King Crimson – Part One: The Beginnings
[This five-part series was written in mid-November, 1999.]
King Crimson is a band unique to rock in many different ways. Its first, 1969, album more or less created "progressive rock" or "art rock." But unlike the bands which followed in its wake, like Yes and Genesis, it constantly reinvented itself over the years, staying ahead of musical fads and remaining on the cutting edge of rock, and it has never grown old and fat, never become a "greatest hits" or "oldies" band, and has reincarnated itself through four decades. It is now preparing its next album for release in the spring of 2000.
Although he denies being King Crimson’s leader, the one musician who has been in every incarnation of the band is guitarist Robert Fripp. And if we trace the origins of King Crimson back to their beginnings, they lie with Robert Fripp. In the mid-Sixties Fripp started out in a band called the League of Gentlemen (a name Fripp revived for a quirky little dance band in 1980), which released two now-rare and highly sought-after singles, "Each Little Falling Tear" b/w "And I Do Now" on (British) Columbia (DB 7666) in 1965, and "How Can You Tell" b/w "How Do They Know" on the Planet label (PLF 109) in 1966. This group supplied backing for various American black soul stars when they toured the U.K.
Fripp then met the Giles brothers. Michael was a drummer and Peter played bass. In August 1967 they reputedly formed a band called Brain, which released one single, "Nightmares in Red" b/w "Kick The Donkey" on Parlophone (R 5595) that year. "Nightmares in Red" has been described as "three minutes of sheer lunacy, nonsensical lyrics, discordant orchestration, snoring, total mayhem." This obscure single is of course now extremely rare and collectible, due to its historical importance to fans of King Crimson. However, when queried about this single, Robert Fripp told me, "The Giles Brothers were in Trendsetters Ltd. before Giles, Giles & Fripp. The single you're referring to belonged to the end period of Trendsetters and before I worked with them. So, I'm not sure if the single really is Trendsetters, or Brain for a group name during transition. But it's certainly not GG&F and I'm not on it." This information will confound collectors, who thought otherwise.
In 1968 the band [with Fripp] signed with British Decca’s Deram label (home to the Moody Blues) and changed their name to Giles, Giles and Fripp. They released a single, "One In A Million" b/w "Newly-Weds" (DM 188) in May, and an album, The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp (DML/SML 1022), later that year. Subsequently two tracks from the album were released as a second single, "Thursday Morning" b/w "Elephant Song" (DM 210). The album sank with hardly a trace, despite having an American release (with a different cover) as DES 18019. (It is rumored the British version sold a total of 600 copies.) However, in 1975 a British reissue was planned and copies were manufactured as SPA 423, but never released in Britain. Collectors should be aware that some of the newly pressed copies of this edition ended up for sale in American record stores as imports, and are now valued at $200 and up, depending on condition. In 1992 Deram released a CD of the album in both the U.S. and the U.K., with six bonus tracks, including the first single and two additional never before released tracks.
In June, 1968, multi-instrumentalist (saxes, flute, clarinet, guitar, keyboards) Ian McDonald joined the band. He brought with him his girlfriend, former Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble, who stayed only a month before breaking up with Ian and moving on to Trader Horne, an obscure band with one 1970 album. (During that month she did sing the vocals on a demo of Ian’s "I Talk To The Wind," which later appeared on The Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson.) With Judy’s departure Ian brought in a friend of his, lyricist Peter Sinfield.
The Giles, Giles & Fripp album had been a quirky British album, full of sunny songs but concluding with two stronger tracks, Fripp’s "Suite No. 1" and "Erudite Eyes." These hinted at what was soon to come.
But Peter Giles became disillusioned with the band’s lack of success and dropped out. He was replaced with Greg Lake, who took over the lead vocals as well. Sinfield had been collaborating with McDonald before they joined the group and began writing lyrics for the new songs they were creating. It was he who came up with the band’s new name: King Crimson.
It’s an unusual and evocative name for a rock band: commanding and somehow sinister. The band became King Crimson in January, 1969. They made their debut at London’s Speakeasy Club, made their first recordings (now available in the Epitaph collection) for deejay John Peel’s Top Gear show on BBC, and played for 12 weeks at the Marquee. Then, on July 5th, they opened for the Rolling Stones at their free concert in Hyde Park and blew the crowd away, totally eclipsing the Stones. [A recording of this concert has turned up, but is being kept from release by litigation from a former band member.]
