In 1967, two brothers, Michael and Peter Giles auditioned guitarist Robert Fripp to join their band. Despite wanting to recruit a singer/keyboard player, Fripp was asked to join. Following the unsuccessful release of a couple of singles and an album, they added multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald to the line up to enhance the sound.
Fripp, by now frustrated with the lack of success and the overall sound, suggested adding his friend Greg Lake to the band to replace the equally frustrated Peter Giles. In turn, McDonald brought in his friend, Pete Sinfield to help out with lights, and lyrics. Starting rehearsals in early 1969, Sinfield christened the band "King Crimson" who made their live debut in April that year. By now a mellotron had been added to McDonald’s keyboard set up and this sound would become the most recognisable sound in the burgeoning Progrock movement of which the band would play a huge part in establishing. Following a high profile gig supporting the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park, the debut album was released in October 1969. Receiving huge acclaim, “In The Court Of The Crimson King” proved to be a masterpiece. From the striking cover artwork to the highly imaginative,informed and experimental music, it was performed with a precision and intensity that would result in the boundaries of rock music forever being redrawn. The first track, the brutal “21st Century Schizoid Man” set the scene with its doomy effect-laden vocals and jazzy time signatures. Following this were two mellow almost ambient tracks but it is the final two that established the sound of the band. Both Epitaph and In The Court Of The Crimson King employed heavy use of the mellotron and contained surreal lyrics. Amazingly for a debut release, the album entered the chart at number 5 as it took its place among the rock elite. Following a successful introduction to the States, tensions that would follow the band throughout their career surfaced and the first classic King Crimson line up split in December 1969. Leaving just Fripp and Sinfield to fly the flag, the early momentum was lost and the level of success would never be achieved again.
In The Court Of The Crimson King
Fripp and Sinfield rallied the troops to record the follow up album. “In The Wake Of Poseidon” It met with a mixed reception. General opion was that it was a pale copy of the first. One track however was different. “Catfood” with its jazz piano, courtesy of Keith Tippett, was an indication of a new direction. After recruiting new members Gordon Haskell, Mel Collins and Andy McCulloch and with Sinfield now playing synthesisers, the third album, “Lizard” was recorded in 1970. This was the most inaccessible release to date containing some of Sinfield's more obtuse words and featuring a selection of jazz musicians. The recurring theme of band members leaving continued and for the next album, Islands where Boz Burrell and Ian Wallace replaced Haskell and McCulloch. Despite all the comings and goings, “Islands” was a gorgeous album. Softer and more structured it contained more restrained playing from the invited jazz musicians. However a growing distance appeared between Fripp and Sinfield over this period and eventually ended with Fripp giving Sinfield the call to leave the band after the release of “Islands” Fripp then began recruiting for replacements for his next vision of Crimson. Radically different now, John Wetton (bass), Bill Bruford, (drums), David Cross (Violin) and Jamie Muir (percussion) joined Fripp in the latest line up. With no one else left from the original band, this was the opportunity that Fripp wanted to escape from the clutches of the first album. “Larks Tongue In Aspic” in 1973 and “Starless And Bible Black” the following year, seemed to put the band back on track. Both reached the top 30 in the UK and contained strong songs littered with melodies but with enough experimentation to satisfy their cult following. While live, the band bombarded the audience with a metal like assault. This was too much for David Cross whose violin was lost in the noise and for Jamie Muir who left. (to join a Tibetan monastery it was rumoured!).
Fripp was by now having his own spiritual crisis and split the band “completely and for ever and ever” in September 1975. He relocated to New York where his work with artists such as Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Talking Heads and Blondie gained him much respect from the mainstream. Now heavily into electronics, he developed his “Frippertronics” tape loop system with Brian Eno that would be used in various forms on all future work. Solo albums followed, usually including a wide selection of guest artists from the above list. Some short-lived bands were formed and split. In 1981 he formed “Disipline” with Tony Levin, Adrian Belew and old mate Bill Bruford. In October that year, searching for some commercial success on his own, he decided to rename the band “King Crimson” With second guitarist Belew in the mix, Fripp was able to concentrate on a new sound for Crimson. Using all manner of electronics they were producing truly progressive music. Disappointingly for some, however, the mighty mellotron had been put out to grass. The band released three albums with this line up, “Discipline” in 1981, “Beat” in 1982 and “Three Of A Perfect Pair” in 1984. All were well received with tightly constructed sounds with modern new wave and post punk influences. By the time of the third album however, tensions had appeared and this resulted in one side of the album having a lighter, poppier feel, while the other was more extreme at Fripp’s insistence. Consequently the band broke up and it would be a further 10 years before the name of King Crimson would be heard again. Fripp get himself busy during this period forming a number of short-term bands and contributing his original sounds to a number of recordings. He also started a guitar school and formed his own record label, DMG which would result in a number of rare recordings being released in future years.
Following encouragement from Belew, Fripp decided to reassemble the band as King Crimson in 1994. The line-up consisted of Fripp, Belew, Trey Gunn, Tony Levin, Pat Maslelotto, and once again Bill Bruford. Running the band as “Two Trios” the band released “Thrak” in 1995.which contained some incendiary twin guitar and masses of electronics, which had now progressed, from “Frippertronics” to “Soundscapes” to keep up with the digital age. The six-piece band proved to be awkward to manage so Fripp split the band into smaller units. These he called “ProjeKcts”. This enabled the band to work on various compositions before bringing them to the main band. Bruford became unhappy with this set up and left for the last time. From here onwards, with regular long gaps between albums and tours, the band has continued. Tapping into industrial metal and sonic ambience the band still push the boundaries.
King Crimson has been at the forefront of “Progressive Music” for 40 years. Never afraid to take risks they have gone their own way and poked out their tongues at the music industry. Many past members have gone on to huge success in other bands such as ELP. Bad Company, Foreigner and Asia. Many contemporary bands have cited King Crimson as a major influence.
When things became comfortable, Fripp would split the band or head off on a musical tangent that would alienate and exasperate both fans and label chiefs. But this is what their long-suffering fans want. Never predicable, the legacy they leave will ensure the King will reign for a long long time.
This information is provided as a brief overview and not as a definitive guide, there are other sources on the net for that. If however you have a story or information that is not generally known we would love to hear from you. Content@rokpool.com