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Is there rivaly between progressive rock bands or is the genre like an extended happy family?

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By ProgBlog, Jul 30 2018 01:52PM

My wife and I habitually visit flea markets and bric-a-brac shops on our tours of London and the south east, where I’m specifically seeking out vinyl bargains. Last week we were prompted to visit a shop closer to home, Atomica, in a business park off Croydon’s Purley Way, thanks to an article posted by Bygone Croydon which indicated along with the retro homeware, fashion and general relics, they had a selection of 50s – 80s vinyl. Despite being more of a showroom for their self-designed gifts which sell all over the world, the records didn’t disappoint because co-owners David and Nicky turned out to be late 60s, early 70s psyche and prog aficionados so after a good browse through a selection weighted towards prog and prog-related (choosing to buy Jethro Tull’s Live – Bursting Out and Tangerine Dream’s Cyclone, both from 1978 and both at a very reasonable price) I had lengthy chat about music with the couple, when I should have been packing my bag for the following day’s short break in Italy.



Displaying an indecision worthy of my notable family trait but in fact attempting to ensure that friends and family were all able to attend one or the other of King Crimson’s Palladium gigs in November before booking the tickets, the London shows sold out before I’d got answers from everyone. Fortunately, tickets were still available for the first 2018 UK performance in Bournemouth, so my friend Jim bagged a couple. A couple of weeks later during a trip to Milan, I saw a rather large advert for the Lucca summer festival pasted on a wall inside Milano Centrale railway station and, after I’d taken in the Roger Waters Us and Them tour date, I noticed King Crimson were due to play the festival on July 25th. On my return to the UK I touted the idea to Jim, who was very much interested, and tickets, flights and accommodation were all booked.



Strangely, my Tuscany guidebook has a slightly larger section on Lucca than on Pisa; the first Tuscan family holiday in 2013 was based in Pisa and we used the train to travel around the region, but never visited Lucca. This was rectified on the subsequent Tuscan holiday in 2014, having been told that the smaller city was probably nicer to visit than Pisa. I do like Pisa, which has two very good record stores, GAP in Via San Martino and La Galleria del Disco in Via San Francesco, and is well connected on the railway network but, apart from the obvious and spectacular Campo dei Miracoli and the museums in the Piazza del Duomo, there’s little else to do. Lucca, on the other hand, is really compact and contains a number of points of interest: Roman remains in the crypt of the church of San Giovanni and the shops and piazza marking the former Roman amphitheatre; the medieval Torre Guinigi crowned with holm-oak and the Torre delle Ore, the tallest of the towers in the city; the details on the west facade of both the Duomo San Martino and San Michele in Foro; Puccini’s birthplace museum; the art deco shop fronts in the Via Fillungo; all enclosed in broad Renaissance city walls. Lucca also has a fine record store, Sky Stone and Songs located on the Piazza Napoleone and which, on the current visit, had a window display replete with King Crimson recordings.


The festival auditorium was set up in Piazza Napoleone, covering a far greater area than I remember from my previous visits. The huge stage was to the west of the square, up against the Palazzo Ducale and, until a few hours before the event started, it was possible to amble in and out of the area. I was picking up the tickets when the soundcheck started at around 5pm and went to join a number of fans at the back of the seating area listen in as the band ran through a couple of numbers; it was obvious that the evening’s performance was going to be special.



Soundcheck
Soundcheck

By the time we went out to eat, the piazza had been emptied and a rather intimidating security cordon comprised of barriers erected in strategic places had been set up to prevent non-ticket holders from wandering in; more reassuringly in the early evening heat and humidity, there were plenty of paramedics around to cope with anyone suffering from dehydration and/or intoxication – it had been suggested that this was the biggest crowd of the European leg of the tour. After a visit to the merchandise stall for a tour programme and 10” limited edition Uncertain Times double EP we made our way to our seats in block I, row 18, where I was a little disappointed that our mid-price range tickets didn’t afford the view of the band I’d been hoping for, although we had a very good view of the giant screen just to the right of the stage.



The performance started on the stroke of 9pm following an announcement in Italian about not recording the event and not taking photographs; this was succeeded by a recording of Robert Fripp emphasising that to ensure we all had a great party we shouldn’t take photos during the concert but, because bassist Tony Levin wanted to take a photo of the crowd when they’d finished playing, we could take photos when Levin took out his camera. He added that at the request of his fellow band members, there would be two halves to the set separated by a 20 minute intermission. Remarkably, following my experiences in Genoa and Brescia for PFM and Le Orme respectively where a sea of 10” tablets and cases obscured my sight line to the bands playing on stage, Fripp’s ‘no photography’ request was heeded by most of the crowd and the use of smartphones and cameras was restrained.

