There will, inevitably, exist some cynics who will dispute the first comment about King Crimson's long-awaited The Complete 1969 Recordings
box set, but it's difficult to imagine it being anything but the plain truth. This is, indeed, the definitive final
word on the band's first lineup, collecting multiple versions of its earth-shattering 1969 Island Records debut, In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson
(from this point on, attributed to its current label, Panegyric), alongside sonically upgraded live shows, studio sessions, BBC recordings, various mixes/remixes, alternate takes and more into a whopping twenty-CD, two-DVD and four-Blu Ray box set. It's what many fans have been waiting for since the band's 50th anniversary year in 2019 and, at long last, it's here in all its (relative) completist glory.
First things first. The box collects, in one place, all three previous releases of the band's groundbreaking debut, In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation By King Crimson
, each featuring different stereo (and, in two cases, surround sound) mixes. All "alternate albums," additional takes, mixes, vinyl transfers and more, associated with each successive reissue, are also included.
These include: In the Court of the Crimson King (Original Master Edition)
, a tape located after the turn of the millennium and first issued in 2005; the 40th Anniversary Series
reissue from 2009, featuring Steven Wilson
's first new stereo and surround sound mixes; and the 50th Anniversary
three-CD/one-Blu Ray edition from 2019, which features revised surround and stereo mixes from Wilson (including, for the first time, instrumental mixes that reveal much that might have been less clear with the vocals on top).
The set also features a separate Blu Ray disc with a brand new Dolby Atmos mix, also courtesy of Wilson, for those whose systems support it, along with a new Quad mix of an early duo take on "I Talk to the Wind," and David SIngleton's 68-minute "fly on the wall" collage, "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
, collected from various recording sessions, as the Crimson manager/producer did with the "Keep That One, Nick"
disc, from the 40th anniversary box set for 1973's Larks' Tongues in Aspic
If that were all the box included, it might be enough.
But The Complete 1969 Recordings
goes much further. A full seven CDs of sonically upgraded live performances, some sourced from audience bootleg recordings, others from soundboard cassette tapes, span eight dates in six locations. The band's "coming out" live show at a Hyde Park mini-festival, headlined by The Rolling Stones
in front of 650,000 people on July 5, 1969, includes a relatively short, seven-song set (and, appended to the CD, a reunion meeting of the original band members in London, 1997). Seven tracks represent the group's even more incendiary show from the following evening, at the smaller but nevertheless historic venue, The Marquee. Six songs are drawn from an August 9 performance at the Plumpton Festival, while a longer, ten-song set comes from Chesterfield's Jazz Club on September 6, spread across two CDs and taken from a source at least one generation better than previous versions. Finally, eighteen tracks culled from two nights at New York City's Fillmore East and two more at San Francisco's Fillmore West, recorded on November 21 and 22 and December 13 and 14 respectively, both come from higher quality soundboard recordings.
Five songs recorded for the BBC from two separate recordings/broadcasts are also included on a separate CD, taken from a few different sources. The same disc also includes a very
low-fi but archivally important recording of "Trees," recorded on October 17, 1969, at Croydon's Fairfield Halls. Part of "Trees" would later be excised and reshaped into the thundering, jazz-inflected song, initially titled "A Man, A City." Performed live by King Crimson during its fall, 1969 American tour, the song was ultimately honed further and retitled "Pictures of a City," to be subsequently recorded In the Wake of Poseidon
(Panegyric, 1970). That sophomore effort came out just seven months after In the Court of the Crimson King
's October 10, 1969 release date, when many musicians, fans and critics had their opinion of what music could be was well and truly shattered. There were also some significant changes afoot for Poseidon
, but more about that later. The Complete 1969 Recordings
also includes six full CDs of recording sessions from Morgan and Wessex Studios, laid down between June 12 and August 13, 1969, along with the "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
CD. The Complete 1969 Recordings
also includes a booklet with an introduction from the band's only remaining co- founder, guitarist Robert Fripp
, along with new, characteristically insightful liners from in-house Crimson scribe Sid Smith, and another "Tale of the Tapes" piece, contributed by David Singleton. The booklet also includes a bevy of images, many from the recording sessions and previously unseen, alongside posters reproductions, reviews and more. Assorted memorabilia and a reproduction of Barry Godber's original and iconic gatefold album cover round out the set, with the entire contents in an LP-sized box housed, for the first time, in an attractive slipcase.
Why The Complete 1969 Recordings?
There are those who will consider foregoing The Complete 1969 Recordings
because, barring Wilson's new Dolby Atmos mix, a Quad mix of a single song, and Singleton's "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
disc, literally every recording included has been released before, either as a digital download or on CD, DVD and/or Blu Ray. But if there's little new material, there are a number of other considerations.
The simplest one is that, despite all of this material having seen release in some shape or form before, this is the first time it all appears on CD and, some cases, higher resolution audio on DVD and/or Blu Ray.
The live shows have been sonically upgraded as best as possible. This still means that some shows, specifically Hyde Park, The Marquee and Plumpton, as still pretty low fidelity. Still, these audience recordings reflect some improvements by way of removing hisses and hums as best as possible, without affecting the actual sound of the music itself, and sound as good as they are ever likely to. Having not heard any of the material that was not previously released in the four-disc Epitaph
box of live '69 recordings, or the live CD in the 40th Anniversary Series
box, it may be true that Hyde Park, the Marquee and Plumpton possess the weakest sound of the six venues documented here. Still, they are plenty clear enough to hear just how extraordinary this band was in performance.
The Chesterfield Jazz Club recording, on the other hand, sounds terrific, especially considering the technology of the time. It absolutely merits repeat spins, either from its two CDs or, better still, the 24-bit/192Khz high resolution version included on the first of the set's four Blu Ray discs. Similarly, both Fillmore recordings are of a quality to deserve multiple plays, as does the disc of BBC recordings. This means that of the eight CDs of live shows and BBC recordings, only three are such that those who find bootleg quality sonics problematic will not likely play them often.
In fact, only the live recording of "Trees," again included for archival purposes, is a bit of a slog. Still, it's an important and necessary inclusion as a study in contrast. Much of the "A Man, A City" / "Pictures of a City" section reflects Fripp's meticulous compositional approach and a staggering virtuosity mirrored by his band mates. But it also includes a glorious three-part vocal section that would later find a home in the second side "Birdman" suite on McDonald and Giles
(Island, 1970). That album, released eleven months after In the Court of the Crimson King
shook the world, clearly delineates the significant differences in approach and overall musical vision between Fripp and two of his band mates, keyboardist/woodwind and reed multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Ian McDonald
and drummer/vocalist Michael Giles
. It could even be suggested that this single 19-minute track demonstrates why, perhaps, the first King Crimson lineup could never have attained any significant longevity.
Still, it's that very combination of disparate dispositions that renders In the Court of the Crimson King
such a perfect storm, a thoroughly unique album that could never be replicated, even by Crimson lineups that followed. Of course, any who know King Crimson know that repeating itself was anathematic to its members.
The inclusion of six full CDs culled from the 1969 recording sessions, newly mixed by David Singleton, dovetails perfectly with the live discs to paint the fullest possible picture of King Crimson Mark I's many talents, assiduous tendencies and innovative spirit. There are multiple takes of songs recorded at both Wessex and Morgan Studios, initially with Tony Clarke producing. Most significant, however, are the recordings drawn from the Wessex sessions that followed the band's decision to part ways with the Moody Blues producer and produce the album itself.
A particularly ballsy move for a band of relative unknowns who seemed to have little experience in the studio (though, in fact, this was less than truthful), the later Wessex recordings reflect just how mature and fully formed King Crimson's vision was, just a few months into its existence. At a time when it was "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" for so many groups, these session reels also demonstrate just how professional, meticulous, focused and determined this band was to be, as Fripp recounts in the liners, "the best band in the world. Not the most successful band in the world, not the most famous band in the world."
The differences between the Clarke sessions and the subsequent self-produced tracks are many. Suffice to say that when King Crimson took control of its own destiny, its recordings would more closely align with the objectives of a band which, alongside Fripp, McDonald and Giles, also included a bass guitarist, in Greg Lake
, who was also a most expressive and mature lead vocalist. In addition, with sound and, more notably, lighting engineer Peter Sinfield, the band possessed a lyricist with few peers when it came to evocative prose. With the exception of the "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
CD, these session discs were released as digital downloads in 2019, in order, as the DGMLive website
explains, "to satisfy recent changes to copyright laws: All recordings must be released within the fiftieth year of their recording in order to continue to enjoy copyright protection."
So yes, much of this material has been available elsewhere and in other formats. But it also brings more material onto Blu Ray than has been previously collected before, including, in addition to the Chesterfield show, a 53-minute selection of tracks from the pre-Crimson Giles, Giles & Fripp's The Brondesbury Tapes
(Voiceprint, 2001) compilation, also in 24/192 resolution. Four unique mixes of In the Court of the Crimson King
tracks released, over the years, by engineer Alex R. "Stormy" Mundy and culled from various recording sessions, are collected in lossless 16/48 resolution, while the complete session reels and "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
sets are all in lossless 24/96. And, of course, there's the separate Blu Ray with Wilson's new Dolby Atmos and Quad mixes.
Two DVDs are also included in the box for those still committed to that format. One, a DVD-V that will work on any DVD player, includes the session reels, "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
and the "Stormy" Mundy mixes, but in lower resolution than on the Blu Ray (barring the Stormy mixes, which are 16/48 across both). The second collects Steven Wilson's 50th Anniversary
2019 surround and stereo mixes, along with the Original Master Edition
, on DVD-A for the first time, albeit in lower resolutions than their Blu Ray counterparts (and its lossless, higher resolutions only available to those with DVD-A-compatible players, though still playable, albeit with fewer audio options, on standard devices).
Add Sid Smith's as-ever engaging and in-depth liners in the included booklet, along with a variety of memorabilia, and The Complete 1969 Recordings
is a comprehensive, one-stop-shop collection of everything that's been released surrounding In the Court of the Crimson King
, with various content appearing on various hard media formats for the first time. And it's the very curation of this material, in a meaningful sequence that mirrors British fans' experience of the band, in some cases in performance long before the album was released, that makes it possible to experience this first King Crimson lineup in a totality previously not experienced. Beyond being able to assimilate the band's vision and, for its time, uncharacteristically detailed and perfectionist approach to recording, there is another characteristic that the entire box reveals in a more holistic fashion.
Much has been written about King Crimson being an improvising band across its many lineups, whether it's in individual or collective soloing, an interpretative acumen that the current lineup demonstrates particularly well, or "drawn from the ether" extemporizations that have defined certain incarnations more than others. Across every Crimson, even through-composed songs have often sounded considerably different from one night to the next (and, in the studio, from one take to another). But too little has been written about what a remarkable improvising collective King Crimson Mark I was, a follow-on from the pre-Crimson Giles, Giles & Fripp's similar disposition. Whether it's Lake and Giles' interpretation of defined form in different ways on different studio takes, Fripp and McDonald demonstrating their instrumental mastery and constantly changing approaches to soloing in performance, or the group's occasional flights into unfettered free improvisation, King Crimson Mark I may have possessed many stylistic touchstones, but at its heart bore the spirit, if (largely) not the letter, of jazz.
