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Wednesday, December 29, 1999

The Yellow Room Arrives

10.30 a.m.
This morning is full of surprises.
1. Debbie gives me Peter Ackroyd’s biography of William Blake - she’d forgotten to include the book in my birthday package of yesterday. Three biographies this Christmas / Birthday – what a lucky lad I am.

2. The boys find an item which had been lost for some time producing much joy and mirth. We’d been looking for the game all over the house and yet there it was this morning sitting on a shelf where we’d previously looked.

3. An e-mail from Peter Sinfield containing bounteous birthday wishes (his birthday is the day before mine) and another from him regarding jazz vocalist Annie Ross’s cover version of Cat Food. The last time I heard this version was over 22 years ago. I had the album briefly but it disappeared in the great album crash of ’78 i.e. I moved house again.
I thought it was on an album called Annie Ross Live in London. Peter reckons it was called Live at the Hampstead Theatre. Are there any readers of this diary who know of this album ? I’ve not seen it mentioned anywhere. If anyone has information on this rare escapee, I’d be grateful if you could let me know c/o sid.smith@virgin.net

The fourth surprise of the morning was a lovely package all the way from Seattle and Steve Ball. As well as a seasonal greetings card he encloses two of his recent CD releases. First up is the delightful Twilight by the Seattle Guitar Circle featuring the delicious talents of SB, Bob Williams, Jaxie Binder, Curt Golden, Bill Rieflin and Dean Jenson.
Secondly, he’s sent his album Greenthumb which contains a collection of multi tracked voices and GC style guitars playing some truly eclectic material. This includes a mesmerising version of Message In A Bottle by The Police and even a Gabriel era Genesis cover. Steve will be known to most King Crimson enthusiasts as the blokey who designed the symbol which graces the cover of Discipline. He is of course a talented and gifted musician in his own right and a driving force behind the Crafty spin-off groups Los Gauchos Alemanes and the wonderful Electric Gauchos. I met SB at a level one Guitar Craft course in Seattle in 1998. The album contains a tantalising preview of a track with Ball on guitar, textures and voice and Bill Rieflin on drums. It rocks like the clappers !

Off to Newcastle this morning for more rampant seasonal consumerism. Tonight we decorate the upstairs living room aka the Fat bastard’s workroom.

20.40
Taking a break from the decorating, I pop into the guestbook on the DGM site and discover that Steve W. Sthole is the winner of the spot-the-lazy-writing- competition which, as regular readers will know, my diary site is dedicated to. Of course what I should have said was Steve Ball designed the logo which graces the DGM label. Steven correctly points out that Steve Ball designed the Guitar Craft logo as well. Mr. Sthole wins two free nights at the Smith household should he ever be visiting Whitley Bay.

End Of Days

A beautiful sunny morning. Calm, meandering waves gently lap the beach. Small fishing boats from Cullercoats harbour tend to the nets. A frost blanches the lawn and steadfastly resists the sun’s very best efforts to warm up the cold earth.

Today is my birthday and it begins at around 6.00 a.m. when the children burst into the bedroom brandishing gifts. Somewhat groggily, I accept their fabulous offerings whilst Debra presents me with other goodies. These include a recent biography of Leonard Cohen and a superb collection of songs recorded by Anne Briggs. My mother offered me The Little Book Of Epitaphs.

In the afternoon we all go out to the beach, enjoying the wonderful quality of light. The waves moving from grey to a blue-ish silver as they hiss and settle on the wet sand. It’s freezing cold. Perversely, the kids want ice cream.

Sean Hewitt, clearly on a roll after his dazzling appraisal of Beat, e-mails me his reviews of the 3OAPP album. I scan through them quickly and am touched by his generosity about this particular episode in Crimhistory. I recall hearing this album and being stunned as to how fragmented and thin it was. Big on gimmicky sounds - small on ideas. For me it was a triumph of style over content. The only problem the style was pretty lacklustre and all used up. Both Sean and I agree that it wasn’t until the release of Absent Lovers that this material came to life and was heard in its best light.

In the evening Debbie and I go out to catch a movie and a meal. The movie was a great comedy called End Of Days starring big Arnie. Amazingly enough the opening scene is set on 28th December 1999 although in New York and not North Shields. D and I smirked as Arnie clumped his way through an equally wooden script about the devil coming to Earth to begin a new century of chaos. Debbie comments that the devil’s work is surely being done by allowing movies as bad as this to be made.

A nice meal afterwards and the two of us walk home under the inky blackness. “Night: her sable dome scattered with diamonds” I say to Debbie. “Oh, shut yer trap” she says as she cuffs me about the head. All in all a memorable birthday.

Tuesday, December 28, 1999

The Golden Anorak Award

Debbie goes into Newcastle city centre to exchange the Bonzo box set I’d got her. Whilst the one I’d bought her contained cute little facsimiles of the first four albums, the one she’d brought me featured some A & B sides and the German version of Mr. Apollo. So, off she went into the throng to swap the box set for something else.

The kids continued to save untold galaxies from untold doom and destruction and I got on with some painting. The painting entitled “12 proposals for CD covers rejected by Ian Boddy” has stalled. I put it away and do some work on the book.

Peter Sinfield has sent a reply to my e-mail asking him a lot of incredibly important questions such as “who made the tea during the recording of Poseidon ?”. In the course of a recent domestic conversation, I mention that I’ve received an e-mail Sinfield. “Who ?” asks Alys (Debra’s daughter). I explain to Alys that Sinfield used to work with Robert Fripp. “Oh, him” she says somewhat huffily “He’s the one the one that makes that awful noise. No wonder they split up.” Alys is much more impressed when her mom tells her that PS penned the lyrics for the likes of Cher and Celine Dion.

When Debra returned a few hours later, she’s swapped the Bonzo’s for a couple of others including Bill Nelson’s Red Noise album Sound On Sound. Debbie was a big fan of Nelson in the post-Be-Bop Deluxe era, playing Red Noise to death and for years has been trying to track it down. Last Christmas I bought her the DGM double What Now, What Next, essentially because it contained the excellent “Do You Dream In Colour ?”

I casually mention to Debbie that Bill Nelson keeps a diary on the DGM website and I can tell she’s impressed as she leaps across the room and demands that we go on-line. For a second I try to pretend that Bill Nelson and I are intimate chums but she sweeps me aside like a used matchstick and she sits down to devour Nelson’s diary from start to finish.
For Debbie, Red Noise is a particular time and place. Furniture Music is played at a volume which threatens the foundations of the house until the children tell her to turn it down.


Kids today, eh ?

The Sternly Hewitt has sent me his reviews for Beat. Very good they are too. However, instead of galvanising me into extreme re-mix action, I rush off downstairs and into the guest room. The guest room contains a mountain of boxes which contains most of my books. I start searching through them for all the Kerouac / Beat related material that I’ve accumulated. I’m saddened to discover that quite a lot of it seems to be missing. I’ve moved house quite a bit in the last few years that it was inevitable that bits and pieces will go astray.

By the way a belated Golden Anorak award goes to Trevor Lever who on Christmas day sent me a revision to his musical analysis of One More Red Nightmare in between the turkey, stuffing and the Queens speech – though not necessarily in that order.

