KING CRIMSON – ” Starless And Bible Black ” Released in March 1974

Posted: March 29, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Starless and Bible Black, 30th Anniversary Edition

When it was released in spring 1974, not even the record company knew that King Crimson’s ‘Starless & Bible Black’ album was essentially a live recording. Such secrecy by the band might have resulted from knowing that record labels paid a reduced royalty rate on live albums. The truth only emerged several years after Crimson had split up.

Bassist/vocalist John Wetton was proud of the results: “For me, it shows us moving into another dimension as far as being a band is concerned. We’d found our feet; we’d been on the road for the best part of a year. We knew what we wanted to do & we were getting creative. Not only is the album chronologically the bridge between Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, & Red, but it’s also a bridge in many more ways..

in 1973 King Crimson weren’t simply touring in order to pursue rutting opportunities. There was the not inconsiderable matter of recording a follow-up to Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. The album had sold well but the band were less than happy with the results of the time they had spent during January and February in Piccadilly’s Command Studios. “Collapse Studios more like – that’s what we used to call it,” shudders Wetton.

Despite the classic nature of the material and many inventive moments peppered throughout LTIA, the Crimson camp felt that whatever magic had touched them as they played in concert during the winter of ’72, the recording of the album in the New Year had quite simply failed to capture any of that power or intensity which had moved not only the band themselves, but also many commentators and fans. Putting a brave face on their combined disappointment, by the time the album hit the shops, the quartet were already on their way around the UK, Europe and, in mid-April, the USA. The Crimson that returned to the UK in July ’73 was not only tired after notching up over 60 gigs, but also in dire need of new material to refresh the setlist and prepare for a new album.

Reconvening after a three-week holiday, spirits and tempers were frayed, rather than rested. What had been a break for some turned out to be a busman’s holiday for Robert Fripp, who emerged from his Dorset cottage with Fracture, The Night Watch and Lament.  As the group worked on the new tunes, bad tempers flashed. According to Bill Bruford, Crimson’s writing processes were exercises in “excruciating, teeth-pullingly difficult music making. The tunes Robert has written all the way through, such as Fracture, these are good, and had there been greater output from Robert, we’d have got on quicker and faster. Robert’s always done this. He’s started off these bands with one-and-a-half tunes that point the general direction, and Fracture would have been one of them.”

“I was never given the time to write,” counters Fripp. “The band had a three-and-a-half-week holiday. I had three days. I recall on another occasion saying to the band that I needed time to write, rather than just continuing to rehearse. Bill, in a schoolmasterly and rather grudging fashion, would only agree if I really would do the writing, as opposed to what he implied was goofing off.” The gnawing antipathy that became a defining characteristic of Fripp and Bruford’s subsequent professional relationship first surfaced in these rehearsal sessions, sewing the seeds of the band’s demise a year later.

Putting their differences aside, Crimson took to the road with their newly composed repertoire and their near-telepathic ability to create complex and nuanced improvisations off the top of their heads. When they played at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, a mobile recording studio captured the band in full aleatoric flight.

Few bands of the era offered as much variety in material from night to night. King Crimson’s propensity for improvisation & fondness for playing its newest material – often unreleased on record at the time of the concerts – is legendary. Fewer bands still, whether by accident or design, recorded so many of their live shows.

Back in the UK in January 1974, and with three new tracks in the can at George Martin’s AIR Studios, the band sifted through the many live multi-tracks from the tour, choosing the best improvisations and scrupulously editing the tapes to remove any hint of audience noise or applause. It was impossible to tell what had been improvised in concert and what had been recorded in the studio.

The only songs recorded entirely in the studio were the first two tracks, “The Great Deceiver” and “Lament”. “We’ll Let You Know” was an entirely improvised piece recorded in Glasgow. “The Mincer” was another improvised piece, originally recorded in concert in Zürich but overdubbed with Wetton’s vocals in the studio ,The track was the edited-out middle section of a longer improvisation, the other parts released on The Great Deceiver as “The Law of Maximum Distress”. “Trio”, “Starless and Bible Black” and “Fracture” (the last of which Robert Fripp has cited as one of the most difficult guitar pieces he has ever played were recorded live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Also recorded at the Concertgebouw was the introduction to “The Night Watch” (the band’s Mellotron broke down at the start of the next section, meaning that the remainder of the song needed to be recorded in the studio and dubbed in later). In all cases, live applause was removed from the recordings wherever possible (although the remains of it can be heard by an attentive listener). The complete Amsterdam Concertgebouw concert was eventually released by the band in 1997 as The Night Watch.

“Trio” was notable for being a quartet piece with only three active players – John Wetton on bass guitar, David Cross on viola and Robert Fripp on “flute” Mellotron. Bruford spent the entire piece with his drumsticks crossed over his chest, waiting for the right moment to join in but eventually realized that the improvised piece was progressing better without him. His decision not to add any percussion was seen by the rest of the band as a crucial choice, and he received co-writing credit for the piece.

When it was released in that spring, not even the record company knew that “Starless And Bible Black” was essentially a live recording. Such secrecy by the band might have resulted from knowing that record labels paid a reduced royalty rate on live albums. The truth only emerged several years after Crimson had split up.

