Posts Tagged ‘David Cross’

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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On this date 45 years ago a new incarnation of King Crimson released the album “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic”. The album marked a radical departure from everything they’d previously done. With guitarist Robert Fripp as the only survivor from the original line-up, the new line-up featuring the heat-seeking work of ex-Yes drummer Bill Bruford and the virtuoso bass work of ex-Family bassist John Wetton, who also took on vocals, presented a breath-taking tour of killer riffs, jaw-dropping dynamics, and poignant ballads. Featuring pastoral Vaughan Williams-style interludes from violinist David Cross, this line-up embraced a spikier sound that was both willing to rock out as well as explore and experiment with unorthodox textures and atmospherics thanks in part to eclectic percussionist Jamie Muir.

John Wetton helped lead King Crimson away from their influential early prog sound into more free-form areas, as band leader Robert Fripp addedmusicians David Cross, Jamie Muir and former Yes co-founder Bill Bruford to form the group’s short-lived fifth incarnation. The intro to “Exiles” is actually adapted from a piece of music that dates back to shows played by the original 1969 Crimson lineup, but almost nothing about the rest of this song – a great example of this lineup’s ability to move from one eruptive musical texture to another, and then to another still – could possibly be confused with any other era. Over the next two albums, Muir and Cross departed.

When Boz Burrell, Mel Collins, Ian Wallace and Robert Fripp walked off the stage of the Municipal Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama on April 1st 1972, another chapter in King Crimson’s frequently turbulent history had come to an end. With Burrell, Collins and Wallace staying on in the States to form Alexis Korner’s band, Snape, even before the guitarist returned to London there was speculation as to what the guitarist might do next. “Fripp & Hiseman May Form Band” ran the headline in the New Musical Express.

Although that partnership failed to go beyond an exploratory discussion between the principals, Fripp busied himself during the Summer of ’72 sifting through the cassette tapes of what would become Earthbound, and sounding out potential collaborators. One name suggested to him by Melody Maker writer Richard Williams was Jamie Muir. The drummer and percussionist had been working primarily with the Music Improvisation Company alongside Evan Parker, Hugh Davies and Derek Bailey, had also been a member Pete Brown’s Battered Ornaments.  Fripp and the percussionist got together as Muir observes “to see if there was a basis for us working together. I remember I was playing some really fast and furious blow-outs, from a drummer’s perspective it was the Tony Williams / Billy Cobham type of thing. It was fairly energetic stuff and I think we enjoyed ourselves. He didn’t say right then and there ‘OK you’re in’ but I think he said he’d give me a ring.”

Although Fripp and Bruford had discussed working together since Crimson supported Yes earlier in February in Boston, it wasn’t until May that the pair undertook some exploratory jamming at Bruford’s house. “We went into my music room and Robert said: ‘If I played this what would you play?’ Apparently I must have done the right thing because eventually he suggested that we do some more!” recalls Bruford.

“I hadn’t up until that time thought of asking [Bill] because as we all know, he had a good gig with Yes” Fripp told NME’s Tony Tyler. At this stage it was by no means certain the King Crimson would be resurrected. Yet it was while a guest in the Bruford household, and sitting in the bath no less, that the notion of a two-drum line-up came to Fripp. “I suddenly thought ‘Well, Bill’s a lovely drummer but he’s perhaps a little too straight for some things…Then I thought of this nut Jamie Muir whom I’d just met, and I thought, well Jamie’s a great drummer but he’s not really straight enough for some of the things I’d like him to do. Now, while I was sitting in the bath…I suddenly had this vivid idea to use the two of them…and it seemed so right.”

The next piece of the Crimson jigsaw was Fripp’s old friend, John Wetton, who’d been previously asked about joining Crimson when the Islands-era band were coalescing in 1971. It hadn’t felt right back then but after several months with Family the bassist was ready to move on. “One day the phone rang and Robert said ‘I’m round at Bill Bruford’s (he lived around the corner from me in Redcliffe Gardens) and we’re discussing the possibility of doing something. Do you want to pop around?’ So I did. I remember Bill came to the door with a carrot in his hand! I thought it felt good as soon as we started talking and so we put the ball in motion. I was actually in the studio with family still working on Bandstand and Bill had been working with Yes doing Close To The Edge. It wasn’t a jam or anything. We just sat and talked about what we wanted to do.”

For Fripp, a new venture offered the possibility of traversing the musical divide which had opened up after the break-up of the ’69 line-up. With Bruford feeling he’d gone as far as he could with Yes, it was a chance to extend his creative vocabulary. As far as Wetton was concerned there would finally be an opportunity to develop as a singer and composer, a role he was firmly denied as a member of Family.