Sunday, December 26, 1999

Happy Christmas From Whitley Bay

Christmas Day. . .
The morning had been spent opening presents. Bizarrely, Debbie and I had bought each other almost identical editions of the “Best Of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band”.

My mother gives me a biography of Thomas Cramner – I’m looking forward to curling up on the sofa for a few hours and taking time to find out more about this important historical figure. A huge read which will keep me going for a while.

The children plough through the presents, shredding paper in a blind frenzy. Sam, who is 14 comments to his mother that Christmas doesn’t seem to last very long any more. He tries to open the presents slowly but it doesn’t really help.

At mid-day we walk on the beach in a cold wind but bathed from time to time in some beautifully warm, glowing sun. We walk in the direction of the Lighthouse and we pick up a smooth round stone for John Kimber’s little stone garden far away in leafy Highgate.

The spray coming off the breakers is caught in the wind and small bars of rainbow colours briefly flourish above the waves and are gone. We reflect on how lucky we are to have all of this just five minutes from our front-door.

The afternoon is spent cooking. None of us are actually fans of the traditional Christmas fare and opt for one of regular meals instead. We forget to pull the crackers. Early evening spent building Lego devices, droids and reading the first Harry Potter book to the children who are completely enthralled with the story of a boy who discovers he’s a wizard.

Saturday, December 25, 1999

Favourite Albums of 1999

Christmas Eve
Calm, languid waves swoon under sunny blue skies…children playing in the street…only an occasional cold blustery wind from the North reminds us that it is December. All the presents are wrapped and ready under our modest, synthetic Christmas Tree and I resist the temptation to break open the Advocaat at 11.30 a.m. I have such a strong association with this drink and Christmas.

As a child, I was allowed to drink it mixed with Lemonade, whereupon it was alchemically transmuted into what was called a Snowball. These days, being a tough, macho kind of guy, I say a big, tough, macho kind of “NO” when offered the Lemonade. “I’ll have my Advocaat neat, Ms. Balustrade” says I in my best hunky baritone. One of the little rituals I’ve fallen into is checking the DGM diary on an almost daily basis. To my horror and more than a pinch of chagrin, I discover that all the entries of the last few days have been lost.
Dan the WebMan explains something about the change over in servers being responsible. Tennis was never one of my strong points and so I click into my own Word files and retrieve a copy of my ramblings for the previous day and post the sucker up.

Current Xmas Listening in the Smith Household
Hidden Streams by Opus 20 has been in action this last week or so. Fellow DGM diarist, Andrew Keeling sent me a copy as I didn’t want to hassle DGM for one - they already think I’m a freeloading, fat bastard as it is. However, Hidden Streams is little treasure chest of glittering gems and baubles.

The title track by Andrew Keeling has been declared by me as being a toe-tapping classic. Strident, audacious and resolutely melodic, it flies along with a wonderful momentum.
As I’ve listened to this album one is struck by how exhilarating the music is. It’s like the aural equivalent of talking a walk on a windy day - the strings in seemingly constantly motion, swooping and swirling with breath-taking speed. Crikey, this stuff really blows the cobwebs out.

Reeman’s Symphony For Strings almost steals the show with his fast-moving squalls and a triumphant coda which reminds one of nothing less than a cathedral of pealing bells.
However, it’s Keeling’s evocative and contemplative Meditatio which really speaks to me. Keeling borrows Ruland’s Lexicon of Alchemy (1662) to define Meditatio as being “a conversation with someone hidden, God, one’s guardian angel or the self”.
As strings gently shimmer, cimbalom and harp sparkle and twinkle , radiating a delicate though revealing light. It makes for some quite beautiful listening as tiny melodies cautiously emerge from underneath dark tones and autumnal shades. At the risk of getting a punch up the throat from Andrew Keeling, I’m reminded in part of the oriental sounding passage in LTIA One. Overall, a winning collection of compositions that charts both the wide open spaces and knotty thickets available to the post-modern string ensemble.
Speaking of listening to music…

Some chums and I have been exchanging lists of the music which has been getting us excited over the last 12 months. So, here’s some of the things that have been getting heavy duty rotation in the Smith household in 1999;

Out Of The Flames by Matt Seattle (DGM)
This was introduced to me by John Kimber of leafy Highgate earlier this year. The “great “ Kimberini rates the Seattle disc highly and by golly, he’s right. Who could possibly resist the charms of Little Wee Winking Thing ? Brisk humorous and so full of life – if you could bottle this stuff Matt, you wouldn’t have to worry about negotiations with McDonalds and co. Also worth the purchase of the disc for this track alone is the remarkably poignant The Fisherman’s Daith – an everyday tale of loss and Scottish fishing folk.

Sing A Song For You by Anne Briggs (Fledging Records)
Recorded in the early 70’s but not released until 1996, it’s an album of original and traditional folk songs by a singer whose voice haunts the outer edges of fragile beauty. This is not to imply that these are merely fey folksy songs without any bite. Briggs has a cold edge to her voice and a fine sense of phrasing which puts her in a league of her own. The late Sandy Denny was a great fan of Anne Briggs and eulogised her on the 1970 Fotheringay track The Pond & The Stream.

Music From The Films Of Francois Truffaut by Georges Delerue (Nonesuch)
In this increasingly cine-literate age we’re all used to the notion of film and music working in tandem. One thinks of some of the great cinematic partnerships such as Hitchcock and Herman, Greenaway and Nyman and if you happen to be Sid Smith, the next choice will be Truffaut and Delerue. Marvellously economical, Delerue has that gift to be able to fill two minutes with some of the most with some of the most evocative and emotive music I’ve had the pleasure to listen to. Some tracks are only a minute long – but what a minute ! Jules and Jim, The Last Metro, The Woman Next Door and the incomparable Chorale from the equally wonderful Day For Night are all here in this wonderful recording featuring the London Sinfonetta.

Distant Rituals by Ian Boddy & Markus Reuter (DiN)
Perhaps it’s a bit naughty including this one as I had a hand in making it. My involvement was to get the two of them together and come up with a title or two. But they did all the hard work. UK synth wizard Ian Boddy dons the white lab coat and brings forth some of most evocative drones and loops from his mighty box of secrets this side of a Robert Fripp soundscape. Aided and abetted by Markus Reuter on Warr guitar, the album contains seven memorable vista’s of glacial beauty. If you’re a connoisseur of the long, slow fade-in and shimmering drift-tides of building notes, then rush out and buy this album.

Obviously, the release of the ProjeKcts Box Set couldn’t go unmentioned. Each disc has its own savage beauty and for those of us lucky to have been present at some of the recordings, they have a special place in our ears and hearts.

And now, the beach awaits.

Friday, December 24, 1999

A Paint Brush Owner Confesses. . .

Vast blue skies have crept out of a grey, dark dawn which for me began with the clarion call of Tom and Joe. How do children manage to flick their eyes open and start zinging from 0 – 60 in less than twenty seconds ? We lose that facility as we get older (or some of us do at least). For me, 6.30 a.m. is a good enough time to start the day and with practice I’ve been able train myself to wake without the aid of an alarm clock. Having two kids is always a great help also.

