INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Trouser Press DECEMBER 1974/JANUARY 1975 - by Ihor Slabicky
WHO'S ASKING THE QUESTIONS HERE?
ROBERT FRIPP INTERVIEWED
This interview was held in the New York offices of Atlantic Records on the afternoon of October 18, 1974. Before the conversation began, Robert Fripp played Starless from the latest King Crimson release Red. As the last notes of the song faded, we began:
Robert Fripp: King Crimson is completely over. For ever and ever.
Ihor Slabicky: That's sort of hard for some people to bear. When I first heard it, it was like someone dying in your close family.
RF: But why?
IS: Well, personally, I grew up on King Crimson. I was fifteen when your first record came out and I bought it then and I've been buying every single one since then. I enjoyed it and now the thought of not having it anymore... You have the old records to listen to, but you know what they're like, where every note is, just about, so a stopping point would be terrible. But if you say things will go on, that's great.
RF: They're not.
IS: What will happen?
RF: I'm mixing a live album, recorded over a period of nine months from the end of last year until this year, with John, in four months time.
IS: What's going to be on that?
RF: Probably Easy Money. Exiles will probably follow Easy Money followed by a blow or something like that from Asbury Park. Side two, probably The Talking Drum into Larks' Tongue Part II into Schizoid Man. Something like that.
IS: That leaves Doctor D. out.
RF: Yes. Doctor D. was never a complete piece. We were never fully satisfied with it so it won't be used.
IS: Is there anything in the studio from the other bands or from this band which is left over? When you went into the studio you just recorded enough for an album?
RF: Just recorded what we needed, yes.
IS: Well, besides Groon...
RF: That's it.
IS: So there's going to be another Crimson album and then what?
RF: I'll then do two composite albums, personal selections. Although there will be nothing new, it will be presented in a way which isn't done normally in Best Of... albums. And it will include Groon, which of course, most people don't have.
IS: What about Giles, Giles, and Fripp?
IS: How do you feel about that now? I guess that was six years or so. Do you still look back at it and say, 'Well, I didn't like it' or 'I did'?
RF: It has some very good things on it. I played guitar in those days.
IS: Your style sounds to me like a Wes Montgomery type.
RF: You've got to appreciate that I didn't like a lot of the music on that album. I didn't even want to play it. Most of side one is nonsense. Pete Giles, for example, the only guitar sound he liked was Barney Kessel's. Side one was Pete's side. First half of side two was Mike and second half of side two was me. That's sort of a very rough guide.
IS: Who discovered you?
RF: No one discovered us.
IS: How did you manage to put out the album?
RF: When I turned professional in the beginning of 1967, I was told that the Giles brothers had left Trendsetters Limited, which was their group, and were looking for a singing organist. Since I was a guitarist that didn't sing, I went along for the job, and after rehearsing for a month and doing tape recordings in the Beacon Hotel in Bournemouth, on a Revox, I said to Mike Giles, this is a bit of a joke, since I'd been working with him for a month. I said, "Well, have I got the job?" and what he did, he rolled a cigarette, and looked down and put the cigarette in his mouth and lit it and puffed on it and said, "Well, let's not be in too great a hurry to commit ourselves to each other." From which you can gather that Mike never made his mine up about anything in his life. Anything which involved accepting responsibility was not really for Mike. In September, this was about July, we moved to London. I knew that as a professional musician I had to go to London. It was the only place to go. And the Giles brothers, being professional for what, some four years, they knew the ropes, really, and I needed their experience so we went to London. I got us a gig at an Italian restaurant. You're not going to find this in many places, you know... I got us a gig with Douglas Ward, a piano-accordionist, at an Italian restaurant in German Street near Picadilly. But we had a week before that when we were in the Dolce Vita and at the end of that week, the accordionist was beaten up and carried off to the hospital, where we visited him. What happened, he was burned up on a roundabout by these three louts, and he stopped his car and went back and sought them out and realized that Doug, little man with no muscles, white and puny, was no match for these three large oafs, who proceeded to duff him and kick him and make somewhat of a mess, so we visited the poor bloke in the hospital. Anyway, we no longer had an accordionist to play with and we were suddenly thrown on our own in a situation that would not have normally been of our choosing, backing an Italian singer called Moreno, who I christened "Hotlips" Moreno, and used to introduce him: "Ladies and Gentlemen! And now for your edification and delight, from Italy, at great expense, we have for you alone, yes it's Hotlips Moreno!" And Moreno, this sort of five foot three Italian...
