King Crimson was conceived in the kitchen of 93a, Brondesbury Road, during the second half of November 1968; and born on January 13th. 1969 in the Fulham Palace Cafe, Fulham Palace Road, London. On December 7th. 1969, while driving to Big Sur, Ian McDonald told me of the decision taken by Michael Giles and himself, during the preceding three days in Los Angeles, to leave the band. The last performance by this, the first incarnation of King Crimson, was at the Fillmore West, San Francisco, on December 16th. 1969.
I returned to England with a broken heart. At the time, I couldn’t understand how anyone could leave a group of that originality and power. Twenty seven years later I know it’s better to take a holiday after an overlong, gruelling tour, than a life-decision which affects everybody. But these were young musicians, and young managers.
In retrospect, Michael and Ian regretted their leaving. But both Greg Lake and Ian McDonald achieved greater exposure, popularity and financial success with their subsequent projects - ELP and Foreigner - than was likely had Crimson continued. Michael married the woman he loved, and had left behind in England.
The tag of “Crimson King” or “bandleader” has followed me in the years since the breakup of 1969. As a simplicism, and a way to dodge subtlety and complexity, this is fair enough. It is also inaccurate. None of the original group saw me in this light, including myself. The group was a group, everyone contributed, and everyone’s contribution affected the contribution of everyone else. No one person could have made this band what it was. Or is.
Crimso `69 was a painful experience for me. Even now, as I sit to write liner notes for “Epitaph”, I remember little joy in the experience - other than the music. And the music was remarkable, and sufficient, to endure the rest of the life that accompanied it. The rest of the life was a broad liberal education, an opportunity few young people get to embrace. But as a package I would wish it on no one, with the possible exception of one of my former managers and his solicitor.
This album cannot convey to contemporary ears, or give the experience of being inside and part of, a performance by this “monumental heavy with the majesty - and tragedy - of Hell” with its “immense towering force field (that) either pinned down patrons or drove them out”; alternatively “boring beyond description” that couldn’t “shatter windows or set bodies to bopping at 10 paces” (US reviews of NY and LA shows, December 1969).
So here are two staple Crimson contradictions: a live band on record, and polarised reviews.
1969 was for me an initiation into performance, and music. Each generation has its own initiation, by its own generation of musicians and artists. A young listener, coming to Crimso ‘69 for the first time, is more likely to hear this as part of the history of rock than as a life-shaping experience. Perhaps someone who was in the Speakeasy, or the tent at Plumpton, might re-enter their experience through this record. Or remember how much they hated the opening act for Geno Washington.
The group was immensely popular, and immensely unpopular.
Like it or not, the group was special. Why? What made the group so special?
King Crimson in 1969 had the right music, musicians, music industry and audience in attendance, to make it work. These are some of the main factors which made King Crimson stand out, and contributed to its success:
Material, executive talent, concept, commitment, energy of desperation, surprise, management, record company, publicity, media, album and album cover, the time of the world, technology, the Ford transit van, Angus Hunking, our good fairy.
A reader interested in some of the commentary of the time might consult the Scrapbook to “Frame By Frame” (4 CD overview, Virgin 1991) which, despite its many and impressive typographical mistakes, gives a good overview of this, and subsequent, Crimsons. The following are personal comments; broad, but not comprehensive. ==>
At the time and for the time, the playing standard was high for young rock musicians.
Greg Lake (21) had played with several semi-pro bands in the Bournemouth area, and then joined The Gods. Greg studied with the same guitar teacher as myself, Don Strike of Westbourne, and brought a guitarist’s technique to the bass.
Ian McDonald (23) spent five years in an army band which, although he hated it and drove him to despair, gave Ian a wide practical experience and a sound foundation to express his exceptional musical talent.
The guitarist (23) was an intense and driven young player who played in two Bournemouth area rock groups as a teenager, and spent three years in the Majestic Dance Orchestra. After King Crimson in 1969 he practiced a lot more and got better. This album suggests in 1969 his solos were pretty feeble. Ian didn’t like his guitar playing very much and, on the evidence of this album, I have sympathy with his view.
Michael Giles (25) was outstanding. Also from Bournemouth, in 1969 Michael was arguably the most exciting and original drummer in rock, and in a world class. I never knew him to play badly.
