Hammersmith Palais September 12, 1982
Written by J Willis
I have seen King Crimson live only once. 1982, Hammersmith Palais, on the "Beat" tour. While I retain a very clear memory of how I felt immediately after the show, it is disappointing to me now that I cannot recall more specific memories of that day for this account.
Me at the time: a 17 year old, and certainly a "late developer". Very romantic notions about rock groups and rock musicians. I was on my first unaccompanied visit to London. I never seemed to have any money at that time, so where I raised the funds to buy both the concert ticket and the bus ticket I can't say and don't remember. I am enormously grateful to this day that I was able to though.
King Crimson were not "officially" my favourite band at the time. That honour may still have been held by Queen, as it had been since I was 9 years old, but my tastes and interests had been developing rapidly over the previous year and King Crimson had virtually introduced themselves to me via three avenues: a previously invisible classmate that I suddenly noticed and began talking to when I discovered that he "liked music too" (hi Rob!); their proximity to Kiss in the record racks; the "Old Grey Whistle Test" appearance, where I began to sit up and pay attention.
So I arrived at the Hammersmith Palais with a lot of curiosity but not having heard much of the band's repertoire outside of Beat and Discipline. I consequently had very little idea of what I was going to experience that night. I can recognise these as ideal conditions to attend any musical performance now; at the time all I recall is a sense of not being an initiate that almost overwhelmed me. Outside and inside the venue discussions buzzed around me. Conversations concerning Eno, ambient music, a guy called Jamie Muir, albums and music that I had never heard or heard of by King Crimson and others, and the personality and vagaries of Robert Fripp.
Before the doors opened I waited with a growing crowd as people connected with the show arrived and entered the building. These included members of the band, occasioning excitement amongst the waiting enthusiasts. Tony Levin stopped for a chat, his personal warmth and charisma palpable. He signed my shirt. I remember one person remarking that he felt that Crimson had topped "Discipline" with "Beat". Tony thanked him for his kind comments. Robert Fripp I recall arriving in a small maroon car, possibly a Ford Escort. I recall the car very clearly, as my subsequent behaviour is probably one of the clearest and least pleasant memories I have of that day.
I ran towards Robert breathlessly requesting that he also sign my shirt. Seasoned Fripp enthusiasts will no doubt be able to fill in the rest of this passage. My request was met with a wordless scowl and what Sid Smith has described as "the much-discussed RF hip sway and shuffle". What I recall most clearly is the speed at which Robert entered the venue. In my memory it is almost as if he vanished instantly, replaced only by the glares of all those near me who were no doubt seeking more meaningful exchanges than a signed shirt. Or, with the benefit of knowledge I now possess with hindsight, maybe they recognised the jeopardy I had placed Robert's performance in. I cannot recall this moment without an accompanying sharp regret. Maybe writing this and placing it in a public place, where anyone who was also present at the moment I received this lesson could see it, will help here.
Was there a support band? I can't remember. I think there wasn't, and if there had been I would have seen them. I had been standing outside the venue since 4pm, and entered as soon as the doors opened. I bought a T-Shirt. (where did I get that money?)
The opening -- "Waiting Man", with the extended opening section similar to that which can be seen on the Frejus video. There was an overwhelming sense of play about this opening, I could sense the audience loosening up to enjoy the performance and realising myself that the band were going to play with the repertoire as much as they were going to simply play it.
I was standing about six people back, more or less right in front of Tony Levin. Fascination with the technique required to play the Chapman Stick. My screen memory zooms in on his fingers. Whenever he put it down to play his Music Man Stingray I was a little disappointed.
The band played every track from "Discipline", every track from "Beat" bar "Two Hands", "Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part II" and "Red"
"The Sheltering Sky". Bill wandering around on the stage hitting that small wooden instrument, swaying his hips. Adrian's extensive use of his whammy bar.
"Red". Amazingly I had never heard this track before this night. Now I feel privileged to have heard this track for the first time in this way, rather than "just" a recording. Was it a "good" performance? I don't know. But I was immediately engaged by the piece, its uncanny power, the melody an instant, intimate conversation with me. I don't recall it being introduced and I referred to it to myself afterwards as "that amazing new track".
"Discipline". I remember this as the final encore. It may not have been, it may have been the formal set closer. (In writing this account I have stayed away from gigographies that might answer that question, I want to try and limit this account to my own recollections, however unreliable.) I remember specifically the feeling that my feet were not on the ground at this point, that I was no longer standing on the floor. At least that is how I recall it now. It is a suspiciously romantic memory, but one I simultaneously mistrust and enjoy. I remember being absolutely caught up in the interplay between the band members during this track, trying (and sometimes failing) to follow it, but my fascination unwavering.
As the band left the stage Robert Fripp stood for a second facing the applauding audience, but didn't bow, an intense expression on his face that I couldn't interpret.
I missed my bus home and spent the night in Victoria Coach Station. It was a pretty cold night. I bought a cup of tea from a vending machine, but couldn't drink it, it was foul dusty stuff. I slept on a wooden bench and narrowly avoided being hosed down by (I think) the police as part of a program to discourage the homeless from sleeping in the coach station (I think) by waving my ticket at them.
It was the best night of my life to that date.
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