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Friday, March 31, 2000

Ian McDonald On The Blower

The dawn this morning is a simmering gold peering through luminous grey cloud. Thin slivers of orange are picked up on the grey-blue water. It looks beautiful but in a cold austere way.

E-mails in last night from Robert responding to my query around the recording of Requiem from the Beat album. An e-mail too from Pat Mastelotto who has received one of the new DiN albums featuring Ian Boddy and Chris Carter (ex Throbbing Gristle).

“Sid & Ian,
got DIN 5
very good
like it lots
played it 4 times yesterday
don’t know the tunes but I do love the vibe & sounds
some of it sounds like work I did 3 years ago for Robert that got shelved.
thanks, I'll keep wiggin’ it.
Me”

Ian McDonald rang last night and has agreed to participate in the book. We were able to agree the main areas which I want to follow up for the book and set up a time for the first interview next week.

Listening to ConstruKction Of Light last night. It was chugging away in the background as I worked when FraKctured arrived. By this, I mean I stopped what I was doing and really heard the music – perhaps for the first time. Previous hearings had failed to ignite the Smith ears in the way that I would have expected. When it played I heard too many references to old Crimson tunes.

Yet last night, something changed in me and the music simply flooded in. Quite extraordinary. It’s very hard to explain it in words but it all fell into place and didn't sound at all as retro as it first did. Strange though, as I try to articulate what I'm feeling, the sense of it runs away from me.

Thursday, March 30, 2000

This Music Is For Suckers

On the school run this morning, Tom delves into his encyclopaedia and is fascinated by the stars and how they’ve been corralled into constellations. I’ve promised Tom and Joe that they can stay up late on Friday night and see if we make out the patters providing the sky is clear. Being in a town, the light pollution is pretty bad.

As a child I used to spend a lot of time in the Northumbrian countryside (we used to have a little cottage outside Warkworth) and I can recall the infinite spread of shimmering stars. It still gives me shivers when I think about it. The family walking up darkened lanes with no illumination at all.

This was in the early sixties and so car ownership was not as widespread as it was today. Once in a while, we’d have to push ourselves into the hedgerow as a speeding car would hurtle past us, leaving us dazzled and blinking. There would also be the sound of the train whistle far off by the Blackie Bridge.

Found a bug microphone for the telephone and after a few bits of trial and error we get some passable recordings which will do the job. Debbie does a passable impersonation of Robert Fripp with heavy cold talking about how he got that guitar solo nailed in Ladies Of The Road.

Speaking of impersonations, I receive an e-mail from Andrew Williams who says he enjoyed reading about Debbie’s Peter Hammill take-off and enquires whether she does requests. He suggests Nadir’s Big Chance. Any other requests ?

Debbie’s son Sam comes into the room which is filled with the sound of John Cage’s Sonantas and Interludes. He pauses, sniffs the air with his ears and declares the music to be the sound of someone banging his head on the piano. He scowls in a grizzly teenager kind of way and says “this is music for suckers !” turns on his teenager heels and leaves.

Although it’s only Thursday the week-ends guests have just arrived which means I have to be sociable and have a life outside of writing flat phrases like “the picture of the screaming face is based on that of the….” – you can guess the rest I’m sure.

This week-end it’s Debbie’s sister, Dude and her youngest daughter Carly. The pair are up from sunny Wellingborough and will be with us for a few days R&R. Plans to go to the Lighthouse, the bric-a- brac fare at Tynemouth Station and so on for the week-end.

Begin work on a series of six small paintings (all 10x8) working very quickly on each one in turn, frantically scraping the colours on with a palette knife. When you gotta go you gotta go.

Wednesday, March 29, 2000

John Wetton On The Blower

Up early this morning full of beans after the rigours of Manchester the day before. An explosion of deep crimson rips through the slate grey bank of cloud.

In less than ten minutes this has bled across the rest of the eastern sky somewhere over Cullercoats bay. Vast curtains of deepest blue are now interlaced with pockets of pink pearls and drops of liquid gold.

There’s been a good press reception for the impending Tom Phillips exhibition in one of the regional arts magazines and Phillips himself has been very complimentary about our local arts service. Obviously, we are thrilled about this and intend to exploit it mercilessly. The Tom Phillips exhibition opens next Tuesday - expect a tedious blow by blow account of the event in these pages.