IS: Did he understand what was going on?
RF: Oh yes, he did, I'm afraid. He came on stage and he would say, "Please, please, you do not call me Hotlips." We would go through his numbers and he'd write some of his own, and they were appalling. He had one or two progressions which just didn't progress. Peter and I used to alleviate the situation by doing steps and swing guitars and make a very big to-do about some of the sequences which were really hideous. I remember one diminished chord which came in as if by chance_and I would do this lovely rippling diminished run finishing on the most inappropriate chord conceivable to man. And at the same time as this, we would swing our guitars in perfect unison, combining to narrowly miss Moreno's head as he was singing. And one day, I remember, he looked around, knowing that something was going on, just to feel my machine brush his ear and narrowly miss. And Mike Giles said to us, "Look, you really have to tone this down, he's not going to stand it for very much more. It's gone too far." So the next set we came on, and I'll explain how we changed sets. There was a girl group, all girls, I think it was a quartet. They would sing, organ, drums, the whole lot, Italian... and, uhh, the idea would be that one of them would go off, we would play Blue Moon, you see, they would play Blue Moon and we would play Blue Moon (laughing) and one of their people would go off and I would start... the organist would stop, for example, and I would start to play the tune and then the drummer would quickly move and Mike would come in, so that no one would realize that the band had changed. This was a great idea, but frankly, the difference in Mike Giles' drumming and the Italian girl's drumming is significant. However, let's ignore small details like that. In order to get to the stage, we had an awful lot of people to go by, and we would get snagged up along the way. So the kind of situation you would have, Pete and Mike would get to the stage, but I wouldn't. I'd still be stuck in the back, struggling through a crowd... and all the girl singers, all the girl musicians would come off, leaving a sort of faltering Blue Moon, or just Blue Moon played on drums, or something like this, and I'd eventually struggle on and play Blue Moon, having completely blown the mood. When we went off, Mike would go into some amazing naughty times, which would be impossible for any of the Italian musicians replacing us to actually take over. Things like this, good fun. But, anyway, we got back from Mike's warning that we were tempting fate a little too much with Hotlips by our brand of humor and, uhh, we broke into Hotlips' set except there was no drumming, the drums suddenly weren't there and we turned around and looked and there was Mike (laughter) with a maniacal smile, twisted smile on his face, somehow he managed to cross his teeth... and his jaw, something like this... sort of flashing eyes, going through exaggerated motions of playing drums, but not actually hitting any of them, and it was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. That was just the end for Hotlips. He walked off there and then. So we had to finish off the week as a trio, with the girl Italians backing Hotlips Moreno, the Italian singer.
IS: That was probably more appropriate for him.
RF: Yes, I think it was a lot better. We, meanwhile, got on with a set of beguines, for example The Breeze And I and Spanish Harlem beguines. The only difficulty there was, we did them both in E which was very nice as a trio, where I could play open chords and spread out the sound, but Mike used the Italian girl's kit, and the bass drum was tuned to E flat, a wholly inappropriate note for the bass drum. The root note for both The Breeze And I and Spanish Harlem was E, which Pete was playing in the same register as the bass drum, but a semi-tone away. The clash was hideous. It was really horrible. And we used to do Mellow Yellow with Mike singing... We then realized that we were being rooked. Now bear in mind that the Giles brothers were probably two of the most cynical musicians one could imagine, having been through so much nonsense and dishonesty in the preceding four years that they didn't have faith in anyone. In fact, Mike remains to this day the most suspicious man I've ever known. We realized that we were being robbed by the agent. We were being paid thirty pounds a week when in fact they were paying forty pounds a week. So, I wrote the agent a letter and stated that he was being dishonest. I've always been rather to the point and in situations like this where other people would consider my actions tactless, I would consider them forthright and responsible. The upshot of it was that at the end of the week we lost our job and I didn't work for a year and a half, with very few exceptions and odd gigs. Mike, meanwhile, got a job playing with the Mike Moulton Five and Pete Giles did sundry things, including collecting supplementary benefits with me on a Friday in Camden Town, and did a few independent gigs with the Italian pick-up band at the Dolce Vita. This left me free to practice up to twelve hours a day.
