If it's a fundamental truth that adversity can sometimes bring the absolute best, creatively speaking, out of music and the people who make it, then the roughly 23 months following the release of King Crimson's classic 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King
(Island)and, after a single North American tour, the breakup of its first lineupcould always be argued as producing some of the group's very best. This, despite a revolving-door lineup and, even, significant doubts and frustration on the part of Robert Fripp
. But what the guitaristby early 1970, the only remaining performing member of the original lineupaccomplished during this period not only altered the landscape of progressive music; it went beyond significantly changing the complexion of the rock world in which Fripp found himself to introduce new possibilities to music, period
If anything, the unexpected emergence of a three-drummer, seven-member King Crimson in 2014 has brought new relevance to three albums that have been considered, by far too many, as amongst the weakest in the ever-shifting band's nearly five-decade, on-again/off-again existence. Beginning with a brief, testing-the-waters American tour including two nights at San Francisco's Warfield
theater, King Crimsonexpanding to an octet in 2017continues to tour with no signs of letting up. Performing fresh interpretations of music from across almost its entire discography, the current lineup has brought an increasing selection of music, not just from its '69 debut but from 1970's In the Wake of Poseidon
, and the following year's Islands
, into a continually expanding repertoire. Most of this music has not been heard in concert since 1972...in some cases, ever
The first to feature, for the first time since 1972, Mel Collins
the extraordinary saxophonist/flautist who appeared alongside Fripp on all three of these '70-'72 recordingswhat the current Crimson has accomplished, by bringing this music to the concert stage, goes beyond merely satisfying fans who thought they'd never hear this music performed live; it has served as a potent reminder of just how innovative and unparalleled this remarkably turbulent but fertile period in the group's history was...and remains, to this day.
With the release of Sailors' Tales
another in the group's ongoing series of 40th anniversary mega box setsKing Crimson has also brought things full circle. Featuring a bevy of additional alternates, outtakes, rehearsals and more that have been discovered subsequent to Steven Wilson
and Fripp's original 40th Anniversary Series
stereo and surround mixes of Lizard
(first issued by Panegyric Records in 2009/10), this 21-CD, 4-Blu Ray and 2-DVD-A box also includes them on Blu Ray for the first time. The box also includes the decidedly low-fi live album, Earthbound
first released in 1972 as the final word from the touring band that also recorded Islands
but in an extended edition that nears the two-hour mark (depending on the medium), on CD, Blu Ray and DVD-A, along with an expanded/restored version of Live at Summit Studios
, a live-in-the-studio radio broadcast from 1972 originally released by DGMLive as part of its King Crimson Collector's Club
series. A separate CD/ DVD edition of Earthbound Extended
, Summit Studios
and more has also been released concurrently with Sailors' Tales
, containing CD18 and DVD23 from the larger box.
But beyond this, eight live soundboard recordings from 1971 and a whopping fifteen 1972 performances, similarly documentedmost, with only a few exceptions, released either as KCCC CDs or downloads only; four have never before been released in any format and all shows have been cleaned up to sound the best as possible. This massive amount of material is further augmented by three never-before-heard reel-to-reel audition recordings from 1971, as Fripp, Collins and Islands
recruit, drummer Ian Wallace, searched for a bassist to complete the first Crimson lineup, since 1969, stable enough to hit the road.
With singer and very nascent bassist Boz Burrell joining the group in early '71, this lineup may have disbanded, in principle, at the start of 1972 but, somehow, music always finds a way to transcend. The contractual obligations which forced the group to honor a series of 35 US dates from February 11 through April 1 (from which 15 recordings were culled for this box) might have been a recipe for disaster; but listening to these performances 45 years later, it's clear that whatever disagreements and acrimony existed between Fripp and his three departing band mates, they were checked at the door to the stage each and every night. If anything, listening to these 23 concert recordings and the Summit Studios dateitself an oddity in that, with no mellotron in the studio, the band had to find alternate ways to play some of its material while, at the same time, introducing music that was never again played by any version of the groupis a mind-bending and thought-provoking/preconception-altering experience.
This often overlooked Islands
lineup reveals itself as the most unfettered, improv-heavy and jazz-centric incarnation in Crimson's career. It might be blasphemy to those who consider the next, slowly reducing lineup responsible for what some consider to be the band's creative and improvisational zenith1973's Larks' Tongues In Aspic
, and 1974's Starless and Bible Black
and studio swan song, Red
but some might be surprised to discover just how much of a powerhouse the Islands
lineup truly was.
But how does the current Crimson close the circle begun with In the Wake of Poseidon
, beyond bringing music from what can stylistically be considered Crimson's first period back into its contemporary repertoire? Sailors' Tales
may not represent the first time Fripp has encouraged a partial historical revision: that would be on the 1991 box set compilation, Frame by Frame
, where '80s Crimson guitarist/vocalist Adrian Belew
and bassist Tony Levin
were invited to overdub new vocal and bass parts to Poseidon
's pastoral "Cadence and Cascade" and Lizard
's more jazz-informed "BoleroThe Peacock's Tale," respectively. But never before has a Crimson box included brand new performances, by a completely different lineup, of material from the timeframe documented by the set.
In addition to current Crimson guitarist/vocalist Jakko M. Jakszyk
similarly overdubbed vocals on the original studio recordings of "Cadence and Cascade" and Islands
' epically beautiful title track, Sailors' Tales
includes live versions of Lizard
's nightmare-inducing opener, "Cirkus," and, from the side-long title track, what's now called "The Lizard Suite" ("The Battle of Glass Tears Part I, foreboding "Dawn Song," reprised "The Battle of Glass Tears Part II, chaotic "Last Skirmish" and elegiac "Prince Rupert's Lament"), performed by the current lineup just this past summer. Jakszyk's solo rendition of Poseidon
's gentle "PeaceA Beginning," recorded in Japan in 2015 and previously released on the Japanese edition of Crimson's 2017 Heroes
EP, is also included. What this accomplishes is to support Fripp's philosophy that the music the current group plays is "new, whenever it was written" while, at the same time, bringing new relevance to the original studio recordings.