They then recorded their debut album, In The Court of the Crimson King (Island ILPS 9111 in the U.K., Atlantic SD 8245 in the U.S.), which was released that fall. (They recorded it twice, not caring for the conditions or the results the first time.) The album was a bombshell. Its cover alone was trend-setting and visually startling: totally devoid of type and any name, it was a painting, a closeup in reds and purples, of an agonized face, mouth open in what looked like a scream of terror. It was a gatefold cover and the painting wrapped around to cover the back cover as well. The only printing was on the spine (although a sticker identifying the album was placed over the shrinkwrap). Inside the gatefold cover was a second picture in which the face is smiling.
Those contrasts summed up the music (written or co-written by McDonald) on the album as well. It ranged from the violence of "21st Century Schizoid Man" to the immediately following quiet beauty of "I Talk To The Wind." The second side opened with "Moonchild," the full title of which was "Moonchild, including The Dream and The Illusion," which segued into a long duet between guitar and vibraphone which echoed the guitar and bass duet on the last track of Giles, Giles and Fripp’s album. The album also featured the Mellotron – an instrument which plays taped sounds and was usually used to ape an orchestra – in a new and up front, solo role, forever identifying that instrument with progressive rock.
The impact of King Crimson and their first album cannot be underestimated. It was immediate and enormous at the time – 1969 – and time has not diminished it. The group and the album made waves. All over the world people heard it and were moved by it, many of them inspired to try music this ambitious and different for themselves as a direct result.
The music had many influences, ranging from Holst’s The Planets (especially "Mars," which the group played live) and Ravel’s Bolero on the classical side, to Elizabethan folk melodies and jazz, but those influences were thoroughly assimilated and the resulting music was fresh and new. "Schizoid Man" has influenced many heavy metal bands, and some (like April Wine) have actually recorded covers of it.
Around the time of the album’s release, King Crimson toured the U.S. It killed them. The band broke up at the end of their American tour, just before Christmas, 1969.
King Crimson – Part Two: What Might Have Been
In 1969 King Crimson were a young, unproven band, just one of dozens of striving new British "rock" bands. On July 5th the band opened for the Rolling Stones in London’s Hyde Park and blew the audience away. Robert Fripp wrote in his diary that day, "Standing ovation. Mammoth success, of importance which will take time to appreciate." It was a major milestone.
As revealed by the boxed set, Epitaph, and some of the King Crimson Collectors’ Club releases from that era, the live band was a lot wilder than the album it made, In The Court of the Crimson King (Island ILPS 9111 in the U.K. and Atlantic SD 8245 in the U.S.). In addition to the material found on that first album, the band played pieces like Holst’s "Mars," Donovan’s "Get Thy Bearings," pieces which never made it onto albums like "Mantra" and "Travel Weary Capricorn," and pieces which were embryonic versions of later recordings, like "A Man, A City" which later became "Pictures of a City," and "Drop In," an early version of the melody of "The Letters," which appeared, with lyrics by Peter Sinfield, on the fourth King Crimson album, the 1971 Islands. The lyrics of "Drop In" were by Robert Fripp and lacked the malice implied by Sinfield's later lyrics ("The Letters" were written with "a poison pen"). "Mars" was clearly a formative influence on Crimson; it inspired later Crimson compositions (by Fripp) such as "The Devil's Triangle" on the second album, In The Wake Of Poseidon, and "Lizard" on Lizard, the third album. The live performances were full of improvisations and had a looser, jazzier feel.
One wonders if they had any idea at the time of the importance of what they were doing. But in any case the original band broke up at the end of its American tour, the pressures being too great for Ian McDonald and Mike Giles, who told the group they were leaving after the last date on December 15, 1969, at the Fillmore West. Greg Lake departed soon thereafter, leaving only lyricist Peter Sinfield and guitarist Robert Fripp. Both Lake and Giles would return to the studio to assist Fripp with the second album, but Lake soon formed Emerson, Lake and Palmer and has since expressed the opinion that without him King Crimson was a failure. This opinion is not widely shared, but it is true that the band’s first album was its greatest commercial success (it went to #28 in America) and that only the original King Crimson had a chance for rock-star-like mega-success. But it was the prospect of this kind of fate which broke the band up. Its members were too young and too ill-equipped to handle an overnight success like this.