Being off work now, I’ve had quite a bit of spare time on my hands which I’ve put into the book and starting a painting called “12 proposals for album covers rejected by Ian Boddy”.

As the title cunningly suggests, I’ve divided the canvas into 12 CD sized sections and have started attending to each one. Working on that kind of size forces one to be very disciplined about the content – each brush stroke or collaged item has a weight and resonance far greater than their actual size. Each intention is magnified out of all proportion.

The theory is that the painting will also act as a graphic score for the album which Ian Boddy and I are due to start in the new year. So as I paint, I’m consciously trying to equate the texture to some kind of mental imagining of what it might sound like. No doubt the score will be abandoned in the first few minutes of the sessions but that’s fine. For me it’s an important part of preparation for the project as a whole.

Reading Andrew Keeling’s erudite analysis of Islands. Could help wondering why he’d missed the best piece out. I am of course referring to THE HIDDEN TRACK. Years ago (1972) my cronies and I would endlessly recite the "Twice with the oboe and once without it" bits and do all the noises and tune ups etc, in their correct sequence.

We did get some strange looks. You can imagine the scene: a busy Friday night in a bar in down town Newcastle On Tyne. The brown ale flowing, the skirts blowing and four or five teenage lads, pretending to be string sections, conductors and god forbid, metronomes.

We all used to take it in turns to do the Fripp bit though I always used to relish doing the “beep beep beep” bit. Controversy used to reign as to what exactly it was and who was doing it.

Similar arguments broke out when we tried to figure out who said “Three”. Was it Peter Sinfield or was it Andy Hendrickson ? One conspiracy theory went that Sinfield was responsible for both the beep and the “Three” over the studio intercom.

And can anybody tell me what exactly Fripp is chuntering on about when he is heard to say - ”it has a numbered postbox"? Perhaps played backwards it reveals itself to say “Where is John Wetton’s phone number, I know I had it somewhere….”

20.48
An e-mail from Andrew Keeling, who points out that he did cover the Hidden Track in his previous analysis (the one which got scrubbed) of Islands. Andrew also asks “Are you a Painter/album cover designer? It sounds like it from today's Diary.”

Well the truth is that I wouldn't describe myself as a painter as such. However, I do from time to time get paint out, stand in front of canvas or whatever the chosen item might be and then slop paint in various hues and textures onto the surface.

There are many people (more than I care to think about) would not describe the results as painting - including Ian Boddy who runs the DiN record label that I have an involvement with. I keep trying to persuade Ian to use one of my efforts but he steadily (and probably wisely )resists. The latest piece, in honour of this tried and tested process, is called "12 proposals for album covers rejected by Ian Boddy”. He usually nicks the titles (i.e. Distant Ritual released by DiN and featuring Ian Boddy and Markus Reuter) whilst leaving the smeared canvas and board to be claimed by posterity.

So, in a shameless attempt to use this page as a piece of self –marketing, I would like to announce that if you're looking for squiggly indeterminate blobs and marks which show a distinct lack of discipline, judgement or any kind of eye for detail at all - then I'm your man. I now plan to sit back and watch the commissions pour in. What a pity Robert and Co have already started the process of picking the next Crimso cover.

Monday, December 20, 1999

Re-Genesis

A glorious sunny morning. Huge churning waves crash and pound the promenade at the end of our street. Then it begins to snow again in quick shifting silver-white eddies. Purcell’s music from King Arthur seems to have been composed especially for this exact moment. Joseph’s fever broke yesterday and when he awoke from his sleep, he was quite himself again. This was confirmed by the amount of food he began to demand.

In the evening Debbie and I visited a newly opened rock venue called The Dome which is but a few minutes walk from our house. It’s a club that takes about 800 people and it’s set in a pleasure palace that was built in the 1930’s. The band play inside a large dome whose acoustics manages to kill the music dead. All in all, a traditional rock venue.

The object of our desire last night was a tribute band called Re-Genesis. The band devoted themselves to a forensic re-creation of Gabriel-era Genesis and included the whole of Supper’s Ready, a side of Lamb Lies Down and quite a few other notable Genesis faves. As you might expect, the audience was of a certain age and in the shifting spotlights, one couldn’t help but be dazzled by the slivery bald pates (mine included). What was truly spooky was the last time I saw Genesis with Peter Gabriel, there was a big bunch of blokey’s behind me, reciting whole sketches from Monty Python.

Last night, nearly 30 years after this, as D and I sipped our drinks, there were five blokey’s behind us who spent the night reciting whole sketches from Monty Python. It was good knockabout fun and one couldn’t help but be impressed at the band members dedication to re-create every inch of the music. Having said that I did wonder how they address or resolve their own musical yearnings outside of doing old Genesis numbers. Would the crowd have reacted as well if they had slipped in one of their own numbers ? Will the drummer of the band go off and join a post Gabriel Genesis tribute band ? Will he then go off and front a Phil Collins tribute band ? Oh Lord . . .

I gather from the publicity that Carl Palmer and John Wetton will be playing at The Dome in February. Although the mind boggles at what these veritable giants of the prog world will be doing, I guess I’ll be getting along and try to doorstep JW regarding the KC:TxT project.

The first Sid Smith re-mix of Sean Hewitt’s review of Elephant Talk was finished yesterday. And it goes like this.

ELEPHANT TALK
(music by King Crimson words by Adrian Belew)
Tony Levin's pointillistic Stick intro heralds a new era: No Mellotrons here! With a sibilant splash that could well be the sound of KC diving head first into the new wave future (forget about dipping your toe), the band than unleash a hyper-funk soundstorm so tight you'd think they'd been playing this stuff all their lives.

Belew's "word list" lyric and declamatory vocal style made him an easy target for lazy critics who would unfavourably compare him to his ex-employer, David Byrne. However, there's a lot more going on here than a Talking Heads knock-off. Belew’s lyric involves a trawl through the thesaurus, flagging up the various terms for human discourse. During their composition, the frontman threw it open to suggestions for words from his fellow band members, although some of Fripp’s more esoteric contributions were immediately ruled out.

Belew remembers this process as crucial to his getting the nod as lyricist. In late 1981, he said: “I went to the other guys in the band and I said ‘You got any favourite words you want thrown in here?’ Robert was saying, like ‘inalgedenomic’ (laughs) and all these crazy words that I really couldn’t imagine myself singing. So after that we agreed - yeah, if I want to sing, I should sing what I feel like singing.”

Of course, Fripp’s fondness for the “list” song had already been given an airing on the track Under Heavy Manners released on his 1980 album, God Save The Queen. The list of words which Fripp authored on that occasion would have given Belew a severe bout of logorrhoea. The vocalist of his choice on that recording was none other than David Byrne.
Fripp's heavily-processed, almost comical guitar-synthesiser solo is one of the most eccentric of his career, laid on a bed of sweet jazzy chords from his fellow guitarist.
Snappy, zappy and sharp, the strength of Elephant Talk is its immediate accessibility and the confident assimilation of the new 80s vibe. Utterly contemporary, the song grabbed the old King Crimson fans before they could say “Never mind the sax, where’s the violin?”

22.58
A good day with the kids out walking in the wind watching twenty foot high waves pound along the sea defences. We go to one of the many second hand markets that litter the North East and I come across a cheap copy of Liquid Tension Experiment featuring our chum, Tony Levin.