IS: Did you enjoy practicing?
RF: Oh, very much. Very much.
IS: What did you practice?
RF: Scales, chords, technique, different solos. My sort of background as a guitarist is not one which is ever likely to be very widely known, which is a rather fortunate thing. I heard Roy Clark on the radio today playing Twenty-First Street Rag. That's all the things I used to do; Orange Blossom Special, Zardas, Nola, all those kind of things. My guitar teacher was an old banjoist from the '30s. He also played guitar and mandolin. My background was what you call 'corny', sort of Nick Lucas, Eddie Lang acoustic guitar pieces. Some of them are very difficult. The acoustic guitar, especially the plectrum acoustic guitar, is a completely different thing from rock'n'roll guitar. They're two instruments, electric and acoustic guitar, and I suppose there must be very few people who have a background in the classical period of classical guitar, which was in the '30s, with Eddie Lang, and the end of the '30s, Django Reinhardt and so on. But that was substantially my background, which was completely and wholly inappropriate for life as a rock musician. I developed an interest in playing classical guitar pieces with a plectrum (a British guitar pick - Ed.), the Carcassi Etudes, the Recuerdos De La Alhambra, this sort of thing. If any of your readers would like to find out how good their plectrum technique is, I suggest they have a go at Recuerdos De La Alhambra by Tarrega and I think they'll have a shock. Or Carcassi's Etude No. 7 which is quite simple and straight-forward, nowhere as difficult as the Recuerdos. Nevertheless, it sorts the men from the boys.
IS: Do you still play that?
RF: Yes, I'm practicing those pieces at the moment because it looks as if I might play an acoustic guitar on stage for the first time in my life.
IS: Was Giles, Giles & Fripp a big success?
RF: Oh no. We sold five hundred and something in England. I still get royalty statements. It sold one in Sweden, forty in Canada, and Japan.
IS: It was released here.
RF: Yes it was. Greg Lake managed to find a copy. It has a different cover to the English one. He threatened to have it blown up into a huge poster. I reminded Gregory that I had, and still do have, a few of his early publicity photos which includes Greg holding a huge two-foot diameter plastic rose with a crown of thorns. I threatened reciprocal action with these.
IS: What's on the American cover?
RF: I'm wearing a hat, a cap which looks like a Salvation Army cap and, well, it's just different.
RF: It's different. Now normally, I don't talk about history with anyone, but I appreciate that you're a special case, you've taken a deeper interest in the band.
• • •
IS: You've got Robin Miller and Marc Charig on the new album. They were on the second and third albums.
RF: Yeah. Robin is co-principal oboeist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez. An amazing musician, quite frightfully good, in a different way to Mel, who is also so good. I was rather, put-out isn't the word, flabbergasted, awe-struck if you like, by just how good Mel was on that cut. He just came in and did it and then went next door and did a session for Humble Pie. They were in the next studio. He's in Alvin Lee's new band which is rehearsing at the moment. Boz you know about. Ian MacDonald, shortly before our session, was tearing up tickets in the cinema, and who is now, at this moment, in New York. I suppose what I'm doing is wiping out anything which prevents me from having relationships with any people I've worked with. I wouldn't like to think there is anything within me, any failing of personality which... I wouldn't be able to work with anybody again.
...I went to see Boz at Central Park and Bad Company was good. I was so impressed and so pleased. His bass playing was fabulous, really nice. We've gotten really, well, good to see each other again. I'd love to play with him, love to get him on an album.
IS: How did David (Cross) manage to leave Crimson after you played in New York in July?
