In retrospect, it seems that I have been trying to get away from King Crimson for almost as long as I have been a part of it. The discomfort of being part of this unlikely and ongoing group is slightly less than the discomfort of experiencing music waiting for King Crimson to play. So, I remain attached.
Preparing new material for King Crimson is, each time, like re-inventing the wheel. Generally, with other wheels running in different directions, and my wheel working against gravity. Or so it feels to me.
In July 1973 the band had a three and a half week holiday. At least, the other three members did. I stayed at home, at that time a cottage in Holt, two miles outside Wimborne, Dorset. Each day for three weeks I presented myself to the problem of the wheel, with manuscript book, pencil and eraser, and Les Paul. The basic structures of "Fracture", "Lament" and "The Night Watch" appeared in the kitchen. Then I had my own three day holiday. In keeping with the group policy regarding publishing monies, the royalties were shared equally between the four members.
Everyone's holidays at an end, the group rehearsed for three weeks in Kingston, outside London. Writing rehearsals are probably the worst time for any group, and a likely time to break up. These particular rehearsals set new standards of horror, and were also the first for this band as a four-piece: the writing rehearsals at Richmond of August 1972 (which produced "Larks' Tongues", "Exiles", "Easy Money" and "Book of Saturday") were with Jamie Muir.
Immediate live performance after a deathly rehearsal period is the best healing, and Crimson went off to tour Europe for the Autumn. In keeping with EG Management policy the musicians were not paid for this work, only receiving per diems. The rationale, as explained to me, was that the group received its recompense from the record and publishing royalties from the record sales generated by our live performances. There was not enough money in the budget (so I was informed) to pay the musicians. But it appears (from my accounts retrieved from a filing box this January 1997) that there was enough money in the budget to pay EG Management their management commission, in addition to their own share of the record and publishing royalties generated by our touring.
This was true of all KC touring 1969-74. Musicians were paid for the first time in 1981, when, also for the first time, there were two musicians in the group (Adrian Belew and Tony Levin) who were not themselves directly managed by EG. Their external advisers were evidently not persuaded by the EG notion that professional musicians should play live performances as a promotional strategy sufficient unto itself, this stricture not being applicable to EG Management's commissions.
Mr. Alder commented on this point to me several times for many years afterwards, and I continue to wonder why this point held a charge for him.
My own preference is to play material before an audience prior to recording it, so the music may be tested, recognised, acknowledged, absorbed, accepted, modified and rejected. For the executant, the music enters the body and leaves the attention free from purely technical considerations. For the audience, their acceptance and participation qualitatively changes the music: as if the music moves from conception to birth. Music comes to life in front of an audience, or not.
The recording of "Starless and Bible Black" (1974) used a different approach, where the auditorium functioned as the recording studio, but the audience were not highlighted as a part of the process. "S&BB" included around 26'50" from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw (November 23rd 1973) on a total running time of approximately 46' 49". "We'll Let You Know" was drawn from the Glasgow Apollo, October 23rd. 1973 and "The Mincer", with studio overdubs, from an improv in Zurich on November 15th 1973. "Fracture" was also overdubbed in the studio for its inclusion on the album.
The 12 minutes of studio recording provided "The Great Deceiver", "Lament" and the bulk of "The Night Watch", the live version of which was spoiled by David's mellotron going into meltdown, and frying adjoining tracks.
The BBC also broadcast a large part of the Concertgebouw show, which has been extensively bootlegged in various different versions and under varying names. Despite the variations, all the bootlegs of this show seem to share the same lo-fi sound and hi-price.
A problem in presenting any new album to public scrutiny is that it is taken to be a final statement. In actuality (at least for Crimson) the statement is provisional, in process and ongoing, however definitive it may appear in retrospect. The release of "The Great Deceiver" (on 4 volumes) in December 1992 rewrote the public history of the 1973/4 Crimson; the private history of a more committed audience, reinforced by extensive bootlegging, was already confirmed - this band could be disturbingly powerful, and powerfully disturbing. "In The Court Of The Crimson King" was only one view of the 1969 group and not balanced until the release of the DGM four volume "Epitaph" box set in March 1997. The history of King Crimson, and its relationship with the music of its contemporaries, is currently being re-assessed in the sonic light of these releases.