Sadly, the Smith pre-Christmas finances do not stretch this far and thus Tony is left on the shelf. Once home we start the round of homework and the bath-time rituals. This is then followed by a bed-time reading of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling. I don’t know about the children but I’m loving this story of witches, wizards and magic.

Checking the e-mail tonight, I see a note from Pat Mastelotto who is now back home in Texas following his departure from Nashville and the recording of the new KC album.
“Crim was starting to get close as we left, lots of work still to do but the shape has become clear” he tells me. I e-mail him back, selflessly volunteering myself as a pair of critical ears should he wish to send me a CD-R of the work in progress.

Oddly enough, he hasn’t replied.
A chum asked me if the book was going to include the new album. “Probably” I hedged, knowing full well that the album won't be released until 2000 which just pushes it outside my 69 – 99 parameters. Of course, if the bulk of the recording was done in 1999, doesn’t that make it eligible for inclusion? Wanting my cake and eating it, I think.

Sunday, December 19, 1999

Oh but he doesn’t sound bald at all !

2.00 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
As a light snow casually descends, I sit here feeling grim and ghastly but not as grim and ghastly as my youngest child, Joe, who has been up most of the night with a fever and is on the sofa next to my desk, sleeping as I write.

Around 3.00 a.m. he was bolt upright and screaming about someone being in the room with him. Drenched in sweat, I had to remove his bedding and get him cooled off. I sang Exiles softly to him to calm him down. Exiles (or Friends as the children call it) has been the favoured lullaby material since the birth of my other son Thomas eight years ago.

At around 6.00 a.m. I knew Joe was going to finally fall into a deep and relatively untroubled sleep, so I was able to get to bed. Joe had been awake most of the night more or less on the hour. Of course, on Saturday mornings, 6.00 a.m. is the time when Thomas gets up and wants Dad’s attention.

Hello cruel world. . .

This afternoon an e-mail from the Sternly Hewitt of Nottingham.
“Just a note to say that the artwork for In The Court Of The Crimson King has been chosen as the best album cover of all time by readers of The Guardian. An enormous reproduction the sleeve stretches across pages 28 and 29 of the Weekend colour supplement of the Saturday December 18 issue. The other choices were: 2 Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band; 3 Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix; 4 The Beatles (White Album), The Beatles; 5 Screamadelica, Primal Scream; 6 Revolver, The Beatles; 7 The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses; 8 Bitches Brew, Miles Davis; 9 Meat Is Murder, The Smiths; 10 Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin.”

Last night. . . .
My partner Debra (aka Ms. Balustrade) was out at her staff Christmas party. She’s a teacher and so there was much merriment at the prospect of the forthcoming holidays. I’ve not yet met any of Debra’s teaching colleagues but had cause to talk to her Head Teacher on the telephone whilst Debra was off work recently. In the course of the evening Debra made some mention of my baldness. Quick as a flash her Head Teacher gasped out in surprise “Oh but he doesn’t sound bald at all !”
Well, it made me laugh.

Earlier in the evening. . .
A quick telephonic conference with Andrew Keeling regarding the track Islands and one or two ambiguities around the tempo. I have a particular fondness for this track and the album, as do several other people I know. John Kimber of leafy Highgate in London rates the title track very highly indeed. Pat Mastelotto recently told me “yes, when I met Connie she did have Islands on her turntable - "Ladies Of The Road and Cat Food" are a couple of her fav’s.”

Took a break from my work on Poseidon and Islands and started work on the clutch of reviews of Discipline sent to me by Sean Hewitt. There’s much in the work that I like but sections which sound too formal somehow. I try writing a

Friday, December 17, 1999

Unmoved and Moved

At my children’s school Christmas play last night. There should be a law against what the pianist was doing to the melody - and I’m a liberal kind of guy. Still, the kids seemed happy but I confess, I stayed dry-eyed throughout the performance. Usually, I cry in the first bar of “Away In A Manger” but I have to say I was unmoved this year.
I wonder why ?

When I got after nine o ‘clock, I see the Opus 20 CD, Hidden Streams had arrived. Although I’ve not had any time to play the thing yet, a small ripple of excitement coursed through me as I examined the extremely nice packaging. I love the thrill of approaching unheard music, the little rituals we all have which get our mind on to the job in hand.

Oddly enough, it sometimes feels like it’s also about putting the mind into neutral in order to be able to hear the thing completely or with receptively. So, some contradictions there for me to ponder with before I give the Opus 20 disc a spin – getting my mind in gear in order to put it in neutral. Urgh…my brain hurts.

A quick flurry of e-mails between Andrew Keeling and I. We agree to post our different interpretations of The Sailor’s Tale. So here’s the version that probably tells you what you already know (and no doubt leaves out several things as well). If you want to know what the actual notes are doing check out Mr.Keeling’s diary.

The Sailor’s Tale (Fripp)
As the previous track cross fades with Paulina Lucas possibly swooning from the enforced ennui of Formentera Lady, the insistent ride cymbal announces that the fun is about to begin. Packing more punch than a WBA championship, this track lands a knock out blow in one and no mistake.

As the pibroch-like main theme uncoils, Mel Collins’ takes off in an Albert Ayler kind of mood as Fripp limbers up in the background with a gritty snarls of sustained fuzz. Whilst there has often been much press indifference or hostility to Crimson, there can be few critics who would deny the sheer raw power of Fripp’s solo on this track.

Indeed, the UK’s revered music magazine, MOJO 31 (June 1996), deigned to place Fripp at number 51in their 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time feature with The Sailor’s Tale chosen to highlight his work. The making of Islands had not been without its problems The rapidly deteriorating relationship between Fripp and Sinfield were further exacerbated by having a band that would cut and run to go partying at the end of each recording session, leaving an increasingly tired and isolated Fripp with the task of getting the album finished on time and in budget.

And so it was under these adverse conditions that at a little after 2.00 a.m., with studio engineer Andy Hendrikson looking on, Fripp laid down the first of two takes that, when spliced together, would combine to produce an astonishing solo that is not only the centrepiece of the track but the album as a whole. Sounding like a steroid-enhanced banjo, the closeness of the sound is momentarily disorientating as shards and splinters of chords fly about in seemingly random directions.

It’s hard to initially grasp what’s going on but very quickly it becomes apparent that what we can hear is the sound of Fripp tearing up the rule book on the guitar solo in rock music. With alarming speed, impossibly slack-sounding strings are mercilessly plucked and assembled into querulous, incongruous chords and phrases. These are then marshalled into a performance of such ferocity, it’s tempting to visualise Fripp exorcising his sense of frustration he encountered during the making of Islands.

The ghostly materialisation of Mellotron just after 3.00 minutes dramatically underpins the otherworldliness of this passage. As the chase nears its end, the guitar continues to rip and jostle through the tremulous thickets of Wallace’s drumming eventually burning itself out and cascading into the looming, dark chasms of the ‘tron on its glowering, mixed brass setting.

Like the final chord in The Beatles “A Day In The Life”, the menacing drone adds such a sense of sombre finality to The Sailor’s Tale. As the fractious, track fades you realise that Fripp might well have just have played the solo of his career.