Talked to John Wetton for a while tonight. He’s back from various tours and we’ve pencilled in some time for interviews next week. E-mail also in from Ian Wallace who has re-confirmed his willingness to be interviewed for the book. All of which means that next week is likely to be very busy with a lot of telephone calls.

So, I urgently need to find someone in the UK who sells microphones that are designed to record telephone conversations – a bug I guess ? Any suggestions ?

Talked to Sean Hewitt for a while tonight about some angles for covering the first Crimson album. We talked for so long, I missed the boys bedtime. After abruptly putting the phone down, I hurriedly rounded the boys up and got them settled down with a rolled up copy of the Yellow Pages.

Grooving to the sounds of the Debbie playlist;

Inside I Am Laughing by Earwig
Opal by Syd Barrett
That one by Madonna that goes “ooooooooooooo – give yourself to meeeee”

Tuesday, March 28, 2000

ProzaKc Blues

Up into the dark morning and off to Manchester for a day long conference. I didn’t get to bed until 12.30 last night and so when the alarm rang at 5.00 a.m. I felt and feel, more than a little blurry around the edges.

I stand at the end of the street, almost deafened by the roar of the sea while I wait for my taxi. Six blobs of yellow light dot the black horizon – small fishing boats ?

On the train, I sit and ruminate on the book and how much there is to tackle. It feels quite daunting particularly around that first album which has such an iconic status for so many people.

So much has been written about that album and its impact, that it’s hard to know what’s left to add. Maybe best to add nothing. Maybe best to stick to a chronological rendering which avoids the need to explain and theorise.

And yet…there is an allure in telling a tale, something that everyone knows but which people want to hear time and time again. Maybe this is what RF means about long term fan interviewers like myself being stuck in the past.

Speaking of which. . . .the last time I was in Manchester was to see RF do an in-store promo at Virgin Megastore sometime in 1996.

Speaking of which. . . .Declan Colgan sent me a copy of The ConstruKction Of Light. It was wonderful to hear the riff on LTIA4 which P4 took a run through during a sound check in Vancouver. Check out the P4 diary up above for the blow by blow account. Actually re-listening to it, it might well have been one of the themes from FraKctured that I heard that night. Oh dear.

Interesting to hear the way some of the ProjeKct themes and heads have been incorporated as well.

What’s intriguing is the amount of self-referential snippets and musical quotes that are littered about throughout the album.

Big faves at the moment are;
Frying Pan
Oyster Soup
LTIA Pt 4
Heaven & Earth (which is quite stunning – can’t wait to hear the other PX stuff) and by way of a quick review…

ProzaKc Blues
“It’s the blues Jim, but not as we know it ” might be the thing to slip from Dr. McCoy’s lips had he ever beamed down to Nashville at the tail end of the 20th Century and heard this.

ProzaKc Blues stomps into life with a guest vocal by Hooter J Johnson. “You can tell from his voice that this guy has been around. And around” says RF of the vocal talents of Hooter J. Johnson aka known as Adrian Belew.

Perhaps it’s something to do with the domestic setting of the recording studio but this Crimson sound very relaxed and at ease – having fun even !

The lyric lobs a satirical barb in the direction of ET which may or may not have been inspired by this exchange recorded in Fripp’s diary during the recording of TCOL.
AB: I've been reading the latest Elephant Talk. What a turd that is! What a turd! Those people are really mad.
RF: May I quote you on that?
AB: What a turd!
RF: You know you shouldn't read that.
AB: I haven't read it for weeks.

Belew plays a grinding solo which slips and slides across all the famous blues reference points but ends up with an all together more exotic hybrid subverted as it is by the dangerous shifting metres going on underneath.

A less experienced guitarist might be put off by the constant movement and a cavalier disregard for blues conventions. A real crowd pleaser and natural encore material if ever there was.

E-mails in from John Wetton, David Cross, Robert Fripp and from long-time-no-speak antipodean chum, Chris Puglis, who is in Buenos Aires topping up his Guitar Craft, lucky sod.

Sunday, March 26, 2000

I Talk To The Wind

Manage to catch a brief hour on the lawn this morning before the sun goes in and a cold wind drives me indoors. Bored, listless children slouch around the house. Debbie spends the day prepping for her school work.