Indeed, King Crimson's first incarnation was the closest any rock group of its time came to resembling a jazz
band, at least when it wasn't exploring folk, classical and more decidedly rock forms. Still, no matter what musical genre King Crimson was cross- blending with others, an undeniable jazz spirit seemed to underscore everything the band played, with this lineup contributing some of the freest live explorations of any incarnation over its five-decade career. The combination of Fripp and McDonald, both clearly raised on and experienced in a wide range of musical styles gave the group as broad a scope as any of the band's many lineups. And as talented and far- reaching as every drummer that's come through the band has been subsequent to this first lineup, with the possible exception of the current incarnation's Jeremy Stacey
, no other drummer could swing
the way Michael Giles did, especially in live performance.
If Mel Collins, Crimson's only other saxophonist/flautist, has always proven himself capable of navigating more challenging constructs with stylistically appropriate aplomb, those only familiar with In the Court of the Crimson King
simply cannot know just how musically expansive Ian McDonald was. As comfortable evoking classical concerns as he was threading improvised melodies through the needle of the band's sometimes spare, other times more complex compositional forms, McDonald possessed an inimitable command of a variety of styles that distinguished him from his contemporaries in other groups.
With, of course, the exception of his Crimson band mates, especially Robert Fripp. In recent years, the guitarist has reintroduced, where appropriate, some of the warmer, jazz-inflected tones and voicings employed in early Crimson lineups, transitional or touring, up to and including the band's fourth studio album, Islands
(Panegyric, 1971). Still, in King Crimson Mark I and, before it, Giles, Giles & Fripp, the guitarist demonstrated, with crystal clarity, a background that rendered him comfortable with a multiplicity of stylistic approaches, from pastoral folk music and classical and flamenco inspirations, to flat-out jazz-centric linear and chordal work and, of course, the high velocity, high decibel rock style that many have emulated but never copied.
It's this very revelation, taking The Complete 1969 Recordings
as a whole experience rather than the sum of its various recordings and mixes, that positions King Crimson's first lineup (with the possible exception of its current incarnation) as its most diverse and far-reaching. As extraordinary as literally every musician who has ever spent time in King Crimson has been, this was a band that, especially at the time, defined the very heart of progressive music, seamlessly combining elements of rock, folk, jazz, classical and other musical concerns into a singular whole that sounded like nothing else. If King Crimson has long since transcended the reductionist definition that progressive rock has ultimately become, in 1969, over the course of 335 days, 70 live performances and one groundbreaking studio album, it was the very definition of progressive rock.
Having previously reviewed the In the Court of the Crimson King (Original Master Edition)
, the 40th Anniversary Series
reissue and 50th Anniversary
release in considerable depth and detail, there may seem to be little left to say about the content of those three releases. And it's true. As a consequence, this review will not cover those components of The Complete 1969 Recordings
, but links at the end of the article will direct any interested readers to them.
It's also true, for any but the most committed Crimhead, that the accomplishments of King Crimson's first lineup, despite its commercial success and popular and critical acclaim, have been unfairly simplified and vastly overlooked. The Complete 1969 Recordings
rights these wrongs by providing a unique opportunity to reassess the band based, not only on its lone studio release, but on its live recordings and session reels as well. Taken as a systemic whole, the sum total of these recordings reveal the myriad components of the Rubik's cube that was King Crimson's first lineup, and how only Robert Fripp, Ian McDonald, Greg Lake, Michael Giles and Peter Sinfield could actually solve its internal puzzle, creating an extraordinarily diverse aesthetic that, at the same time, was unerringly unified and thoroughly integrated into a unique sound with few, if any, peers.
How Not to Repeat Yourself: Some Background
Just as All About Jazz
has covered the various reissues of In the Court of the Crimson King
in great detail so, too, has Sid Smith written plenty about the music, both in his various liner notes and in his recently rewritten (and highly recommended) biography, In the Court of King Crimson: An Observation Over 50 Years
(Panegyric Publishing, 2019). That he's managed to make each liner distinct and separate, engaging and informative, is no small achievement.
And so, for The Complete 1969 Recordings
box set, Smith's liners focus more on the band's emergence and rapid succession, and from management and record label competition to other business concerns. Smith also documents the band's early gigs and the responses of a variety of well-known musicians including some, like drummer Bill Bruford
, saxophonist Mel Collins
and percussionist Jamie Muir, who would actually end up in
later Crimson incarnations.
Comments from a number of already (or soon to be) known musicians seem to distill King Crimson down to a single word: precise
. But few seemed to truly appreciate the band's improvisational prowess. Compare King Crimson to the similarly symphonic Moody Blues, a band ready to release On the Threshold of a Dream
(Deram) in April, 1969, and which appeared interested in signing Crimson to its new label, and the difference between the two bands couldn't be more exposed. The Moody Blues was a group of competent players, largely coming from rock and folk backgrounds, with aspirations largely focused on folk, rock and classical references, with a hint of psychedelia; King Crimson, on the other hand, was a group of virtuosos already comfortable across a broad diversity of musical approaches.
McDonald was, however, suspicious, feeling that the Moodies were only looking to sign Crimson in order to appropriate things from the band, while Fripp recalled the group catching Crimson live and canceling the deal to tour together, because they knew King Crimson would have blown them off the stage. As good a band as the Moody Blues were, the members of Crimson were real players
and exceptional improvisers, one and all. Fripp, McDonald and Giles could just as easily found themselves in a proper jazz band (especially given some of the Giles, Giles & Fripp material included in The Complete 1969 Recordings
), but clearly had something else in mind.
At the time, there were many nascent progressive rock bands looking to fuse classical or jazz music with rock, but few understood jazz well enough to accomplish it with Crimson's deeper credibility. And while some were more adept at fusing various musical concerns, there simply was not another band, at the time, so capable of blending the power, visceral punch and high decibels of rock with the pastoral disposition of folk music and greater complexities of jazz, free improv and classical music. Few bands could bring Gustav Holst to life in a high volume, high energy fashion the way Crimson did, for example, with its interpretation of The Planet
The liners also include plenty of detail about the late Barry Godber, whose indelible gatefold outer and inner cover art (one, nightmarish, the other, reflecting peace) was a significant contributor to the band's initial identity. Godber also designed an eye, surrounded by a flame, that would be used for posters and on Giles' bass drum.
Smith also reveals plenty about how King Crimson managed to self-finance in ways that ultimately allowed it considerable more freedom than most young bands, when it came to finding and signing record deals. McDonald's uncle funded the band's rehearsals with a weekly wage, making it possible for band to focus exclusively on the work of writing and shaping its musical identity. He also paid for the purchase of certain instruments, most notably the mellotron, that seminal keyboard instrument in progressive rock where each key triggered a tape loop representing a single note recording of flutes, strings sections, choirs and other instruments. While not sounding exactly like an orchestra, the mellotron had already been seminal to the sound of The Moody Blues, was used by The Beatles
, and afforded Crimson's lineups, especially from 1969 to 1974, with the ability to evoke the sounds of an orchestra with only four musicians onstage.
Between McDonald's uncle, Smith also details, and managers David Enthoven and John Gaydon, who underwrote the Wessex studio recordings, King Crimson also possessed a rare freedom to take its time shopping for a record deal. Furthermore, the usually all- important record label advances against royalties (not to mention label ownership of the music) could be eschewed, putting the band in a stronger negotiating position. It also meant that the band, rather than conventionally signing with a label, was able to arrange licensing deals that kept ownership of its music within the band and management. That the band was also able to negotiate a $100,000 advance and 12% royalty rate for its North American distribution by Atlantic Records was an unheard of amount for such a young and relatively unproven group, that kind of money typically only going to established artists like, in the case of Atlantic, Aretha Franklin
And there are some horror stories from the road. From the start of its successful US tour, the band had to deal with voltage issues which, when suddenly dropping, slowed down the playback of the mellotron tapes so that they dropped in pitch as much as a quarter tone, making live recordings all the more a challenge.
Crimson also experienced of an overnight fire, at a Chicago venue, that resulted in waterlogged equipment. The wood from which the mellotron casings were made became warped and so, while they did manage to get them working again (the band was touring with two of them), they had another mellotron sent from the U.K. King Crimson was, as a result, the only band to tour with three full-size mellotrons.
The American gigs were, by all accounts, extraordinary, as evidenced here by the CDs culled from the two nights each at the Fillmore East and West, Bill Graham's renowned New York City and San Francisco venues. By the time the group reached the Fillmore East, "Trees" had been rewritten into the more concise "A Man, A City," similar to but not entirely the same as the subsequent "Pictures of a City."
But if the performances were exceptional, the relentless pace the band had endured since beginning to rehearse in January, 1969 began to take its toll, especially for Giles and McDonald, who were missing partners back home. Giles and McDonald have reflected, in retrospect, that had they spoken up about their concerns with their band mates and managers, perhaps something could have been worked out, but this was also McDonald's first time in a rock group, so he had no experience on which to draw. The pair was young, completely exhausted and increasingly unhappy, and so informed Fripp of their decision to leave the band during a car drive to the Los Angeles airport. Not, perhaps, the best place to deliver bad news.
In retrospect, according to Smith (and, by proxy, McDonald), that very relentless nature of the band's artistic drive meant they'd not really formed the kinds of personal bonds that would have allowed them to air their feelings, nor was there the kind of relationship with management that would've allowed them to discuss such problems.
But the problems went further. The darker disposition of Fripp's writing didn't jibe with McDonald's more optimistic approach, a disparity that, comparing In the Court of the Crimson King
with the superb but dimensionally different McDonald and Giles
, recorded in May and June 1970 and released just five months later, couldn't be more stark.
And so, 335 days after it began, King Crimson Mark I was no more, its meteoric rise and commercial success never equaled by any of the Crimson lineups that followed.
That said, at a time when record sales have largely plummeted across the industry, King Crimson's current lineup has proven a surprisingly successful entity. Following Fripp's investment of a substantial amount of money, in the early '90s, in order to reacquire the rights for all of Crimson's music from past management and labels, the creation of DGM (Discipline Global Mobile) was, with its premise that artists should be paid fairly for their work, the beginning of an ongoing period of successful reissues and extensive release of live recordings, both on CD and in downloadable formats.
The surprising success, first of live shows released on CD or digitally (notably the four-CD Great Deceiver
(Discipline Records) box set) has resulted, in recent years, in collection of commercial albums with new stereo and surround mixes, a multiplicity of outtakes, alternate takes and mixes, a bevy of live shows (most of extremely high fidelity) and more into CD, DVD and/or Blu Ray box sets like The Complete 1969 Recordings
, which seems to wrap up a reissue program that began a little over a decade ago, in 2009. Ranging from a seemingly paltry six discs to a whopping 27, some box sets, like 2019's Heaven & Earth: Live and In the Studio 1997-2008
(Panegyric) include so much live material that the total run time runs over four and a half days
Pandemic aside, King Crimson's current lineup has, since 2014, played to increasingly sizeable and demographically diverse audiences, despite its most unconventional configuration and concept.
But it all began with King Crimson Mark I, the most auspicious debut of a band that has, over half a century and not unlike the late trumpeter Miles Davis
, shifted gears so often that the only way to describe its music is: King Crimson.
Live and BBC Recordings
By the time King Crimson began gigging on April 9, 1969 at London's Speakeasy, the group had been together for a little over four months, having begun rehearsals less than three months prior on January 13, 1969. Still, the band quickly established a buzz in the industry, having already acquired management, in David Enthoven and John Gaydon, soon after rehearsals began. Documented in greater detail in Sid Smith's liners, suffice to say that by the time of its first gig, the name King Crimson was already beginning to resonate amongst industry professionals and fellow musicians.