Thursday, December 16, 1999

Pictures Of A Man And A Nativity Play

Following Andrew Keeling’s analysis of Pictures in his diary, I thought it would be interesting to post my own take on the track. It’s a first draft and will need a bit of nipping and tucking but hey….

Pictures Of A City (including 42nd at Treadmill)
(Fripp, Sinfield)
Not for the last time in Crimso’s career, the peace is shattered by a mischievous thump as the album gets underway with a riotous, cart-wheeling fanfare. Step forward Mel Collins on baritone and alto sax to augment the Mancini-esque main theme, making his first appearance with Crimso.

Brimming with testosterone, this track is arguably one of the most overtly macho pieces in the KC songbook. Burgeoning with a cavalcade of guitar overdubs, Pictures fairly swaggers with its display of virtuosity.

As in 21CSM, Sinfield maps out a nightmarish, dystopic vision of the modern city, riven with chaos, inevitably running down into ruin and loss. As Lake spits out the words, blistering distorted fuzz blows through the snarling cityscape like a vengeful wind.

At the end of the second verse, the collective scream of the city is evoked by Collin’s ascending sax line which sounds like it might have been achieved by speeding up the tape in order to reach the high Bb spot. What follows next is a white knuckle ride as Fripp takes us on a roller-coaster which includes a series of frighteningly fast lines. At times, the daredevil bravado with which they are picked almost sounds a bit too clever for its own good but there’s no denying this sections capacity to thrill.

Under this bravura demonstration it’s easy to miss the horn-like arrangement which punctuates the section as though Fripp were a member of some kind of mutant hybrid metal be-bop band. When it comes, the quiet of the Treadmill section is a welcome relief from all the hustle and bustle and provides the Giles brothers with an opportunity to stretch out. Alluding to the question of balance which seems to recur throughout the album, high above the calm Fripp’s guitar teeters precariously like a tightrope walker with distant drum rolls accentuating the perilous position.

The rich tones of the Mellotron (including some nice bluesy vamps after each line) on the closing verse, offsets the astringent guitar though nothing can stop the ensuing pandemonium from consuming everything in sight. Truly awesome. Well it would have been except 21CSM had charted much of this territory beforehand in terms of its construction and implementation. Consequently, much of Pictures’ thunder is stolen. The track was part of the original ‘69 line-up’s repertoire and can be heard in this context on the Epitaph box set under its original title of A Man, A City. There it is credited as being written by the entire band. In terms of post split politics, it is interesting to note that on Poseidon, it’s only Fripp and Sinfield’s names that are recorded, despite the substantial similarities between the two versions.

Later this afternoon I'm off to see the children in their nativity play. A large box of Kleenex has already been purchased for the event.

Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Music To Get Rid Of People

Crivens -its been wet and windy here in Whitley Bay. Huge banks of sleet and biting wind drive most folk indoors. One or two souls brave the thunder and lightning. I live right next to a churning North Sea which is not only grimly beautiful but at times like this also what the English call character-building (i.e. bloody awful !)
Checking my e-mail I find a positive response from Andrew Keeling to my ramblings about The Sailor’s Tale and Andrew also encloses an analysis of the track which is incredibly helpful.

Made contact with fellow DGM diarist PJ Crook with a view to our small municipal gallery hosting an exhibition of her work. At the risk of getting a punch up the throat from PJ, some of her work reminds me of Fernand Leger and William Roberts, especially the latter and his portrayal of figures.

Discussions about an exhibition have only just begun (and could well conclude should PJ be offended by my associations of her work) but I’m hopeful that we can work something out for the new year and beyond. More details as they emerge.

Sean Hewitt has turned the tables on me by sending his ear view of the Discipline album. In recent days I’m the one who has been burdening Sean’s in-tray with track reviews. His revenge is to have me read some of the most concise and articulate descriptions of that period Crimson that I’ve ever read. Where I will blether on at length, Hewitt keeps it short and sweet.

I promise Sean to give him some detailed feed back on each section but find myself largely Crimmed out tonight and opt to do this update instead. Sorry Sean.

After checking the DGM guestbook, I notice a few kind words from Al Carlyle regarding the Cat Food Pounce. Cheers Al.

On a related note I also receive an e-mail from Tobin Buttram.
GC aficionado’s will know that Tobin was/is a member of The League Of Crafty Guitarists. It’s his Groove Penetration from Intergalactic Boogie Express album which shakes your house to the foundations. We met in Seattle at my first level One GC course and Tobin was extremely patient and supportive of me during that week in 1998.

Prompted by this diaries revelations about the Cat Food Pounce, Tobin informs me that he too has utilised Robert’s music to get shot of unwanted guests.

He writes
“When I was in my late teens early twenties I would occasionally buy a keg w/some friends, make a big pot of gumbo, and have a backyard soiree inviting all and sundry. At the end of the evening when it was time to clear the place out I found "Exposure" at high volumes usually did the trick. Anyone who made it through that got a Bartok string quartet at aout 100 db. No one ever made it though that...”

So, earplugs on and everybody back to the Buttram ranch !

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

Exhibiting Tom Phillips

Putting the final arrangements in place to an exhibition of 70 prints by London-based artist Tom Phillips in the new year. We are re-launching the borough’s small art space in what is definitely a case of turning a disadvantage to an advantage. It’s being re-named The AdHoc Gallery and for us, having Phillips is quite a big deal and represents the largest exhibition of Tom’s work in the Northern region. Some readers of this diary will know that Tom Phillips was commissioned to supply the cover to Starless & Bible Black. I initially contacted him in connection with the KC book, asking if he could recall how the commission came about.

Tom wasn’t sure though he felt that Brian Eno had something to do with arranging to get the cover done. He also confessed that he hadn’t heard a note of King Crimson.
Once it became clear that Tom wasn’t going to be able to be much help on providing any revelatory dirt on the making of the album, we started talking about an exhibition for his prints coming up to North Tyneside. For anyone interested in his work or find out more you should check out

Got in through the door tonight after a hard day at the cutting edge of municipal arts and events to hear the phone ringing.

The really good news is that it wasn’t a member of a double glazing sales team, who just happens to be in the area and wants to share with me a great opportunity. Anyone who has seen David Mamet’s devastatingly brutal play Glengarry Glenross, will know what untold pain and misery there can be at the end of the telephone.

Happily for me it’s not the sales team but Andrew Keeling. Of course for all I know Andrew Keeling might well want to sell me some double glazing – the life of a contemporary classical composer can be hard.

However, if he does, he keeps quiet about it. As I indicated in an earlier entry, Andrew has volunteered to help out with some of the technical sides of the book and we proceed to have a wide ranging chat about Pictures Of A City in particular and ITWOP in general.
Andrew talks with great animation about the construction of the piece and almost blinds me with a flurry of musical terms and phrases - chromatic this, unified that, diminution and so forth. Whilst I’m not sure I understand all the detail which Andrew effortlessly conjures, I get an eye-opening insight into the world of Fripp as a composer.
We speculate on the number of guitar overdubs of the wibbly-diddly bits (that’s one of my technical phrases) in the middle of Pictures. Andrew has it at three whereas I think there might be four.