I spend quite a while on the telephone sorting through some structural and procedural issues around the book with Sternly Muckraker in Nottingham. We’re able to clarify and resolve a couple of points which I was unable to raise when Sean was up in Whitley Bay last week-end.

Apart from a break to watch Time Time (popular archaeology for the TV masses) I'm on heavy-duty book mode at the moment doing lots of nipping, tucking, ripping and weaving. Spend a couple of hours listening to three versions of I Talk To The Wind;
Demo
KCCC1
Remaster

Fascinating picking up the differences. The Marquee version seems to be the best of the bunch in terms of its general get up and go and certainly a more confident vocal harmony from Ian McDonald than appears on the Court album. I ask Andrew Keeling if he’d be willing to provide a spot of analysis for this track and the good man said YES !

Saturday, March 25, 2000

Bill Bruford On The Blower

A brilliant sunny morning with sun streaming down in profusion. The boys stay in bed until 7.30 a.m. and I have a long lie in compared to the norm. Debbie demands toast and tea so I spring out of bed and whizz downstairs into the kitchen and get cracking.

Of course, the twist is that I prepare the front garden for our breakfast while Debbie thinks it’s breakfast in bed. I tell her the news and muttering slightly to herself, she gets ready and joins me in the dew, the light breeze and blazing sun.

As we sit drinking tea, the deep blue sea sparkles and small crafts make their passage across the dark horizon. Whisps of windblown clouds curl and smear in the whitey-blue forever that stretches out across heaven’s vastness. As is often the case, Billy, the cat from next door joins us. Billy is built like a piece of heavy garden furniture and wastes no time in trying to blag the milk off our tea tray.

We always have this battle of the minds as he wants us to put milk out for him and we say no. He always wins in the end.

The postman arrives with a huge package from Neil and Halina from Birmingham. Regular readers of this diary will remember that Halina, the high-powered, high-flying, if-this-is-Wednesday-it-must-be-Salford- educational-consultant, stayed at our house a couple of weeks ago.

The package contains the most fabulous ear-rings for Debbie and four, yes four CD’s for me – Death In Vegas, Steely Dan, Warren Zevon and Randy Newman – completely out of the blue. I’ve not heard any of the discs before so it’s going to be a voyage of musical discovery. Thank you Neil and Halina for such amazing generosity.

Attending to e-mails. A couple in from Pat Mastelotto, Sean Hewitt and John Kimber of LEAFY Highgate. Also an e-mail from a publishing company who are interested in doing a book on KC. It’s early days yet and nothing is sorted but I’m encouraged by their positive response to what is in effect, an unsolicited demo tape.

Actually thinking about the pitch I sent, it’s not even a demo tape but more of a cassette cover. Still, they want to meet up and talk a bit further which I will do in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’m still sending out pitches and investigating other companies who might be interested.

Bill Bruford phoned this morning and we talked for a while about the status of the book and whether or not he’ll do a major interview. I explained that the book is an unofficial biography of the band but that the venture has Robert’s encouragement.

It’s my hope to have interviews with all the major players in Crimson past and present which will enhance and expand the otherwise tedious repetition of my prose.

After quite a discussion, Bill is on board with the book and we’ve worked out some rules of engagement for some further discussion in the near future.

Debbie and I head out and get to see Being John Malkovich – the film by Spike Jonze. Very dry and witty stuff indeed. We both laugh a lot and it’s good being out together. One unfeasibly large meal later, we walk the short distance home underneath what’s left of the stars, accompanied by the sound of distant traffic merging with rolling waves.

Does it get better than this ?

Friday, March 24, 2000

The Daffodil Army Marches On. . .

21.41
Later in the afternoon, the weather has brightened into a weak and fragile sun. I meet up with my mother who comments that I look a weak and fragile son. She brings with her, Tom and Joe, who she picks up from school on Friday’s and the gale force of verve and energy takes off.

As they rage and whoop up to their bedroom lost in an incomprehensible game (something about being part of the daffodil army – whoever they are), my mother and I prepare a feast. Our definition of a feast involves lots of fruit and user-friendly vegetables such as cucumber and carrot. I make a huge sunflower arrangement out of sliced melon, bananas and strawberries.

Crivens, it all looks good enough to eat – which oddly enough is exactly what happens. It’s moments like this when clock time ceases to have any meaning and the kids go onto a speeded up time lapse photography mode. Picture a column of army ants on the march, devouring and chewing anything in its way and you’ve got it just about right.