Previous reviews of 40th Anniversary Series
reissues of In the Wake of Poseidon
go into greater historical detailas do Sid Smith's as-ever superb Sailors' Tales
liners, which draw upon interviews with surviving (and, in some cases, historical quotes from no longer with us) band members, early Crimson management and the writer's own incomparable knowledge of Crimson history. That said, it remains important place to these three studio albums into context within the broader scope of the entire box set, and cover the material that makes it so essential, even to those who already have the previous 40th Anniversary
With the first lineup of King Crimson dissolving following its sole US tour in 1969, as drummer Michael Giles and keyboardist/saxophonist/flautist Ian McDonald decided that the rigors of the road, the rock and roll life and missing their families made continuing untenable, Fripp was left with a conundrum. Bassist/vocalist Greg Lake had yet to leave for Emerson, Lake & Palmer
, but that was soon to come, making it all the more urgent. How to continue with no one, barring lyricist Peter Sinfieldwho would gradually move from roadie to sound/lighting engineer and full-on band member?
There was already some material rife for development on a second album, in particular: the trilogy of elegant "Peace" miniatures, whose main theme first emerged on "Passages of Time," first played by the pre-Crimson group Giles, Giles and Fripp (where Fripp and Giles were joined by the drummer's bass playing brother, Peter); the knotty, jazz-informed "Pictures of a City," a further development of the 1969 tour's "A Man, A City"; and the frightening, forward-pointing "Devil's Triangle," an evolution and extension of that same tour's Gustav Holst cover, "Mars, the Bringer of War," culled from the British classical composer's The Planets
(1914-1916). Despite there being some initial contention about "Cat Food," for which Ian McDonald claimed ownership, additional structural and arrangement ideas turned it into a co-authorship with Fripp and, of course, Sinfield, who would write all of the band's lyrics through to Islands
Without a proper band other than Collinswho Fripp had found playing in a band called Circus but who would be truly let loose to grow in leaps and bounds in the context of the guitarist's more challenging musicMichael and Peter Giles were invited to return for the recording, but as session players rather than band members. Lake, while ultimately making the move to ELP, would return on three of the album's four vocal tracks, with Fripp's school chum Gordon Haskell brought in for one.
With Fripp and Sinfield massaging the pre-existing material into the new forms heard on Poseidon
, alongside two brand new songs"Cadence and Cascade" and the lengthy title trackthe result has often been considered transitional at best. True to some extent, it's also an unfair dismissal of the album that leveraged and expanded upon the strengths of its immediate predecessor but, with the addition of free jazz pianist Keith Tippett
on the second side (specifically, "Cat Food" and "The Devil's Triangle"), also pointed towards a future direction that would be explored to a much larger extent on Lizard
's first side resembles In the Court
's A-side, with the aggressive, jazz-oriented "Picture of a City" mirroring "21st Century Schizoid Man"; "Cadence and Cascade" (sung by soon-to-be Crimson bassist/vocalist, Gordon Haskell) echoing the pastoral "I Talk to the Wind"; and the symphonic title track paralleling "Epitaph." But even so, introduced by Lake's largely a cappella
opening miniature, "PeaceA Beginning," "Pictures of a City" evolves into a far more complicated chart, filled with knotty, rapid fire unison lines and jagged power chords; but it also possesses the first hints of greater freedom that would imbue the two albums to come. "Cadence and Cascade" proves a lovely first feature for Collins on flute, while the title track, driven by symphonic mellotrons and Fripp's jagged acoustic guitar injections meshing with Giles' sharp drum work, nevertheless demonstrates its own unmistakable personality.
But, after Fripp's lyrical, solo guitar B-side opener, "PeaceA Theme," "Cat Food" signals even greater change. The core of the song is an irregularly metered blues, but it's the extended codastructure beginning to dissolve as Fripp's warm-toned but increasingly angular electric guitar engages with Tippett's similarly outward-reaching pianismthat provides the ideal segue into "The Devil's Triangle"some of Crimson's most hair-raising music.
Still, based upon Holst's "Mars" but taken to greater extremes than earlier live versions from the 1969 band, each movement of "The Devil's Triangle" becomes increasingly propulsive, orchestrally massive and sonically/conceptually extreme. This studio construction, with its multiple mellotron layers, also features some increasingly unfettered work from Tippett and drummer Giles in the particularly chaotic third part. Foreshadowing the advent of sampling by at least a decade, Fripp injects bits of nursery rhymes (played by Tippett), snippets from In the Court of the Crimson King
's title track...even some reggae...all moving in and out of the mix as the track builds to a climax only to dissolve, with a series of cascading electric piano lines, into "PeaceAn End," where Fripp and Lake finally come together to bring the album to a more hopeful, brighter close.
With Fripp increasingly interested in the free jazz circles where Tippett largely resided, at this point there was no touring band, though the idea of a fluid collective of players coming in and out of the band was briefly consideredspecifically Tippett and members of his sextet, including cornetist Mark Charig, trombonist Nick Evans
and saxophonist Elton Dean
)but rejected when the pianist, who still would continue to record with Crimson, declined. While Smith's liners provide more detail in the evolution towards the group that would record Lizard
, in a nutshell, when a touring band for Poseidon
did not materialize, Collins rejoined Circus...only to leave, once again, when Fripp invited him back for Lizard
and the seeming certainty of a touring band. The first time he'd left was understood and accepted by his prior band mates; but the second resulted in serious frustration and a contract buyout that was negotiated down by Crimson's management and split evenly between themselves and Collins.