The musicians came together out of Giles, Giles & Fripp during the second half of November 1968. Only one person changed: Greg Lake replaced Peter Giles. I saw myself heading in a different musical direction to Peter, a superb bass player, and gave Ian and Michael a choice. Greg was a singer, and both lead and bass guitarist. I suggested he could replace Peter or myself.
Peter Sinfield and Ian were already writing partners before Ian joined Giles, Giles & Fripp, towards the end of a failure to alert the world to the fact of our existence. Peter accompanied Ian into the nascent King Crimson from GG&F, and during the initial and definitive rehearsals Peter provided criticism, advice, commentary and words. Peter moved rapidly from the inside of the outside to the outside of the inside.
Peter’s formal and practical involvement with the new group began as roadie and lighting man, in addition to providing words. He tired of being a roadie very quickly, mainly because of the weight of the equipment and how the life weighed on him. In Peter’s words (MM January 2nd. 1971): “I became their pet hippie, because I could tell them where to go to buy the funny clothes that they saw everyone wearing ... in fact I carved and hustled my way to where I am now”. In 1969 Peter was not quite a full member of the performance team, but more than a full member of the writing team.
What did each of the members bring to King Crimson?
Greg brought the physical presence of a front man and singer. His approach was energetic, pragmatic and direct.
The guitarist: the closest I can come is this - he brought a raison d’etre.
Ian brought musicality, an exceptional sense of the short and telling melodic line, and the ability to express that on a variety of instruments.
Michael brought authority - and humour, drive, invention, and a sense of the perverse.
Peter’s primary contribution was to the group’s material. But this doesn’t go far enough: he saw something, gave it words and applied them to the group. Peter recognised the band and gave it its name. He also found the cover. In a sense, Peter helped shape the perception of the group as King Crimson from both the inside and the outside.
What bound us together, for a short period of time, was commitment: the group was our prime aim and interest. With commitment all the rules change. As we became well known, outside interests and attention increasingly impinged and the group began to gently fall apart. But the intensity of the first six months generated enough momentum to keep the group moving, and it did, until falling over six months later.
The energy of desperation fuelled our efforts. We all had lame professional experiences which pointed ways not to go in music. So, we resolved to play what we wished to play (note for the dimwit reviewer: this does not equate to self-indulgence) and figured if we were good enough we might earn a living. A living in 1969 was £30 for the single men, and £40 for a married, and nothing for Peter Sinfield, who began working as an unpaid roadie.
The core writing partnership was Ian McDonald and Peter Sinfield. But essentially the material was all written, arranged, transformed by every member of the group, whoever and whatever its origination. Giles’ contribution was so startling and catalysing it would be arbitrary and inaccurate to exclude him from writing credits merely because he didn’t “write” anything. Michael’s drumming is a key element to the material.
“In The Court” and “I Talk To The Wind” were primarily McDonald / Sinfield, although the final form of INTCK went far beyond the original song as presented. Greg considers that he wrote the melody. “Epitaph” was a group effort, developing rapidly during an evening rehearsal from an idea presented by Greg. “Schizoid” was the same, using the opening riff (Greg) modified by Ian (the chromatic F, F#, G) and my fast running lines. It was Michael’s suggestion to play the fast “Schizoid” break in rhythmic unison. Peter would walk the block surrounding the Fulham Palace Cafe and return with words, and I often returned from a visit to Calatychos’ outside toilet with a spray of bright ideas.
But to ascribe personal contributions or bits to individuals is difficult, unfair and mistaken: everyone was involved. This is how a group works - if one person thinks of an idea, sooner or later someone will play it.
My own main writing concern was to give good players something good to play. A song demands an accompaniment, but good instrumental playing needs a line which can stand up, run on its own, and provide a springboard to take off and fly.
Peter Sinfield’s words from his period with Crimson have been much maligned and used to exemplify the worst pretensions of progressive (now “prog”) rock. Although I had difficulties with some of Peter’s words on the subsequent Crimson albums, as he had with the music, on “In The Court” Peter’s words are in a category of their own. They are the words of a writer who wrote from personal necessity, and have the power and conviction of direct seeing. After this album Peter become a professional wordsmith, and worked and practiced that skill. In 1969 Peter didn’t know what he couldn’t do, and none of us anticipated the acclaim and hostility which his words provoked.