It's fascinating, if somewhat fruitless, to speculate on what might have happened, had events taken a different turn. Fripp's choice was to let King Crimson run its course by recording the next two Crimson albums as studio-sessions, there being no live and functioning band of that name until 1972. Consequently, In The Wake Of Poseidon (ILPS 9127, SD 8266)and Lizard (ILPS 9141, SD 8278) the second and third Crimson albums, continued the basic structure and nature of the first album. But what would have happened if McDonald, Giles and Lake had stayed for at least a second album? What would that album have been like?
[At this point the piece virtually duplicates my original review here of McDonald & Giles’ album, and I have edited out all but the concluding paragraph.]
If King Crimson had remained intact through at least the second album, there would have been an obvious and ongoing evolution away from the approach of the first album. Moods would have lightened and the band might have achieved a very different (if no less important) reputation by 1971. Would this have been an improvement over the King Crimson which in fact existed then? Impossible to say – but different, surely.
King Crimson – Part Three: After The Breakup
The original King Crimson did not survive its first (and only) U.S. tour, breaking up in December, 1969. As the only surviving member, Robert Fripp recorded the second and third Crimson albums with studio-bands – using a variety of available musicians, including Greg Lake, Michael Giles and Peter Giles, from the first band and its predecessor, Giles, Giles and Fripp, as well as Jon Anderson (of Yes) and Gordon Haskell on individual vocal tracks, and with saxophonist/flautist Mel Collins replacing Ian McDonald.
The second album, In The Wake of Poseidon (Island ILPS 9127, Atlantic SD 8266), could be described as cut from the same template as the first, with Fripp taking up the challenge of writing the music for all but one track (on which he shared composition credit with departed member Ian McDonald), which was also released as a single, "Cat Food" (b/w the non-album track, "Groon") (WIP 6080). During this time Elton John "auditioned" for the position of lead vocalist (Fripp listened to a recording by him and dismissed him as inappropriate) and Fripp was asked to join Yes (to replace departing guitarist Peter Banks), an invitation he declined.
The second album was rushed out to take advantage of the popularity of the first, in mid-1970. Like the first, its cover painting was unadorned with any typography or name. (But the painting, of Jung’s archetypes, was not threatening and lacked the shock impact of the first.)
And late in 1970 the third album, Lizard (ILPS 9141, SD 8278), was also released. Again, Robert Fripp wrote all the music and Peter Sinfield all the lyrics. Bryan Ferry (of subsequent Roxy Music fame) failed an audition for vocalist for this one. (Lizard’s cover – another gatefold like the first two – consisted of illuminated letters which spelled out "King" on the back cover and "Crimson" on the front, the artwork adorning each letter depicting characters of a scene from one of each of the pieces on the album. The album’s title, Lizard, appeared only on its spine.)
In 1971 Fripp put together a new working band, one which would play outside the studio. This band consisted of Mel Collins on flutes and saxes, Boz Burrell on bass and lead vocals, and Ian Wallace on drums, plus Fripp on guitar and Mellotron. Augmented by many of the studio musicians who'd played on Lizard (Keith Tippett, piano; Robin Miller, oboe; Mark Charig, cornet – plus soprano vocalist Paulina Lucas and upright bassist Harry Miller, as well as a small orchestra), this band recorded Islands (ILPS 9175, SD 7212), the fourth Crimson album.
The packaging on this album differs between the U.K. and U.S. versions. The British Island release came inside an outer slipcase sleeve which has a wraparound astronomical photo of the "Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius" – and no title. The inner sleeve – printed on thin paper – is itself a gatefold, with three irregular island-like water-color blobs on a cream background, painted by Peter Sinfield. Oddly, it includes a printed spine – as if designed to be the outer cover – which runs down a narrow strip on the back, there being no flat spine. When this gatefold is opened we find the title, Islands, heading the left page, along with lyrics and credits, and a photo montage of the group, under "King Crimson," on the right page. The American Atlantic version skips the outer slipcase and the astronomical photo, transforming the inner package into an ordinary gatefold LP – but upside down, with the front and back reversed. There is still no title on the outside, except on the spine. The interior of the gatefold jacket is virtually the same as on the U.K. version.