By the time the group played at Hyde Park, on the bill with the Rolling Stones on July 5, 1969, it already had 22 live dates under its belt, and had begun preliminary recordings at Morgan Studios, with Moody Blues producer Tony Clarke at the helm. Between June 12 and June 30, takes of "21st Century Schizoid Man," "I Talk to the Wind" and "Epitaph" were recorded, but the band was less than satisfied with the results.
Only a brief video excerpt from the Hyde Park performance has survived, first appearing, on DVD, in the In the Court of the Crimson King 40th Anniversary Series
box set. Like the disc included in the In the Court of the Crimson King 50th Anniversary
three-CD/one-Blu Ray set, The Complete 1969 Recordings
replicates same Blu Ray disc.
But if only a few minutes of the Hyde Park show has survived the decades on video, the audience recording of the complete show has endured. While Sinfield was less than enthusiastic about the performance, Fripp nevertheless wrote in his diary, at the time: "Standing ovation. Mammoth success, of importance which will take time to appreciate. We'll look back to see this day in years to come and fully realise its significance."
It's hard to imagine playing in front of 650,000 people who were largely there to catch the Stones. Still, even with its relatively low fidelity sound, the Hyde Park show is a remarkable document and experience, leaping from the speakers with an energy, improvisational instrumental prowess and palpable self-confidence that simply doesn't belong to a group of unknown musicians with so little apparent experience in the rock world.
From the very beginning of the set-opening "21st Century Schizoid Man," with its thundering power, virtuosic guitar and electric alto saxophone solos, and staggering stop/start light-speed passages, it's easy to imagine being in the crowd and wondering who this band was, with its guitarist firmly planted on a stool and avoiding all the usual physical gymnastics and posturing. But Crimson was nothing if not serious about the music it was making.
The set included many of the songs that the group would play over the next six months. From the band's as-yet unrecorded In the Court of the Crimson King
: an incendiary "21st Century Schizoid Man"; symphonically potent "The Court of the Crimson King"; and more melancholic "Epitaph." The set also featured a considerably expanded, nine-minute exploration of pop star Donovan's three- minute song, "Get Thy Bearings," from The Hurdy Gurdy Man
(Epic, 1968), alongside two back-to-back group compositions, "Mantra" and "Travel Weary Capricorn," both rife for improvisational exploration. The group closed its set with the 5/4 time, bolero-like, ostinato-driven and mellotron-heavy interpretation of Gustav Holst's "Mars." The first piece written by the late 19th/early 20th century classical composer for his enduring seven-piece suite, The Planets
, it builds to a fever pitch, with a siren running underneath the stage as the band brings the set to a chaotic conclusion.
Running five minutes overtime and risking having the plug pulled, as Enthoven notes in Smith's liners, the stage manager had "been really rude but at the end he gave us a nod as if to say 'yes, OK, it was worth it.'" It was, indeed, worth it, a 40-minute set where King Crimson had, as McDonald recounts, arrived
As fully formed as the group was by this time, it was still honing aspects of its music. The lyrics for "In the Court of the Crimson King" had, for example, yet to become those that would appear on the album. And, while the symphonic majesty of the song is captured, even with this relatively low fidelity, the vocal harmonies were certainly rough. Still, given that onstage monitors were, at the time, not what they would evolve to become in just a few short years (and the band was clearly loud
), it's understandable. And throughout the set, even if Giles and McDonald's backup vocals are a tad suspect, Lake's lead voice is strong, confident and relatively on-pitch.
If Crimson is relatively faithful to Donovan's hippie-oriented lyrics on "Get Thy Bearings" and its invitation to "Let's all get stoned, higher and higher," where the band takes the song once it gets past the vocal section couldn't be more different to the Sunshine Superman. With the band moving into a firmly swinging middle section that supports McDonald's impressive alto solo, it further demonstrates the band's stylistic breadth. Following another verse and chorus, Lake's bright bass lines bolster Fripp's equally provocative solo. But it's when Fripp moves from rapid fire lines to acerbically toned, rapidly picked chords, foreshadowing the end of what would become the instrumental section to "Pictures of a City," that it becomes clear just how far ahead he was already thinking. An a cappella
section for the guitarist, filled with sharply distorted chordal shards, makes clear that King Crimson may be a rock band, but one with a its feet firmly planted in free-spirited, jazz-centric improvisation.
The band re-enters with the song's ascending six-chord intro figure, leading to a penultimate verse that demonstrates the band's scrupulous attention to dynamics, as things drop to just bass, drums and vocals. But what comes in the final verse is completely unexpected, as sax, guitar and drums wax recklessly, with only Lake's bass holding down the time.
Only three songs into the set, and Crimson is making clear that it's a band with absolutely no peers. At a show headlined by the Stones, King Crimson proved itself as oblique and aggressive as it gets, yet the audience response suggests that it was totally enthralled by a band as distanced from the headliner's blues and roots rock as can be.
"Epitaph" is a solid enough performance, though Lake's vocal phrasing, repeatedly rushing towards the end of each phrase, is less effective than the approach he would later take on record. Rather than playing the song in its entirety, instead of the instrumental section that normally follows the second verse, Lake sings another chorus. Clearly the band is still working towards a finished arrangement of a song that ultimately becomes the first of a four-song, 16-minute medley that ends King Crimson's Hyde Park set with a climactically chaotic barrage of sound. The band seamlessly segues, with Fripp's blend of picked chords and octave glissandi into "Mantra." Largely revolving over a repeated two-chord pattern, it's a short feature for Fripp that slowly builds towards McDonald's flute solo, supported by Giles' malleted tom toms.
As the band's dynamics build to a potent climax, "Mantra" proves to be connective tissue, with Fripp and McDonald segueing into the swinging start of "Travel Weary Capricorn," with Giles taking a turn as lead vocalist. If Crimson was largely thought of as a more serious band, especially for those who never experienced it live, a comedic polka-like section, with Fripp's chordal shots on the two and four of each bar and Lake's I-V bass line supporting McDonald's wry melody. Even that section quickly breaks down in short order, as the band coalesces, once again, but this time for a very brief reading of "Nola," originally composed by turn of 20th century composer/ragtime pianist Felix Arndt.
Fripp plays its fast-picked melody, but the band quickly dissolves, yet again, into chaos as McDonald briefly solos with abandon while Fripp first, followed by Lake, begin the eight-note, 5/4 ostinato that introduces "Mars." It may be the shortest of any version found in The Complete 1969 Recordings
' live sets, but it's no less powerful a set-closer for a piece that would eventually find its way onto In the Wake of Poseidon
, as part of the second side's lengthy, three-part and even more nightmare-inducing "The Devil's Triangle" suite.
Restricted to just a forty minute set, Crimson was forced to deliver significantly shortened versions of some of its material, as evidenced by its set at The Marquee the following evening. Opening wth an even more scorched earth take on "21st Century Schizoid Man," the song is slightly faster but still finds its way to the finished album arrangement. The middle instrumental section takes twice as long to reach Fripp's incendiary solo, as he intersperses expressive lines with jagged chords. McDonald's alto feature is even fiercer than the day before and, paradoxically, the entire band feels more intense and
relaxed than at Hyde Park.
"Drop In" begins with Lake alone but McDonald soon responds to Lake's vocal, as the balladic complexion of the first verse turns more anarchistic, in particular Giles' freewheeling support over what is, essentially, a minor-keyed blues. An instrumental passage that foreshadows "The Letters," from 1971's Islands
, opens up to a visceral alto solo, followed by another verse that's supported, once again, in a completely different way than the two that came before. An initially swinging solo finds Fripp's warm-toned, jazz-centric voicings and sophisticated lines as just one more example of how freely Crimson interprets its material from one gig to the next.
A short version of "I Talk to the Wind," one of just two live versions in the box, is closer to the album's arrangement than the early Tony Clarke studio takes, though the band is still finding its way to a finished arrangement. The verses feature lovely three-part vocal harmony from Lake, Giles and McDonald, deserted for a different two-part harmony on the album, which ultimately fits better with the song's pastoral complexion.
Giles' approach to the kit during the song provides a strong example of how Crimson's arrangements build in ways that are often subtle, but other times more dramatic. Giles contributes only delicate cymbal work during the first verse, moving to more of his kit with subsequent ones. And while the intro and first verse feature McDonald on flute, when it comes to the chorus, he switches to mellotron, an effective change of complexion.
Fripp's warm-toned solo, following McDonald's flute feature, actually begins to resemble his approach on the record, even at this early stage. Without the extended instrumental coda, the song clocks in at a little over four minutes, but it's a lovely relief from the greater aggression that came before.
Sadly, "Epitaph" is incomplete, entering mid-section for McDonald's flute solo. But the band is still working on the arrangement, with McDonald followed by a shorter version of the instrumental section introduced by Fripp's arpeggiations, moving more quickly into the song's final verse.
An 11-minute "Travel Weary Capricorn" begins with a flurry of cymbals for over a minute, as Fripp enters with the chord and octave driven passage that's actually an uncredited "Mantra." It's considerably longer than the Hyde Park version, allowing McDonald (on flute) and Fripp to solo at much greater length before the band coalesces around what turns out to be a much shorter "Travel Weary Capricorn," moving into double time after Giles' vocal, and in the song's final minute, dropping the dynamics as the group builds up once again and segues into a 12-minute improvisation that covers considerable territory.
From a repeated series of guitar chords, the piece breaks down into a completely free section, with McDonald (on alto) and Fripp building into the same six-note figure from "Travel Weary Capricorn" the day before, but this time more angularly harmonized. The lengthy free passage that ensues is yet another example of King Crimson coming from places that few, if any, rock bands of the time were exploring. While completely different, perhaps only America's The Grateful Dead were demonstrating a similarly unfettered approach, moving from one song to the next in completely different sequences and in totally unexpected ways, from one night to the next. But how King Crimson moves from apparent structure, whether written or drawn from the ether, to greater extremes of freedom and back again was completely different and reflected the band's greater jazz and free improv proclivities.
Suddenly, out of the mélée, the polka-like passage ensues, McDonald's alto line more decidedly foreshadowing the melody of "Happy Family," from King Crimson's third studio album, Lizard
(Panegyric), released near the end of 1970. A longer performance of "Nola" follows, but still breaks down into a free section as loud and chaotic as on any of The Complete 1969 Recordings
' live sets. A remarkable "Etude No. 7," by 19th century Italian composer Matteo Carcassi, may be brief but, in its staggering virtuosity, reflects the classical side of Fripp's musical dispositions.
As Fripp concludes the etude with a short, sharp bend, Crimson once again comes together for another six minutes of diverse territorial explorations, from a gentle flute/guitar duet to a "drawn from the ether" flute line, around which the band reconvenes, with Lake taking the more relaxed line and, picking up the tempo, leading to a high velocity guitar solo that breaks down into a feature for Giles, bringing 24 minutes of contiguous music full circle. This time, however, Giles solos across his entire kit, demonstrating polyrhythmic complexities and unassailable virtuosity.
A quick segue into the fuller, eight-minute "Mars" follows, with McDonald layering flurries of flute work over the 5/4 ostinato. It's a freer introduction, from an interpretive perspective, as the ostinato firms up and McDonald switches to mellotron for the balance of the piece. It's unfortunate that no video document of "Mars" exists, as Sinfield's lighting, in particular his use of strobe light effects, must have rendered the increasingly chaotic piece even more nightmarish.