The shock of this group’s performances in England, from its debut on April 9th. 1969 at the Speakeasy in London, is difficult to convey 28 years afterwards to someone who wasn’t part of that generation, or to anyone familiar with the work of later players who were themselves influenced.
A key to it was surprise: the group came from nowhere. No-one in the group had a reputation, or was known outside Bournemouth. Yet within a short time the live Crimson exerted a wide influence on other groups of its generation. Pete Banks, the first Yes guitarist, was drinking at the bar of the Speakeasy in London on April 9th. 1969, our first gig, when Crimson began playing. His drink never left the bar. Two days later the young Bill Bruford walked home to Fulham at five in the morning from the Strand Lyceum, raving about the group he had just seen.
The Speakeasy gig was small but made a huge impact on its music business clientele. The Hyde Park show on July 5th., supporting the Rolling Stones on their return to live action, propelled the group to national prominence. The audience was huge, perhaps 750,000. And we stole the show. There were also a large number of Europeans and Americans, who spread the word when they got home.
The West Palm Beach Festival of 28-29th. November, another huge event, broke Crimson (and Grand Funk Railroad) in America.
The only record from this period, “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, failed to convey the power of Crimso live but does have the intensity which characterises classic Crimson of any period.
This is the only Crimson which could have had massive commercial success. It also drew as much hostility as acclamation, beginning a convention which is honoured to this day.
- A new generation of businessmen, a generation which had grown up with rock music, came into being to parallel the new generation of musicians.
Island Records became KC’s record company after we were initially turned down by Muff Winwood, on the grounds that the group had no image so wouldn’t be able to tour without a hit. This was impressively clueless, given the group was about-to-become the most important live band of 1969. It may be the beginning of my own lack of confidence in the capacity of record company personnel, of whatever stature or position, to know what’s good for an artist’s career.
Marquee Martin was our first agency, but we were unpleased and withdrew. In retaliation, Marquee Martin took us off the main stage at the Plumpton Festival, where we would have played to thousands, and put us into the tent, capacity 1,000. We moved to Chrysalis, then only an agency.
Willie Robertson, a personal friend of our managers, took on the insurance of King Crimson and is now a world leader in the specialised insurance of rock groups, their equipment and tours. Willie continues to insure King Crimson to this day.
- The key to the group’s business success was EG Management.
EG Management was formed in 1968 by David Enthoven and John Gaydon, who were both working at the Noel Gay Organisation, the management office for the successfully unsuccessful Giles, Giles & Fripp. Effectively, King Crimson and EG began at the same time, in January 1969.
The original relationship between KC and EG was as of partnership. The quality of this agreement - with musicians and management working together, rather than parties with opposing and conflicting interests - distinguished the first phase in the life of KC and EG from that of probably any other comparable managerial relationship of the time. It helped make EG a company which became widely respected and admired in the industry. The relationship rested on trust, and the capacity to be trusted.
This relationship of trust, mutual involvement, participation and sharing in the costs and rewards of our work together, with copyrights shared between musicians, writers and managers, was unlikely, idealistic, remarkable and it worked. The quality of this relationship, in intent and practice, provided a sufficient reputation and dynamism to launch and carry the company through into the late 1980s. But by then things had changed.
The spirit of the early period I have characterised as “realistic idealism between gentlemen in business”. The direction of the company was artist led and management based. John Gaydon left the company at the end of 1970, and David Enthoven in 1977.
The spirit of the original relationship had already changed well before David’s departure, but afterwards the way in which the company operated changed. But that is another story, and not a musical one.
The concept that one could trust a gentleman in business to act in accordance with his unsubstantiated word now seems impressively historic, quaint and pitifully naive. A parallel collapse in the confident assumption that one can trust a chartered accountant to protect their clients’ interests and money, or a solicitor to recommend that a client behave in accordance with common decency and natural justice, leads me to a profound unease when considering the future of our social polity.
III. Premier Talent was our American agency, headed by Frank Barselona, with a young Barbara Skydel. Today they continue to act for ELP. Atlantic was our US record company, with Frank’s wife Joan handling Crimson publicity in Atlantic. Our American management was a friend of Frank’s, Dee Anthony, himself a person of legend, and who afterwards managed several English artists, including ELP, Joe Cocker and Peter Frampton.