Julie O’Hanlon at DGM e-mails me to advice the hot toddy approach to cold cures while she herself comes down with a stomach bug. What a hero that woman is.

The post brings a bumper pack from Ian Boddy containing the new DiN CD’s which look very handsome in their packaging. At the same time (spookily) Pat Mastelotto e-mails telling me he’s looking forward to hearing the collaboration with Ian Boddy and Chris Carter.

They’ve re-sequenced the tracks and it sounds a lot better for it. I tell Ian Boddy that I think this one will be very popular indeed. Also e-mail the Bodman and tell him to get one in the post the Mastoman.

The Centrozoon cd is called Blast and it looks and sounds great. Centrozoon comprise Markus Reuter and Bernhard Wostheinrich, producing haunting and compelling waves of rich sound. I really rate these albums.

Also e-mails from Dan Kirkdorffer (who added the P4 Road Diaries at the speed of light – does this man never sleep?), Bill Bruford, John Bungey, Andrew Keeling, Sean Hewitt and John Kimber of leafy Highgate.

Kimberoso is actually complaining about my perpetual use of the word “leafy” before the word “Highgate”. Here’s what he has to say on the subject;

"Although 'leafy' is becoming over worn how about "down town Highgate", "groovy Highgate", "Hot Highgate", "Danger City"........er maybe not, "fragarent Highgate", etc..............leafy has had it's day I think!

What a cheek eh ?

6.45 a.m.
A mist obscures the horizon completely. Grey on grey, no sense of depth or perspective. A fine sea fret has settled on everything. My cold seems better this morning though it seems to be moving onto my chest. I spend part of this morning packing up some transparencies of my four of paintings to send to Markus over in Germany.

More work on KC:TxT this morning after last night’s wash-out. Every night I don’t get a bit more done hangs heavy on me. Writing out of guilt doesn’t work and the piece I push around this morning is, well, rubbish.

Emails from Sean Hewitt, John Bungey, Andrew Keeling and Pat Mastelotto.

I’ve been sending Sean picture attachments taken with this digital camera thingey. Trouble is working out how to send them without having to spend half a lifetime waiting for a download.

Sean tells me he’s been unable to open the attachement at his end …so it’s back to the drawing board. I figured if I could get the hang of this I might be able to get a couple of snaps of the paintings and put them up in the biog section on this page.

John Bungey sends a telephone number for an ex-Crim. I’m going to try and take a day or two off work and get all these long telephone calls out of the way. I’ve got a small tape recorder although the sound off the telephone is very variable. I’m told you can buy a bug which fits onto the handset though this will have to wait until the week-end.

Andrew Keeling’s music has been a source of great inspiration in recent weeks and a couple of days ago I had a sense of how some of his writing might fit into some of the work Ian Boddy and I have been doing.

It’s unlikely that this project will take off very quickly as both Ian and Andrew haven’t met and they are both very busy with other work. However, the idea of combining some of Andrew’s terse motif’s and Boddy eerie sonic manipulations gently resonates for me.

Working with some Pat loops a couple of weeks ago with Ian Boddy, I’m constantly amazed at the sheer energy and drive within his playing and his choice of sounds. For me, it was Pat and his contribution to the two ProjeKcts that drove the music into new directions (see Road diaries of P4 tour).

Therefore I’m hoping to interview Pat about the ProjeKct era leading up to the new album and PX.

Thursday, March 23, 2000

Doom And Gloom. . .A Man With A Cold

17.28
The afternoon grew grey and cold and so did I. As I neared home for an early bath, I felt cold and shivery and resolved to get flat as quickly as possible. Great dark waves thrashed and hurled themselves against the promenade in monstrous surges, adding to the aura of gloom that is seeping through me.

On getting through the door however, a package from Ian Boddy and a message from my mate Stan Gamester cheered me up no end.

The package from the Bodman was a cd sent to him for consideration as a release on the DiN electronica label. It’s by someone who goes by the name of Surface 10 and it’s tremendous. Grainy, upbeat and in your face grooves pulp the sloth and dolour which make up the body Smith. It’s a real toe tapper and so unexpected.