With Collins, Gordon Haskell (now a full-on member as bassist and vocalist), new drummer Andy McCulloch and now full-partner Sinfield forming the core of a new King Crimson, Fripp's vision for the next album would prove to be his most ambitious yet...maybe ever. It would prove to be the band's most contentious record, loved by some but disliked by moreincluding Fripp himself, until Steven Wilson's new 2009 mixes helped him find the music in an album that "stereo could not contain." Poseidon
's birth was difficult because there was no band to speak of; Lizard
proved an even greater challenge, both musically and, perhaps, more importantly, because it became increasingly clear that Fripp's commitment to Haskell and McCulloch of freedom to be who they were proved false. So much so that by the time the album was completed both musicians were handing in their notice. Haskell even harbored considerable animosity towards his old school friend for decades to come. Lizard
may have had a challenging gestation and final realization, but for some Crimson fans it is still considered to be the band's studio apex. If "The Devil's Triangle" suggested both freer terrain and more complex sonic and compositional constructs, much of Lizard
applies these concepts...on steroids. "Cirkus" features some of Sinfield's most oblique poetry to date. Its versesbased on conventional chord structures made far less so through its textures, in particular Fripp's deft acoustic guitar work and curious keyboard colors alongside McCulloch's military-style snare work, all held together by Haskell's grounding bass linescontrast with its unsettlingly macabre, minor third-driven "chorus" (if it can be called that). Multiple mellotrons blast away, eliminating any sense of convention or orthodoxy. Collins' saxophone work is superb, as are Mark Charig's cornet lines as the song builds to its final peak...and dissolve, as it segues into "Indoor Games."
Again, what could have been a straightforward song form is rendered otherworldly. Fripp's acoustic guitar contrasts with chiming electric 12-string and warm-toned 6-string that, amongst many things, hints at a love of jazz guitar icon Wes Montgomery
in his use of octave-driven lines. Both the freewheeling middle instrumental section and Fripp's imaginative arrangements for horns and electric keyboards would, on their own, render the song as something never heard before in the rock world...or beyond, for that matter. But there is so much more to Fripp's arrangement ideas on "Indoor Games"and the entire album. Hard-strummed acoustic guitars are solo'd briefly; a beautiful bridge combines organ, mellotron, and electronics ranging from soaring lines to washes of white noise; and a solo section, featuring Fripp's tarter electric guitar but over a bed of snare work and grounding bass lines, subtly buried horns and electronics, all shifting in and out of the mix.
And that's just "Indoor Games." With Haskell's echo-driven laughter and the words "Hey Ho" acting as a lead-in to Sinfield's abstruse song about The Beatles
, "Happy Family" is even more idiosyncratic. Haskell's voice is treated electronically, clean in one channel but tremolo'd in the other, creating a distinct sense of unease in the first verse that becomes even more so in the second, where his voice is treated with something resembling ring modulation. Meanwhile, Tippett blows throughout the song on a combination of acoustic and electric pianos thatcombined with Collins' flute lines in perfect improvisational tandem with Nick Evans' simpatico trombone workturn an ever-freer middle section into near-chaos. That chaos finally resolves into the descending chords of the intro and a final verse, where Haskell's now-unprocessed voice, singing over Tippett's jagged lines and an emerging marimba, wrap up the song's final words a cappella
If all this suggests that Fripp had lost his sense of the lyrical, the brief "Lady of the Dancing Water" proves otherwise. After a soft piano intro, delicately finger-picked guitar, gorgeous trombone and mellifluous flute support a song form that's both unfailingly melodic and memorable.
While the previous 40th Anniversary Series
releases of Poseidon
also included some bonus material, the Blu Rays on Sailors' Tales
contain far more. Along with the Islands
Blu Ray hereall three containing An Alternate Album Selection
and Additional Material
sectionsthere's a total of 36 revelatory outtakes, alternate takes, rough or alternate mixes, live versions and more that have never before seen the light of day. An additional handful can be found on one of the four two-CD Tour Boxes
that Crimson have compiled and sold each year since 2014first at the current lineup's live dates and, after the tours, online. It's wholly appropriate that Lizard
should have the largest number of added tracksa total of 17, all previously unheardas it's the album that, as complex as it is in both construction and mix, requires the most examination to un-piece its myriad of puzzles into comprehensible building blocks.
Alternative versions and "redux" mixes reduce the number of instruments: just drums, horns and keyboards on "Indoor Games"; angular electric guitar, intensifying electric piano, flute and trombone on "Happy Family"; solo acoustic guitar extracts from "Cirkus"; and Yes
vocalist Jon Anderson
, soloed, on the B-side's "Prince Rupert Awakes." These (and other) tracks reveal plenty about the process of turning Fripp's concept for Lizard
into the unprecedented and groundbreaking album that it was...and remains, still, 47 years later.
And if the A-side's four tracks were a complex mix of ideas and stylistic blending, the 23-minute title suite that would occupy all of Lizard
's second side stands as one of Fripp's most masterful long-form compositions. Certainly, it's his most detailed instrumental writing ever, ranging from the simpler form of "Prince Rupert Awakes" to what is surely Fripp's most beautiful mesh of classical and jazz concerns, "BoleroThe Peacock's Tale." "Bolero" begins, indeed, with a bolero rhythm but, with Fripp's haunting confluence of mellotron, cornet, oboe, cor Anglais, piano and melody-driven electric bass, all over McCulloch's (again) military-style snare, the piece evolves into Fripp's most suggestive swing, as Evans and Charig join Collins for some empathic three-play.
The quietly foreboding "Battle of Glass Tears" possesses a theme that, introducing Haskell's final, at times whisper-soft vocal appearance on the largely cymbals, piano and oboe trio of "Dawn Song," leads into a more rhythmic reiteration of "The Battle of the Glass Tears" before opening up into the increasingly chaotic and improv-rich "Last Skirmish." Despite "Last Skirmish" building to a peak of battling piano, horns, guitar and more, it's still predicated on a strong attention to compositional form and detail that, as it moves from whisper to roar, ensures that even this freest section of Lizard
remains eminently memorable.