The band subsequently went on two tours of the U.S., during the first of which, "My increasingly strained professional relationship with [lyricist] Peter Sinfield became more difficult," says Fripp. "Peter departed the group in December following our return to England. The remaining quartet broke up in rehearsals ... in January 1972."
However, "EG Management told me that the group was obliged to tour America in the Spring, to honour contractual commitments. In retrospect, I don't believe this was true. At the time, much of the tour seemed too ad hoc to indicate a lot of forward planning." But the tour was undertaken, and ultimately produced "(I believe) rock's first official bootleg album," according to Fripp, Earthbound (HELP 6).
Recorded on audio cassettes from the band's soundboard, Earthbound's sound quality was only marginally better than that of an audience-recorded bootleg. Island Records released the album in the U.K., but Atlantic refused it. The album was issued with a somber black cover with only the title in silver type – no artwork. Earthbound was drawn from performances in Wilmington, Delaware; Peoria, Illinois; Jacksonville, Florida and Orlando, Florida. It had a raw, jamming quality. Here were no faithful recreations of studio tracks but rather long jazzy improvisations, fuzzily recorded and rather grungy. "Crimson repertoire didn't fall naturally on Mel, Boz & Ian, with the possible exception of Mel Collins," Fripp reports. "During the three-month Earthbound tour the ill-fitting Crimson repertoire gradually fell away to be replaced by jamming. The ballad side of Crimson was particularly ill-suited to Boz's singing, naturally more inclined towards blues, rock and scat. ... Improvisation has played an important, even critical role, in all the Crims. This live Crimson was more a jamming than an improvising outfit."
Fripp adds, "The exceptional playing of Mel Collins notwithstanding, this was not as radical an outfit as the other Crimsons. The other musicians looked more to the American tradition than myself, who at this time looked to what was available from Europe. They could also party a lot better. ... King Crimson was an unfair opportunity for these exceptional players." What Fripp didn’t mention is that when he met Boz the man was a singer and did not play an instrument. Fripp taught him to play bass. Boz subsequently became a founder-member of Bad Company, a hard-rock band – as its bassist.
stands apart from all other Crimson albums, and its title suggests that it was released to show why this band broke up -- which it did at the end of that tour, the entire band, sans Fripp, joining touring partner Alexis Korner (a British blues musician) as his backup band, Snape. "The personal relationships between the musicians deteriorated over three long months," Fripp says. "At the end of the Crimson tour Mel, Boz and Ian continued on with Alexis Korner ... and I flew back to England to recreate a Crimson of new formation."
was "deleted after much effort by myself," Fripp says, "in the 1980s." But, "It is now a cult classic and in so much demand we are planning a re-release through Virgin." The album has never been released in the U.S., and has never been released on CD anywhere, so this is good news for King Crimson fans seeking it. [But, a year later, there is no indication of when it will be released on CD.]
King Crimson – Part Four: Gaining Its Stride
It was 1972, and in three short years King Crimson had released four studio albums and an almost bootleg-quality live album. The first incarnation of King Crimson had ended with the band’s breakup at the conclusion of their 1969 American tour. The second and third albums were recorded by Robert Fripp with musicians he called into the studio for that purpose – there was no live band. In 1971 Fripp had formed a working, touring band – only to see it break up at the end of another American tour.
Now he put together another new band. He was joined by David Cross on violin and Mellotron (the band had two Mellotrons, so Fripp and Cross could play them simultaneously), John Wetton (formerly of Family) on bass guitar and vocals, Bill Bruford (formerly of Yes) on drums, and Jamie Muir on "percussion and allsorts." Muir came out of the avant garde, and brought with him a sense of the larger world of music -- that world which exists beyond rock and beyond pop music, where music is one of the arts. "Jamie was far too intelligent and well-balanced a human being to stay with the group for long," Fripp says of him. Indeed, he left the group in mid-February, 1973, after performing with it for only about half a year. He rejoined the group in the studio to complete the recording of their album that month, but was in fact by then no longer a performing member.
What did this "percussionist" add? Muir "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. ... All this dressed in animal skins. He also took up 40-60% of group resources in space and time," according to Fripp. He added an ineffable quality to the group and taught Bruford a great deal about subtlety. (Muir's "allsorts" included African thumb pianos, mechanical laughter, bird calls, whirring objects that sounded like gnats, and a very wide variety of percussion oddments.)