I e-mail the Bodman and tell him to put it out. Straight away. He’s looking for some more releases at the moment, so if anyone thinks they’ve got something ready to go, click on the link to DiN which they can find in my biography at the top of this page and make contact.

Stan Gamester also tells me that my snaps are ready. He’s taken pics of four of the small 10x8 paintings which I recently completed. I’m hoping to send these off to the on-line gallery which Markus Reuter is getting ready for April.

I walk to the post box and send a couple of bits and pieces off to Andrew Keeling and then collapse in a feeling sorry for myself, managing a couple of e-mails to John Kimber in leafy Highgate, Julie at DGM and Declan Colgan at Virgin.

06.45
Bleak grey morning and boiling, churning sea. White breakers surging over the lower promenade. I feel cold and achy this morning as the cold begins to take hold.

Spent most of last evening in a meeting and thus missed Sean Hewitt. He was ringing me from a Robert Plant gig he was reviewing for his newspaper in Nottingham. Old Percy is coming to Whitley Bay and I gather the gig is a sell-out.

I recall seeing Led Zep several times in concert many years ago and still retain a soft spot for many of the old warhorse barnstormers. Black Dog has to be one of the most thrilling pieces of rock music ever nailed down.

Talked to journalist John Bungey about the KC book earlier in the day. Some readers of this diary will recall John wrote a large article for a recent edition of Mojo magazine on the history of the Crims.

He felt a little disappointed that not only had the article been shortened by a new incoming editor but that the piece had acquired a pronounced anti-Fripp slant that was not his original intention.

There was a hint of a heavy sigh in John’s voice as he discussed the interviews he conducted for his article in Mojo and a recognition that for many ex-Crim’s, this small part of their career still exercises an undue influence over their lives today.

I always feel awkward talking to musicians about something they did a considerable time ago. Yet in this case, the body of work and the resonance it has with contemporary music, seems worthy of investigation and discussion.

John was extremely generous in supplying me with a couple of Crim-members contact numbers and addresses. Whilst much of the book is in place, the interviews with one or two key players is not. It seems to me that these interviews are vital if I’m to avoid the book ending up with me droning on interspersed with a couple of clippings.

The key pressures in this respect are time and also a lack of finance at my end. My feeling is that it’s better to do an interview in person but being up here in Newcastle means a lot of travelling usually to the South of England which can be extremely costly. Without the advance of a publisher, I’m going to struggle to undertake a lot of this under my own steam.

Debbie suggests a bond issue. Now there’s a thought. . .

Wednesday, March 22, 2000

Coughing, spluttering and streaming

6.45 a.m.
Glad to be awake after a truly dreadful night’s sleep. Coughing, spluttering and streaming, a nose that is so red it would stop the traffic were I foolish enough to go out this morning. Sadly, I must go out as I have a full diary.

Bright with drizzle sums up not only the weather but how I feel as well.

In what might be the beginnings of a carefully orchestrated campaign of intimidation masterminded by Sternly Muckraker, I receive an e-mail from Chris Wilson, chiming in that he thinks Cat Food resembles the “Come Together” bass line. Where will it all end ?

Come to think of it, I’ve always thought the fast diddly bits in Schizoid Man bear more than a passing resemblance to the instrumental section of “Yellow Submarine”. I’ve also discovered that if you play Is There Life Out There backwards it is nothing less than a carefully constructed pastiche of “Twist And Shout” only longer. Am I alone in hearing this ?

Gutted to read that Matt Seattle was playing less than five miles from my front door at the week-end. Still, I guess it was a private party. The last thing Matt would have wanted was being mobbed by two big blokes in anoraks shouting “WEE WILLIE WINKING THING” from the back of the room. Some other time Matt ?

Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Peter Hammill In The Kitchen Re-enactment Society

A cavalcade of ideas and opportunities fly by my eyes and ears today despite the fact that I seem to be coming down with a cold.

Part of the day talking to largely disinterested publishers about the prospect of them putting out a King Crimson book. A few letters and faxes and straws in the wind. I have no great expectations that this approach will bear any fruit but one needs to go through this to get to the other side.

Debbie cooks food tonight and does her Peter Hammill In The Kitchen Re-enactment Society performance. Usually this involves her declaiming something like “They say that fried eggs are endowed with free will” in a powerful roar that is an uncannily accurate impersonation of the PJAH himself.