But a provisional or qualified statement is a statement nonetheless. So whose statement is it? It seems reasonable for a punter to conclude that the statement accords with group consensus. For Crimson, who choose not to work with outside producers, an album tends to be a combination of consensual and committee mixes. From inside the group, and my own player-perspective, committee mixes are death by a sweeter name: long, drawn-out, and involving suffering for all the family. It is rare indeed that any player accords primacy to the ensemble. If the group accept this as an aim, then there is no one privileged position or perspective on that multi-faceted ensemble. This present album is the particular consensus view taken by David Singleton and myself.
This particular aural snapshot of a flying moment accords a permanence to the moment which would have surprised the four young musicians. This performance has now been heard, in different ways, for a generation, and the repertoire itself for a sufficient period of time for the audience to generate and bring its own experience and expectations to the music. This confers a solidity to the concert which would not have been present on the night.
A whole range of listening assumptions has changed since Billy and the Boys banged and clattered in an auditorium now prohibited to rock groups. In 1973 the focal point for any stereo album was the centre, and the ideal place to listen right between the speakers. This was the norm from which all other judgements followed. The knobs on domestic hi-fi equipment were optimistically marked "treble" and "bass" (not "thin" and "dull") and panning was what critics did to performers. The responsibility for the sound to be heard by listeners (other than professional audients) belonged to the producer / mixer / engineer.
Today, who listens in the centre, live or at home? The majority of a concert audience continue to strain from the sides (as ever), and the common central listening position is on headphones. On contemporary mass-produced sound carriers the listener can re-organise their music with graphic equalisers and choose the venue - hall, church, dance hall or cinema - where they would prefer the music to be played.
This CD is presented to a post-modern world which has abandoned the simple, even simplistic, certainties of the musicians, and probably the audience, of the Concertgebouw on one evening in late 1973. The aim is to present the music of that night so that what was played is available to be heard, albeit in a manner of the listener's choice.
A motto for Crimson might be: when you know what you're doing, you don't know what you're doing.
A particular vocabulary, or repertoire, has currency for a particular period. Then the wind changes direction and everything is different. Whatever felt right, and worked for the players, suddenly is without power; and probably for the audience. All established procedures, opinions, small points of reliability, need to be dropped. The traditional Crimson response, when faced with the end of a cycle, is to break up. And in this it's timing has been impeccable.
After 1976 it was impossible to mention the titles of any of this material, or the name of the group, without attracting derision, perhaps hostility, from anyone who read and were influenced by the English music press.
Since 1992, gradually and increasingly, it has been possible to discuss publicly, without whispering and furtive backward glances over shoulders, the rock music of the period 1969-76. I offer no apology for transparently pratty music played by young dopes wearing satin, often between limousine rides; nor of the young dopes. Neither do I offer criticism of the choices they made for themselves. I have myself worn crushed velvet trousers, but generally refused to ride in limousines (on the basis that this was less a form of transportation, more a political statement).
King Crimson's raison d'etre, way of doing things, business choices, professional strategies and musicking, stands outside the defining context in which the group functioned. Or so I argue.
The sudden increasing respectability of "prog rock" I view with the same polite smile, occasional polemic and tart comment, robust and impartial good humour with which I viewed the preceding period of ignominy and social disgrace. This too shall pass. And that also shall pass.
If the young artist today is to succeed in the music industry, a beginning generation of business people are needed. A new and alternative kind of music industry will probably not yield huge levels of success. The mainstream industry is set up to address the mainstream. The apparent success in achieving the distribution of music is mainly because, outside the industry, one doesn't get to see the failures, deceit, dishonesty, manipulation and distortion of people's lives - both artists and industry rank and file. Should the gentle reader, reasonable, reliable and professional, perhaps in a position of power over others, feel I overstate the case, I regret that I do not. Should the worldly-wise reader suggest that this is the case in business generally, I reply that I can only speak with confidence of what is within my experience.