Until now, the only visual record of Muir performing has been a short extract of the band performing Larks’ Tongues In Aspic” for the Beat Club programme in Bremen. However, with the full session now released for the first time as part of this release we can at last see this Crimson in full flight. Muir stalks around his exotic percussion rig, an avant-garde court jester ferrying the sounds and sensibilities of free jazz to the world of the rock band. “I always remember I had an urge to get Robert to let his hair down because he was very controlled in the way he played” says Muir. “At the TV gig, I really tried and tried to provoke him.”

It’s interesting watching the complete video how much eye contact plays a part in determining the force and direction of the music. “I was an absolute nervous wreck during that TV recording” admits Cross. “I can remember thinking ‘well, I’m going to be found out now’. Looking somebody in the eye means you’re furiously sending messages out and receiving them back. It can be quite terrifying for some people to do that kind of improvising, and you need a certain degree of mutually shared experience and be quite comfortable with the people in order to be able to do that. Somehow it was safer to look John Wetton in the eye than it was to ignore him and be out on your own.”

Returning to the UK, the band announced a huge UK tour that kicked off on November 10th in Hull and ended at Portsmouth’s Guildhall on December 15th. Never before had Crimson undertaken such an expansive domestic tour taking in 27 towns and cities, with only five days off. With Earthbound, released in June on Island’s budget label imprint HELP being the most recent but hardly the most representative album, when the tour began, none of the audience could have been prepared for what they saw and heard. With nearly half of the set given over to extended exploratory work outs, this new King Crimson was undoubtedly the most challenging and uncompromising line-up to date. Opening their concerts with the then-unreleased Heavenly Music Corporation (recorded with Brian Eno just two months previously) playing over the PA, the five-piece Crimson took the audience on a dramatic tour of some of rock music’s most extreme environments. Blasted with slabs of skull-crunching riffs, raked with hybrid polyrhythms, taunted by abrasive bouts of atonality and occasionally soothing ballads, audiences were frequently stunned by the encounter. On top of the musical assault, Jamie Muir’s visual theatrics compounded the wonderment so many experienced. It wasn’t just the punters who were shocked by Muir’s performance art-antics of throwing chains about the place and spitting blood whilst glowering at the audience. “Jamie’s onstage persona never manifested itself in rehearsals” recalls Cross. “I could have died when I first saw him start his antics on stage for the first time.  I thought it was wonderful but we had no idea he was going to do it – it was completely out of the blue.”

The only familiar point of reference was the inclusion of 21st Century Schizoid Man on the set list, delivered as an encore, almost as a reward to the audience’s patience and trust.  This was a radical risk-taking Crimson that during the course of a single concert opened so many portals to diverse and different destinations. Critical reaction to Crimson’s return to the live stage bordered on the ecstatic. The NME’s Tony Tyler described the “spiritual impact” of the group as being comparable to the first Crimson, predicting that this time the potential which Crimson had always had within its reach would at last be grasped. Ian Macdonald wrote in the same paper in December that Crimson produced at least half an hour of the most miraculous rock he’d ever heard, while Melody Maker’s Richard Willams  extolled the virtues of their “90-minute barrage of phenomenal creativity”.

Inevitably perhaps, the real challenge facing this Crimson, as it had been for previous line-ups, was somehow bottling all that ferocious energy generated during the course of a concert and getting it down in a recording studio. After an initial stab at recording the quintet at Wessex studios Fripp notes that “fairly quickly it became obvious that it wouldn’t work, particularly for a double drummer configuration. Wessex couldn’t find a drum sound whatever they did. And Command was always available at short notice!”

The band were in Command Studios in London’s Piccadilly Circus on Wednesday January 1, 1973, much to John Wetton’s chagrin. “ In command is one thing you definitely were not  in that studio! Things were constantly blowing up, or they were losing bits. We had the engineer, God bless him, who’d never done an edit before. We were talking away over a cup of tea and he had instructions to take a certain amount of footage out of the front of Easy Money so we could move the first beat of the bass drum up. So we were sitting there and every now and then would ask how the edit was going. There he was with a razor blade in his hand and then after a while he told us he’d never done an edit before. We were like ‘Fuck! Put that razor blade down!’ (laughs) Every day there was something going wrong like that.”