And what of "Prince Rupert's Lament," the bass/drum ostinato that supports one of Fripp's most memorable solos ever, all elegiac lines and silky, infinitely sustaining notes? When Fripp revived Crimson in 2013 and the group was considering its initial repertoire, "Prince Rupert's Lament" was one that Jakko Jakszyk most wanted to hear Fripp play; a wish that finally came true when the band began playing the second half of the "Lizard Suite"The Battle of Glass Tears Part I / Dawn Song / The Battle of Glass Tears Part II / Last Skirmish / Prince Rupert's Lament"in 2017, after introducing the briefer "The Battle of Glass Tears Part I / Dawn Song" in the fall of the previous year. This by turns haunting, powerful, chaotic and elegiac "Lizard Suite," having become a fan favorite, remains in Crimson's set lists to this day. The live versions of both "Cirkus" and "Lizard Suite," included here from previously unreleased 2017 shows, demonstrate just how much the current band has made this music its own while, at the same time, respecting the signatures that are so key to defining this musicand the rest of this period's outputas career high points not to be overlooked.
Still, despite receiving largely critical acclaim, without a group to take the music on the road, King Crimson was at a disadvantage in a time when most bands were expected to tour in support of their recordings. With Collins remaining alongside Fripp and Sinfield, it wasn't long before a more-than-suitable drummer was found in Ian Wallace, encountered by Fripp in Neil Innes' post-Bonzo Dog Band group. With Fripp's ongoing predilection for fusing jazz, amongst other things, into a rock context, he could not have recruited a better drummer. Wallace had all the fire, energy and groove needed for a rock drummer but was also thrilled, with what he knew about Fripp and his penchant for jazz, to join and "do all my Tony Williams stuff."
With an initially despondent Fripp largely leaving Collins to audition prospective band members before finding Wallace and, once again, believing that Crimson might actually continue, the search was now on for a bassist and vocalist. One well-known sailor's tale is that a pre-Roxy Music Bryan Ferry auditioned for the vocal chair but, despite being deemed unsuitable for Crimson, impressed Fripp enough to refer him to Crimson co-manager David Enthoven...and the rest, as they say...
Meanwhile, a series of drummers and bassists, ranging from good to dreadful, auditioned, and it's the recent discovery of some reel-to-reel recordings of three rehearsal/audition "blows" that stand as one of Sailors' Tales
most significant finds.
Who the bassist(s)and, possibly, drummer(s)is/are on these tapes has/have been lost to time, though it sure sounds like Wallace on, at least, some of them. Suspicions are that they might include: drummer Keith Bailey, from Graham Bond
's band; and bassist Rick Kemp, already established with singer/songwriter Michael Chapman. Bailey clearly didn't make the cutdespite being a fine drummer, with whom Fripp would later work when he produced Keith Tippett's Blueprint
(1972)but Kemp impressed Fripp and Collins enough to receive an invite to join the band. He accepted, but changed his mind two weeks later, believing himself to not be up to the level of the rest of his Crimson band mates. While he'd decided, in fact, to retire from music, he was already an in-demand session player and, just a year later, was asked to join British folk rock band Steeleye Span...and, once again, the rest is...
The roughly 95 minutes of audition jams are not just nice finds; they demonstrate Fripp, Collins and Wallace (or whomever else might be on kit) as uniquely qualified to play everything from jagged, aggressive, rock-edged music to bona fide
jazz swing...and its more sophisticated harmonic language, something with which Fripp had proved eminently capable as far back as his Giles, Giles and Fripp days but increasingly so now, across Crimson's first three releases. These three recordings move fluidly from pulse-driven explorations to entirely free passages, and from full-band workouts to more graceful a cappella
moments. Collins' mettle as an improviser is rendered clearer still. If Crimson's early releases aren't enough to prove Fripp's credentials in jazz and beyond, the short, early John McLaughlin
-esque "Groon" not only demonstrates Fripp's freer disposition, but ultimately became a lengthy show-stopper for the next touring version of the band. Originally the b-side of the "Cat Food" single, even more alternate "Groon" takes have been located and included here than on the original 2010 remix/reissue of Poseidon
By this time, Fripp had recruited Boz Burrell, soon to be referred to as just "Boz," as Crimson's next vocalist. He was an ideal fit, possessed of both a beautiful voice and lovely vibrato; but, thanks to his soul music background, he also capable of truly belting it out when required. When another prospective bassist, David Ambrose (Brian Auger
, Julie Driscoll), left his bass in the Crimson rehearsal space, Fripp decided to teach Boz how to play Crimson's repertoire. He may have started to as the group's least technically adept bassist to date, but Boz's natural feel as a singer made him a good choice as, over the live performances from 1971 and '72 in Sailors' Tales
attest, he became increasingly confident and capable, even if he never matched the virtuosity of his partners.
And so, after more than a year of turmoil and strife, which nevertheless yielded two remarkable albums, there was a tour-capable lineup for King Crimson, with Sinfield also handling the group's lighting (having already gained notoriety with its 1969 tour) and front-of-house sound. He also began to experiment, perhaps too liberally at times, with the EMS VCS3 synthesizer that the group had acquired, applying it to Boz's vocals and Wallace's drums. Before entering the studio to record what would become Crimson's fourth long-player, Islands
, in October, 1971, Fripp had the absolute luxury of taking this newly minted band out on the road, to both further establish its personality and, for the first time, road test a growing set of new material being written for the upcoming record.
And so, with Boz a less-than-confident bassist but already a fine vocalist, the group hit the road, beginning with a four-night, April '71 run at Frankfurt's Zoom Club that is documented, largely in its entirety, on Sailors' Tales
. He may not have had much experience as a bassist and was a fair bit behind his band mates when it came to interpretation/improvisation, but from the group's first night he was certainly solid enough. At this point the set lists were largely dominated by music from Crimson's first two albumswith only a somewhat plodding "Cirkus" and more successful "Lady of the Dancing Water" drawn from Lizard
. This would remain the case until the current lineup began to revive music from the album's second side.