There is a qualitative difference between popular and mass cultures.
For Crimson, relatively well established in a Crimhead ghetto of mainly 35-45 year olds, legendary and successful as long as it doesn't go very much against the grain of the expectations its audience holds, this album celebrates our larger present moment. But In 1973 it would have helped limit the aspirations any of its members might have held towards a wide and mainstream success.
The re-establishment of KC in 1994 required the establishment of a business policy to match. The exploitive nature of EG, the business organisation which managed it during 1969-84, would have been death to KC in its current incarnation. Increasingly, it has become evident to me that participation in the conventional wisdom of the mainstream music industry is the death of Crimson, rather than the limitation, restriction and inequitable burden it has always been.
A monstrous live creature, it failed to convey its power on record until the studio album "Red" in 1974, which only hinted at its intensity. The live outfit, although a stomper, was flawed in several ways.
The formation of the group in 1972 included Jamie Muir, a wonderful, reflective and wise young nut and old egg who cheerfully bit on blood capsules while releasing chains whirled around his head and which had, a moment before, been flailing sheets of metal; then falling in an effusive and bloody fashion upon his drums to propel the group and his co-drummer Bill Bruford through the next piece of orchestrated mayhem. Or threaten large PA cabinets on either side of the stage with demolition by shakers. All this dressed in animal skins. He also took up 40-60% of group resources in space and time.
Jamie was far too intelligent and well-balanced a human being to stay with the group for long. Confronted with the nonsense of life on the road he opted for life. He fell ill and missed two gigs at the Marquee, February 10-11th. 1973, when Bill assumed the role of drummer/percussionist for the first time. This was actually the debut of the four-piece Crimson personnel on these records.
Although he completed the recording taking place during early 1973 - "Larks' Tongues In Aspic" - Jamie never returned to the group. I received a postcard from him not long afterwards with a Muir-collage mounted on the front - "All part of the rich tapestry of life" - and "Coo-eee, love Jamie" written on the back. He was departing for a monastery in Scotland, where he spent the next few years.
The four-piece which remained never settled in the 16 months of live work which followed, and after which David Cross left. The violin is not an instrument of heavy metal, even hard rock. As the group developed a more muscular stance David's place in the band lost context and he became increasingly an electric pianist and mellotronist (if such is possible).
The aim in presenting this live performance is to reflect the spirit of the group in a moment of its appearance. Unsettled and unsettling, it went into places dark and light; wildly unsympathetic, unbalanced and with prodigal time, vigorous, searching, leaping and often missing the mark, at moments achingly poignant, it moved into territory that was disturbing and disturbed, and never arrived at where it was going: where it was going was how it got there, sometimes tuning up as it went along. This music is taken from the time when we no longer considered England our main working base, even Europe, welcome more in America.
On this album the dynamics of the music are pretty much the dynamics of the group on stage. There are slight adjustments in places: microphones didn't always work, or worked too well, or were placed too close to the metal plates hanging behind the drummer's muscular torso and within striking distance of his enthusiasm. The volume of the mellotrons, electric pianos, guitar and violin were controlled mainly by footpedal. So, if a foot slipped the "orchestra" lurched. John generally altered the bass volume by moving the volume knob on his Fender, not an exact operation even in moments of equanimity, and the huge scrunch of his Foxx Fuzz/Wah pedal was huge and scrunched.
The characters on stage were playing a live gig, and they went for it. If one of them couldn't hear what was happening, they might play quieter. Or they might not. They might not care that they couldn't hear someone else, even might not want to. So, the onstage level at the time was what they had to do and, failing that, what they were doing anyway.