Interviewed during the mixing of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Bruford offered his thoughts views on the frenetic activity undertaken by the band to date “We specifically wanted to tour before making an album having only just met. For example I knew of Jamie Muir’s position in contemporary music but I’d never met him…it was Robert’s idea to have Jamie and myself play together, and representing percussion through the ages…We’re all still getting to know each other. We’ve learnt to play together on stage, now we are learning to play in the studio.” Looking towards the future, Bruford offered “ There’s a Crimson way of doing things you know. And it’s a fairly intense emotional relationship in the band…It’s exhilarating to be part of and could produce magical music that will change people.”

With work on LTIA finished, the band played two nights at London’s Marquee Club. After the first live performance of 1973, on February 10th, Jamie Muir unexpectedly quit. Faced with the band’s gruelling tour schedule for the months ahead, Muir concluded a path to spiritual enlightenment was preferable. Leaving the group to follow his interests in Buddhism (something he’d been nurturing prior to Crimson), he informed EG management of his decision. Despite offering to serve a period of notice he was urged to leave immediately.

The story put out at the time was that the percussionist’s absence followed an injury sustained on stage. “That was nonsense about my having injured myself” says Muir. “I think I slightly sprained my ankle but then I did that nearly every night when I played. When I heard about what they’d said, I wondered why would anybody do that — what advantage could there be in not saying what actually happened?  It didn’t seem to make any sense to me at all, but then there were a number of things which that management did which didn’t make any sense except perhaps to themselves.” Though Muir’s departure marked the end of a brief but intensely fertile period, it also helped usher in the birth of another remarkable chapter in the band’s story.

Steven Wilson recalls the first time he heard the album. “I was in my mid-teens and I’d  borrowed it from a friend. My first reaction was that it was one of the most dynamic records you could ever hear. Within the first five minutes you been through every extreme of volume.”When it came to remixing the album Wilson was mindful of the criticism by the band that the original recording never quite captured what they were capable of in concert. “Although the music itself is extraordinary I approached things slightly differently than say the way I’ve done with previous Crimson records. I was a little bit less faithful to the original recording in the sense that I knew there were some things we could do to toughen the sound up a bit to give the album a bit more balls if you like.”

Perhaps because of their general dissatisfaction with the sound achieved at Command, none of the musicians who recorded Larks’ Tongues In Aspic are especially comfortable about the finished results. “I look upon it as part of the journey to Red if you like” says Wetton. “It didn’t really capture what we could do live. As I see it, there’s a very natural progression from Larks’ Tongues to Starless And Bible Black, which stretches out a bit sonically. By the time you get to Red it’s all in full flight.”

Echoing the meteoric trajectory charted by the 1969 incarnation, in just five short months five musicians from different backgrounds and influences distilled their collective experience to create a rock band that stood out and, largely, stood alone in the musical landscape of the day. “I think the music that came out of Crimson was purely a result of people being prepared to listen to each other even though they didn’t come necessarily from the same branch of the tree” says David Cross. Jamie Muir puts it like this “The essence of it was that we were still five musicians carrying with them their qualities and gifts and still trying to find a way of welding it all together into one distinct personality.”

Forty years on the music contained on their sole studio album, alongside their live legacy combines to provide a compelling testimony to the group’s breadth of ambition and startling originality. By the time that three-way conversation had taken place in Redcliffe Gardens, Fripp had already been invited to see a band called Waves rehearsing in the basement of the cafe on the Fulham Palace Road at the behest of David Enthoven. Although the band failed to catch EG management’s attention, violinist David Cross was invited by Fripp to do some playing. “Robert said he was interested in doing what he called an Indian type album and asked if I’d be interested in playing with him and Jamie Muir” recalls Cross. “The first time I met Jamie was when I turned up at his flat to play and we spent a couple of hours there having a jam, trying some ideas with just guitar, violin and percussion.”

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On Wednesday 19th July Bruford and Wetton broke the news of their decision to quit Yes and Family. “We had to co-ordinate the whole thing” says Wetton. I remember calling Bill from Olympic Studios to wherever he was and agreeing to tell our respective bands. London was like a village then and everyone knew everyone else and if something happened in a recording studio, like in Olympic where I was recording, it would very quickly get to Advision, where Bill was recording. So we had to do things at the same time.”

David Cross also received a call from Fripp. “He said he was setting up another session but this time with Bill and John and he asked me to come along and he wanted to see what would come out of that. It was that afternoon that the project became King Crimson.  There was a discussion as to what it would be called but eventually by the end of the day it was agreed that we’d call it King Crimson.”