The Marquee show is of marginally lower sound quality when compared to Hyde Park, as is the single disc from King Crimson's August 9 show at the Plumpton Festival. Still, there's plenty to recommend with this seven song set that may begin and end as the previous two shows, with evocative versions of "21st Century Schizoid Man" and "Mars" but, with Lake and Giles taking a couple of unexpected liberties during Fripp's particularly visceral "21st Century Schizoid Man" solo as but one example, both pieces remain well worth hearing.
An 11-minute "Get Thy Bearings" does not include "Mantra," this time, with a nine-minute version of the latter song appearing after "The Court of the Crimson King" separates the two heavily improvised pieces. If the group's approach to Donovan's song is even more liberated, with McDonald's initial alto solo another marvel of extemporaneous invention, Fripp's extended feature is even more impressive.
A nine-minute "Improv" is notable for its inclusion of a brief quote, by Fripp. from "By the Sleeping Lagoon," better known to British fans of a certain age group as the theme to the BBC Radio show, created and hosted by Roy Plomley, Desert Island Discs
Fripp's solo segment also brings in the quote from "Etude No, 7," but this time so brief as to not merit being cited in the title, before Giles takes over for a lengthy drum exploration that migrates from full-bore virtuosity to sparer cymbal-driven elegance and back again, before Fripp introduces the ostinato to "Mars."
Beyond being a longer show that spans two CDs, the Chesterfield show on September 6 is notable for the band having, by this time, finished recording and mixing In the Court of the Crimson King
. Only "Moonchild" appears to have never been performed live by the group, finally making it into Crimson set lists in 2018 during the current band's European tour. With far better sonics than any of the previous shows included in the box, the Chesterfield show also reflects a group that is increasingly coming to terms with its nexus of wonderfully constructed form and utterly unfettered freedom.
The show features the first full live performance of "Epitaph" included in The Complete 1969 Recordings
. While the album version of "I Talk to the Wind" includes an extended instrumental coda, in performance, at least those included in this box, the band omits it, rendering the song considerably shorter. Similarly, the pipe organ trailer to "The Court of the Crimson King" would never be included in a live performance until the band's 50th anniversary tour in 2019.
There are some notable differences about the Chesterfield show. "Get Thy Bearings" reaches a mammoth 19 minutes, with Fripp once again foreshadowing the fiercely free playing that would show up at the end of the instrumental section to In the Wake of Poseidon
's "Pictures of a City." And with this being a far better recording than Hyde Park, The Marquee or Plumpton, the free sections are far more enjoyable, with the dynamics, whether whisper quiet or thunderously loud, far more listenable, and everyone's contributions considerably clearer.
Still, it"s the thirty-plus minute medley of "Mantra," "Travel Weary Capricorn," "Improv" and the set-closing "Mars" that renders the Chesterfield show so essential, even beyond the better sonics. The previous set-closing medleys all clock in at roughly the same length (barring the abbreviated Hyde Park show), but the better sound here renders it far more revealing. Even if the group has, by this time, settled into relatively defined road maps for each piece, even "Improv," its penchant for totally free improvisation not only make this medley different than all the others, but more revelatory as well.
The buildup of the twin chord-driven "Mantra" is more dramatic, with its clearer dynamics, while the double-time swing during both flautist McDonald and Fripp's solos on a six-minute "Travel Weary Capricorn" reflect a lighter touch by all, but especially Giles...that is, until the band ratchets up the power and the decibels for a little over a minute before the band moves, with a single voice, to a closing section filled with more collective ideas, in just a little over a minute, than many bands include in entire songs.
The ten-minute "Improv" is constantly different, most notably in how Fripp, Giles and Lake find their way to McDonald's "Happy Family"-like passage. That section also dissolves in a different fashion, this time continuing into increasing free passages without the inclusion of either "Nola" or "Etude No. 7," as it finds its way to "Mars." Most unusually, during the beginning of the Holst piece, one of the vocalists injects some plaintive wailing that is soon joined by another singer. Far clearer dynamics show how McDonald's mellotron part, supported by Fripp, Lake and Giles' unyielding bolero-like support builds far more slowly and inevitably to its anarchistic conclusion.
The final two live CDs in The Complete 1969 Recordings
come from American shows recorded three and four months later, by which time In the Court of the Crimson King
had been released. The band played shortened sets as part of a triple bill at the Fillmore East on November 21 and 22, the restored audio taken from a band cassette soundboard recording. The 21st show starts with an incomplete recording of "The Court of the Crimson King" but, most significantly, "Trees" has been rewritten as "A Man, A City." The words were not yet finalized and the arrangement was still undergoing changes, but it was already a barnstormer that, at over 11 minutes, demonstrated a significantly more blues-driven evolution from "21st Century Schizoid Man."
While the download available at DGMLive includes the four-song set in its entirety, with DGM having joined an audience recording of the show with the band's soundboard recording, to create a complete "In the Court of the Crimson King," only the fragment is included in The Complete 1969 Recordings
, with just a little over two of the song's final minutes. Still, the balance of the set continues to reflect King Crimson's ongoing evolution as a live band, with a stunning "Epitaph" and searing "21st Century Schizoid Man."
Sonically, the recording is better than Hyde Park, the Marquee and Plumpton, if not quite as crystal clear as Chesterfield. Still, it's plenty listenable, but if it demonstrates the group's precision, power and symphonic majesty, the choice of songs do not reflect Crimson's freer tendencies. The same can be said about the same four songs from the band's Fillmore East show the next night. Still, the lyrics to "A Man, A City" have changed from the night before, though the overall arrangement is similar, with the more extended middle instrumental section and, most notably McDonald's blazing alto solo rendering both versions worthy of inclusion here. "Epitaph" may be more majestically melancholic than the version from the night before, while "21st Century Schizoid Man" features a Fripp solo that blends light-speed lines with harmonic feedback and a more seamless transition to McDonald's alto feature.
The recordings taken from two of Crimson Mark I's three final performances ever, at the Fillmore West, from December 12 through 14, provide a more balanced mix of Crimson's meticulous song craft and more freewheeling tendencies. From December 13, a shortened 18- minute medley of "Mantra," "Travel Weary Capricorn," "Improv-Travel Bleary Capricorn" and "Mars" spotlight a more improv-heavy Crimson. Most notably, "Improv-Travel Bleary Capricorn" finds Fripp blending classical concerns and more audacious musings over McDonald's mellotron, before heading into a Spanish-tinged middle section that suggests the guitarist had been listening, at some point in his early years, to guitarists like Andres Segovia and Julian Bream.
As Fripp brings his solo to a close, McDonald enters on electric piano, for a brief, comical reference to a lounge band before Fripp signals "Mars," with the bolero-like ostinato. If the other pieces in the medley are abbreviated, "Mars" is full-length, and concludes the December 13 show with a suitable show of power. The Complete 1969 Recordings
also settles a discrepancy as to whether the 50-minute set that fleshes out the rest of the CD comes from December 14 or 15. While all six songs ("The Court of the Crimson King," "Drop In," "A Man, A City," "Epitaph," "21st Century Schizoid Man" and "Mars") were performed both nights, the set exactly mirrors the one included, and attributed to December 15, in the 2018 Panegyric reissue of Epitaph Volumes One & Two
, originally released in 1997. The liners for The Complete 1969 Recordings
, on the other hand, list the recordings as coming from the night before.
Thanks to DGM's Hugh O'Donnell, who provided the following clarification: "The error in Epitaph
was one that was carried forward from the gig list in The Young Persons' Guide [to King Crimson
(Island), compiled from Robert [Fripp]'s available sources in 1976. Since then, we acquired the scans of Ian [McDonald]'s diary, plus several Fillmore listings in the press, all of which confirm 11- 14 Dec. Why KC did not appear on the 11th is still unclear though."
Fripp's "21st Century Schizoid Man" solo (the entire song, in fact), is one of his best of the live versions, as his tart lines evolve into a series of descending chords that drive a single note of harmonic feedback that would normally signal McDonald's solo but, instead, goes further into a line that turns into three ascending diminished chords and, finally, a second piece of feedback that, this time, leads into McDonald's equally expressive solo.
As perfectionist as King Crimson would prove to be in the studio, as these six "warts and all" live sets demonstrate, in performance the band was as much about improvisational explorations and the intrinsic im
perfections that result, as they were adhering to the basic form of their compositions.
The five BBC recordings, for two Top Gear
broadcasts and documented on May 6 ("21st Century Schizoid Man," "The Court Of The Crimson King," "I Talk To The Wind") and August 19 ("Epitaph," "Get Thy Bearings"), are sonically close to the versions included in the 40th Anniversary
box, though that set only featured two songs from the May 6 session ("I Talk to the Wind," "21st Century Schizoid Man"). Epitaph Volumes One & Two
adds two more tracks ("The Court of the Crimson King," "Get Thy Bearings"), which suggests that the version of "I Talk to the Wind" included in The Complete 1969 Recordings
may be appearing here for the first time.
The tracks from May 6 reflect a group still working things out, in particular the lyrics to "The Court of the Crimson King," and whose flute solo is also quite different than the album version, with the doubling of Lake's voice during the verses more pronounced. The version of "I Talk to the Wind" includes three-part vocal harmonies during the verses, with Lake singing alone (but with copious amounts of reverb) during the choruses. But the source for this added BBC session track, as well as "Get Thy Bearings," likely come from a different source than the other three, as they sounds fair enough, but not as crystal clear. The liners to Epitaph Volumes One & Two
describe "21st Century Schizoid Man," "The Court of the Crimson King" and "Epitaph" as coming from the original BBC master tapes, but "21st Century" actually comes from a BBC transcription disc. The tape for "Get Thy Bearings" has sadly been lost to time, and so is sourced from a bootleg, while "I Talk to the Wind" comes from a fan recording of the original broadcast, cleaned up by DGM. Even the lesser quality tracks sound plenty fine.
Recording Sessions: Introduction
While various King Crimson box set reissues over the past several years have included excerpts from studio album recording sessions, The Complete 1969 Recordings
is the first to include as complete a record as can be found of the studio sessions, from both Morgan and Wessex Studios. Originally released as downloads in 2019 in order to avert loss of copyright in their 50th year, this is the first time they've appeared on CD, DVD (at 24/48 resolution) and Blu Ray (at 24/96). While they're not necessarily for everyone, for anyone interested in the process
of making a record they're an essential listen. For some, perhaps, a one-time event but for others, worth multiple spins as they unveil, with pristine clarity, just what goes into the creation of an album.
Mixed by David Singleton, his choices from one take to the next are sometimes wholly predicated on the instruments involved, other times based on his own decisions that illuminate specific details. Singleton has also taken a selection of partial or complete takes from the sessions to create "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
(also on CD, DVD and Blu Ray), the 68-minute "fly on the wall" collection that comes as close to being in the control booth as fans are ever apt to be. That collection also brings up the voices that are sometimes heard, other times more buried, in the complete session reels, making it possible to hear how the members of the band engage with the engineer (and each other) as they find their way to master takes.
The earliest sessions were recorded with Moody Blues producer Tony Clarke, but fairly quickly revealed a way of doing things that was counter to the way King Crimson wanted to make a record. At the time, and even today, many artists create albums from the ground up, recording basic tracks (often just bass and drums), over which other instruments are then overdubbed, along with vocals, harmonies, and, finally, any other instrumental or vocal additions like guitar solos, doubled vocals and more. It's the way, for example, that Mike Oldfield had to record his classic Tubular Bells
(Virgin, 1973), because he was the only musician making the recording.