Donovan's "Get Thy Bearings," also performed by the 1969 Crimson lineup, was used as an extended improvisational vehicle, as was the group's sole new song, "The Sailor's Tale." "Sailor's Tale" possessed only a portion of the detailed structure it would gradually assume but, running from six to fifteen minutes (largely, reducing in length gradually, as its ultimate form evolved), it became a highlight of sets that also suggested a group its most symphonic ("The Court of the Crimson King," "The Devil's Triangle"), its most pastoral and lyrical ("Lady of the Dancing Water," "Cadence and Cascade") and its most aggressive and, yes, swinging ("21st Century Schizoid Man," "Pictures of a City").
And, as ever, a multiplicity of ideas abounded. The group's very first show at Zoom, on April 12, 1971, included a 15-minute "Sailor's Tale" that included, during Fripp"s extended guitar solo, music that would ultimately find its way into "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two," from the next lineup's stunning 1973 debut, Larks' Tongues in Aspic
, showing up in that subsequent lineup's earliest shows eighteen months later...and at the same venue. But back to the Islands
band: these early shows may have possessed enough recognizable music to appeal to existing Crimson fans, but they also allowed copious room for everything from full-on band improvs to a cappella
"The Sailor's Tale," from April 15, runs the gamut from Collins' searing baritone at the start, to a softly filigreed guitar solo and particularly impressive flute solo. Initially beginning in duet with Fripp, Collins gradually expands his purview over a half-time rhythm section where Wallace suddenly shifts into double-time, leading to a staggering drum solofirst layered over the bass (and then bass-and-mellotron) ostinato, which would emerge as one of the composition's defining motifs.
And so, in concert, this new lineup was well and truly born. Still, despite its promiseand a studio album that was the group's least regarded at the timeit wouldn't last long. Just nine months later, Sinfield was out; and not long afterwards, the group broke up in acrimony, when the guitarist refused to consider a composition brought to rehearsals by Collins.
But that was still to come. In the meantime, Crimson toured Britain from May through August, and again during September and October, before heading to America for its first tour since 1969, with 20 dates in the USA and Canada. Of the 72 shows played by the group in 1971, only four additional shows appear herethree, only on the Islands
Blu Rayall in 24/48 resolution, with audio further restored from the original download and KCCC CD releases. Still, spanning the months of May through November, they shine a strong spotlight on a band increasingly finding its own voice, its own confidence and its own repertoire, as Fripp continues to introduce more new material that would ultimately be recorded in October and released on Islands
on December 3, 1971.
By May's show at Guildhall, Plymouth, the tragic tale of "The Letters"told over a broad contrast of soft melancholy and high volume freedomwas in the set, albeit with still germinating lyrics. "Ladies of the Road"a gritty, blues-drenched number that featured Boz at his soul-belting bestwas also in.
Here, "Lady of the Dancing Water" is a bit curious, with Collins substituting saxophone in his solo rather than flute, while Sinfield's processing of Boz's vocals are nothing less than wholly inappropriate. Still, it segues into a lovely version of "Cadence and Cascade" that almost makes up for it. Like the rather awkward lyrics to "The Letters," Sinfield's writing for "Ladies of the Road"whose arrangement starts full tilt rather than its subsequent gradual buildwould improve over time, though they never represented the scribe's finest moments as a lyricist.
By the time the band played four shows over three nights at London's The Marqueethe August 10 show included hereIslands
album-opening "Formentera Lady" was added and, while it couldn't possibly possess the layers of Keith Tippett's piano, Paulina Lucas' lovely soprano vocals and Harry Miller
's song-defining string bass work, this reductionist version still manages to work well. Collins and Wallace were contributing backup vocals to the group (with Wallace getting a brief featured line in each chorus of "Ladies of the Road") but it's Boz and Wallace who harmonize wordlessly during its improv-heavy coda, successfully capturing some of what would become the studio version's vibe. Segueing, as it ultimately would on the album, directly into a significantly trimmed and arranged "Sailor's Tale," Fripp was still not totally finished with it. Its ascending theme underscores a half time groove on electric piano...with flute, rather than saxophone, spread over it.
It's important to note also that, by the time the band hit the road in April, Collins had become the band's second mellotronist alongside Fripp, who also added electric piano to the band's live palette. Collins' parts are more firmly scripted, leaving Fripp to expound more significantly on songs like the increasingly well-played and well-structured "Cirkus." Still, there remain some curiosities, most notably at the near-operatic conclusion to "The Letters" where, following Boz's impassioned vocals, Fripp plays a strange, warm-toned, major-key solo guitar coda that never seems to make any sense on any of the takes heard here...other, perhaps, than a bit of humor at a rather unsuitable moment.
That said, overall, Fripp's playing is a lot more jazz-oriented with this band, with a clean-toned fragment from what would ultimately become "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One" introducing the largely open, 26-minute "Improv." It's a piece that also contains the core structure of "Lament," which would not appear, fully formed, until 1974's Starless and Bible Black
. Here, however, with Wallace's firm swing and Boz's increasingly confident support, it ultimately acts as a jumping off point for an angular and prescient solo from Fripp. Collins contributes a scorching, no-time baritone solo from Collins, bolstered by Wallace and Fripp's tumultuous support. An extended feature for Wallace leads into Sinfield's VCS 3-driven treatments of the drummer's kit. A final a cappella
solo from Fripp may employ a tone similar to his signature sustaining sound on "21st Century Schizoid Man" but here, with Wallace re-entering as a virtuosic maelstrom, turns about as extreme as any Crimson ever would, before a quick reiteration of its initial theme brings this epic free jazz foray to a conclusion.
As the band continued to tour, it also become more playful with its in-between song patter. While Collins rarely contributed, both Boz and Wallace became increasingly involved: at times introducing songs alone; other times, they engage in some humorous dialog/trialog with Fripp. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but what is increasingly clear, listening to these 1971 shows, is that Crimson was becoming an increasingly potent force of nature while, at the same time, having a lot of fun being so.
