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LIVE AT PLYMOUTH GUILDHALL 1971 (King Crimson Collectors’ Club #14)

LIVE AT SUMMIT STUDIOS 1972 (King Crimson Collectors’ Club #9)

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the Collectors’ Club here, and in the interim the name has changed from the D.G.M. Collectors’ Club to the King Crimson Collectors’ Club, more clearly defining and limiting the Club’s releases.

The Club has offered releases from every incarnation of the King, ranging from the vintage ’70s albums I’ve mentioned previously here to the ’80s band (LIVE AT THE MOLES CLUB 1981; LIVE AT CAP D’AGDE 1982) and the ’90s band (THE VROOOM SESSIONS 1994; ON BROADWAY 1995) – but the ’70s provides the best Club releases, not least among them LIVE IN CENTRAL PARK 1974. Release #12 – LIVE AT HYDE PARK 1969, the “long lost” tape of their July 5th triumph – has yet to be released, held up by quarrelsome litigation from Greg Lake, the man who believes the “real” King Crimson ended when he left the band.

The two albums now under consideration were made by the “Islands band” which Robert Fripp formed in 1971. This was the first Crimson to perform live since the original band broke up at the end of December, 1969, and I wrote about its history in my review of LIVE AT JACKSONVILLE, 1972. As I pointed out in that review, “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.’” So the band pulled itself together for a second tour, at the end of which the three other members quit, leaving Fripp once again holding the bag.

Up until now we’ve heard live recordings only from that second tour, when the band was reformed to fulfill its supposed contractual obligations.   But Live at Plymouth Guildball , recorded on the night of May 11, 1971, is “our first gig in the UK,” according to drummer Ian Wallace (who supplies the notes for the album).   In fact this was only the fifth live performance by this band, the first four occurring at Frankfurt, Germany’s Zoom Club. The complete gig is captured on two CDs running a total of 95:32, or a bit over an hour and a half.


But, typically, the first CD opens with over two minutes of the sounds of setting up, tuning the Mellotrons, etc., before the music actually begins. This strikes me as unnecessary, and I find myself hitting the skip button to fast-forward over those two minutes.   However, unlike other early Club releases, this album is derived from soundboard tapes made by the band, augmented with an audience-recorded bootleg tape which supplies some audience ambience and the first two minutes and 34 seconds of “Get Thy Bearings,” the first track on the second CD (“repairing” the “missing intro section” on the soundboard tape). The sound is (with the exception of those opening minutes of “Get Thy Bearings”) quite decent and wholly listenable.

The set was revealing. Here are both early versions of pieces which would subsequently be recorded for ISLANDS and late performances of pieces which were live staples of the original band, but never recorded for a studio album, like the aforementioned “Get Thy Bearings” and “Mars.” By using those live staples the new Crimson affirmed its ties with the original Crimson.

The set opens with “Cirkus,” a piece originally recorded for LIZARD, the third studio album. This was a powerful piece, but one which was performed live only by this band – and it is one of only two pieces from LIZARD which were given live performances. It is followed by “Pictures Of A City,” from IN THE WAKE OF POSEIDON, the second studio album. Then come two new pieces, which would soon be recorded for ISLANDS: “Sailor’s Tale” and “The Letters” (which was Sinfield’s lyrics applied to Fripp’s melody for “Drop In”).   They are followed by the other piece from LIZARD, “Lady of the Dancing Water,” which segues smoothly into “Cadence And Cascade” (POSEIDON).   That closes the first CD.

The second CD opens with “Get Thy Bearings,” the piece Donovan gave to Crimson in 1969. This was never used on a studio album, and it’s not hard to understand why: it’s not really up to Crimson standards as a piece – and has by this point become a loose framework upon which, after the opening choruses, the band jams. It is followed by “In The Court of the Crimson King,” and then another piece which would end up on ISLANDS, “Ladies of the Road,” the lyrics of which were still in the process of being written and appear here in fragmentary form. “21st Century Schizoid Man” and “Mars” end the set.   The latter includes sections which were performed as part of “The Devil’s Triangle” on POSEIDON, underlining the connections between the two pieces.

“During this entire recording, a crude machine called a VCS3 synthesizer is used,” Wallace explains in his extensive notes. “I wish now it hadn’t been, but at the time it was on the cutting edge of sound technology, and just about everyone found it quite exciting.”   This synthesizer was used to process vocals and various instruments: “It’s used mainly on the vocals and Mel’s flute and saxophones, and on part of my drum solo.” It was Sinfield’s job to apply the VCS3 appropriately. It was used by this band on most of its live performances and can also be heard on EARTHBOUND.