The new album was Larks' Tongues In Aspic (Island ILPS 9230 in the U.K., Atlantic SD 7263 in the U.S.). The title was bizarre enough, but the opening track, "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Pt.1," was stunning – and on levels King Crimson had not previously attained. There was a level of musical maturity and ambition which surpassed previous Crimson albums. And something else had taken place: a shift in the nature of the music.
From the beginning, King Crimson's music had been story-telling music, which is known as "programmatic" music. It was also Romantic, in the classical music sense of that word. But with Larks' Tongues that changed. The music stopped telling stories. It became abstract – more nearly pure music.
A great mystery seemed to underlie "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Pt.1" -- a mystery not solvable by reference to the lyrics (there were none) or any sense of a specific story. There was only that confounding title to go on, with its hints of Chinese decadence – or maybe of British Imperial decadence – and whatever could be gleaned from the music and the strange snatches of voices (as if taken from a short-wave radio -- which they may have been) which popped up in places.
Fripp remarks of the recording of the Larks' Tongues album, that "I received a postcard from [Muir] not long afterwards with a Muir-collage mounted on the front -- 'All part of the rich tapestry of life.' He was departing for a monastery in Scotland, where he spent the next few years." (He may have been influential in Fripp's own decision to disband Crimson and join a monastery of his own for a few years in late 1974.)
After Muir left the remaining quartet made Starless And Bible Black (ILPS 9275, SD 7298). It began as an 82 minute concert given at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on November 23rd, 1973. This not to be just any live concert – this concert was planned in advance as the live recording session for the next King Crimson album. And from this concert about 27 minutes of material was used on Starless And Bible Black. The album has, by Fripp's reckoning, only 12 minutes of material actually recorded in the studio. In addition to the Dutch performances, another piece was taken from a performance in Glasgow, and yet another, with studio overdubs, from a concert in Zurich.
What is significant here is not the use of material already written and rehearsed, like "Lament," "Fracture," and "The Night Watch," but the improvisations, coined on the spot as it were, like "Trio" (to which Bruford contributed total silence), and "Starless and Bible Black." (The latter subbed as the album's title track when the written piece, eventually titled "Starless," could not be finished in time. "Starless" ended up on the next album, Red; embryonic versions can be heard in live performances on The Great Deceiver boxed set of CDs.) In effect, instead of following the usual route of writing, rehearsing, and recording new material for Starless And Bible Black, and then playing it in concerts, Crimson chose to record a concert and use it as the basis for a new album. There are no audience noises on the finished album, and no indications that the more obviously improvised parts weren't also done in a studio.
But when you listen to the live concert recordings – from any era – you become aware of just how much the live Crimson always improvised. This was a band which did not in fact play "jazz," but which did use a jazz-like approach to improvisation...and often intermingled on the bandstand with British jazz musicians, who occasionally guested on the albums (especially Lizard). Improvisation seems to gain impetus from live performance before a real audience. There is a sense that one can't just stop the tape (as one can in the studio) and start again: one has a performance to sustain for the audience. One is held (or holds oneself) to a higher standard of music and performance. One is more "in the moment" and able to rise to the challenge.
Cross left and the remaining trio (with guest shots from violinist Cross, founding member Ian McDonald, and Ian's sometime replacement, Mel Collins on saxes, plus Robin Miller on oboe and Marc Charig on cornet) made Red (ILPS 9308, SD 18110). This album has been described as "the best heavy metal album ever made by a non-heavy metal band." Its first side has amazing metal-like power. Side two seemed to be leftovers: "Starless," finished too late for the previous album, and "Providence," a live improvisation recorded in Providence, Rhode Island, on their previous American tour. There was talk of McDonald rejoining Crimson as a full member to tour with Red when, in late 1974, Robert Fripp disbanded the band. McDonald wondered if the invitation to rejoin Crimson – which he’d accepted – followed by the disbanding of the group, was a payback for his leaving the original Crimson, but Fripp had simply had enough of the music business and needed a sabbatical.
Nonetheless, one more album came out of this period, the live U.S.A (ILPS 9316, SD 18136), in 1975. Recorded during the band’s 1974 tour of America (as a quartet), "remix assistance" is credited to Eddie Jobson for overdubbed violin on two tracks and piano on a third track, replacing David Cross’s work on those tracks – making this a not-quite "live" album. Like the earlier live Earthbound, this album has not yet been reissued on CD, although plans are in the works for a U.S.A. II CD which will include both the overdubbed tracks and their original versions sans overdubs.