This started because Debbie thought her lampooning one of my musical heroes would be deeply wounding to me. Instead it cracks me up. I tell you when I hear her singing / roaring “The milk has turned sour” I feel like I’m living one of Hammill’s less upbeat songs.

The phone doesn’t stop ringing and Debbie spends around two hours talking to friends, family and neighbours. I nip out and take a walk along to Cullercoats where my chum Stan Gamester lives.

Stan is a photographer and I’ve asked him to take some snaps of some of my paintings. Fortunately, the ones I want photographed are the small series of 10x8’s. Once done I can get these sent off to Markus Reuter (touch guitarist with the Europa String Choir) and the virtual gallery he’s setting up.

I’m flattered to be invited to contribute to the project. More details as they arrive.

Argue with Sean Hewitt as to whether SSEDD has The Beatles’ “Come Together” bass line in it. Can’t hear it myself but the Hewitt lad insists it is so. I send him several rude e-mails as result. Andrew Keeling telephones and we have a brief chat.

Respond to E-mails from Bill Bruford and Richard Parry. Richard wants to know what my favourite Crimson album is. Well, I guess the smart answer is whatever one I’m listening to at the moment. Ayethangyew (he said in his best Arthur Askey voice).

Sunday, March 19, 2000

A wrecked and gaunt husk

It's 6.30 a.m. and the kids have all surfaced, full of beans and raring to go.

Little Sam and his sister, Melina from next door stayed the night making a total of six children and three adults in the house. They are fixated on transfer tattoo’s the kind which are rubbed on with a wet cloth and by 7.30.a.m. various parts of our anatomy are emblazoned with colourful emblems. I myself opt for a pulsating heart with a scroll bearing the legend "Love". Debbie goes for a dragon but Sean declines the offer of some body art. Debbie keeps urging me to get the Discipline logo tattooed on my arm but I can't imagine suffering for my art to that degree.

At 8.00 a.m. we escape the bustle of the children and get out onto the lawn for a cup of tea in the sunshine. It’s another gorgeous morning of brilliant sunshine and we decide to go for a walk.

As we stroll along the top of Tynemouth long sands in the direction of Cullercoats harbour, I have a sense that Sean is frustrated that week-end has not been as productive as he would have liked.

True enough, there is little to show in the way of written work, strategy plans, timetables, outputs, milestones, targets and all the paraphernalia that goes along with helping us feel that we are making decisions and getting things done.

For me however, it’s been very productive indeed, giving me a sense of Sean and his views and crucially whether this is someone who I feel comfortable working with.

There are some potential tensions in our respective approaches. Sean who is a journalist by trade (actually a sub-editor with experience in the provincial and national press) is more naturally inclined toward a more hard-nosed analysis of the music and the politics of the band.

I’m less interested in the band biography approach and much more attracted to a highly idiosyncratic autobiographical style which attempts to chart and explore the world of fandom and compulsive anorakery which we Brits seem to indulge in.

Back at the ranch, I make a breakfast which Rasputin himself would have struggled to eat, given its life threatening properties. We wash the Greasefest down with lashings of tea and then continue to push around some more ideas.

In the early afternoon, its time for Sean to be heading back to Nottingham and so Tom, Joe and I take him into Newcastle to get the train. On the way, we head into the local branch of Waterstones to check out the Rock section to see what the opposition is up to, picking up some ideas about which publishers to pursue.

After Sean gets away the boys and I take a mooch around the town, enjoying the sun. I spend the rest of the afternoon getting the house back to normal and doing some much needed house work. Sunday nights sees the bath time ritual and it always requires a lot of arm twisting to ensure that various bodily items are scrubbed and de-furred. And that’s just me.

I’m going off to bed, a wrecked and gaunt husk. A couple of late nights in a row coupled with very early starts ensures more than fair share of oblivion awaits.

Saturday, March 18, 2000

Rampant anoraking with Sean Hewitt

Saturday afternoon…
Sean, Debbie and I sit on the lawn drinking tea bathed in a truly glorious sun gold. It felt as though we were in the sultry depths of summer. Inspirational weather and just right for getting stuck into the burning issues around the book and its progress.

Tom, Joe, Sean and I go out onto the beach and search for little bits of treasure (washed up fragments of sea worn smooth glass) and an ice cream.