By November 11, in Detroit, "Groon" had entered the set list, becoming Wallace's primary drum/electronics feature. Overall, barring Sinfield's sometimes effective, other times cringe-inducing electronic treatments, the group just keeps getting better and better. And the music is still clearly evolving. At the end of "Cirkus," Collins' solos begin to receive a brief boogie rhythm support that seems totally out of character for Crimson.
But more change was in the air. The middle section of "Pictures of a City," always dissolving into freedom before building to the final verse, assumes an unexpected, rolling train groove. And if there was any doubt how much fun the group was having, consider this show's three-minute version of "In the Court of the Crimson King," played as a grinding blues. Fripp's band intros were becoming increasingly lighthearted, as the guitarist introduces Boz, "also known as 'prawn balls,' and Wallace, more dryly, as "a healthy young man; I've let him go out with my sister, he's that worthy a gentleman."
If Sailors' Tales 1970-1972
had only included these eight 1971 shows, it would be plenty to suggest that, while the subsequent Larks' Tongues In Aspic
band would ultimately garner the reputation as Crimson's most improv-heavy (and, for many, best) lineup, this was, indeed, Crimson's at its most unfettered and experimental...a lineup (and album) almost criminally neglected, maligned and overlooked. Fripp may have been the band leader but provides plenty of space for everyone to truly be who they were, unlike the short-lived Lizard
band. Collins, who has returned forty years later to play, if it can be imagined, even better, is relentlessly virtuosic, lyrical, impassioned...the ideal foil for Fripp. Wallace, too, matches his band mates note-for-note and pulse-for-pulse. He may not have possessed future drummer Bill Bruford
's immediately recognizable tone but, as a player, he was ultimately able to contribute absolute abandon while, at the same time, grooving hard when necessary. Boz continued evolving as a vocalist, and if he was less skilled on bass than the others on their respective instruments, his instincts were still absolutely astute and his contributions increasingly key to this, the freest, most flat-out exploratory Crimson ever.
Suffice to say that if Lizard
was King Crimson's most ambitious album to date, the band's fourth studio set broadened its purview, but in different ways. Tracks like Islands
' sunny, Mediterranean-inspired "Formentera Lady" possess an even richer tapestry with the addition of Tippett, Miller and Lucas, its instrumental pedal-tone and improv-driven coda segueing, with what has become an almost iconic 6/8 ride cymbal pattern from Wallace, into "The Sailor's Tale." That instrumental had gradually, by this time, assumed a more fixed arrangement live, but while Fripp's solos were never less than superb, the slap-back-echo/other processing-laden guitar, sounding more like a skewed banjo, turns it into one of the guitarist's most memorable solos of any Crimson studio album. Unlike in '71/'72, with the current lineup the guitarist is now able to recreate that sound (or a very close approximation), though what he actually plays, of course, varies from night to night.
"The Letters," featuring Collins' incendiary baritone solo and some of Boz's most powerful singing, combines form and freedom more, perhaps, than any other, and remains a set highpoint to this day. Sinfield's lyrics to "Ladies of the Road," while hardly poetic, finally settled into something less awkward than in the live performances leading up to its release. "Prelude: Song of the Gulls," a feature for strings (real, not mellotron) and oboe, may be Fripp's most flat-out beautiful composition ever, though the album's closing title track gives it a run for its money. Contrasting Crimson's often darker lyrical complexions, "Islands" is rendered iconic with its combination of Boz's gentle vocals, some of Keith Tippett's most majestic and consonant pianism, and a glorious instrumental finish featuring Mark Charig.
While the Islands
bonus material has largely been available previouslyeither on the 40th Anniversary Series
remix or the Tour Box
releasessome additional rehearsals, outtakes and, in the case of "Prelude: Song of the Gulls," a string section-only take, help reveal more about the recording process. Again closing the circle, a version of the title track, with Jakko Jakszyk overdubbing vocals on the original studio recording, demonstrates just how suitable a singer he is for the current lineup and this decades-old material.
But, while Islands
was released just as the band wrapped up 1971 with a series of eight American dates, the seeming stability and happy family of this Crimson lineup was soon to be in jeopardy once again. Increasingly uncomfortable working with Sinfield (and, while the music seemed to be going well, there were tensions amongst the band as well), Fripp confided to the band, at the end of November, 1971, that he could no longer work with the lyricist/sound and lighting engineer, effectively giving the band an "either he goes or I go" ultimatum. The choice, for the band members was clear and so, in December 1971, a most fruitful songwriting partnership for over two years dissolved and Peter Sinfield was out.
And there was more to come. With Collins bringing that new composition to band rehearsals in January, 1972, only to have it summarily rejected by Fripp, tensions that had existed previously reached the boiling point, with the saxophonist, Boz and Wallace all handing in their resignations...though a management reminder that they were contractual obligated to a series of American dates running through April 1 meant they had to return to the road. And there was also an increasing musical division, as the three soon-to-be-ex-Crimson members were becoming more interested in funk and soul music, which had already begun to filter into Crimson but became increasingly dominant, as heard over the course of the 15 live shows and Summit Studios broadcast included on Sailors' Tales
Blu Ray, with some also appearing on CD and DVD.
The Earthbound Extended
and expanded Summit Studios
(the latter with its unedited improvisation based upon Pharoah Sanders
' "The Creator Has a Master Plan"), alongside an Earthbound
needledrop and two live shows from unidentified sources (making their first appearances ever here) are all presented in 24/96 resolution on the Blu Ray. All are in stereo, barring the quad mix of Summit
, which was the only multitrack recording; the rest were sourced from soundboard cassette tapes. The balance of the material (including the "Schizoid Men" second disc of a previously released live KCCC set, Ladies of the Road
) is in 24/48, which is also the resolution for everything on the Earthbound
and 1972 Live
DVDs, the latter containing the four concerts (including two New York City sets from February 12) seeing the light of day for the first time ever in any format.