Given, however, King Crimson's predilection for improvisation and the collective way that a song is played differently from one take (or night) to the next, the band discovered, despite its relative nascency as a group and as studio-experienced musicians, that Clarke's approach was not for them.
As Fripp recounts, at various points in the liner notes: "Tony Clarke would get me strumming rhythm chords to "I Talk to the Wind" for hours through the night. Well, through the night is not my best time for working. Strumming lots of chords is not the best use of me as a guitarist. In other words, he didn't see these artists: he didn't see this band. Not really. He saw what he obviously thought was a good band at the very least. (...) He probably gave it his best shot, but it wasn't the production for us. That's not a criticism of him as a producer. It was just a mismatch between producer and artist.
"I saw him a few years after that at Heathrow. I can't remember exactly what he said but there was an edge there. There was something not resolved for him. He seemed to have a bit of attitude about it. For me it was clear he wasn't the producer for this band. It doesn't mean the band's bad or wrong, or the producer; it's just not the match."
And so, the band decided to part ways with Clarke midway through the sessions at the larger (and less expensive) Wessex, and began producing the album on its own. A truth is that few artists are, frankly, capable of self-producing, because there's a certain objectivity that is hard to achieve when it's their music and their performances. It's often, in fact, a big mistake for artists to self-produce without, at least, the impartial ear of a co-producer or, at the very least, the engineer. But there are some who are so crystal clear in their objectives and musical vision that they are the only
ones who can make the album they want to make, and King Crimson was and remains such a band.
Of the band's thirteen commercial studio releases, only two are not produced by formal members of King Crimson. Beat
(Panegyric, 1982) was produced by Rhett Davies (Genesis
, Dire Straits
, Talking Heads), who was first enlisted as co-producer, alongside the members of Crimson, for Discipline
(Panegyric, 1981). Robert Fripp was the only member of Crimson involved in the production of its (thus far) final studio album, The Power to Believe
(Panegyric, 2003), which was co-produced by Machine (aka Gene Freeman), known for his work with, amongst others, Lamb of God, Four Year Strong and Clutch. The Complete 1969 Recordings
' six discs of session reels, totalling nearly seven hours when including the 17 minutes of "Stormy" Mundy mixes taken from the sessions, which include "I Talk to the Wind," "Epitaph" and The Court of the Crimson King." Stormy's mix, "Ahhh," is an excerpt of vocal harmonies from the conclusion of "The Court of the Crimson King," coming prior to the pipe organ and full band trailer appended in post-production. Three hours and forty minutes come from the sessions with Clarke, while a little over three hours are drawn from the Crimson produced sessions. With the exception of an early Morgan Studios recording of "21st Century Schizoid Man," sourced from a band cassette recording, the rest of the session reels come from the multi-track tapes, which clearly provided Singleton with tremendous flexibility in mixing them.
The differences between the Clarke and Crimson productions are, in a nutshell, palpable, with considerably more energy and engagement from those produced by the band, as in every case the group recorded its basic, full band tracks live off the floor, overdubbing other parts later, sometimes during the same day, other times later, in post-production.
While there are, indeed, multiple takes of four of the album's five tracks, it's both notable and, frankly, stunning that "21st Century Schizoid Man," the final song laid down, was recorded in a single, incendiary take. It's a lesson many artists learn with experience: that first takes can often be the best. First, because the band is at its freshest, and often becomes tired, the more takes that are laid down. Second, the more that's recorded, the more likely the musicians are to begin repeating themselves and losing the sound of surprise that makes for the best takes. That said, multiple takes can, indeed, be fine for nailing scored parts, or honing ideas that might emerge as strong structural elements. They can also be ideal when experimentation, from take to take, might unveil even better ideas.
And so, the process of making a record is one of experimentation and evolution, of finding and honing, and of attaining a take that feels
right, even if it might not be the most absolutely "perfect" one. Small mistakes can be corrected with "punch-ins," where a musician (occasionally, but less frequently, a band) can insert a correction over an existing take. And back in the pre-digital, pre-Pro Tools age, one of any good engineer's best tools in their kit was an X-ACTO knife which, along with some clear adhesive tape, allowed them to literally cut a section from the tape, either to remove a less-than-ideal fragment or to take it and insert it somewhere else in a take, whether it's the same one or another. The skill of seamlessly extracting and reinserting tape fragments is, sadly, a lost art.
Sessions: "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
With modern digital technology allowing for much greater flexibility, multi-track tapes are usually transferred to hard disc. Magnetic tape used for recording can, over the years (and even when properly stored and periodically rewound), become unplayable as the binder that adheres the magnetic material to the backing becomes unstable, leaving residue on the tape transport that is, in fact, the actual recorded information. And so, playing an old tape in this condition will destroy the tape and make it unusable beyond, at best, that one-time playback. In order to restore tapes to a usable condition, they are "baked," in other words dried using a low heat. Once done it's best to transfer the music, usually to a computer hard drive, within 24 hours, as the baking is only a temporary fix. While it can, sometimes, be possible to re-bake a tape, the more times a tape is baked the less the chance for a successful outcome. So, after the first bake, tapes should be transferred to a computer without delay.
Clearly, based on the sound of the session reels in The Complete 1969 Recordings
, the transfer of the tapes was successful.
Singleton begins "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
with "The Court of the Crimson King," the title phrase actually drawn from the beginning of the song's third take, recorded on July 16.
While the first take Singleton includes, take 8 from July 16, features acoustic guitar, bass and drums, it breaks down during the first verse, as a comment of significance comes, with: "go again, we might as well get it spot on. It's feeling good, good atmosphere." Still, the next take breaks down during the opening chorus, leading finally to a complete take, also including, as it turns out, McDonald's flute solo.
The choice of what instruments to use for a basic (or "bed") track is largely predicated on the ones where collective engagement and interpretation are key, and so while McDonald could have been laying down keyboard parts on the bed track, sitting out until the flute solo was a better choice, as it allowed him to improvise in tandem with the support from Fripp, Lake and McDonald, which had the effect of each musician pushing and pulling each other. It might seem that the most important engagement is between McDonald and Fripp, but Lake's occasional counterpoint and Giles' cymbal work are clearly just as essential in getting a take with the best flute solo possible. Unless they're a cappella
, it's a fallacy to suggest that a solo is just the lead instrument soloing; instead, it really is about the collective, of who is playing live with the soloist at the time.
With Singleton aborting the take for the purpose of demonstrating the addition of other instruments, another full take is included, this time with mellotron, harpsichord and Lake's lead vocals layered over the previous bass and drums take (Fripp's acoustic guitar and McDonald's flute solo are largely omitted for the purpose of clarity, but during the solo section, McDonald's flute can be heard very low in the mix at various points.
Prior to moving on to the next song, what sounds like a high pitched hum comes through the headphones, causing McDonald to say "ah...my ear...my ass," to which Fripp replies, "You've got the nicest ass in show business, Ian." It's an important note that King Crimson may be dead serious about making a record, but still has fun doing it. And what also becomes revealed throughout this disc, is how relaxed everyone is doing the work.
Singleton moves on to include two takes of "I Talk to the Wind," drawn from the July 9 sessions with Clarke. Initially just acoustic guitar and flute, a subsequent take adds some overdubbed flutes and guitar, with Fripp layering arpeggiated lines over his first strummed part. It becomes, however, very clear that, as good as these takes are, they illustrate precisely what Fripp was referring to in his criticism of the producer. Still, that this is the same band that had recorded the song as Giles, Giles & Fripp (and with McDonald and singer Judy Dyble in tow) just a year earlier but, now, had a fully formed and completely different musical vision, is no mean feat.
A band-produced take 5 from July 21 follows, first with a false start by Lake, and then a full take, initially with bass, drums and flute but, towards the song's end, Fripp's warm-toned electric guitar, as the song begins to assume the shape of the album version. A piano overdub comes in even later in what ultimately becomes the fade-out and, from a subsequent overdub session, vocals (including harmonies), twin bass clarinets, and electric piano. Lake's overdubbed vocal is particularly high in the mix, allowing his fragile delivery to come to the fore more than on the finished version.
Despite sometimes creating mixes similar to the complete session CDs, Singleton more often than not appears to employ different mixes that, collectively, reveal the gradual evolution of the music. By focusing on specific instruments that may be less clearly distinguishable in the final mix, he also clarifies how an album can be made up of parts that may not necessarily always used or, if they are, are so buried in the mix as to be felt more than heard. The end result is often a whole truly greater than what might be thought of as the sum of its parts, and a clearer window into how a finished song ultimately comes together.
The band moves on to "Epitaph" from July 30, with take 2 breaking down just into the third bar as Fripp loses the tempo. Singleton pastes together comments made by Fripp after aborted takes 5 and 6, as they shine a light on his (and the rest of the band's) meticulous approach and refusal to accept anything less than the right take: "I can do that better, I think we all can," he says. "I think the feel was there together but we could have been just a bit more precise. I'm being quite ruthless about this, so everyone else be too."
Still, another false start comes before a proper full take, with acoustic guitar, bass, drums, mellotron and piano. Illustrating how a master bed track is then used to underpin the finished song, Singleton then layers overdubbed takes of twin bass clarinets, largely in unison but occasionally harmonizing, along with a second acoustic guitar and, on the outro, Giles' malleted tom toms.
Two takes of the "song" part of "Moonchild," with just Giles' muted kit, and Fripp, on electric guitar, accompany Lake's vocal take. The first take breaks down, with Lake not singing the second verse. "We're still coming in faster than the count," someone comments, and a second take is far more successful. The third take includes overdubbed mellotron (using, at different points, strings and flutes) and vibraphone, but not Fripp's tremolo-picked guitar part. The song continues further, as the mellotron strings fade and the track moves into the first part of would become the lengthy, freely improvised trio of Fripp, Giles and McDonald, but cuts off after a little over a minute.
A brief excerpt of McDonald, sound checking his electrified alto saxophone, leads into that complete first take of "21st Century Schizoid Man." Giles' processed high hat during the verses is placed higher in the mix, and Singleton pulls a lot of Fripp's guitar work out, leaving a better opportunity to hear Lake and Giles contributions, with the drummer, in particular, echoing the rhythmic pattern of the guitar and sax parts. McDonald's alto solo, without the interweaving overdub, makes much clearer just how fine a player he is amidst the dissonance and shrieking chaos. "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
concludes with some odds and ends, including four of the 17 minutes of wind noise, recorded on a reed organ, to open the album and "21st Century Schizoid Man." For something that only occupies 30 seconds on the record, the band is still absolutely assiduous in its pursuit of the perfect take. "There's variation in the noises," someone says. "There's a lot of wind, and the occasional grunt from the bottom and the occasional whistle from the top, and nothing else. If you can vary the sounds a bit." "It's meant to be frightening, Ian," Fripp interjects, with McDonald replying, "I know, but it"s not."
After another try, the response is, "sorry, but it's sounding too human, have you got any diabolical sounds you can put on in there?" With discussion breaking down and becoming hard to discern, a voice ultimately emerges, "Do one more, but get some notes into it. All you need is half a minute." To McDonald's question, "Do you want notes or wind? I sussed there were more notes in before," the answer is, "Sounds, really, and there's a lot of wind and you get the occasional grunt" helps guide him towards the thirty seconds that are, indeed, perfect for the album's intro.