This was a formidable team, and a large factor in Crimson’s take-off in the US, where the album climbed to 28.
- In the wider business context, the record industry began a period of unstoppable growth in 1968, particularly in the US, which continued until 1978. Recorded music was both a musical and business phenomenon.
- An especial word of gratitude for Angus Hunking, a retired industrialist married to Ian McDonald’s aunt. In late 1968 Angus leant us £7,000 from his retirement fund which we used to buy equipment and for basic wages until we began earning. Without Angus, Crimson wouldn’t have been able to happen. He died in the late 1970s but saw his investment repaid (1970) and was particularly happy to witness Greg’s success with ELP.
The “Good Fairy”
The act of music is utterly mysterious. King Crimson was my initiation into the magical world of playing music which then comes to life, of itself, as we played it. I had been touched before by the music of other players, but in this band music leant over and took us into its confidence.
There was something completely other which surrounded this group. I don’t believe that we went from abject failure to global musical and commercial success in nine months without something outside the band giving us help. We sometimes mentioned the “good fairy” and had the impression for a time that we could do no wrong, that something special was going on. And it was. At some shows I had extra sensory experiences - of the audience, what was happening or what was about to happen, who had walked into the club, who was listening - that I have never had since.
My own perspective on Crimson is obviously rather different from the other founder members of the 1969 band. I sympathise with the view that the only real Crimson was the first Crimson, their Crimson. I agree that this founding Crimson was charmed, but it is not the only Crimson which has had something else available to it.
Each live Crimson has featured some aspect of new or current technology. In 1969 this was the mellotron. Available in studios for three years (I played one on GG&F’s “The Cheerful Insanity”) they were rare on the road and I believe only Crimson and The Moody Blues were using them live in 1969. And the Moodies used them rather differently.
Ian McDonald was the mellotronist for this Crimson. They were, and are, beasts to play. The pre-recorded tapes play in tune (to the degree that they are able) with a steady voltage. If the voltage drops, so does the speed of the tapes and therefore the pitch. We discovered during the first American shows that American voltage is not as stable as English. A strong forte downbeat on the first of “In The Court” and the majestic D major strings fell to somewhere just above D flat. Or thereabouts. We then learnt about voltage stabilisers.
The group began with a spread of Marshall stacks and then moved to Hiwatt. Mellotron and electric sax through either could be frightening. Michael used a double drum kit, fairly uncommon and remarkable in front of Giles’ feet. Sometimes during a drum solo he would kneel on the floor and talk to them.
We also used the first powerful WEM pa systems. Peter Sinfield introduced us to onstage miking: his innovation was to leave the vocal mike turned on when the singing stopped. No one miked drums or amplifiers in clubs: vocals were the only sound source thought to need a mike. This changed as we moved to theatres, notably the Fairfield Hall, Croydon (October 17th.).
Our famous light show was built by Peter Sinfield of plywood and Bacofoil with coloured lightbulbs, plus a strobe light. It was considered revolutionary at the time. Peter operated the lights, and in time made such occasional adjustments to the eight track WEM sound mixer (at the side of the stage) as he thought necessary.
A revolutionary piece of non-musical technology was the Ford Transit van, which transformed life for the gigging band. The Transit could carry a full load of band equipment and two roadies, who then hurtled off into the night down or up along the fairly recent and developing motorway system of England. (This was because we couldn’t afford hotels for the night. The group drove themselves to and from gigs in David and John’s VW Beetle).
The record propelled the group to international prominence. It was recorded and mixed in about ten days at the end of July, following two abortive attempts with Tony Clarke, the producer of The Moody Blues. We realised we would make mistakes, but decided it was better to make our own mistakes.
The record was an instant smash, and still sells steadily.
The Record Cover
The cover was as strange and powerful as anything else to do with this group. Barry Godber, a friend of Peter and Dik the Roadie, was not an artist but a computer programmer. This was the only album cover he painted. Barry died in bed in February 1970 at the age of 24.
The cover was as much a definitive statement, and a classic, as the album. And they both belonged together. The Schizoid face was really scary, especially if a display filled an entire shop window.
Peter brought the cover into Wessex Studios in Highgate during a session. At the time Michael refused to commit himself to it, nor has he yet. But Michael has also never agreed to the name King Crimson. We went ahead anyway.
