offered him and his wife Julie Driscoll full membership. To no avail.
Peter Gabriel's drummer Jerry Marotta was in on rehearsals for the "double trio" formation (1994-99). only to be replaced by Pat Mastelloto, then (and probably still) best known for playing on The Rembrandts' theme song for interminable sitcom Friends.
With keyboardist Bill Rieflin taking a sabbatical, Soft Machine man/frequent Fripp collaborator Theo Travis was only very briefly a Crim, due to (in Fripp's formulation) "the irreplaceable Billness of the Bill".
He lasted longer than Steeleye Span's Rick Kemp, who rehearsed for all of three days in 1971 with the emerging Boz Collins/Wallace line-up before deciding against it. Instead, the bass (and required occult reading list) went to hitherto non bass-playing Boz Burrell.
Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett always gets mentioned whenever a Frippless King Crimson is being mooted... like that's going to happen.
"IT PINNED ME TO THE BACK OF THE WALL"
Singer Jakko Jakszyk on joining his favourite group
When Jakko Jakszyk (pronounced Jack-chick) got a call from Robert Fripp in 2013 inviting him to be a member of the newly-reformed King Crimson, he was effectively joining his dream band since childhood. As if that wasn't enough, Jakszyk has since gone on to be invited to remix ELP's Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery as well as live material by Jethro Tull for their ongoing deluxe reissue series and guesting onstage with Steve Hackett. He took time out from preparations for Crimson's fiftieth-anniversary tour to tell RC about encountering the music that set him on a remarkable career. "I was eleven or twelve years old and my next-door neighbour, Chris Baker, was two or three years older than me, which at that age is significant, of course. He had access to albums that I didn't hear anywhere else, like Cream, the first Chicago album, some Jethro Tull and ELP, and I remember loving it all. Then he bought the Nice Enough To Eat  sampler that Island put out. That was the first lime I heard 21st Century Schizoid Man and immediately, even at my tender age, I just knew this was coming from a different place to all the other music he played me. It didn't have the same kind of guitar licks or scales. It was completely mad and alien, and kind of pinned me to the back of the wall. I went out and tried to buy a Crimson album with my pocket money. I remember it was a shop on Watford High Street in a place called Gade House. They had a big record department but the only King Crimson album they had was In The Wake Of Poseidon which I guess was then their current album. I pored over it: the artwork, the lyrics; it all had this sense of mystery and other-worldliness, unlike any other music from that era that I'd heard. I loved it. Later on, I heard Lizard and it was almost like medicine that I didn't like but had to keep taking. I knew I had to keep listening to it even though it was weirder and spikier, and it became my favourite.
Then, in 1971, Crimson played at Watford Town Hall and the gig completely blew me away. It was only my second or third concert and it sounded amazing. I thought Mel Collins was brilliant. There were the two of them, Robert and Mel, at either side of the stage, playing the two Mellotrons on Mars with all the mad lights going off. I came out of there with this incredibly romanticised childhood notion that my life had been changed."