“King Crimson was the ideal for me because it was a rock band and it had more than three brain cells” recalled Jamie Muir. “I was very much more an instrumental style of musician rather than being song based and there weren’t many other bands that I would have been any good in. I was extremely pleased and I felt completely at home with the Crimson.” On July 22nd the new line-up made front page news of Melody Maker. Yes Man To Join Crimson ran the headline. “The New King Crimson rehearsed quietly this week – with Yes’ Bill Bruford on drums alongside leader Robert Fripp”

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It wasn’t until the end of August after Fripp had completed his work as producer of Matching Mole’s Little Red Record that the new Crimson started working in earnest. Wetton recalls that the early rehearsals outlined the bones of tracks such as Easy Money and Book Of Saturdays (then called Daily Games). Fripp also ran the bare bones of an idea that he’d first tried out with the Islands-era line-up, and which would be later titled Larks’ Tongues In Aspic – a phrase coined by Jamie Muir but appropriated by Fripp.

There was a conscious decision to break away from the old Crimson repertoire. Whereas Boz, Mel and Ian had to a certain extent been hobbled by the necessity of playing material fashioned by previous line-ups, this version of Crimson carried no such baggage. Although groups such as The Mahavisnu Orchestra and Can integrated improvisation into their set lists, it’s hard to think of any other rock band operating at the time who took that blistering mixture of calculated risk and blind faith as far as it could go.  “There were long stretches where anything could happen and frequently did” laughs Wetton.  “A lot of the time, the audience couldn’t really tell the difference between what was formal and what wasn’t because the improvising was of a fairly high standard. It was almost telepathic at times. You’d automatically know what the other person was going to do and when they were going to do it. Extraordinary. Those kinds of things don’t happen very often.”

Robert Fripp guitar & Mellotron, John Wetton bass & vocals, Bill Bruford, drums & percussion, David Cross violin, Mellotron, electric piano, Jamie Muir percussion & allsorts. Appears on Larks’ Tongues In Aspic

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King Crimson aren’t so much a band as a series of bands, all featuring and led by idiosyncratic guitarist Robert Fripp. With a demeanour that resembles a University professor more than a rock star, Fripp’s plotted an erratic course for his band. The group formed in London in 1968, but their ninth album, 1982’s Beat, was the first time the band’s lineup remained the same for two consecutive albums.

While the term “progressive rock” has come to mean a specific style of music that’s symphonic and complex, King Crimson’s shifting lineups, fondness for improvisation, and changes of musical direction mark them as truly progressive. This daring approach can make for some difficult listens, but makes them constantly interesting – their discography is a wild ride, especially in the early 1970s as Fripp struggled to replace the mighty lineup that created their stellar 1969 debut, In The Court of The Crimson King.

A look through King Crimson’s studio discography is absolutely huge but here are five favourite albums, but you should bear in mind that a lot of their live material is also universally acclaimed albums like Epitaph from the initial lineup or Absent Lovers from 1984 are considered key parts of their discography.

Starless and Bible Black (1974)
king-crimson-starless-and-bible-black

I actually bought this album at the time because I loved the sleeve artwork, And of all King Crimson’s line-ups, my favourites and because of John Wetton’s vocal,  the mid-1970s iterations of the band, featuring John Wetton on bass and vocals and Bill Bruford on drums. Starless and Bible Black is less coherent than the two albums that bookend it, as it’s largely formed around live improvisations, but it’s still full of highlights like the complex, heavy instrumental ‘Fracture’ and the beautiful ‘The Night Watch’.

Released in March 1974, the bulk of Starless And Bible Black is a live album with all traces of the audience skilfully removed. Coming between the startling inventions of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, and the far-reaching repercussions of Red, Starless And Bible Black is a powerful and experimental album mingling live recordings with stand-alone studio tracks. Brimming with a confidence borne out of the band’s increasing mastery of the concert platform as a basis for inspired improvisations, the sparse, pastoral beauty of Trio, the impressionistic, sombre moods of the title track, and the complex, cross-picking rhythmic brilliance of Fracture all stand testimony to the musical ESP that existed between Cross, Fripp, Wetton and Bruford. A classic and compelling blast of King Crimson as you’re likely to hear.

Discipline (1981)
king-crimson-discipline

After breaking King Crimson up in 1974, Robert Fripp rebooted the band in 1981, retaining Bill Bruford from the previous lineup, and adding guitarist and vocalist Adrian Belew and Tony Levin on Chapman Stick and bass. The new lineup’s extreme virtuosity is impressive, a unique blend of new wave, progressive rock, and world rhythms.