Sessions, Part 1: Tony Clarke Producing
If Singleton's 68-minute construction of "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
provides a most detailed window into the making of the In the Court of the Crimson King
, the six discs that document the Complete Recording Sessions
allows for an even finer, more granular look at the entire process.
A version of "21st Century Schizoid Man," from June 12 at Morgan Studios opens the first disc, sourced from a band cassette. An instrumental take with no overdubs, recorded live off the floor, it demonstrates how Crimson managed to capture plenty of live energy in the studio. While it includes solos from Fripp and McDonald, they would do much better near the end of the following month, when they lay it down at Wessex.
The band apparently also worked on "I Talk to the Wind" and "Epitaph" at Morgan Studios, but no documents of these sessions appear to exist. And so, Crimson soldiered on but, by June 19 and ultimately unhappy with both the results and the studio, the band relocated to the larger Wessex Studios, consequently more comfortable for setting the band up and recording its basic tracks live off the floor. But first, before commencing recording at Wessex, the band had to prepare for its important Hyde Park gig on July 5.
Just two days after its successful gig at Hyde Park, the band re-entered Wessex Studios on July 7, to lay down its first eight takes of "Epitaph." The takes are collected into two lengthy tracks totalling over 26 minutes in length, though the actual time the band took was likely longer as they discussed alterations between takes. While largely focusing on acoustic guitar, bass and drums, take 3 is notable for its inclusion of mellotron and electric piano, bass clarinet and electric guitar, possibly overdubbed over a previous take.
Bands often record "scratch" vocals to help keep everyone in place within a song's form, and take 3 also includes Lake's scratch vocal for "Epitaph," heard at certain points but kept low in the mix. It does illustrate how differently he was singing the song this early in the recording process. There are also malleted tom tom overdubs from Giles, making the song surprisingly close, at least in its overall road map and form, to how the group would ultimately lay it down again later, after parting ways with Clarke.
These takes reveal how this band of unknown musicians were not just highly adept players, but ones who also understood the mechanics of recording. Another significant note in these days before the use of a click track to help musicians stay in time, is just how solid King Crimson's time was, for the most part.
Time is a somewhat amorphous concept. For example, there's playing behind the beat (as drummers like Jim Keltner
and Steve Gadd
do) or playing on top of the beat (Rush's Neil Peart
and The Police's Stewart Copeland
being two good examples). And the human factor also has to be considered: Steve Gadd, for example, whose time is as about as good as anyone playing today, is absolutely rock solid but not metronomic, because a player who is 100 per cent so can begin, even when they are as virtuosic as Peart, to sound like a machine.
So it's about time that is "on the money," but still feels like it's being played by human beings, and that's a difficult concept to define. Younger musicians often struggle with learning how to play in time, especially when trying to balance it with faster playing, where they often rush, or on slower songs, where there is so much space that keeping time requires considerable discipline. Giles is largely a behind the beat drummer, but his time is, for the most part, impeccable.
Fripp, too, had clearly done some serious wood-shedding with a metronome. Nobody is perfect, and takes can sometimes be aborted if one or more player begins to lose it, but King Crimson's overall time, especially on sparer tracks like "I Talk to the Wind" (and particularly Fripp's performances during the duo versions of the song, where he is often playing a cappella
) is remarkably solid, also during the light speed portions of "21st Century Schizoid Man." And if "21st Century Schizoid Man" would prove that more is sometimes, indeed, more, tracks like "Epitaph" and "I Talk to the Wind," demonstrate Crimson Mark I's intrinsic understanding that, perhaps just as importantly, less
is, very often, more.
On July 9, 12 takes of "I Talk to the Wind" were recorded as a duo, with Fripp on acoustic guitar and McDonald on flute. They're lovely versions, to be sure, but clearly illustrate Clarke's different vision for the song, relegating the more creative Fripp to a simpler role as rhythm guitarist, strumming chords rather than the kinds of arpeggiated voicings he would subsequently employ once King Crimson took control of its own destiny.
Such a relatively naked context, with just acoustic guitar and flute and no click tracks, reveals just how extraordinary Fripp and McDonald were. Their time feels great, and McDonald's solos demonstrate a more jazz-centric ability to weave melodies through
the changes rather than over them.
None of the first four takes reach conclusion, and for a variety of reasons. At one point, for example, after the second take breaks down, McDonald complains that his parts are challenging with respect to breathing.
The duo's increasing confidence is palpable on takes 5 through 8. Each one is different, with the pair appearing to pay more attention to dynamics on take 7, both during the verses and at the end of each chorus. During the final verse, Fripp brings the dynamics way down mid-verse, only to build it more dramatically to the chorus, only to bring it down, yet again. McDonald manages to create different but equally evocative solos from one take to the next and, while the overall form of the song is set, there's no instrumental coda, as would appear later in the month when Crimson began handling the production.
Laying down four more takes before the day is out was no mean feat, especially since Fripp and McDonald never seemed to run out of ideas or new ways to approach the music. Take 10 is notable for Fripp's more liberal approach to rhythm. It works, even if it doesn't feel quite right. McDonald, on the other hand, delivers a considerably different solo when compared to those already documented, dropping into his instrument's lower register for some time before returning to its more stratospheric regions.
Take 11 features overdubbed flutes for first time. Fripp also overdubs a second acoustic guitar. Which prior take is uncertain, or if they recorded a new take here and then recorded their overdubs over it. The harmonized flutes are, however, exactly what the song needs. Fripp's picked chords and linear phrases are also strong additions, but don't necessarily add substantively to the song. His arpeggiated solo is certainly lovely and undeniably impressive, but it's clearly not what the song needs. Still, for the first time, the guitarist introduces the Wes Montgomery
-style octave work that, in a slight different form and on electric guitar, would end up on the album.
McDonald, once again, contributes plenty of ideas that ultimately lead to the finished album's solo. These takes demonstrate how, as a group records one after another, the musicians may come up with ideas that are ultimately discarded, but contribute others that are so good that they end up becoming part of subsequent improvisations. Take 12 may find the duo back to just one flute and one guitar without any overdubs, but McDonald's solo really begins to approach the master take in its overall shape.
The following day, the full band begins working on "The Court of the Crimson King," laying down six takes before taking nearly a week off to play gigs in Beckenham, Nottingham and The Marquee, which had, by this time, become a fairly regular London destination for the group. Reconvening again on July 16 for just one day, before heading back on the road for dates in Plymouth, Malvern and, again, The Marquee, the band recorded a whopping ten takes, occupying over 60 minutes of the third session reels CD, along with a first attempt at the song's trailer and the sixth take, from July 10.
The first five takes on July 10 are largely acoustic guitar, bass and drums, with McDonald also adding his flute solos. On the second take, Lake adds a fuzz box to his bass to give it more heft, something he would use live as well but which would be deserted by the time the album take was recorded. Recording in this fashion allowed, however, for McDonald's vivid interplay, during his flute solo, with Fripp, Lake and Giles, particularly in an especially strong take 6.
For a guitarist already as accomplished as Fripp, it's notable that, barring "21st Century Schizoid Man" and the free improv section that occupies most of "Moonchild," his role is often supportive. Still, every note, every chord, every phrase and every idea, whether choosing acoustic over electric guitar, or employing a warmer tone more closely associated with jazz over a more aggressively acerbic one, was perfect.
Prior to take 3, Fripp can be heard saying, "Let's get our minds on the fact that this one is going to be a better one. We're thinking, at the moment, that 'Ah, we can take the last one.' This has got
to be better." This refusal to accept anything less than the very best take, from performance to feel, is what makes In the Court of the Crimson King
such a landmark recording. Artists often have to balance a recording's cost with the quality of the finished music, sometimes even being forced to accept a less than perfect album. With King Crimson and its mangement in complete control, it was possible (within reason) to accept nothing short of what their musical vision demanded.
With McDonald adding a flute solo to the takes, what begins to emerge, perhaps even more than on "I Talk to the Wind," is how well he engages, primarily with Fripp, but truly with everyone in the group. Yes, it's McDonald's solo, but without Fripp's injections, Lake's occasionally contrapuntal lines and Giles' empathic cymbal work, it simply would not be nearly as compelling.
But every take has something to make it worth hearing. How the group takes a song filled with many verses and choruses, and makes the sum total more eminently dramatic by gradually building the dynamics, or by adding either more instrumentation or an increase in how much is played, can be heard throughout these takes. And it's also the small things, like Giles' fill during the first chorus, where its temporal offset is, in a word, wonderful.
Fripp's playing, during the verses, is a highly effective combination of arpeggiations and harmonics. There simply wasn't a guitarist in the rock arena at the time who was conceiving things as Fripp did. There were many great jazz reed and woodwind multi-instrumentalists, especially in the jazz sphere, but few, other, perhaps, than Mel Collins, knew how to mesh jazz ideations into an ostensibly rock context. McDonald's solo on take 3 is already beginning to approach the overall shape of his playing on the record, his interplay with Fripp particularly impressive and the flautist's rapidly iterative twin cascading triads that lead into the final verse making their appearance for the first time. While improvisation was always key to King Crimson, even in the studio, the band nevertheless knew that when something is being committing to a permanent document, it had better be something that can withstand the test of time and many, many listens.
Throughout these takes, another fact becomes clear. While Bill Bruford would ultimately become the band's most renowned drummer (until, at least, the current lineup), Giles was equally distinctive, innovative and imaginative. That he largely didn't retain his reputation after Crimson, despite McDonald and Giles
and the drummer's post-2000 Mad Band, there's no doubt that he was the absolutely perfect drummer for Crimson Mark I, and the transitional group of musicians that recorded In the Wake of Poseidon
. Even if he became less visible, his late '60s and early '70s work has, nevertheless, influenced generations of drummers to come.
As the band resumes recording "The Court of the Crimson King" on July 16, a number of significant developments emerge. Fripp has settled into his acoustic work during the verses, with its repeating mix of a single note, followed by a harmonic chord and a three-note phrase. Giles' playing, too, is beginning to take shape. The drummer's tuning was also most unusual for the time, whether it was his bass drum, toms or snare, often very open and resonant at a time when drummers were beginning to mute their toms and bass drum. And the way Giles blends a figure with a bass drum shot, a hit on his open high hat, and a snare roll followed by three descending tom shots during the verses? It's the kind of approach rarely, if ever, heard from any other ostensibly rock drummer at the time.
Throughout these sessions there are a number of false starts and breakdowns, but they're a reality of working in the studio. It's often possible to tell if a take will be a success from the first few bars, the first few notes even, though it's still possible for a take to break down later on, if one or more of the musicians loses the script. And, without a click track, the tempo of each take can vary slightly, which can often make the difference between one that feels good and one that feels great
The final take of "The Court of the Crimson King" from July 16 includes a number of overdubs, including Lake's vocals, and McDonald's mellotron and harpsichord. Fripp's guitar is absent, though it's unclear as to whether this is a mixing decision by Singleton, in order to more clearly illuminate other tracks. While the flute solo isn't dominant, it can be heard, buried way down in the mix, as is Fripp's acoustic guitar during the final verse, suggesting that this is, indeed, a mixing decision. The take also ends with an extended mellotron feature, mixing both strings and low register choir, that is part of the ultimate fadeout, with Giles' repeated four-note cymbal pattern ending the take as the lead-in to the trailer.