We also go on to discuss some other Crimson classics including Islands. Remarkably, Andrew goes on to make a connection between the title track of that album through to the last section of Birdman from McDonald & Giles which hadn’t occurred to me at all.

Sunday, December 12, 1999

The Cat Food Pounce. . .

Listening to In The Wake Of Poseidon at the moment.
ITWOP was quite well regarded by the long-haired fraternity due largely to its comforting similarities to its much loved predecessor. Having said that, it was the least played and least favourite of our Crimson albums of the time. The only person in our group who owned Poseidon was a chap called Bob Marshall. I have no idea where he is now or what he is doing but I retain an irrational soft spot for him to this day.

Bob had a startling resemblance to Ian McDonald (circa McD & G cover) and he also had the biggest sound system in all of Creation. As good as this was, it did little to enhance what was for us, a lame record. As an alternative to listening to the album, we devised what we thought was a wonderfully witty and bitingly funny summer pastime. We used to call this activity The Cat Food Pounce, i.e.

Bob: What are you doing tonight ?
Sid: Nothing much.
Bob: Want to come over for the Pounce ?
Sid: Great ! I’ll be right over.

You can try the Pounce at home yourselves. What you’ll need is;

a) more time on your hands than is good for you and a woefully under-developed sense of what constitutes entertainment

b) incredibly powerful speakers, connected to an amp which when turned on makes the lights in the house flicker in an alarming fashion

c) a window overlooking a council housing estate where even the poodles have tattoo’s and are called Killer

d) place the speaker’s on the window sill and disguise them with a handy pair of net curtains (also useful for you and your chums to hide behind)

e) place side two of ITWOP on the turntable with the needle poised over that funny bit in Cat Food that goes
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUWWWOOWWOWWOWWWOWWW

f) turn the volume as high as the laws of physics will allow

g) wait until a solitary victim has the misfortune to walk up the other side of the street

h) at the exact moment they enter the cross hairs of the speakers, drop the needle on the funny bit in Cat Food that goes EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUWWWOOWWOWWOWWWOWWW
i) watch the hilarious results as the lone pedestrian jumps out of their skin and tries to work out what has happened, often bumping a lamp-post or even falling over in shock.

Oh how we laughed.

Side Two of Poseidon also came in handy when someone uninvited or unwanted came to the house. If conventional methods failed to get rid of them (i.e. spilling boiling hot tea on their lap), simply put on The Devil’s Triangle onto the turntable at hideous volume.
This would see the blighter off quicker than a greyhound out of a trap. I wonder if any visitors to this page have used Crimson’s music for such anti-social and puerile behaviour. Could RF and co ever have envisaged their music being put to such uses ?

Saturday, December 11, 1999

You probably did but I certainly didn’t. . .

I finished the draft chapters on LTIA and SABB, although Red continues to elude me. The finished chapters are then sent to the stern and steely Sean Hewitt.
Sean works as a sub editor for a newspaper in Nottingham and after a long hard slog in the office, he likes nothing better than putting my errant punctuation and grammar through their paces.

Having someone on the team like Sean who can spot an aberrant apostrophe when he sees one is a godsend as English and most other subjects at school were something that happened to other people.

As my final school report commented with a dry understatement which I only now appreciate “With a little more effort, Colin’s (that’s me) work could be unsatisfactory”.
Darren Woolsey based in Bradford has been extremely available in checking and providing additional factoids for each chapter. For example, did you know that Atlantic released a sampler 45 with edited highlights of LTIA PT1and Easy Money ? Well, you probably did but I certainly didn’t.

In another life Darren was also responsible for producing a groovy little KC fanzine called We’ll Let You Know. Although the ’zine is no more, Darren continues to be a font of amazing facts and figures which will no doubt find there way into this book.

Friday, December 10, 1999

Changing Lives In Seattle. . .

There can be a point in your life when a variety of things (some nice and some less so) gang up on you and give you a big tap on the shoulder. Your attention having been grabbed, you realise that in coming together in this way, these different factors, situations and circumstances are trying to tell you something. In my case, in London on December 4th 1997 sitting in the living room of John Kimber just after the last ProjeKct One gig, that message happened to be “Go to Seattle in February 1998 and join the Level One Guitar Craft Course”.

However, the quiet voice in my head told me to follow my instinct. In some unfathomable way it had a logic all of its own which was entirely lost on me. Having only ever fumbled about somewhat arthritically on the bass guitar and not being a guitarist or having any understanding of music, it was not immediately apparent why going to a guitar workshop a few thousand miles away was such a sensible thing to do. Upon deciding to follow my instinct, three things happened immediately on the first day of 1998.

Firstly, I had to find a knee-quivering amount of money. Secondly, I bought a guitar. I reasoned that such a thing might come in handy if I was to attend a week long guitar course. Thirdly, I learned that over the course of several hours, travel agents will tell you anything but the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to get you and your bananas from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK to Seattle, Washington, USA.

A total of 29 aspirant Level One’s gathered in acres of secluded waterfront and woodland and got ready to meet the team that for one week would be teaching us amongst other things, how to be quiet, how to play some guitar and if we had the good sense to listen, find out some interesting things about ourselves.

The team included Tom Redmond, Tobin Buttram, Bill Reiflin, Robert Fripp, Paul Richards, Tony Gebelle, Trey Gunn, Curt Golden, Steve Ball, Frank Sheldon, Martin Schwutke. I figured that if anyone knew how to hold a pick it was going to be these boys. I was not wrong.

Being in Seattle on that Level One was for me a life changing experience and I’m still coming to terms with the implications of everything that happened that week in 1998.
I’ve found that Guitar Craft has had many practical impacts on my approach to the world and what it throws at me. In a way, not very much of this has much to do with playing guitar. However, the basic principles within Guitar Craft can be applied to other aspects of one’s daily work and practice. It shows you that something else is possible, if we have the patience and discipline to make it ours.

One of the many benefits of Guitar Craft is being part of an extended world wide community which is generous and considerate. An e-mail from Travis Hartnett today. Travis is an impressively tall bloke based in Texas who performs under the name of Tik Tok. We met each other in Seattle on the level one GC course. His last CD “A Single Glass Of Water” contains some very gentle guitar looping which makes for beautiful late night listening or for when I’m applying large amounts of blue acrylic on the canvas.

An all together different kind of looping guitar CD arrived from Michael Peters in Germany. Once again, it was a Level One Guitar Craft course in Alfeld, Germany in August 1998 where we met. “Escape Veloopity” contains many interesting sketches and moods with some gorgeous cinematic sweeps.

Thursday, December 09, 1999

Ye Cracke & Phil

Ian Boddy called round to the house last night. Ian is the UK synth wizard behind the DiN record label which so far has released four albums including a stunning collaboration between Ian and the Europa String Choir’s Markus Reuter on Warr Guitar entitled Distant Ritual.

So far I’ve been credited on the album sleeves as having provided strategic support. This means that sometimes I suggest areas of collaboration (such as the project between Markus and Ian), write the odd bit of PR blurb and take a critical listen to work in progress.