The band may have technically been over, but these 15 concert performances, from which the original Earthbound
and Earthbound Extended
are drawn, remain positively exhilarating examples of a band where tension may well have pushed them to actually play even better, though there is certainly some material that sounds like nothing Crimson had ever played before.
The closing saxophone solo in "Cirkus" may have already begun to assume a boogie beat before returning to its mellotron-driven ending; but, if early live versions of the song feel plodding during the verses where Collins' mellotron chords are playedfour to the bar and on every beatby the time of the two unidentified 1972 performances, they are dropped, as the song actually begins to feel closer to the studio version...or, at least, as close as the four players could manage for a song possessing far more instrumental layers than there were band members.
This was a group still taking liberties and trying new things. During the final verse of an incomplete recording of "Pictures of a City," from the first unidentified show, mellotron replaces Fripp's normally overdriven, jagged guitar chords. And if the band was not getting along with Fripp, onstage that was difficult if not impossible to notice, as Fripp engages in some playfully muted lines, rather than the rapidly picked arpeggios or other approaches he normally employs. His band introductions remain lighthearted and positive, as he introduces "the irrepressible...the irreplaceable...the immovable...the lovable...Boz," to which the bassist/vocalist yells out, curiously, "Dick Cavett?!?!" Boz announces "Robert Fripp," as the guitarist begins the opening chords of "The Letters," and suddenly, the guitarist breaks into a snippet of "Nola," with a characteristically fast-picked melody, as the band quickly joins in.
Only the improv section of "Formentera Lady" remains from the second unidentified showfeaturing a particularly impressive flute solo from Collins and, as he moves to saxophone, along with some perfect, wordless falsetto vocals from Boz. The studio version's gentler (but still building) groove turns into a backbeat-driven pulse from Boz and Wallace, inspiring some soulful playing from Collins that demonstrates why, when he was done with this version of Crimson, he would become in such high demand with artists ranging from Eric Clapton
, Joan Armatrading and the The Rolling Stones
to Gerry Rafferty
, Dire Straits
and Joe Cocker
He may have never received the props he deserved as a jazz player (acumen demonstrated, night after night and across all three studio Crimson albums), but Collins might actually be considered the U.K.'s Michael Brecker
of the time, capable of extemporaneous, sophisticated jazz extremes and
positively greasy, soulful funk.
A by-this-time uncharacteristic "Sailor's Tale" moves through its more settled arrangement into an unexpected and relentlessly high velocity drum solo, along with Wallace's VCS 3-processed conclusion, replacing "Groon" and leading into another funk vamp that features both Collins and Fripp. The guitarist's clean lines gradually become more overdriven but, with his jazzier predilections still intact, Fripp also delivers a notable chord-based solo and climax that suddenly dissolves into a more graceful conclusion.
There are seemingly countless highlights amongst these performances. During "21st Century Schizoid Man," from Orlando on February 27, Fripp takes an uncharacteristically clean-toned solo that leads to some rapidly strummed, "Sailor's Tale"-like chords. With the enthusiastic audience refusing to let the group leave after such a powerful set-closer, the band returns for the funkified jam that would become Earthbound
's title track. It is, indeed, strange to hear a wah wah-infused Fripp bolstering Boz's soul-drenched, largely wordless vocal improvisations that lead to another greasy sax solo and the guitarist employing his sustaining tone for a solo that somehow brings the jam back into the land of Crim. Breaking down into a chordal a cappella
section, Fripp segues seamlessly into a soft and appropriately set-closing reading of "Cadence and Cascade," drawing the show to a close.
Heading north to Pittsburgh, "Cirkus" featuresfollowing Collins' boogie-based saxophone solo, with Fripp's supporting triplet electric piano chordsthe guitarist moving to mellotron for a rare and unexpected improv on the instrument, as Collins' apparently breaks down. At its conclusion, Fripp talks about featuring the "staggering mellotron," and how people in America have written that it's an incredible invention. "You're right," he continues, "we can't believe it either. It goes wrong so often that the band wonders why we use it." Joking, perhaps; but the truth is that the mellotrona pre-sampling instrument where each key triggers a tape loop that is anything from string orchestra or flutes to choir or vibraphonewas a beast to keep in tune, especially with differing electrical voltages in Europe and North America.
The playful nature of the group continues on a version of "Ladies of the Road"with Boz's loose, blues-drenched and increasingly visceral vocals making it easy to understand why his next stop would be the blues/hard rock band Bad Company. Early in the first verse, after Boz sings "A flower lady's daughter, as sweet as holy water," he quickly quips "blues lick." Fripp obliges with a line that only he might conceive. With Boz chuckling, Fripp continues with some rapid-fire lines as Wallace injects "don't get carried away," and the two break down in laughter, yet still managing to continue playing. This clearly was
a band that checked its problems at the door.
A searing solo from Fripp on "21st Century Schizoid Man" also includes a brief stop, for a couple of bars, by Wallace and Boz. It's a small thing, but demonstrates how increasingly tight the rhythm teamand especially Boz, still only a bassist for a yearhad become. But most importantly, these showswith their mix of everything from symphonic tendencies and jazz predictions to pastoral landscapes and aggressive rock infusionsre-contextualize the two funky jams that occupy 13 of the original Earthbound
's 45-minute run time, with a 15-minute "Groon" also turning into a backbeat-driven groove piece rather than a jazz exercise, before Wallace takes his usual extended drum solo. Yes, Collins, Boz and Wallace are clearly moving in a different direction than Fripp, but the band's live sets remain as stylistically diverse and Crimson-esque as ever, even as Fripp is driven, at times, to some of his ballsiest playing ever.
