Indiscipline (originally posted 31/8/13)
By ProgBlog, Apr 20 2014 01:38PM
I hadn’t intended to stay in a hall of residence for my final year but somehow ended up staying at Loring for the first term, checking out potential accommodation as the term wore on. Eric Whitton, an associate from Barrow, had come down to London to do a full-time Masters Degree course at Chelsea College, studying low temperature physics and anti-bubbles. Jim also wanted to leave Loring (his girlfriend Amanda was in Germany doing her year abroad) so the three of us looked in the two London evening papers for something suitable. After a trek out to Leytonstone, miles from anywhere we knew to see something quite unsuitable, we settled on a flat for four in Streatham, a modern low-rise block called Beechcroft Close. It was on one of our trips to Streatham that I consumed my very last McDonalds (I’d only had a couple before that) because it gave me severe indigestion. If it wasn’t the soggy burger upsetting my gastrointestinal tract it might have been the impending financial burden I was just about to hang around my neck. We had to borrow good friend Mark Franchetti who was going to continue staying at Loring to make up the numbers for the contract signing and officially took up residence just before Christmas 1980. (Mark is rather averse to prog but Gina, his wife, often accompanies me to concerts in and around London.)
The isolation of Loring was quickly forgotten. Streatham was well situated for public transport and Eric owned a battered blue Mini (christened ‘Dob’ because of its registration in Birmingham) that for some inexplicable reason had a three-pin plug socket in the passenger seat foot well.
Eric was quite content to drive us around, so with the West End now open to us at all hours, I became a member of The 100 Club in Oxford Street (in those days you could park free of charge just behind Oxford Street) and a trawl through letters to Tony reveals a fairly impressive list of gigs that I attended including a rare reunion of Back Door (Colin Hodgkinson was rated as one of the world’s the best bassists) and Allan Holdsworth in a quartet called Plough playing some complex and challenging music.
The Beechcroft Close flats could be quite noisy. The living room overlooked a quadrangle and on hot sunny days we’d have the windows open and the noise from the flats below and people playing on the grass quad would filter up into our flat; even the sound of plugging in electrical equipment next door seemed highly amplified. It quickly became apparent that we were involved in a noise war with a group of neighbours who had a different lobby and a different stairwell from ourselves. One of these individuals was learning the trombone, but had not progressed very far beyond a five note scale. Practice occurred at the most inappropriate times and we began to feel seething resentment, turning up our music (to the accompaniment of thuds on the ceiling beneath us) and culminating in our manufacture of an 8 second cassette tape loop of us playing the trombone scale on guitar (Eric), tin plate (Jim) and bass (me), but deliberately out of tune to mimic the awful brass playing. The scale ascended, descended and finished with the vocal chorus “again” and then repeated. One evening, we plugged Eric’s cassette deck into my Columbus 30 Watt combo and left that propped against the wall dividing us from the flat next door, put in the tape loop, pressed play and went to the Pied Bull, the local Young’s pub. We returned a couple of hours later with the loop still running: “Deh deh deh deh deh deh deh deh dur, again...”
It was around this time that I discovered an interesting sound effect, plugging my fuzz wah pedal into one of the intput sockets on my amp, plugging my phaser pedal into that, and plugging the phaser output into the second input of the amp. This generated an electronic hum that created feedback which could be controlled by the wah wah pedal, delivering a fairly authentic chattering monkey sound!
Perhaps the most interesting gig of this period was Discipline at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Haymarket. We used to get the London listings magazine City Limits (Time Out’s more radical sibling) and the gig was advertised in there. A glance at the line-up and I immediately thought tickets would be hard to come by: Fripp, reunited with Bill Bruford, Tony Levin (whose bass had graced Peter Gabriel solo material and Fripp’s solo album Exposure and, for me, the unknown quantity of Adrian Belew. I managed to acquire tickets in row D of the stalls – at the time I didn’t have to attend lectures because I was revising for my finals, and though I realised this wasn’t King Crimson, being 50% American, it was genuinely thrilling to see what appeared to be a move in the right direction. It transpired that it was important to have seen the League of Gentlemen, which to Fripp was a band in his classification of undertakings somewhere between the Third Division (research and development, like his Frippertronics) and the Second Division (earning a living and professional respectability through graft.)
As I’ve previously related, Fripp’s pedal board was obviously unable to cope with the rigours of the musical direction he’d now set out on but more than this, technology had come on in leaps and bounds and Discipline subscribed to these new possibilities, both guitarists employing Roland guitar synthesizers, Bruford playing Simmons electronic drums and Levin playing the Chapman Stick. The sonic link to the League of Gentlemen was the rapid circulating guitar lines that were to become a major feature of this incarnation of Crimson.
It was difficult to know what to expect. They had not at the time produced an album; it was hard to imagine them playing pre-74 Crimson material and this was not a line-up that would ever perform League of Gentlemen material. What they did perform was quite unlike anything I’d heard before, a kind of progressive funk mixed in with gamelan. Belew’s Talking Heads influence was obvious but this wasn’t the over-riding style. They played what was to become the first album plus a rendition of Red, the first time I’d ever heard it live, and it really was brilliant – their energy was phenomenal and the music came across as infectiously joyous, with Bellew bouncing around and making unimaginable sounds from his guitar. This was, in effect, a new form of music, so it’s hardly surprising that when Fripp decided the music was suited to music by Crimson, the band changed their name to King Crimson.