Last night we discussed my direct musical involvement in a new project which will see Ian and I working together in the studio in the New Year. This might be of some interest to visitors to the DGM web site as hero of the V-drums, Pat Mastelotto, will be making an appearance on the album as well. Pat indicated his willingness to help out with a cut up and fold in the project I want to start earlier in the year. I think this stems from our time on the P4 tour in 1998, where we both discovered a mutual interest in drum and bass artists such as Photek and Talvin Singh and others. He sent over a truck load of tracks and it’s some these that will provide the starting point for Ian and I.

The other portion of the evening’s discussion centred around an up and coming collaboration between Ian Boddy and Chris Carter of Throbbing Gristle fame. What I heard last night was work in progress but there were several moments which got the hair on the back of my neck up in a standing ovation. More details as they emerge.

21.15
Fellow DGM diarist and member of Opus 20 Andrew Keeling has been in touch. Andrew tells me that he’s currently teaching music analyses at Liverpool University and is also interested in writing a book on KC. I spent a little bit of time in Liverpool in the early 80's where I was involved in touring some performance art scams with a photographer called Chris Wainwright.

Essentially, our work at that time consisted of dressing in white boiler suits, with Chris letting off his flash gun in darkened galleries and amplifying the sound of the gun re-charging. Against this ascending and most unmusical whine, I would plop drop and hit a series of percussives in what I hoped would be a suitably enigmatic fashion.
Rather bizarrely, the audience would often applaud at the end of what must have been a most perplexing hour and then we would be whisked off by the celebrated poet Adrian Henri to the nearest pub, which happened to be a great battered old place called Ye Cracke.

My well thumbed copy of The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopaedia (page 708) tells me that Ye Cracke was very place where John Lennon had his first post college dance drink with Cynthia. The other drinking establishment Wainwright and I would visit was the majestic Philharmonic in Hope Street. This isn’t featured in The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopaedia but the Philharmonic Hall which stands opposite this most excellent pub does get mentioned on page 519. The thing that really stood out about this pub was the palatial, marbled toilets or rest room (if you are an American visitor to this diary). It seemed to be bordering on the profane to ever have to make use of them such was their dazzling, byzantine appearance.

Andrew Keeling, who is familiar with the Phil (as it’s known locally), has very generously agreed to consider dumb e-mailed questions from me such as "Andrew, what's the technical name for what Keith Tippett's doing to that piano on Cat Food?" or "Andrew, what exactly is happening with Tony Levin's stick at precisely 2.55 into N&J&M from the Beat album?" or even "Andrew, how many goals do you think England will beat Germany by in the forthcoming matches ?"

Cheers Andrew !

Monday, December 06, 1999

Count bars, tap beats and scratch heads

Picked up Debra from hospital today where she was admitted for a piece of minor surgery. Although described as a routine procedure, it did require a general anaesthetic and that’s always a worry.

Happily, she’s back from oblivion - groggy but cheerful. As she slept this afternoon, I dealt with a bumper crop of e-mail and a whopper bundle of non KC related CD’s.
Several e-chums are acting as an unofficial and unpaid research department for this book. A cyber “brains trust” if you will.

How it works is that I send out a request for information along the lines of “what time signature is LTIA Part X“in?”. Following this the spare time and active lives of certain individuals are ended at a stroke as they count bars, tap beats and scratch heads.
Of course I’ve no idea at this stage if all their hard work will even get included in the final text but it is refreshing to be associated with such generous people.

Another aspect of researching for this book is the amount of back and forth one has to do between sleeve notes, clippings, quotes, etc. In an e-mail to a chum today I moan that it would be nice to have all this information in one central point – a kind of KC Chronicle which detailed recording and tour dates, record release dates, etc. Well, I for one would buy it.

Happily, a member of the back room team e-mails me to say that he’d be happy to take on this part of the project.

Whilst there is a notion that “I” am writing a book on KC, the fact is that many people are writing this thing – or at least making it much easier to have a bash at it. On a separate note, I attended the launch in Manchester last week of the National Foundation of Youth Music. The foundation intends to sponsor a series called Music Maker which aims to provide children and young people with an opportunity to work with a musician. It’s a sad fact in the UK today that many local authorities no longer provide a music service. I know from my own experience as a child how pivotal the opportunity to make music with someone who knew what they were doing was.

Tonight, I’m hoping that a voluntary project I’m involved in will agree to submitting an application to this fund. An exciting prospect if it goes ahead. In another aspect of the day job I’m involved in co-ordinating one of the largest free community / music festivals in Europe. Called the Window On The World, it takes place in North Shields overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne. It attracts in excess of 500,000 visitors and has music from over 21 countries. Trying this week to see if I can find a space for fellow DGM diarist Matt Seattle in the programme. If anyone hasn’t heard his album Out Of The Flames you should. One of the best things I’ve heard all year. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 05, 1999

Feeding The Habit

Up at 6.30 a.m. with my two sons, Tom (aged 8) and Joe (aged 6). Gorgeous inky black skies pocked with the occasional star. A sliver of moon slices brightly through the velvet. Joseph says the moon reminds him of a toe nail. We stand in the darkness, pondering the poetic resonance of this observation.

Much later in the day, we mount an expedition and all go out for a walk along the sea front. There are nine of us (we have two guests staying with us this week end) and it requires military precision planning to ensure that everyone is still in place with the requisite issue of hats and gloves for the younger children and enough teenage sneer to sink a battleship for the older kids.

We end up in Tynemouth Station which hosts a big covered flea market. It’s an active station which forms part of the local transport network, however, its expansive Victorian platforms were built in an era when the area was the focus of a massive tourist industry.

Though Tynemouth’s splendours are many, the traffic these days tends to be commuters. However, at the week-ends, the normally deserted platforms are transformed into a bustling flea market which attracts thousands of bargain hunters.
One of the stall holders, Maurice, sells new and second hand CD’s and I guess I’ve been buying CD’s of him for over ten years. Maurice isn’t exactly a KC enthusiast but more of a KC empathiser and knowing of my musical tastes and interests always makes a point of calling me over if he’s got anything in stock that he thinks I might like.

Today he presented me with a slightly battered copy of The Abbreviated King Crimson: Heartbeat. Although I have everything on the Cd (with the exception of the medley) I don’t have this particular edition or these edits. And so, like a good and loyal anorak, I snapped it up at an agreeably abbreviated price. Debbie, my long suffering partner questioned the purchase, rightly recognising that I already had most, if not all of the material.

“Aah but” I said a bit too quickly “this is a collector’s item” pointing reasonably I thought, at the helpful text on the front cover. “Besides“ I snapped defensively when I saw that this was not having any impact on her exasperation, “I need it for research purposes.”
Whilst at the stall, Maurice and I got talking and another customer also spying what I had purchased informed me that Greg Lake had appeared on BBC Radio Newcastle in the previous week. The discussion apparently centred around Greg Lake’s involvement as the producer of an album by UK comedian, Jim Davison. Davison could probably be described as a ‘popular entertainer’ but also has a reputation for being fairly right wing in terms of his political affiliations, with a dodgy line in humour that relies on social and racial stereotypes.