The original artwork hung on a wall in 63a, Kings Road, in full daylight for several years. This was the centre of EG activities from 1970 and remains so today, albeit in its diminished and truncated form. For several years I watched the colours drain from the Schizoid and Crimson King faces until, finally, I announced that unless it was hung where it was protected from daylight, I would remove it. Several months later I removed it and it is now stored at Discipline Global Mobile World Central.
Began favourable, got mixed, and was immense.
- The easy availability in 1997 of music (mainly recorded) deafens us to its continuing capacity to amaze, move, mystify, excite and nourish us. Adults become aurally sophisticated, and dull. We have lost our innocence and fail to listen, and to hear, as if for the first time.
In 1969 I was a relative innocent, and so were many of the Crimson audience. The acquisition of sophistication is a better alternative than cynicism, but both put us outside the moment in which the musical event unfolds. It is very hard to assume innocence within a field of experience, but innocence lies in wait.
In 1969 rock musicians enjoyed a particularly privileged role: they were taken seriously as mouthpieces for the culture. This was probably the last year in which they were. A main concern of the young generation, particularly in America, was the Vietnam conflict. As a young musician and “hairy” travelling across America in 1969 the connection was unmistakably clear between the peace movement and rock music as an instrument of political expression and the voice of a generation. The demarcation between “straights” and “hairies” equally so. The Hairies believed that rock music could change the world. I have less hair now, I believe music can help to change our world, and now I appreciate that the action of music is more subtle than a young man knows.
- The outdoor music festivals were a feature of the late 1960s (and two of them broke King Crimson to a large public). A benevolent presence was at work through rock music and rock musicians, particularly in these large gatherings which were the definitive festivals of the period: Woodstock, Hyde Park, the Isle of Wight.
But whatever spirit there was in the air of 1969, it never got as far as 1970. The impulse of which Crimson was a part didn’t carry over into the 1970s. By 1974 the musical “movement” had been corrupted, diverted and gone irretrievably off-course.
III. Any consideration of the time has to take account of the drugs being used. Always a non-user myself, I offer no criticism of those who have. But part of the particular success of King Crimson and the debut album can be attributed to the kind of drugs which were being used: acid and marijuana.
So I was told, ITCOTKC was New York’s acid album of 1970.
Rare Archive Tapes
These are not the only tapes of Crimso in 1969. Some are lost, and some are hiding.
Peter Sinfield’s tape of the Kinetic Playground in Chicago, where we supported Poco and Iron Butterfly (and was burned out for non-payment of the insurance premium), was lost when some of Peter’s effects were lost in transit from Spain to England during the 1980s.
My own tape of Hyde Park is somewhere, lost. The person who sent it to me didn’t have the live Schizoid, so dubbed on the album version. And somewhere I have heard the tape of a New York show which contains the improv. Someday, I might find these in an unmarked box.
I have had a tape of the Chesterfield Jazz Club for many years. This has been extensively bootlegged, together with the Plumpton Festival and the BBC sessions. The quality is awful but, given the rarity and appeal to collectors, DGM intends to release them in a companion edition to this set.
David Singleton’s work to bring these tapes to a listenable state has been, in some cases, a rite of necromancy. This project would have been quite impossible without very recent technology, David’s commitment and perseverance.
There have been better performances, but these are representative. The San Francisco show was one of the weakest this band played but, as the last, is at least historic.
These CDs include the very first and last recordings of Crim the Great, beginning at the BBC in Maida Vale and ending in the Fillmore West, San Francisco.
Tapes and Live Performance
This record is true to the music and spirit of the event, but it is also a translation of that event. The time, place and circumstances of listening are very different, and music is only one part of a musical context.
If anyone listening, of a certain maturity, had their lives radically reshaped by this band or these performances (and, Baby Blue, I was one of them) they might be interested in comparing their original experience with this record: perhaps by listening on an exceptionally loud sound system, while looking at a strobe light for five minutes. If, on the other hand, this is a first embrace with Crim ‘69 for a pair of innocent ears, what to make of a band as loved as loathed, loathed as loved, that leapt to everywhere from nowhere, and back again, all within nine months?
Discipline Global Mobile World Central, Wiltshire, England.
Taken from the sleeve notes to “Epitaph”