When this gig was recorded Boz had been playing bass for only eleven weeks, but you wouldn’t know it to hear him. The band is, in performance, nearly the equal of the original Crimson – as the older pieces readily reveal. Mel Collins plays excellent flute and sax and holds his own on Mellotron as well. Fripp is restrained – he was not the star of the original Crimson – still more of a group or ensemble player here. Boz’s vocals have been compared to Greg Lake’s to Boz’s disadvantage, but I think he was Lake’s match as a singer, if not yet then as a bass player.   There is an overall fire and enthusiasm to these performances which emphasizes what a strong band this was.   The music had mystery and daring and its performers were caught up in it, contributing to and building it.

Less than a year later, the band had called it quits, but was forced to go out on the road for a second American tour. “I think that on that tour, even though we’d officially broken up, the band continued to grow, although maybe not in the way Robert wanted,” Wallace says in his notes for Live at Summit Studios , recorded in Denver on March 12, 1972. These were Ian’s first Collectors’ Club notes and he makes a point in them of rebutting some of the things Fripp had said in his notes for the JACKSONVILLE Club release. Referring to Fripp’s comment that “This live Crimson was more a jamming than an improvising outfit,” Wallace says, “I think we improvised rather well, improvisation being the creation of a fresh vocabulary of notes and tones over a previously constructed format. … I think Robert’s comments about this…were unfair and possibly influenced by his unhappy memories of that time.”


The March 12th gig was a live radio broadcast which lasted for nearly 74 minutes (including the callow announcer’s bits), apparently extending beyond its scheduled time (and perhaps not all of it actually broadcast then).   So the sound is quite decent. For some reason, despite being credited as played by both Fripp and Collins, there are no Mellotrons to be heard. This gives the music a harder-edged feel. (The VCS3 is also absent.)

The set opens with “Pictures of a City” – or, as Wallace calls it, “Schizoid II: The Dwelling,” underlining this piece’s close relationship with Crimson’s signature piece. Next is “Cadence and Cascade.” Wallace: “This is where I think Boz’s vocal is forced.   He’s having a hard time ‘meaning it.’   He’s since called it ‘fairy music’ and it feels to me like his heart is not in this piece.”

Groon” follows, offering a significant contrast with “Cadence and Cascade.” The original “Groon” was the B-side of the “Cat Food” single, and never appeared on a studio album (its first album appearance was on THE YOUNG PERSON’S GUIDE TO KING CRIMSON, a double-LP released in 1975 and available on CD only as a Japanese import).   Wallace calls it “a Bebop melody,” and it’s easily the jazziest piece Crimson ever recorded. “Very Coltrane!” Wallace calls it, adding: “I think this piece should be titled ‘Groon, A Tribute to J.C.’”

The official set ends with “21st Century Schizoid Man” of which Wallace says “We were trying to make these songs our own.”   Then the announcer closes the broadcast – but the band keeps on playing, perhaps for the studio audience. They improvise something which is now titled “Improv: Summit Going On.” This is, like the jams on EARTHBOUND, a peculiarly jazzy, almost funky, extended jam (running almost 12 minutes), on which Mel Collins shines on his tenor sax.

Now relaxed and apparently off the air, Ian Wallace offers “My Hobby,” a Monty Pythonish bit in Gumby guise which lasts only a minute or so and which, in early 1972, must have totally puzzled the Americans listening.   There is some aimless noodling, and then “Sailor’s Tale” springs to life, sans Mellotrons but otherwise fully-fledged. The set finally ends with “The Creator Has A Master Plan” (by Pharaoh Saunders and Leon Thomas), which is blended in with “Improv: Summit & Something Else.” This long, loose jam runs over 15 minutes.

Cumulatively these two albums (and three CDs) make it very clear that the “Islands band” had a lot more to offer than it was usually given credit for by Crimheads (most of whom had only EARTHBOUND to go by). It was the last Crimson to feature sax and flute, and the last to attempt to pursue the original band’s goals and music. Much has been made of Boz’s inexperience on bass (he was originally hired to be the band’s vocalist and picked up the bass only after the first bass player hired for the band had quit after just three days) but this was a band which could cook in live jams, and a band which covered a broad musical territory.

“Towards the end of January 1972, ensconced in our first rehearsal since the [first] U.S. tour, we broke up,” Wallace says. “The democratic process [initiated by Fripp, who “wanted King Crimson to be a total 4 way split”] broke down almost immediately. Mel had an idea for a tune that he put forward. Robert didn’t like it and wanted us to work on a riff he had.

“After a year of heady highs and foreboding lows, hard toil on the road surrounded by Robert’s heavy moods and silences culminating in the departure of Peter Sinfield and his desire to replace Boz on bass after he, and the rest of us, had worked so hard, I’d finally had enough. This was the straw that shattered the camel’s hump into a myriad of pieces. …

“But,” he adds, “I’ll tell you what, for all its bright, brief existence, this was one hell of a band!”

And, as a postscript: “By the way, that riff that Robert brought to the last rehearsal? ‘Larks’ Tongues In Aspic.’ I wonder how we would have played it.”   There’s a hint in that final jam on the SUMMIT album: “Something Else” is the “Larks’ Tongues” riff.


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