The group finished July 16 with a first run at that trailer, a take including acoustic guitar, harpsichord, what sounds like low register grand piano and drums. It doesn't quite possess the grandeur of what would end up on the record, but it's a good start.
Sessions, Part 2: King Crimson Producing
At this point, the band decides to continue on without Clarke, and the difference in approach becomes almost immediately clear when the group convenes on July 21, . After a two-minute "Stormy" Mundy mix of the "Court of the Crimson King" trailer, dominated largely by acoustic guitar, bass and drums, the band kicks into high gear with increased enthusiasm, laying down nine group takes of "I Talk to the Wind." The session disc also includes a two-minute drum check (likely a significant distillation of the drum checks that usually take place, as the engineer ensures every microphone on the kit is working properly), a three-minute sound check for McDonald's electric alto saxophone, used on "21st Century Schizoid Man," and two additional "Stormy" mixes. One, "Ahh," the choral vocals that come during the final chorus of "The Court of the Crimson King" and the closing, celestial harmonies that come just prior to the trailer, is positively celestial. The other, an instrumental take of "I Talk to the Wind," focusing on flute, bass, drums, and sparely strummed acoustic guitar chords, is less effective but nevertheless revealing
An early take of "I Talk to the Wind" comes in partway through the first chorus, but the full takes 3 through 9 are a major improvement over the Clarke-producer duo sessions, and from the start, even with just flute, acoustic guitar, bass and drums, already begin to resemble what would end up on the album. Take 2 is especially notable for Giles' approach to color, and a rare melodic approach to his kit. Sadly, the take breaks down during McDonald's flute solo.
Another way that a group can create a different feel between verses and choruses can be heard throughout these takes, with Giles focusing on bass drum, snare and high hat during the verses, but moving to cymbal during the chorus to create a loosening sense of opening up.
Take 3 is also the first to have the band come to a pause after the final verse and a reiteration of the introduction for what appears to be the song's end, only to have Giles signal the band to re-enter for the extended coda that, again, largely features McDonald's lovely flute work. The coda is missing the added clarinets and organ that give it both a richer complexion and gradual build, but it's still plenty effective.
Take 7 begins, oddly, with just bass and drums, and McDonald not entering until the second chorus, though this could just be a mixing decision by Singleton, intended to shine a brighter light on Lake and Giles. After take 8 breaks down, the song really begins to take shape, largely featuring drums, piano, and flute (with a second one overdubbed at times), as Fripp's warm-toned electric guitar enters during the first chorus, combining a memorable series of harmonics and natural notes in a descending pattern. The mid-song instrumental section is also split between McDonald and Fripp, who contributes a beautifully constructed, octave-driven guitar solo. Take 9, in fact, sounds very much like the master take that is ultimately used for the record, but with additional overdubs including clarinets, electric piano and organ. It's a very long take that ultimately finds McDonald and Fripp orbiting in, out and around one another.
The final take of the day is just bass, drums and, coming in on the second chorus, flute, with a solo that's good, but not as good as on the previous take, demonstrating that the last take is not always the best one.
With another three live dates occupying July 26 through 28 in Birmingham, London and Aylesbury, work recommenced on "Epitaph" on July 30, with 10 takes from 1 to 3 and 5 to 11 (the tapes appear to be missing take 4). Along with the 54 minutes of "Epitaph" takes, the fifth Complete Recording Sessions
includes the final "Stormy" mix, a full nine-minute version of "Epitaph" that features bass, drums and, high in the mix, Fripp's acoustic guitar, which shifts from sharp chordal shots to the delicate arpeggios that so define the introduction and verses.
Hearing ideas unfold as the band works its way through the takes, can be revealing, and the energy and commitment of the band on these and, for that matter, every take once they begin self-producing, is tangibly clear. While take 1 is not "the one," Giles does introduce the triplet crashes during the outro, that McDonald ultimately mirrors later, when he records his mellotron part. Take 2 is mixed differently than take 1, largely focusing on bass, drums, and some acoustic guitar, entering later in the take. Here, it's possible to hear how even the most proficient player can falter on a take, as Fripp's arpeggiated lines lose the time early on. But when it picks up again, it's a complete take that builds gradually, beginning to reflect better energy and feel.
Take 3 introduces acoustic piano and mellotron, layered over acoustic guitar, bass and drums, with doubled bass clarinets during the middle section accented by Giles and Fripp, as the song begins to assume the shape that would define the album master.
With Take 5's false start, Fripp says "I think it's just a trifle out, I'd appreciate if we could make the tempo faster." But when take six also breaks down, the phrase that Singleton grabbed for "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
emerges: "I'm being quite ruthless about this, so everyone else be too." Still, take 7 breaks down, as does take 8, after which someone comments "we must get that beat spot on." Take 9, a complete one, feels very good, with just acoustic guitar, bass and drums, but take 10 breaks down as well. Take 11, however, again just acoustic guitar, bass and drums, sounds good, albeit taken at a tempo just the slightest bit slower than take 9.
One thing missing from The Complete 1969 Recordings
is identifying which take is ultimately used as the master take, over which overdubs are layered. With "Epitaph," beyond the overdubs layered upon it, take 3 sounds like it might be the bed track used for the master take, but it's difficult to tell with absolute certainty.
That said, as the band returned to Wessex Studios the following day, while it recorded nine takes of the two-and-a-half-minute "song" portion of "Moonchild," it appears that take 9 was the one used, as that take not only includes the nine-plus minute free improv, but also has Fripp's fast-picked, balalaika-like overdub used during the intros to each verse, as well as McDonald's soft mellotron strings and flutes. It also includes the extraordinary extended improvisation, featuring vibraphone, electric guitar and drums, that follows. As soft and gentle as it begins, this free section gradually turns more oblique and angular, with Fripp's tone turning brighter and his chordal injections more jagged, while Giles begin to resemble, to some extent, another UK drummer, Tony Oxley
. Only as it nears the end does it return to more consonant territory.
Still, the eight previous takes are important, as it's possible to hear everyone experimenting with their parts, often subtly, but occasionally more dramatically.
The improvised section has often been most unfairly criticized for meandering on for too long, so much so that the 2009 40th Anniversary Series
edited nearly three minutes from it, though those cuts were restored for the 50th Anniversary
mixes. A three-way conversation between Fripp, on warm-toned electric guitar, McDonald, on vibes (is there anything he can't play?), and Giles, contributing some of the most delicate drum work this side of Norway's Jarle Vespestad
, this dark, indigo improvisation was a most daring move for a rock band and its debut recording. Considering that this free-form improv occupies nearly a quarter of the entire album's running time, it's a most unambiguous statement from King Crimson that it is, indeed, an improvising
unit, even as it is also a band disposed towards structures ranging from the soft and pastoral to the highest of decibels and velocities, and from the simpler to the knottier and more complex..
Comparing the mellotron flutes with McDonald's own playing on the instrument helps clarify how the mellotron may employ tape loops of various orchestral and vocal instruments, but it doesn't emulate them precisely, as more contemporary sampling does. Instead, the mellotron also possesses a quality all its own, one instantly recognizable, whether it's a real mellotron or one of the mellotron emulators that are more popular these days, because they don't have to deal with the voltage fluctuations that for Crimson, during its North American tour in 1969 but also through to 1974, caused the real instrument to unpredictably go out of tune.
Along with the "Moonchild" takes, the sixth and final Complete Session Recordings
CD includes the "Court of the Crimson King" trailer, first the bed track with acoustic guitar, piano, bass and drums, followed by the overdubbed trailer, with mellotron and organ added. Just under two minutes of "Pipe Organ takes" spotlight this small but important contribution to the song's trailer, a solo section that is the perfect antecedent to the full band conclusion. While "Let's Make a Hit Waxing"
includes four minutes of "Wind Noise," this final session CD also includes over 17 minutes of "Wind Noise takes," demonstrating just how indefatigable and relentless King Crimson was in achieving its precise vision, even if it's just 30 seconds of wind noise at the start of the album.
Finally, a 20-minute collection of additional "In the Court of the Crimson King" takes begin instrumentally, with acoustic guitar, piano, mellotron, bass and drums, but the final take is a bit odd. The overdub of Lake's lead vocals are notable, in a less than ideal way, with some slap-back echo applied to the first line of the first verse while, after the second line ("I walk the road, horizons change, the tournament's begun"), someone else injects an odd bit of vocal gibberish. Additionally, an added tambourine sounds quite out of place over the introductory chorus. Still, the overdubs, including McDonald's mellotron, and Giles, Lake and McDonald's choral-like harmony vocals, are largely spot on, with Lake occasionally doubling his singing during subsequent verses. McDonald and Fripp engage beautifully during the solo that ultimately ends up on the finished album, but with a different mix emphasizing flute over electric guitar,
During the take, McDonald also adds harpsichord, an instrument rarely heard in rock music but which is most compelling here. Listening to a number of takes that include the instrument, McDonald demonstrates that even the smallest detail can prove meaningful. During the first instrumental passage of this "Court of the Crimson King" take, following its second verse and chorus, McDonald layers eighth-note staccato chords, eight per bar. But when he comes to the sixth bar, he pauses, after the fourth chord, for a single eighth note before resuming on the sixth eighth note beat in the bar. It's a very small thing, but creates a convincing change that adds something which is, indeed, felt more than it is explicitly noticed, and the passage would simply be less effective without it.
Since the basic tracks for "21st Century Schizoid Man" were recorded, live off the floor, in just a single take, it's not included on the session reels discs, other than the very early Morgan Studios take from back in June. Still, it's fitting that the last song recorded for the album would prove to be the only first take. That said, considering that the band, once it began self-producing, managed to get usable takes of every song at a rate of one song a day (with overdubs not recorded on the day layered in during the month of August), while the group was also moving its gear in and out of the studio to play gigs, is a remarkable achievement. It's an even greater one when considering that a band like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young spent literally hundreds of hours recording Déjà Vu
With all the songs recorded, the band spent the month of August mixing the original eight-track tapes down to two, in order to free up additional tracks for overdubs, another fine achievement considering how many tracks are available to bands today. Even eight tracks was relatively luxurious compared to the four-track tape machines that dominated most studios, given that a major group like The Beatles
was only able to move from four-to eight-track in 1968.
There are plenty of revelations across the six CDs of Complete Session Recordings
. Taking the time to listen, compare and contrast various takes and hear exactly how King Crimson went from zero to an undisputed masterpiece in just a few short months, may be time-intensive, but the rewards are many. Hopefully, while quite a few alternate takes and mixes exist of Crimson's other albums, the good folks at DGM and Panegyric might consider releasing complete session reels for its other studio albums as well, albeit in a different format, perhaps, to avoid the repetition of the many large box sets it has released over the past few years.
Giles, Giles & Fripp The Complete 1969 Recordings
is notable for its inclusion of fourteen remastered tracks from Giles, Giles & Fripp's posthumous The Brondesbury Tapes
(Voiceprint, 2001), a collection of songs from the trio which, in addition to Fripp, included Michael Giles and his brother, bassist/vocalist Peter, who would go on to make one appearance with King Crimson on In the Wake of Poseidon
. By the time of these recordings, the trio had expanded to include Ian McDonald and, on some songs, former Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble, who sadly passed away this past July, age 71. Peter Sinfield even makes an indirect appearance, having contributed lyrics to "Make It Today," "I Talk to the Wind" and "Under the Sky," all three songs included on the original CD and in the selections included herein the case of "I Talk to the Wind," twice (one, sung by McDonald, the other by Dyble).
