The Telegraph DECEMBER 8, 2005 - by Robert Sandall


King Crimson founder, Robert Fripp, talks to Robert Sandall about the hostility he's faced throughout his career.

Cradling a nice cup of tea in the kitchen of his home on the River Avon in Worcestershire, Robert Fripp looks more like a kindly country vicar than a veteran of the English prog-rock scene.

Now fifty-nine, he hardly needs to describe himself as "very English, a Dorset man" because, despite leaving the county of his birth four years ago, he still speaks with a strong West Country burr.

The character who back in 1969 made his name singing with dystopian fervour about a 21st Century Schizoid Man with King Crimson now lives in a spacious and tidy Georgian terrace house.

It would seem the only remotely schizoid aspect of his life now relates to his marriage. Fripp's wife is Toyah Wilcox, the '80s pop siren, actress and voice of the Teletubbies. That she inhabits a different continent on planet entertainment has not, however, disrupted a twenty-year relationship. Fripp sounds every inch the adoring husband.

And when he describes his last job - playing guitar in Seattle with Peter Buck of REM in a project run by REM's drummer and Fripp's mate, Bill Rieflin - he sounds as if he's got it made.

And yet, and yet... This is a rare interview because, according to Fripp, his fellow countrymen don't like him much. His reputation abroad is god-like, and nowhere more so than in Argentina, where Crimson, he says, rank second only to the Beatles "because life there is so hard, music isn't entertainment, it's nutrition".

At home, it's another story. Despite having recorded albums with musicians of the calibre of David Bowie, Brian Eno and David Sylvian, Fripp feels hugely under-appreciated here. Few performers have committed so many bad reviews to memory and pronounced so firmly on the "toxic hostility, negativity and antipathy" that they inspire.

Fripp's twisty rock-outs with Crimson, his solo soundscapes and the heavily treated guitar pieces he calls "Frippertronics" have brought out the nasty side of the rock press, as well as rubbing audiences up the wrong way.

"When I go to New York or Tokyo or Buenos Aires, people come up to me on the street and ask me where I'm playing in town. Whereas I traipsed around England for years, facing calls of 'Yer a cunt, fuck off!" Fripp remembers the hecklers as clearly as the rude reviewers.

He first heard the "c" word directed at him at the Marquee in 1975; the last time was at the Albert Hall in 2003. "I was booed off every night."

It all started to go wrong, he believes, when Crimson got lumped in mistakenly with prog rock's show-off tendency after their bass player Greg Lake left to form Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

At the time, Fripp was more interested in his sound-lab experiments with Eno and others than in fretboard pyrotechnics. But, three decades of name-calling later, he has almost abandoned live work in Britain and has not been looking forward to his first solo dates in many years to promote his latest album, Love Cannot Bear/Soundscapes - Live in the USA.

Fripp's lack of interest in talking up the new CD and tour is in line with his distrust of the music business. "Being a professional musician doesn't mean you spend twelve hours a day playing music. It means you spend up to twelve hours a day taking care of business, dealing with litigation, with the various characters who've stolen your interests, or fending off hostile lawsuits from former members of the band."

He spent most of the '90s embroiled in disputes with management, record companies and lyricist Pete Sinfield, "who considers himself in relation to Crimson the way Roger Waters does to Pink Floyd".

Given a choice, Fripp says, he prefers to spend his time leading seminars with Guitar Craft, a non-profit organisation of mad-keen axemen which he founded in 1985 and most of whose members are amateur players. "I recommend my students not to be professional unless they really have to be. I tell them, 'If you love music, sell Hoovers or be a plumber. Do something useful with your life.'"