Jamie Muir

Jamie Muir (30 November 1942)
Although percussionist Jamie Muir was a member of King Crimson for around five months he was a hugely influential presence, not only during his tenure on stage and in the making of the Larks’ Tongues In Aspic album, but his presence would resonate through successive line-ups thanks to his coining of the phrase larks’ tongues in aspic when asked to describe the music the quintet’s music.

It was Melody Maker journalist Richard Williams who suggested Fripp give Muir a call for the new incarnation of Crimson after he’d seen Jamie playing in a group called Boris. In that setting, Muir was already adding a theatrical flair by using found objects, gestures, spoken word, and blood capsules - all on-stage elements he would use later in King Crimson’s UK tour in November/December 1972.

Muir’s career really began after his expulsion from Edinburgh Art School in 1966. “I’d been playing in local jazz bands where I started off playing trombone. I remember one night somebody called a tune and I didn’t know what it was and I had to ask the bass player or somebody how many accidentals or something with five sharps. I remember that night I thought ‘Sod this, this is just far too much studying’, and I put my trombone away and just started playing drums.”

In the mid-’60s, he was part of an Edinburgh-based multi-media group called The Assassination Weapon in which he not only played percussion but also looked after the swirling, psychedelic light show following his move to London around 1968 he began playing with the exploratory Music Improvisation Company alongside John Stevens, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Gavin Bryars, Hugh Davies and John Tilbury – all well-respected figures of the musical avant-garde scene. Muir appears on the ECM Records album, The Music Improvisation Company, released in 1970.

In addition to a short stint with Pete Brown’s Battered Ornaments and helping to form Boris, he also operated in the more conventional jazz-rock setting of Sunship with ex-Soft Machine sax player Lyn Dobson, future Gilgamesh/National Health keyboards player Alan Gowen, with whom Muir had also played in the Afro-rock combo Assegai in 1971, and guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Sadly no recordings of this group are known to exist.

Recalling the first meeting with Fripp, Muir says “we played for a couple of hours, upstairs in my little rehearsal room with mattresses plugged up against the windows. All I remember was playing some really fast and furious blowouts, which from a drummer’s perspective was the Tony Williams/Billy Cobham type of thing. It was fairly energetic stuff and I think we enjoyed ourselves. My feeling about getting the call was: ‘Terrific.’ King Crimson was the ideal for me because it was a rock band that had more than three brain cells. 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 Crimson.”

However, determined to follow his spiritual calling which had developed within him since reading Paramhansa Yogananda’s book Autobiography Of A Yogi, prior to joining Crimson Muir felt he had to leave the band after the recording of the Larks’ album. Having told EG Management of his desire to leave at the end of the forthcoming dates in March and April 1973, he was advised to leave immediately.

Muir would later regret not explaining his decision to the rest of Crimson and scoffs at the story put out at the time saying his absence was due to an injury sustained on stage at the first of two gigs at the Marquee Club in February. “That was nonsense about my having injured myself. 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.”

Leaving London and the music scene behind him, he moved to the Samye Ling Monastery near Eskdalemuir in southern Scotland in order to pursue a monastic Buddhist life. By a strange coincidence, this was the same monastery attended by Fergus Hall who would provide the cover art for The Young Persons’ Guide To King Crimson and The Compact King Crimson.

Muir returned to London and the improvised music scene in the early 1980s releasing Dart Drug with guitarist Derek Bailey and also returning to painting. Though he would make sporadic returns to music, collaborating with Michael Giles and David Cunningham to record a soundtrack to the film Ghost Dance released in 1996, Muir increasingly concentrated on his art and in recent years began to explore digital art as another mode of expression.

Jamie Muir with King Crimson
Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (1973)
Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (The Complete Recordings)