Friday, 8 February 2019

The Crimson Kings

Robert Fripp is on my shortlist of the best guitarists I've seen live (see More guitarists 15 August 2018). Having last seen him with King Crimson in 1971, we caught their current tour in Liverpool late last year and I was just as impressed the best part of 50 years later.

King Crimson went from being in the vanguard of jazz influenced progressive rock to a quite pared down grunge metal sound, which influenced many bands that came later, as I now realise. American 1990s grunge band Tool from my sons' musical palette, for example, cite Crimson as a key influence on their sound, sharing Fripp's fondness for unusual time signatures.

Across the eras some of Crimson's material isn't what you would call easy listening. But Mrs H enjoyed the gig and readily agreed that seeing them perform 21st Century Schizoid Man, the first track on their highly acclaimed first album from 1969, is something everybody who likes rock music should experience.

From the late 70s onwards my attention was elsewhere and I hadn't bought any of their stuff in decades. I've now got a bit of catching up to do as I the harsh guitar laden sound is more to my taste than I realised.

I will eventually return to my guitarists shortlist (just one more to go!) but the gig also left me thinking about one of the other "members" of the original King Crimson. I say "members" because he didn't play an instrument: Peter Sinfield wrote the lyrics, acted as road manager and constructed one of the first light shows used by a touring band: it was so unusual it was one of the reasons people went to see them. So Sinfield was considered a full member of the band. Until, like all of the other members of the band in its first 20 years or so, Robert Fripp fell out with him or vice-versa. (He did fall back in with some, so I saw the proficient multi-instrumentalist Mel Collins again from the 70s band the other week).

I'd checked up on Sinfield quite recently on Wikipedia. One thing about the world of the internet is that you can nearly always answer the question "whatever happened to....?" about almost anyone who has been well known. As far as I was concerned Sinfield fell off the planet after Crimson. I should have noticed that he worked with Emerson, Lake and Palmer (well he knew Lake from Crimson). But after that he co-wrote hits for Celine Dion (her Think Twice won him an Ivor Novello award), Cher, Cliff Richard, Leo Sayer, Five Star and Bucks Fizz!

So he went on from writing lyrics like:
Cat's foot, iron claw
Neurosurgeons scream for more
Paranoia's poison door
21st Century Schizoid Man

in 1969 to

Your world is turning from night to day
Your dream is burning far, far away
Into the blue, you and I
To the circus in the sky....
In the land of make believe...
(The Land of Make Believe,  a number 1 hit for Bucks Fizz in 1982).


But I also learned it was Sinfield who coined the band name King Crimson, verbally riffing on alternative names for the devil. Strange the things you don't realise at the time.

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