After seven years away from the public King Crimson returned in 1981 with a brand-new incarnation. Joining Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford are ex-Zappa/Bowie guitarist, Adrian Belew and ace session and Peter Gabriel bassist, Tony Levin. Incorporating sounds reminiscent of the resonant chimes of ancient gamelan music and the sleek, clear lines of modern minimalism,this Anglo-American combination forged a startlingly different musical vocabulary. Frame By Frame, Thela Hun Ginjeet and the album’s title track in particular, showcase Belew and Fripp’s dovetailing guitar parts and Levin and Bruford’s cyclical grooves, forming a mesmeric sound unlike anything heard before on any previous King Crimson albums. The shimmering, hypnotic textures of The Sheltering Sky and savagely raucous Indiscipline provide aleatoric counterweights to the album’s tightly-controlled complexity.

Larks Tongues in Aspic (1973)king-crimson-larks-tongues-in-aspic

After a few unconvincing albums in the early 1970s, Fripp replaced his entire band, bringing in Wetton and Bruford along with percussionist Jamie Muir and electric violinist David Cross. The record is split between complex instrumentals, like the two parts of the title track, and strong songs like ‘Exiles’ and ‘Easy Money’, featuring Wetton’s gritty vocals. King Crimson’s 1973 album marked a radical departure from everything they’d previously done. With guitarist Robert Fripp as the only survivor from the original line-up, the new line-up featuring the heat-seeking work of ex-Yes drummer Bill Bruford and the virtuoso bass work of ex-Family bassist John Wetton, who also took on vocals here, presented a breath-taking tour of killer riffs, jaw-dropping dynamics, and poignant ballads. Featuring pastoral Vaughan Williams-style interludes from violinist David Cross, this line-up also embraced a spikier sound that was both willing to rock out, as on the unhinged complexities of LTIA Pt2, as well as explore and experiment with unorthodox textures and atmospherics thanks to eccentric percussionist Jamie Muir.

In The Court of the Crimson King (1969)
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King Crimson immediately made an impact with their debut, with Fripp sharing the limelight with Greg Lake on vocals and bass, Michael Giles on drums, and Ian McDonald on woodwinds; McDonald contributed a lot of the song-writing to the album. It’s not perfect, as ‘Moonchild’ drags, but it’s a landmark of progressive rock, effectively defining the symphonic prog genre with highlights like ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ and ‘Epitaph’. This remains King Crimson’s only gold record – they never capitalised on its success, as the initial lineup disintegrated – Lake went on to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Described by The Who’s Pete Townshend as ‘an uncanny masterpiece’, King Crimson’s debut was released in October 1969 becoming an instant chart hit on both sides of the Atlantic – not bad for a band who only got together less than ten months earlier. 21st Century Schizoid Man showcases the band’s ability to blend music that had the brutal attack of a claw hammer yet wielded with the skilled precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. Consisting of a visionary blend of gothic ruminations, anthemic Mellotron-laden grandeur, ornate arrangements and introspective folkish abstractions, the album was a huge influence on bands such as Yes and Genesis and countless other acts on the ‘70s rock scene. The albums distinctive sound is as fresh, bold and as startling as when it first appeared.

Red (1974)
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Gradually whittled down to a trio over the previous couple of records, the dominant sound on Red is the hard, complex rock of the title track and ‘One More Red Nightmare’ from Wetton, Fripp, and Bruford. But it’s the majestic closing ‘Starless’ that’s the gem of King Crimson’s oeuvre, a twelve minute epic that builds to a triumphant, unforgettable climax. Starless is one of King Crimson’s most popular songs came when the view counter for the video of the song performed by the Radical Action team tipped over the 3 million mark.

The song which originally closed off the ’70s incarnation of the band was reinstated to the KC setlist in 2014, 40 years after it had last been performed, and has stayed there ever since. The version posted on the King Crimson Youtube Channel is taken from 2016’s Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind. In case you’re not one of the three million people-plus to have watched it,

Recorded at the end of two lengthy tours of the USA in 1974, the final album of the 1970s finds King Crimson in an raw and uncompromising mood. Consisting of Crimson founder guitarist Robert Fripp, bassist and vocalist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford, the trio serve up a sound that’s metal-edged, gritty and powerful. Opening with the classic bulldozer instrumental title track, the album contains a typically eclectic mix that includes the jazzy rock of Fallen Angel, the punchy attack of One More Red Nightmare, the unsettling but dazzling near-telepathic improvisation of Providence and the stirring anthem, Starless whose opening ballad section gives way to a moving and emotional climax that is frequently cited as the ultimate King Crimson listening experience.

and here is the album version of “Starless”