The set list wasn’t too far removed from the last time I saw them, at London’s Hackney Empire in September 2015, though in the intervening period Bill Rieflin had taken a sabbatical and was replaced by Jeremy Stacey on drums and keyboards, then returned in the role of keyboard player, creating an octet. There was a distinct bias towards material written for early incarnations of the group, where the only song missing from In the Court of the Crimson King was I Talk to the Wind and every studio album up to Beat, with the exception of Starless and Bible Black, was represented by at least one track. The most recent studio album music was Level Five/Larks’ Tongues in Aspic part 5 (from 2003’s The Power to Believe) but they played parts of Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) written specifically for the three-drummer line-up, and the three drummers opened each half of the set with a remarkable percussive display, called for that evening A Tapestry of Drumsons and Drumsons of Psychokinesis. I was pleasantly surprised how much keyboard Fripp played, and how easy it was to distinguish the guitar of Fripp and Jakko Jakszyk when it had proved difficult for me to work out which line belonged to which guitarist in every version of the band including Adrian Belew; it was more difficult to work out who was playing which keyboard part when Stacey retreated to the back of his drum kit and the big screen showed Rieflin. The role of each drummer was fairly well delineated, with Pat Mastelotto adding a huge variety of colour with some novel bits of percussion and some non-percussion, much like Bill Bruford following the departure of Jamie Muir in 1973, Stacey’s keyboard responsibilities, and Gavin Harrison acting as the rhythmic anchor, even adding an impressive solo on encore 21st Century Schizoid Man. However, it was when the three operated as a unit that they most impressed, exemplified by their discipline and precision on Indiscipline.


Though Mel Collins had appeared on many of the originals played that evening (Pictures of a City, Cirkus, the Lizard suite, Islands) he didn’t simply stick to the written lines but was given plenty of room to extemporise, blowing jazz and quoting operatic flute. This free rein with well trodden pieces seemed to add to the enjoyment of the ensemble while also allowing the audience to experience the music in new ways; we were even treated to a new set of lyrics on Easy Money.


The performance, including the break, lasted over three hours. Though loud, the sound was really well balanced, making up for the slightly awkward seating position where it was easier but less desirable to watch close-ups on the big screen than get the big picture. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did the rest of the audience who not only showed their appreciation at the end of each piece of music but responded to mid-song solos and key moments with enthusiastic applause. I was a bit surprised by the clarity of the subtleties and, strangely for a King Crimson gig, did not feel overpowered by the volume. I really hope that there’s going to be a DVD release of the concert at some stage in the near future because along with the quality of the audio, the camerawork for the big screens was also rather good.



Another successful trip to see a band in Italy completed, but I’m now looking forward to seeing Crimson in Bournemouth at the end of October...









By ProgBlog, Sep 6 2015 10:44AM

My introduction to King Crimson came towards the end of their 70s prime, between the releases of Starless and Bible Black and Red (both 1974.) At that time I could only delve into their past, their stunning debut In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) being next to entrance me, though their self-inflicted demise also yielded personal favourite USA (1975) and the retrospective compilation A Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson (1976.) I can’t remember why I never bought a copy of Young Person’s but I assume it’s because brother Tony and I had already embarked upon getting hold of the original albums; I do remember being impressed with its brilliant cover (by Fergus Hall) though I wouldn’t get to see the booklet included with the double LP for another couple of years when Jim Knipe acquired a copy.

As far as getting to see them play live, I couldn’t imagine it ever happening. I managed to witness Fripp’s presence, as Dusty Rhodes, when I went to see Peter Gabriel during the tour for his first solo album at the Liverpool Empire, April 1977. Fripp’s continuing emergence from ‘retirement’ for David Bowie’s Heroes (1977) sparked some interest despite my disdain for Bowie material up to that point but as far as I was concerned his return to form was as producer and guitarist on Peter Gabriel II (Scratch, 1978) which included the excellent Exposure, subsequently re-recorded for his own solo album Exposure (1979.) This release wasn’t in the same league as Crimson but Breathless (which we christened ‘Green’) hinted at ’74 Crimson. Fripp’s residency in New York and his work with a number of the local artists seemed to influence his next move, the almost-punk League of Gentlemen that Jim and I saw at the LSE in November 1980.