King Crimson ceased to exist between late 1974 and 1981. But its records continued to sell, and Fripp wryly admits that it was in this dormant period that the group’s alumni finally began to make some money from it.
King Crimson – Part Five: The Discipline Era
In the fall of 1974 Robert Fripp decided he’d had enough of the music business and left it for several years. He suggested that fellow founding member Ian McDonald replace him in the group, but King Crimson’s management and record companies did not go along with the idea, perhaps correctly seeing Fripp as the embodiment of the Crimson King. So the group disbanded.
Ex-members John Wetton and Bill Bruford briefly worked together in UK, a post-Crimson fusion band. And after several years Robert Fripp began playing again – this time with the solo Peter Gabriel (whose second album he produced), with the New York band Blondie, with Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates (whose solo album he also produced), with the Roches (for whom he also produced an album), and with David Bowie. In 1979 he released his first solo album, Exposure (EGLP 101 in the U.K., Polydor PD 1-6201 in the U.S.) In 1980 he revived the name of his mid-Sixties band, The League of Gentlemen, for a quirky post-punk dance band which gigged small clubs and released one album on LP (EGED 9 in the U.K., EG/PolyGram/Polydor PD-1-6317 in the U.S.)
In 1981 Robert Fripp put together another band, calling again on drummer Bruford, along with Peter Gabriel’s bassist and Chapman Stick player, Tony Levin, and Adrian Belew, a young guitarist who’d been playing with Frank Zappa and the Talking Heads. This band began life as Discipline, but in mid-rehearsals recognized that it was in fact the new incarnation of King Crimson. The sound of this band – with two guitars and no horns and very little keyboards (and virtually no Mellotrons) – was very different from that of earlier Crimsons. Instead Fripp and Belew built a style around a sound he had unveiled with the League of Gentlemen, a precessive sound of interlocking guitar lines which owed something of its nature to Balinese gamelan music. Gamelan music uses interlocking rhythms and patterns. In live performances the band played a few pieces from the Seventies Crimson book, but on record it presented a very different face from that of the earlier band. Less bombastic, and less European in its sound (the band was now half British and half American), with lyrics composed and sung by Belew, this Crimson sought and found a new audience.
This incarnation of King Crimson lasted into 1984 and produced three albums and three tours. The albums, Discipline in 1981 (EGLP 49 in the U.K., BSK 3629 in the U.S.), Beat in 1982 (EGLP 51, 23692-1) and Three of a Perfect Pair in 1984 (EGLP 55, 9 25071-1), were all released through EG Records, via Warner Bros. in the U.S.
EG began its life as King Crimson’s original management company, but evolved into a music publisher and record label, creating internal conflicts of interest. Ultimately the company’s owners (who had replaced the original Crimson-friendly owners) began diverting the band’s royalties to cover their business losses in other areas, and Robert Fripp spent a number of exhausting years in the late Eighties and early Nineties fighting the company in court, eventually winning. EG sold its interests in King Crimson to Virgin Records (now a wing of EMI), which has apparent control over the band’s pre-Nineties catalog. This includes the 1989 "Definitive Edition" remasters of all the previous albums on CD (earlier CDs of these albums had been taken directly from the LP mixes).
King Crimson reformed again in the mid-Nineties, this time releasing its albums through Fripp’s own company, Discipline Global Mobile (DGM) and Virgin, with whom Fripp developed a good working relationship. The Nineties Crimson was a "double trio," consisting of two guitarists (Fripp and Belew), two bass (or Stick, or Warr Guitar) players (Levin and Trey Gunn), and two drummers (Bruford and Pat Mastelotto). Its music was more or less a continuation of that of the Eighties, but heavier (more powerful) and less intricate (no interlocking guitars). Its first release, in November 1994, was Vrooom from DGM (DR 9401 2), taken from the band’s early rehearsals, and an "EP" or short album. The title track drew upon an unused portion of "Red" from 1974, giving it a link to the earlier Crimson, and had a coda richly evocative of the coda to the Beatles’ "Hey Jude" – but much heavier. [The coda’s title, "Marine 475," is a sardonic reference to the funds diverted and lost by EG.]