Between 1973/4 KC had an increasingly loud bass player of staggering strength and imagination, arguably the finest young English player in his field at the time. Whenever he went to The Speakeasy he was offered yet another job with yet another famous English group. The drummer had the temperament of a classical musician who wanted to be a jazzer and worked in rock groups. He found in King Crimson a group which gave him the freedom to spread, experiment, grow, move about and hit things hard and often. So he did. I'm not sure that Bruford/Wetton were a good rhythm section but they were amazing, busy, exciting, mobile, agile, inventive and terrible to play over.
The violinist was placed in an increasingly impossible situation. A musical and personal distance began to open between him and the rest of the group. The balance between David and Jamie, constructed in the original quintet formation, was lost. He added delicacy, and wood. But the front line couldn't match the power of the rhythm section or their volume, and the guitar was stronger than the violin.
So, King Crimson 1973/4 was not a balanced group, or perhaps it was balanced in disarray. It was sometimes frightening, and not a comfortable place to be. Inherently unstable, sharing differing aims and going in different directions, finally, it went there. After 16 months as a quartet it became a trio for three months whereupon King Crimson "ceased to exist".
Among all the musicians and their groups and projects of the period, the live Crimson in 1973/4 was on its own territory. It drew mainly on a European vocabulary both for its writing and improvising. Increasingly it needed improvisation to stay alive: this was its life blood. But that didn't show much in the studio albums. In concert, it stepped sideways and jumped. It went places where other musicians of that rock generation mainly avoided. This team looked into the darker spaces of the psyche and reported back on what it found. The 1969 Crimscapes were bleak and written; the 1973/4 Crimscapes were darker, and mainly improvised.
This was a secret to nearly everyone until December 1992 and the release of "The Great Deceiver", a four volume CD box taken from my personal archive of live recordings - unless they'd had their ears pressed flat against their head by John Wetton's soaring bass. This would not have been possible before compact disc technology, nor before the hostility against music of this era subsided sufficiently for the music to be heard above the din of an often justifiable prejudice.
Live recording is not a precise art. But then, neither is recording.
Here are some aphorisms culled from 23 years of experience in recorded live performances and particularly relevant to the music here:
- A soundcheck bears no relationship to what will happen once the audience enters and musicians walk on stage, other than both soundcheck and performance take place in the same building.
- Distrust any musician who gives you their maximum level at soundcheck.
- Microphones move from the positions they were put in.
- Drum microphones record everything.
- Vocal microphones record nearly everything.
- Excited drummers sometimes hit their microphones with drumsticks.
- Feet slip on volume pedals.
- Distrust any lighting person that tells you their lights can't, don't and won't cause buzzes on the sound system.
- A recording engineer will have to change reels; i.e. tapes will run out while the band is playing. In time, this will occur to them.
- Tuning a mellotron doesn't.
Musicians become excited, audiences are excitable. Sometimes carefully placed percussion mikes record the flying fury of an overdriven bass stack, violin mikes collect cymbal smashes, mellotron mikes collect nothing, guitar amps pick up buzzes from faders on the stage lights (which aren't sound checked), monitors feedback, audiences banter with their favourites, sometimes musicians banter with their audiences.
While the audience and group get underway, so does the recording engineer: adjusting levels as they run, sending roadies on stage to change microphones and their positions, dealing with breakdowns, and on occasion changing reels or having two machines run simultaneously. It took a while for the idea to catch on that if musicians were up and flying, burning, spraying, they weren't going to watch a clock telling them it was time to stop for a reel change. So, bound by the Law of Maximum Distress, reels are more likely to run-out in a feeble take than a hummer. But they will run out.
The audience were generally drugged. (In Holland, always). But then, so were many of the musicians of the time, also managers, also record company executives.
Rock performance in the early Seventies became an arena event: more spectator sport than a door to hope. But audiences were generally very generous and forgiving of their favourites, even profligate in their giving. A foolish performer underestimates the intelligence of the audience at large, given a little time.
Taken from the liner notes to The Night Watch