Meanwhile, I’d been following the fortunes of Bill Bruford and though I didn’t start collecting albums that he’d graced as a guest drummer until a few years later, releases from his own band Bruford and the first UK album were must haves. The reunion of the 72-74 Crimson rhythm section was a cause for celebration and if the original line-up of UK had managed to stay together they might have prolonged the golden era of prog; the material on UK (1978) reflected progressive rock from three or four years earlier but sounded new and different, hinting at jazz rock rather than symphonic prog. Sadly, there was no hint that the Bruford- and Holdsworth-less incarnation would change direction so drastically for Danger Money (1979) where despite some excellent music the song structure included far too much uninspiring verse-chorus-verse chorus form. I went to see UK at Imperial College, London in March 1979 and saw Bruford, in a double-headliner along with Brand X at London’s Venue in May 1980.


It was an incredibly pleasant surprise to hear about the formation of Discipline, though I regarded the inclusion of two Americans with a degree of trepidation. I was well aware of the talents of Tony Levin but not at all acquainted with the pedigree of Adrian Belew. I needn’t have worried because Belew’s on stage antics fitted the feel of the music; joyful, fun, infectious and somewhat difficult to categorise. I found it difficult to figure out which guitar was doing what and some of the noises I’d have associated with Fripp’s guitar playing seemed to come from Belew. The fast circular picked style that featured in some of the League of Gentlemen material had been refined so that when the two guitarists played together it was like tying and then unravelling some highly complex knot – the logo that was to appear on the cover of Discipline (1981) by Steve Ball was very apt. The inclusion of some of the later 70s King Crimson music should have been a clear signal that this group was about to become the next Crimson. Theoretically, I didn’t get to see King Crimson until September 1982 when they performed at the Hammersmith Palais on the tour to promote Beat (1982.) Now used to the sound of this version of Crimson, the music seemed more accessible than on its predecessor but the final release from this Crimson, Three of a Perfect Pair (1984) contained more challenging and experimental pieces. Unfortunately, this material was not toured in the UK and the next time I got to see them was after their break-up and reformation at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1995.


I was fortunate to have an academic email account in the early 90s and was an avid reader of Elephant Talk, the King Crimson e-letter lovingly put together by Toby Howard. I’d pretty much given up on musical journals apart from the odd Q which had sufficient interesting content to make it worthwhile buying, so it was through ET that I picked up on Fripp’s work with David Sylvian, going to see them at the RAH in December 1993 where I found the music to have a very dreamlike quality, largely due to the very hi-fi nature of the soundscapes. Vrooom (1994), the EP love-letter from a new-look Crimson, signalled that progressive rock, or at least acts that were classed as prog, were no longer anathema. The Discipline-era band was augmented by Pat Mastelotto (drums) and Trey Gunn (stick), both of whom played with Sylvian and Fripp. This taster release from the so-called ‘double trio’ incorporated the best of the previous incarnations of the band; there were very strong hints of Red-era Crimson and the adult pop-funk that I apportion to the pen of Adrian Belew had matured very nicely. The full release, Thrak (1995), though making Vrooom almost redundant, did not disappoint and that live show, on Bill Bruford’s birthday, was one of the best gigs I’ve ever attended and my feelings were transmitted to the ET readership when I submitted a short review.

At this time I really couldn’t get enough Crimson and went off to see them when they took in London on their next tour at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in July 1996, the only UK date on the THRAKaTTaK tour. This was another great show in a not-so-good venue and where I picked up my copy of the just-released THRAKaTTaK live CD.


It seemed that tensions within the band may have been a little strained and perhaps members shouldn’t have read too many ET entries. In search of possible direction and allowing time for individuals to pursue other avenues the group divided up into different ProjeKcts. This was a fertile period for the band and for the Crimson imprint DGM, including the tight-knit Crimson community Epitaph and The Nightwatch playbacks that I attended in London in March and September 1997 respectively; I even provided a home-made date and walnut cake for the former. When the band reconvened for The ConstuKction of Light (2000) it was minus Bruford and had become somewhat heavier. This was quite evident during their performance at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on July 3rd 2000, a gig that I didn’t particularly enjoy, standing downstairs in a crush between the stage and the bar.


I think I’m right in saying that the current tour, with a line-up of Fripp, Levin, Mastelotto, Mel Collins, Jakko Jakszyk, Gavin Harrison and Bill Rieflin, will include the first UK dates since 2000 and will amount to the first UK tour since 1982. I’ve continued to collect bits and pieces from Crimson-related musicians since I last saw them, including Live at the Orpheum (2015) which serves as a brief introduction to this formation with its three drummers.

I’m really looking forward to Monday!

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