Starless and Bible Black offers an in depth overview of one of the era’s most significant bands in its most celebrated live line-up. John Wetton is proud of the results: “For me, it shows us moving into another dimension as far as being a band is concerned. We’d found our feet; we’d been on the road for the best part of a year. We knew what we wanted to do and we were getting creative. Not only is the album chronologically the bridge between LTIA and Red, but it’s also a bridge in many more ways. We were getting more experimental, trying different recording techniques, really screwing with the system, removing applause from live tracks so they sound like studio tracks – the exact opposite of what people do today where they add applause to a studio track and pretend it’s live. We’d removed the audience because that was the only way we could get the atmosphere we were after. Before Red, we could never recreate that kind of power in the studio – it just wouldn’t happen. You’re in a sterile environment, whereas on stage you’d got all that air and people and you’d got energy.” The bassist looks back on the period in which the album was made with real affection

Autumn 1973: As King Crimson’s second lengthy US tour of that year was coming to a close, a short series of UK concerts for the end of October, followed by a more extensive European tour in November was already planned. Three of these concerts Glasgow, Zurich & Amsterdam were recorded as full multi-track recordings, with material from the Amsterdam show being used as core material for the January 1974 recording of “Starless & Bible Black”. From mid-March to the start of April, the band was on the road in Europe again, promoting the album with their final European concerts of the decade, prior to undertaking a further US tour. A number of these concerts were recorded on stereo reel to reel machines, fed directly from the signal as sent to the PA system on the night of the performance. These soundboards are often referred to as “The Blue Tapes”, named after the outer colour of the original tape boxes & are especially valued for both the quality of recording & performance.

This boxed set presents eighteen CDs of live concert performances, seven of them mixed from the 1973 multi-track tapes and a further eleven presenting the complete run of “The Blue Tapes” for the first time. CDs of the ORTF Paris TV performance & the 2011 stereo mix of Starless & Bible Black also feature. Two DVD-A discs & two Blu-Ray discs contain concert & studio recordings in stereo, quadraphonic & full 5.1 surround sound – all presented in high-resolution audio.

  • 19 CDs of live performance material.
  • 7 CDs taken from multi-track tape including 4CDs of material from the Glasgow & Zurich shows, freshly assembled & mastered in Hi-Res from the original Great Deceiver mixes by David Singleton at DGM Soundworld in 2014, the Amsterdam show The Nightwatch mixed by Steven Wilson & a previously unheard preparatory of material from the same show prepared by George Chkiantz (engineer of all live KC shows of the era & the Red album).
  • 11 CDs drawn from high quality stereo reel to reel soundboard tapes. 8 making their first appearance on CD with the remaining three re-mastered or drawn from new tape sources.
  • 1 CD presenting the performance from the ORTF Paris TV broadcast
  • CD 20 features the 2011 stereo mix of Starless & Bible Black by Steven Wilson & Robert Fripp
  • DVD-A 1 features the Starless & Bible Black album in 5.1 Surround, with new & original stereo album mixes in High Resolution Stereo plus bonus audio material.
  • DVD-A 2 features material from Mainz (mixed by David Singleton), Amsterdam (mixed by Steven Wilson) & a later show from Pittsburgh (mixed by George Chkiantz) in quadraphonic audio & High-Resolution Stereo.
  • Both DVD-A discs are region 0 playable in all areas & compatible with all DVD players & DVD Rom players

 

  • Blu-Ray Disc 1 features full lossless audio 24/192 transfers of material from the Glasgow & Zurich shows, freshly assembled & mastered from the original Great Deceiver mixes by David Singleton at DGM Soundworld in 2014 in LPCM stereo.
  • Blu-Ray Disc 1 also features the Amsterdam show The Nightwatch, mixed by Steven Wilson & the George Chkiantz preparatory mix stereo in 24/96 High-resolution stereo & a 24/96 transfer of the original David Singleton/Robert Fripp mix of The Nightwatch.
  • Blu-Ray Disc 2 features Starless & Bible Black in 5.1 Surround (DTS-HD MAS & LPCM 24/96) alongside new & original stereo masters of the album, a needledrop of an original vinyl pressing + audio extras.
  • Blu-Ray Disc 2 also features the Quad mixes of material from the Mainz, Amsterdam & Pittsburgh concerts.
  • Blu-Ray Disc 2 also features the ORTF Paris TV footage in a new hi-res transfer from the original source files.
  • Discs packaged in 8 individual 3 disc digi-packs within an album sized box
  • 3 additional bonus CDs of audio restored soundboard/bootlegs & audio curios are also included.
  • 1 further concert (bootleg quality audio) is also available via included download ticket.
  • Album sized booklet with rare/unseen photos, new sleeve notes by Sid Smith, technical notes on the recordings by David Singleton, eye-witness accounts from fans who attended the gigs + memorabilia including an album print, poster, replica concert ticket, press release with folder, photos & more besides.
  • King Crimson
    • Robert Fripp – guitar, Mellotron, devices, Hohner pianet, production
    • John Wetton – bass, vocals, production
    • Bill Bruford – drums, percussion, production
    • David Cross – violin, viola, Mellotron, Hohner pianet, production

 

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