That release was the precursor to Thrak (Virgin/Capitol 7243 8 40313 2-9), which came out in April, 1995. The material on the EP was re-recorded (after its live performance had worked any kinks out) and new pieces were added. That was the only studio album this incarnation produced. But a great deal of live and archival material has subsequently been released.
They include B’Boom (DGM 9503) a double-CD recorded live in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in October, 1994; and THRaKaTTaK (DGM 9604), a collection of live improvisations leading into "Thrak." In addition there have been several "singles" (on CD), most of them derived from the albums and featuring edited tracks, but one of which is of more interest to collectors: Schizoid Man (Virgin VSCDG 1597), which presents five different versions of this classic King Crimson piece – the original version from the first album, an edited single version (which is two minutes shorter), and live versions from 1969, 1972 and 1974, the 1972 version being from Earthbound.
In 1997 DGM released Epitaph (DGM 9607A/B + 9607C/D) a boxed set which, as sold in stores, held two CDs, but if purchased directly from DGM held four CDs – all live recordings of the original band in 1969 (both in Britain, including BBC broadcasts, and in America, including their final concert at the Fillmore West). This opened the door for more releases of this sort. The first was The Nightwatch – Live at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw (DGM 9707), the original concert used as the basis for 1974’s Starless and Bible Black. It was followed by Absent Lovers (DGM 9804), a double-CD live recording of the band in Montreal from 1984 and released in 1998.
Then DGM started the King Crimson Collectors’ Club, which offers archival albums by subscription ($96 for one year and six CDs). Currently there have been seven releases, the 5th and 6th being a two-CD set, Live on Broadway – Live in NYC 1995. The first three (arguably the most important) – Live at The Marquee 1969, Live at Jacksonville 1972, and The Beat Club – Bremen 1972 – have been issued in Japan as a boxed set by Pony Canyon as The Collectors' King Crimson – Volume One (PCCY-01394) and has been imported to many American record stores.
In 1999 Virgin released Cirkus – A Young Persons' Guide To King Crimson Live (CDVKCD 12), a double-CD set of live performances ranging from 1969 to 1998, which includes cuts by ProjeKcts One and Two.
In order to find and develop a new direction, the double-trio Crimson "fractalized" into "ProjeKcts." These were trios and quartets drawn from the double-trio. ProjeKct One made its appearance at the Jazz Club in London in early December, 1997. By then ProjeKct Two had already performed in Nashville. Each "ProjeKct" grouping took a wholly improvisatory approach. Out of these improvisations, it was hoped, new music and a new direction would emerge. DGM has just released a boxed set of the first four (DGM 9913) as well as The Deception Of The Thrush: A Beginners' Guide To ProjeKcts (DGM 9915), a single-CD "best of" from that boxed set (with different edits on some tracks). (ProjeKct Two released Space Groove, DGM 9801, a two-CD set, in 1998; ProjeKct Four’s The Roar of P4 – Live in San Francisco was the seventh Collectors’ Club release.)
King Crimson has also offered one "album," Live in Mexico City, recorded August 2, 3, and 4, 1996, solely via the Internet as a free (for thirty days – which are now up) download from the DGM website. (Robert Fripp also uses this website to post daily diaries and to interact with his fans, who post to the site’s Guestbook.)
This year Virgin offered a newly remastered CD of In The Court of the Crimson King (the first album) as a "mini-LP" 24-bit "30th Anniversary Edition" (CDVKCX 1). Next year the following three albums are expected in the same format, the remastering overseen by Fripp.
As I write this, King Crimson has reformed itself as a quartet, returning to the Eighties configuration, with Fripp joined by Belew, Gunn and Mastelotto (Levin and Bruford had other demands on their time, but are presumed to be members in absentia), and is presently writing and rehearsing its next album in Belew’s home studio in Nashville. The album is expected next spring.
[The Collectors’ Club continues – although momentarily on hold over legal wranglings concerning the release of the legendary July 5, 1969 Hyde Park concert – and King Crimson released The ConstruKction of Light in the spring of 2000, followed by worldwide tours, from which the 3-CD set, Heavy ConstruKction, has been drawn. All of the 1970s studio albums are now available as remastered 24-bit 30th Anniversary Editions (initially in "mini-LP" packages, and subsequently in jewel boxes). The beat goes on….]