King Crimson

King CrimsonFrom: London, England

In August 1967, brothers Michael Giles (drums) and Peter Giles (bass) who had been professional musicians in various jobbing bands since their mid-teens in Dorset, advertised for a singing organist to join their new project. Fellow Dorset musician Robert Fripp – a guitarist who did not sing – responded and the trio formed the band Giles, Giles and Fripp.

Based on a format of eccentric pop songs and complex instrumentals, the band recorded several unsuccessful singles and one album, The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp. The band hovered on the edge of success, with several radio sessions and a television appearance, but never scored the hit that would have been crucial for a commercial breakthrough. The album was no more of a success than the singles, and was even disparaged by Keith Moon of The Who in a magazine review. Attempting to expand their sound, Giles, Giles and Fripp then recruited the multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald on keyboards, reeds and woodwinds. McDonald brought along his then-girlfriend, the former Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble, whose tenure with the group was brief and ended at the same time as her romantic split with McDonald (she would later resurface in Trader Horne). More significantly, McDonald brought in lyricist, roadie and art strategist Peter Sinfield, with whom he had been writing songs – a partnership initiated when McDonald had said to Sinfield, regarding his 1968 band Creation, “Peter, I have to tell you that your band is hopeless, but you write some great words. Would you like to get together on a couple of songs?” One of the first songs McDonald and Sinfield wrote together was “The Court of the Crimson King”.

Fripp, meanwhile, had seen the band 1-2-3 (later known as Clouds) at the Marquee. This band would later inspire some of Crimson’s penchant for classical melodies and jazz-like improvisation. Feeling that he no longer wished to pursue Peter Giles’ more whimsical pop style, Fripp recommended his friend Greg Lake, a singer and guitarist, for recruitment into the band, with the suggestion that Lake should replace either him or Peter Giles. Although Peter Giles would later sardonically describe this as one of Fripp’s “cute political moves”, he himself had become disillusioned with Giles, Giles and Fripp’s failure to break through, and stepped down to be replaced by Lake as the band’s bass player, singer and frontman. At this point, the band morphed into what would become King Crimson.

King Crimson, line-up 1 (1968–1969)
The first incarnation of King Crimson was formed in London on 30 November 1968 and first rehearsed on 13 January 1969. The band name was coined by lyricist Peter Sinfield as a synonym for Beelzebub, prince of demons. According to Fripp, Beelzebub would be an anglicised form of the Arabic phrase “B’il Sabab”, meaning “the man with an aim” – although it literally means “with a cause”.[17] Historically and etymologically, a “crimson king” was any monarch during whose reign there was civil unrest and copious bloodshed; the album debuted at the height of world-wide opposition to the military involvement of the United States in Southeast Asia. At this point, Ian McDonald was King Crimson’s main composer, albeit with significant contributions from Lake and Fripp, while Sinfield not only wrote all the lyrics but designed and operated the band’s revolutionary stage lighting, and was therefore credited with “sounds and visions”. McDonald suggested the new band purchase a Mellotron (the first example of the band’s persistent involvement with music technology) and they began using it to create an orchestral rock sound, inspired by The Moody Blues.

Peter Sinfield, interviewed for Prog Rock Britannia: An Observation in Three Movements, described Crimson thus: “[W]e had an Ethos in Crimson…we just refused to play anything that sounded anything like a Tin Pan Alley record. If it sounded at all popular, it was out. So it had to be complicated, it had to be more expansive chords, it had to have strange influences. If it sounded, like, too simple, we’d make it more complicated, we’d play it in 7/8 or 5/8, just to show off”.

King Crimson made their live debut on 9 April 1969, and made a breakthrough by playing the Rolling Stones free concert at Hyde Park, London in July 1969 before an estimated 500,000 people.

In the Court of the Crimson King
The band’s debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, was released in October 1969 on Island Records. Fripp would later describe it as having been “an instant smash” and “New York’s acid album of 1970” (notwithstanding Fripp and Giles’ claim that the band never used psychedelic drugs). The album received public compliments from Pete Townshend, The Who’s guitarist, who called the album “an uncanny masterpiece.” The sound of In the Court of the Crimson King (specifically the track, “21st Century Schizoid Man”) has also been described as setting the antecedent for alternative rock and grunge, whilst the softer tracks are described as having an “ethereal” and “almost sacred” feel. In contrast to the blues-based hard rock of the contemporary British and American scenes, King Crimson presented a more Europeanised approach that blended antiquity and modernity. The band’s music drew on a wide range of influences provided by all five group members. These elements included romantic- and modernist-era classical music, the psychedelic rock spearheaded by Jimi Hendrix, folk, jazz, military music (partially inspired by McDonald’s stint as an army musician), ambient improvisation, Victoriana and British pop.

After playing shows in England, the band embarked on a tour of the United States, performing alongside many contemporary popular musicians and musical groups. Their first US show was performed at Goddard College, in Plainfield, Vermont. While their original sound astounded contemporary audiences and critics, creative tensions were already developing within the band. Michael Giles and Ian McDonald, still striving to cope with King Crimson’s rapid success and the realities of life on the road, became uneasy with the band’s direction. Although he was neither the dominant composer in the band nor the frontman, Fripp was very much the band’s driving force and spokesman, leading King Crimson into progressively darker and more intense musical areas. McDonald and Giles, now favouring a lighter and more romantic style of music, became increasingly uncomfortable with their position and resigned from the band during the California tour. In order to salvage what he saw as the most important elements of King Crimson, Fripp offered to resign himself, but McDonald and Giles declared that the band was “more (him) than them” and that they should therefore be the ones to leave.

The original line-up played their last show together in San Francisco at the Fillmore West on 16 December 1969. Ian McDonald and Michael Giles then formally left King Crimson to pursue solo work, recording the semi-successful McDonald and Giles studio album in 1970 before dissolving their partnership (McDonald would later resurface as one of the founding members of Foreigner while Giles became a session drummer). Live recordings of the original King Crimson’s concerts were eventually released twenty-seven years later in 1996 as the double/quadruple live album Epitaph and in the King Crimson Collector’s Club releases.

From the start of 1970 until mid-1971, King Crimson remained in a state of flux with fluctuating line-ups and break-ups, thwarted tour plans and difficulties in finding a satisfactory musical direction. (This period has subsequently been referred to as the “interregnum” – a nickname implying that the “King” (King Crimson) was not properly in place during this time.) Greg Lake was the next member to leave, departing in early 1970 after being approached by Keith Emerson to join what would become Emerson, Lake & Palmer. This left Fripp as the only remaining musician in the band, taking on part of the keyboard-playing role in addition to guitar. To compensate, Sinfield increased his own creative role and began developing his interest in synthesisers for use on subsequent records. ~ Wikipedia

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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1969 album In The Court Of The Crimson King

  • 21st Century Schizoid Man
  • Epitaph
  • I Talk To The Wind
  • Moonchild [Edit]
  • The Court Of The Crimson King

From the 1970 album In The Wake Of Poseidon

  • Cadence And Cascade
  • Cat Food
  • In The Wake Of Poseidon
  • Pictures Of A City

From the 1970 album Lizard

  • Cirkus
  • Happy Family
  • Indoor Games

From the 1974 album Starless And Bible Black

  • Lament
  • The Great Deceiver