Probably well past his prime, he’s also an avowed fan of ELP and YES – not that I’m suggesting that there’s any connection between the two things you understand. Not having heard the interview, I’m unable to say if Davison & Lake intend to become the Flannagan & Allen of Prog rock. However, whatever the outcome it certainly seems to be an odd pairing. I wouldn’t have thought GL would need that kind of project. Still, he’s a big lad and entitled to do what he wants. There might well be a visitor to this diary who knows more about this intriguing project. If so let me know more !

Following our constitutional along the coast, the nine of us get back home and proceed to eat a Sunday dinner that would have been enough to have seen off Rasputin himself.
Whilst visitors dozed and children worried the shrubbery, I manage an hour on the book.

Currently tackling 1974 and the Red period of KC.

Well for Crimheads in the UK it was the best of times and indeed the worst of times. Of course, the release of Starless & Bible Black was something to celebrate and the album had drawn very good reviews in the UK press. What was very interesting was the reaction from some of my chums who happened not to be Crimheads.

They liked the straight ahead rock of The Great Deceiver and the beautiful soloing on The Night Watch. However what really got a few of them going was the mutant funk of We’ll Let You Know and the monster, Fracture. This surprised me at the time and surprises me now even more when I think about it given the “difficult” nature of those tracks.

So far so good. However, the bad news was that KC weren’t on tour in the UK. Whilst America was gripped with Crimson fever or so we imagined, the trail over here was going decidedly cold. In the days before the Internet and newsgroups, the only way most of us had of finding out what was going on was via the pages of the UK music press and sadly of KC there was nothing at all. Then almost out of the blue sometime in mid 1974, I heard Fripp on Radio One standing in for John Peel or some such DJ.

Through the mists of time, all I can recall now is that he played a piece which even though it was completely unfamiliar to me, I knew to be something off their new album.
Being playful, Fripp chose not to introduce the track as being from King Crimson but from a spurious sounding dance band. I recognised a few months later that the track in question had been Red. Somewhere in the programme he also played By The Sleeping Lagoon, known to those of us in the UK as the theme music to a classic BBC radio programme called Desert Island Discs.

The rest, as they say, is blank.

Sadly for me, I can’t recall much about the programme or what else he played that night, as I was at the time of broadcast, heavily involved in some adolescent squirming and petting with a lass called Lindsey Fife. Spookily enough, the light she had in her bedroom as we frotted and Fripp fretted, was red. Mind you, the lights in just about every bedroom I had the pleasure to know back then was red. Anyway, I digress (and often)…

The end of King Crimson when it was announced in September was a complete surprise to those of us back in the world of fandom. What we couldn’t have been aware of was the extent of the tensions that had been building in the band which had led to the departure of David Cross at the very end of their American tour. On the 1st July 1974, this incarnation of the band played it’s last gig in New York’s Central Park and back in the UK, eight days later, a stripped down version of King Crimson began recording Red.
It still sends a shiver down my spine all these years later as does the recollection of those heavy sessions with Lindsey Fife!

Saturday, December 04, 1999

Introducing The Team

Saturday 4th. December, 1999
A bright sunny morning but with quite a wind. From where I sit, the waves heave and swell. Occasional bursts of white foam spray along the lower promenade, catching out the dog walkers and stragglers. Children scatter and squeal.

Resisting the temptation to go out, I knuckle down and begin to grapple with King Crimson: Track By Track (or KC:TxT as it’s been called round these parts). When you’re dealing with such a huge body of work as this, the problem is knowing where to start. Begin at the beginning seems to make sense but as I sat working through Court I found myself wanting to write about Beat. Tackling Space Groove somehow led me onto SABB and so on.

The KC continuum is so diverse and beguiling, that I realise that the only way I’ll ever get this thing finished is to try and arrange the music into bite size chunks and then bite and continue to bite until it’s done. Even so though, it takes some discipline on my part to stick to a particular part of the Crimstory and write about it.

Thankfully, the different eras lend themselves to this approach and it’s fairly easy to section off each version of Crimso into their chronological compartments. I talked to Andy Mabbett recently who told me that the greatest problem when writing about a band is what you have to leave out. Andy is the author and collaborator on numerous books about Pink Floyd. He managed to distil nearly 30 albums and compilations into 150 pages for the Complete Guide To Pink Floyd.

It’s easy to write pages and pages about Crimson’s music. My problem is trying to cut out all the verbiage and get to essentials of the tracks. Some days, I’m full of ideas and energy and my ears seem to hear the music in a new light. Other days it seems to be a struggle to write anything at all.

In fact the sheer familiarity of an piece can sometimes render me mute and devoid of any critical acumen at all. For example, the title track of Court has continued to elude me despite my very best attempts at trying to nail that sucker down. In the end, I’ve given up on it and left the various drafts to sit and sulk. Fracture also evades my ears with alarming ease.

Another area to ponder about is how much of an assumption you make about what people know about King Crimson. Such a book is only likely to have an appeal to fans. I assume most fans who might buy KC:TxT know everything there is to know about KC.
And then there’s the question of trying to find out something new and interesting about a given track or album that is off the beaten track. The only way to get this information is to talk to the primary sources or those involved on the periphery.

Which means spending a lot of time hustling telephone numbers and e-mail addresses from people and no doubt nipping down to London to do interviews. However, I’m not exactly short on resources or chums to help out. Step forward Trevor Lever with his marvellous attic stuffed with old copies of Melody Maker and New Musical Express, not to mention his own musical prowess.

A round of applause to Tony Gassett and his Herculean grasp of scales and time signatures. Please welcome Sean Hewitt with his enthusiasm and reference library. And the “great” Kimbrini, who just is.

So, I’m not exactly alone on this one. People have been very generous in giving up their time to listen to me ramble on about this project and offer help in all sorts of ways. It does the heart good. OK that’s enough for today. The children are asking if their old dad is going to do anything today. Food and walks along the beach await. Farewell, cruel keyboard

Friday, December 03, 1999

The King And I. . .

You know it was the cover that got to me first. Long before any note of music had been heard, the thing that got to me was that cover. Staring balefully out at me from long since demolished record shops, its bulging eyes transfixed me; “Look out “ it seemed to say “something’s coming to get you !”

In 1971, I connected with the music on that album and it gripped me with a strange, indefinable power that has rarely since released its hold.

So why in 1999 would I want to write a book about Crimson’s music? I’m not a gifted writer, able to evoke the music either by my musical knowledge or poetic powers of description.

I’m not really certain what the answer is to this one is.

Except, that after I started the writing, I quickly realised that in writing this track by track guide (cunningly entitled King Crimson: Track By Track 69 – 99), I was actually describing a relationship which so far has lasted 27 years. Much of this music has been with me for so long it’s hard to be objective about it. In any event, why should my opinion have any more weight than that of any other KC enthusiast?

After all, there are people out there who know more about KC than I ever will. This includes those who will recite without any prompting whatsoever, the serial numbers of the deleted versions the first six KC albums released in Corfu. Of course, my opinion doesn’t carry any extra weight at all. Nor does it carry any kind of official endorsement from that blokey with the big diary further up the list.

It’s just my ear view and take on what’s been going on for the last 30 years. No more, no less. For those who are interested, you can expect to see much pondering, agonising and more than a bit of prevarication. You can also expect to see the odd extract from the book inviting comment and criticism. Blimey, critical review’s before it is even finished!

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