That Robert Fripp, Michael Giles and Ian McDonald were relatively inexperienced when they formed King Crimson, along with Greg Lake, was actually an untruth. The reality was that they were actually far more seasoned than many might think.
The Giles brothers were part of the burgeoning Bournemouth scene in the early '60s. Working in a series of groups between 1960 and 1967, they played over 1,100 shows, in addition to gaining some studio experience recording a number of singles. With plans to relocate to London, hopefully for greater fame and fortune, rather than the pianist/vocalist the duo was looking for, the Giles brothers ran into a guitarist who was confidently sight-reading charts and gigging alongside older musicians in local hotels.
In Robert Fripp, Peter and Michael Giles found an innovative guitarist who may not have been able to sing, but was already interested in songwriting, had good gear and was prepared to relocate to London. And so, Giles, Giles & Fripp was born.
Still, while the trio managed to secure a record deal with Deram, leading to the hugely unsuccessful The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp
, they found that making a living in the highly competitive London scene was no small challenge. And so, looking for gainful musical employment, Peter Giles met Ian McDonald through a Melody Maker
ad placed by Judy Dyble in the "Musicians Wanted" section. Giles was ultimately less enthusiastic about playing in Dyble's band, but recruited both the singer and McDonald into a sort- of growing Giles, Giles & Fripp family, leading to the recordings made at the trio's flat at 93a Brondesbury Road.
The rest, as they say, is history.
While the Brondesbury tracks included here have clearly been chosen to demonstrate Giles, Giles & Fripp's evolution towards King Crimson and In the Court of the Crimson King
, it would still have been a nice bonus to include The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp
(Deram, 1968), the trio's only commercially released album and, with sales at the time of just 600 copies, a commercial flop. That album is an odd combination of pseudo-psychedelia, jazz and classically informed pieces, some couched in a side-long tale called "The Saga of Rodney Toady" that, peppered in-between the music tracks, was an early example of just how oddly funny (and, in this case, downright silly) Fripp could be, delivering the spoken words himself with perfect comedic timing.
Still, the tracks chosen for inclusion on The Complete 1969 Recordings
make the most sense in their presaging the Crimson to come, and have been beautifully remastered and included, both on CD and, at 24/192 high res, on the first Blu Ray disc.
The new mastering is much warmer, fuller and rounder than the original The Brondesbury Tapes
mastering, with Giles' kit sounding especially good. It's a surprising sonic upgrade considering the music was recorded on a two-track Revox F36 reel-to-reel tape recorder that required multiple tape bounces. An oddity in the industry, the Revox made it possible to record on one track while playing back previously recorded music on the other track (later leading to Fripp's tape looped Frippertronics, with two connected Revox tape recorders). A rather arduous and complicated method for making a mono recording, the tapes were clearly in good enough shape for Peter Giles to transfer them to digital, with David Singleton then creating a new master.
Considering the studio album that came before, and that only two songs ("Suite No. 1" and a longer version of "Erudite Eyes," both composed by Fripp) are common to both The Cheerful Insanity
and The Brondesbury Tapes
, these thirteen songs, occupying 54 minutes, do, indeed, reveal plenty about this pre-Crimson group, even if in a germinal form.
Fripp's brief, a cappella
"Tremolo Study in A-Major" is an early, classically informed example of the kind of high speed playing that, over time, would lead the guitarist to "Fracture." That composition, first heard on Starless and Bible Black
(Panegyric, 1974), is one the most complex guitar pieces Fripp ever wrote for Crimson, especially during its relentless middle moto perpetuo
"Suite No. 1" is similarly impressive, with Fripp's intro and outro similarly virtuosic but, this time, supported by Peter Giles, who both anchors the piece and adds contrapuntal lines throughout, and Michael's brush-driven kit work. A five-second pause comes between the 1:40 introduction and the song's middle section, a gently elegant ballad section defined by the Giles brothers' wordless vocal harmonies. An even longer pause comes after this 90-second segment, with Fripp's fugue-like a cappella
solo ultimately leading to a repeat of the changes to the song's introductory section, but with Fripp playing a different, even more impressive part until the song's abrupt conclusion. Even at this early stage, Fripp was formulating a vision that would lead to not just the first incarnation of King Crimson, but others to follow.
Peter Giles' swinging "Scrivens" is an instrumental feature for McDonald, who layers flutes and saxophone over the core trio's accompaniment. Giles, Giles & Fripp (and McDonald) could, without any doubt, be a mainstream jazz band when it wanted so desired.
"Why Don't You Just Drop In," credited to Fripp but ultimately to King Crimson as a whole when the group began playing it in performance, is largely a minor-keyed blues that, at first, rocks a little more than Crimson. Before Fripp delivers an overdriven, blues-informed solo that foreshadows "Ladies of the Road" from Islands
, a wordless, three-part harmony section (McDonald sings and plays piano on the track), finds the guitarist adopting a warmer tone and more jazz-centric voicings. Still, following that gritty solo the song becomes once again defined by more wordless vocal harmonies, before returning to two final verses to end the song, with Fripp injecting gritty blues bends as it draws to a close.
The first of two versions of "I Talk to the Wind," credited to McDonald and Sinfield, is sung by the flautist, who also adds acoustic guitar and clarinet. There are a surprising number of elements that would be carried forward to King Crimson, including Fripp's guitar parts. McDonald, on flute, alternates with Fripp during the solo section, and the intro/outro sections are very similar to how Crimson would ultimately approach the tune.
Judy Dyble's makes her first appearance on Fripp's "Plastic Pennies." It's a surprisingly complicated song, harmonically speaking, with an unexpectedly swinging middle section and ending, with McDonald soloing on flute as the song fades out. On the other hand, "Passages of Time," another Fripp composition, is defined by a clear Spanish flavor. Filled with glorious vocal harmonies overdubbed by Dyble and McDonald, the song's middle section strangely incorporates the sound of running water, with Fripp's closing solo on the fade-out an early example of the sustaining tone that he would hone further by the time King Crimson recorded "21st Century Schizoid Man."
"Under the Sky," written by McDonald and Sinfield, is notable for its ultimate inclusion on the lyricist's first album as a leader, Still
(Manticore, 1973). Dyble's undeniably a better singer than Sinfield, and Fripp once again employs the pre-"21st Century Schizoid Man" tone, along with some wonderful, Lenny Breau
-like harmonics. It's shorter than the version on Sinfield's album, but all the primary elements are there, and it's a lovely take.
A second version of "I Talk to the Wind," sung by Dyble, is also notable for its flute and clarinet intro. Rhythmically, it begins to approach the In the Court of the Crimson King
arrangement, though Giles' drum work would become paradoxically simpler and more sophisticated by the time Crimson began to play it. Rather than soloing, the middle section is the song's melody, played on flute and clarinet, and it's an evocative contrast.
Fripp's "Erudite Eyes" blends classical, jazz and traditional British folk concerns with the guitarist's nascent, long-sustaining tone, its swinging verses sung by Michael Giles. But the biggest surprise is the middle section, which breaks down into a free-form improv for electric guitar, bass guitar, drums and flute. While less dark-hued than "Moonchild," it's a clear hint of the kind of open-ended improvisation King Crimson would bring to its live performances albeit, here, with less visceral power.
"Make It Today," another McDonald/Sinfield song, is a vocal feature for McDonald. A jazz-centric song with, at times, a slight Latin vibe, McDonald's alto sax solo is impressive, as is Fripp's clean-toned electric feature. It's a clear sign of the simpatico already developing between Fripp, McDonald and the Giles brothers that would be further honed on In the Court of the Crimson King
(though with Lake in place of Peter Giles), and on In the Wake of Poseidon
, which reunited Giles, Giles & Fripp, with Lake singing and the inclusion of a new recruit, saxophonist/flautist Mel Collins.
Fripp's "Wonderland" is another lengthy, episodic excursion like "Erudite Eyes," at just over six minutes. Its initially swinging section features three-part vocal harmonies, leading to a middle section that, with wordless vocal harmonies and scatting over top, feels more of its time. Sadly whosever is doing the scatting is not particularly good, so leading into a sustaining Fripp solo is a very good idea, as it eventually leads back to the first section. Fripp seems to be relying more on rock tropes, however, sounding a bit like The Doors' Robbie Krieger
A second "Why Don't You Just Drop In" possesses a very different intro, opening, as it does, with a brief drum solo before heading into the first verse. Otherwise, it's a similar but better take, with strong three-part vocals. Fripp's sustaining guitar tone is too bright, more buzz saw than silk, with the added use of some kind of oscillating effect. It's a bit annoying, truth be told, but like some of the earlier tracks, demonstrates that Fripp can, indeed, rock in his own inimitable fashion, though his classical and jazz influences seem more dominant throughout most of these Giles, Giles & Fripp tracks.
The disc closes with Peter Giles' "She is Loaded," which opens with some surprisingly The Beach Boys
-like vocal harmonies, and rock-propelled verses with some surprisingly chunky rhythm work from Fripp that leads to melody lines harmonized by Fripp and McDonald (on alto). Again, Fripp's rapid-picking style, during the song's middle section, is an early demonstration of the kind of approach he'd gradually evolve into Crimson tracks like "Fracture."
Taken as a whole, the Giles, Giles & Fripp material, barring Fripp's classically informed guitar work, may sound somewhat dated (more kindly, of its time), but demonstrates that this group, recording with their own private set up at 93a Brondesbury Road, was already well on the path to King Crimson.
And so, The Complete 1969 Recordings
represents the final word and most complete document of King Crimson's formative year, combining In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson
's various reissues with live shows and recording sessions which would ultimately result in the sound that shook the music world. While the band's first lineup lasted only 335 days, its dissolution pushing Fripp into a two-year searching for a suitable touring band while, at the same time, releasing three additional and extraordinary King Crimson albums, it remains a watershed period in the history of rock music or, for that matter, music period.
Bringing together all the previous, significant anniversary reissues of the album (the 30th Anniversary
remaster is omitted because the Original Master Edition
, from a few years later, better represents the original album mix), alternate albums, additional tracks and more, along with the session reels, live shows and Let's Make a Hit, Waxing"
in one place, it's now possible to gain a deeper, fuller appreciation of just how much this group accomplished in such a short period of time. And with everything from past reissues now available at the highest possible resolution on Blu Ray, the music that merits such inclusion can now be heard with the best possible sonics.
Sure, there are those who may find this kind of in-depth documentation too much. But for those who wanted to understand just how remarkable King Crimson Mark I's many achievements were, and in such a short period of time, The Complete 1969 Recordings
now comes as the absolutely best document. And for those who want to explore how an album comes to be, this box set tells a detailed and complete story filled with twists, turns, spare elegance, symphonic majesty, labyrinthine complexity and utter spontaneity.
NOTE: Since the material from past reissues of In the Court of the Crimson King
is not included in this article to avoid duplication with previously published reviews, those interested in reading (or re-reading) that coverage can find it here:
Robert Fripp: electric and acoustic guitars; Michael Giles: drums, percussion,
backing vocals; Greg
Lake: lead vocals, bass guitar: Ian McDonald: saxophone, flute, clarinet, bass
harpsichord, piano, organ, vibraphone, backing vocals; Peter Sinfield: lyrics,
Giles: bass (Blu Ray21#1-14, CD25), vocals (Blu Ray21#1-14, CD25); Judy
Dyble: vocals (Blu