And this was still a freewheeling band that recognized no limitations, even if they weren't always what might be expected. "Ladies of the Road," from Peoria on March 10, ends with Fripp alone, as his jagged-picked ending somehow finds its way into a quote from The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky With Diamond," while Boz wordlessly sings, over a tumult of drums and a pedal tone on "Groon," the melody from "Silent Night," as Wallace moves from a wash of cymbals to a flurry of toms and Collins positively screeches atop.
But by April 1, 1972, this version of King Crimson would no more. Boz, who passed away too young in 2006, age 60, would never again return to the music of King Crimson. But, with the passage of time, both Wallace and Collins would begin warming to the music they'd made in the early '70s. Collins would be the first, joining the 21st Century Schizoid Band
in 2002 that, including fellow Crimson alumni Ian McDonald, and Peter and Michael Giles, also featured Jakko Jakszyk in the position of lead vocalist and
guitarist, managing the seeming impossible: singing material largely drawn from Crimson's first four albums while, at the same time, playing Fripp's often knotty, almost always challenging lines. When Michael Giles left the group in 2003, Wallace reunited with Collins and continued with the band until its end in 2004, the final version of this band documented on Pictures of a CityLive in New York
Going on to record and/or tour with artists ranging from Bob Dylan
and David Lindley
to Jackson Browne
and Rodney Crowell
, Wallace also revisited Crimson's musicmuch on which he originally played, but also moving, both backwards and forward, across the band's timelinewith the Crimson Jazz Trio
on two albums released in 2005 and 2009
. Sadly, the group's second album was released two years after Wallace also passed away, too young, in 2007, age 60.
Collins and Jakszyk's involvement in 21CSB was amongst a number of catalysts that ultimately led to the current group, whose Montreal and Toronto shows
from this past summer, along with the recently released Official Bootleg: Live in Chicago, June 28th, 2017
(recorded less than a week prior), demonstrate a band that just keeps getting better with each passing year, as it adds both new music and old material made new again to its steadily expanding repertoire. As much as the band has continued to attract large audiences with its inimitable lineup and fresh approach to repertoire that has not been played (if ever) in as much as 45 years or more, it has also acted, no doubt, as the catalyst for this Sailors' Tales 1970-1972
Along with its three expanded versions of In the Wake of Poseidon
, Sailors' Tales
presents an exhilarating if, at times, overwhelming wealth of live music from the Islands
lineup. For those who've already heard many of these live performances, the audio restorations make them definitive, even if the sound quality is absolutely a function of the quality of the recordings, with the occasional distortion/clipping, incomplete tracks and tape flutter. The four previously unreleased shows further the fact that this box may contain literally dozens of versions of tracks like "The Sailor's Tale," "Cirkus," "Ladies of the Road" and "Pictures of a City," but each and every versioneven as arrangements might firm up over timeis so freely interpreted that their run times swing widely. In some cases, they run from as little as six or seven minutes to well over fifteen; and how the band interprets them varies significantly from show to show.
With flat-out unplanned improvsand largely improvisation-driven tracks like "Groon" and, initially, "The Sailor's Tale"running anywhere from six minutes to over 26, this band transcends Larks Tongues In Aspic
-era Crimson as a full-out, unshackled group of, at times, utterly reckless abandon. Even though the next lineup would have one or two totally spontaneous tracks during many of its shows, there were many pieces that, while open for interpretation, stuck largely to script from show-to-show. By contrast, barring just a couple of songs ("Cadence and Cascade," "Lady of the Dancing Water," "In the Court of the Crimson King"), the Islands
band's arrangements were largely guides, with rules most definitely meant to be broken...whether with serious intent or by just being playfully mischievous.
For those who have heard many of these shows, absorbing them in sequence and in such a large number will still be a revelation; for those only familiar with a couple of shows from this period (if that), Sailors' Tales 1970-1972
will be a positively gobsmacking kicker...one that may well drive them to reconsider their view of both the particularly overlooked Islands
and King Crimson's second touring band. Together for a paltry twelve months and dissolving in acrimony after just nine, this Crimson incarnation deserves far greater acclaim, significantly more recognition as Crimson's most jazz-centric band (almost always in spirit, even when not in letter)...and a much-deserved position as one of this longstanding group's absolute best.
(unless otherwise indicated): Robert Fripp: guitar, mellotron (CD1-16,
CD18, BR19-22, DVD23-24, CD26-27), devices (CD1-2, BR19-20),
electric keyboards (CD2-16, CD18, BR20-22, DVD23-24, CD26-27),
Peter’s pedal harmonium (CD3, BR21), sundry implements (CD3, BR21);
Greg Lake: vocals (CD1, BR19); Michael Giles (CD1, BR19); Peter Giles:
bass (CD1, BR19); Keith Tippett: piano (CD1-3, BR19-21), electric piano
(CD2, BR20); Mel Collins: saxophones and flutes, vocals (CD3, BR21),
mellotron (CD4-16, CD18, BR22, DVD23-24, CD25-27); Gordon Haskell:
vocal (CD1#3, BR19#3, CD2, BR20), bass guitar (CD2, BR20); Andy
McCulloch: drums (CD2, BR20); Robin Miller: oboe (CD2-3, BR20-21), cor
anglais (CD2, BR20); Mark Charig: cornet (CD2-3, BR20-21); Nick Evans:
trombone (CD2, BR20); Jon Anderson: vocals (CD2#5, BR20#5); Boz:
bass guitar (CD3-18, CD26-27, BR19-23, DVD23-24); Ian Wallace: drums
(CD3-18, CD26-27, BR19-23, DVD23-24), percussion (CD3, BR21),
vocals (CD3-18, BR21-22, DVD23-24, CD26-27); Paulina Lucas: soprano
(CD3#1, BR2#1); Harry Miller: string bass (CD3, BR21); Peter Sinfield:
words, sounds (CD3-16, CD18, BR21-22, DVD23-24, CD26-27); visions
(CD3-16, CD18, BR21-22, DVD23-24, CD26-27).