RF: Well, it was mutual, I suppose, as in all these situations. No uptightness or unpleasantness involved. Sensitive musicians can't work in the situation in which we were working. Sensitive musicians don't go on the road. But a few, from time to time, do get as far as that. With David, it was, I think, affecting his health, as it was with everyone who was involved with it. But David was too sensitive and gentle a personality for the rock business.
IS: What's it like on the road?
RF: Well an awful lot is actually travelling. You have rehearsing, you have practising, writing, and the actual playing comes last of all. That's for free. You play for nothing. You get paid for travelling. And we were doing from eighty to a hundred thousand miles a year.
IS: That's quite a lot.
RF: I mean, I must have done a quarter of a million miles in the past five years.
IS: Have you ever played anywhere besides Europe, England, and America?
RF: No. For next year we had plans to go to Japan and Brazil.
• • •
IS: Did you ever play Red live?
RF: No. That's one of my two main regrets on leaving Crimson, well on Crimson ceasing is that we'll never play Red live because it is primarily a live number.
IS: The ending is very moving.
RF: The ending? Actually the beginning, the song part, is my favorite.
IS: The beginning was sort of very...
IS: ...the mellotron would be playing and it would be very quiet and the low bass gives a very sad type of feeling...
RF: It's very resigned. Very resigned. Do you want to hear any more?
IS: I heard some of it on the radio, the first cut, Red. Every one of your albums has a song like that which is sort of violent, in a way.
RF: Well, this is... Side one is the heavy metal side. It's very definitely heavy metal. But I think it's well done, actually. I think it's very well done.
IS: On your first album you had Schizoid Man and then...
RF: Yes, the iron. It's the iron, isn't it?
IS: Right. I heard this and I thought this was very brutal, as if you'd get hurt just listening to it.
RF: (laughing) I wonder if they'd play that over here. I'd be surprised.
IS: ...which I didn't include in there. And John Wetton plays on...
IS: On everything?
RF: John's on everything. Every time he goes over for a drink, a major band offers him a gig. Really. John is forming a trio at the moment.
IS: Who's going to be in it?
RF: The drummer is a heavyweight, but I can't tell you who. John is around looking for a good guitarist who's heavy enough to take on a drummer and himself. That combination is difficult.
IS: I guess he's touring with Roxy Music.
RF: Yes, that finishes in a week or two.
IS: I met someone recently that said there were two singles actually released from Giles, Giles & Fripp, One In A Million and The Elephant Song.
RF: Thursday Morning
IS: What was on the other side of One In A Million?
RF: Call Tomorrow, I think. No, I think Call Tomorrow was on the album. The B-side of the single...
IS: Here's what's on the album - (handing Fripp a Xerox of the back cover of Giles, Giles & Fripp)
RF: Yeah. No, the back of One In A Million was called Newlyweds. I can't remember, other than it wasn't on the album, or the version of it was different than the one on the album. Similarly, the single of Thursday Morning was different to Thursday Morning on the album because Ian McDonald was on it, both singing and, I believe, playing clarinet. We also recorded three more tracks for Decca, as Giles, Giles & Fripp, with Ian McDonald, that were never released. One was called Under the Sky, which Pete Sinfield did. It was fabulous. And Talk To The Wind is with Mike Giles on drums, Pete Giles on bass, myself on guitar, Ian on flute, and the singing by Judy Dyble, who is on the first Fairport Convention album, and Ian. Those are the definitive versions of Under The Sky and Talk To The Wind.
IS: Under The Sky is on Sinfield's solo album, but you say these are much better?
RF: Oh, yes. Also, the Talk To The Wind is far better in the home-made tape I have than on the King Crimson album.
IS: How did you record it?
RF: At home, we did it on a Revox. It's good stuff. But Judy left. She found me hard to work with apparently. You seem still interested in acquiring Giles, Giles & Fripp, the single One In A Million. There's no point in getting the singles because they are on the albums...
IS: Well, if they're different versions...
RF: Not all of them, the Thursday Morning. But why bother, these aren't important, these are just small details for the collector, and you're really wasting a lot of good time getting into these small details You're taking it too seriously.
In Trouser Press 7 - More seriousness with Master Fripp and Mister Slabicky