Back at Victoria Avenue, I wrestle with the food and Sean sits in the green room coming up with a definitive chapter structure and asking a few questions such as whether you’d review Groon as it appears on TYPG or if you’d include it as part of the section that deals with ITWOP as it was recorded at the beginning of those sessions.

We stay up discussing these and other vital issues until 2.00 a.m. Truly knackered by such rampant anoraking I slouch off to bed.

8.00 a.m.

Stunning blue-white skies, brilliant sun and a calm rippled sea gently undulating are some of the gifts I received this morning when I woke up. There’s a tremendous sense of engagement with the world as I gaze out on this beautiful scene. Somehow one feels utterly connected and part of a bigger picture. The feeling of equilibrium is decidedly enhanced by the simmering strains of Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony.

Tom, Joe and Alys are up and at the day with a verve and vigour which is breathtaking. Debbie unfortunately is ill in bed with an ear infection, sticky eyes and a runny nose. As I write, Sternly Hewitt is ensconced downstairs in the guest room and so far has not emerged into the blinding light of the day.

Sean came up from Nottingham - the Seattle of the midlands (it says here) and I met him off the train. After dumping his bag we hit the high lights of Whitley Bay to grab a bite to eat and have a drink.

After an average meal in a newly opened Italian restaurant we took a walk along to a pub called The Fat Ox. Interesting to note that for something like 80 years the pub has been called The Fat Ox.

Then about five years ago it was given a revamp and all of the original fittings and fixtures were ripped out to be replaced by new fittings and fixtures which were meant to look like old fittings and fixtures. You still with me ???

Then they changed the name to The Tap and Spile and everyone was able to warm their hands on the glowing heritage and tradition that was now emanating from the very bricks and mortar of the place. Then a year or two ago they decide to call it The Fat Ox again. That’s progress.

Anyway, whilst waiting for a pint at the bar I noticed a familiar face next to me and recognised it to be a chap called Tim Cooper who I’ve not seen since 1980. Tim was the bass player in a band called The Hostages who were one of Newcastle’s happening groups of the day. They were signed to EMI and great expectations were set in train. And like so many other bands before and since, the creative juices and spark which gave the group some of its originality were gradually sapped as the record company A&R’d them into submission.

Being young and keen, compromises are willingly entered into on an assumption that the person who is telling you to change your material actually cares or knows anything about the music.

Needless to say this sorry tale, like so many others, ends with the band recording and releasing a couple of singles, playing by now an ersatz music against their natural inclination which then, surprisingly fails to bother the chart compilers.

Then they are dropped and another quartet of young people are filed away under the category of “disillusioned”. As a result, Tim hasn’t played bass for 15 years.

It was great seeing him again and we’ve made tentative arrangements to meet up next week.

Back at Victoria Avenue, Sean has brought his copy of BLUE Nights along and I eagerly stick on the remix track. It’s witty, pithy and I could take a whole album of this. Somebody in DGM please take note.

Friday, March 17, 2000

Flagging

Last night I went to a local theatre to watch a play called Flags. In one sense it was more work than pleasure as there were some local politicians present who wanted to quiz my colleague and I on various local authority issues during the interval.

The play was set in the aftermath of the first world war taking in the General Strike along the way and the rise of the British fascist movement in the 1930’s.

The professional cast were very good and overall the production values though simple and economic were more than adequate. The writing however was very predictable and there was a depressing sense of inevitability about the plot.

The book plods along at a bit of a snails pace. Not writers block but real life getting in the way. As a result it now seems unlikely that I’ll be able to get the thing published to coincide with the King Crimson tour which would be probably the best way to get the book distributed to Crimheads around the world.

That said last night was fairly productive as I was able to get a couple of hours of hours writing in after returning from the play which were eased along by e-mails from the wonderful Julie O'Hanlon at DGM, Tony Levin and Peter Sinfield.

After the double bill of guests last week-end, Victoria Avenue is preparing for the arrival of Sternly Muckraker (aka Sean Hewitt from Nottingham which he informs me is the Seattle of the UK). Sean has been invaluable in pushing and prodding my writing along in the broad direction of readability all of which has been done via phone calls and e-mails.

It’ll be good to meet up in person (last time was at Robert Fripp’s in-store at Borders)and see where we are with the King Crimson: Track By Track.

I also want to spend a bit of time discussing a spin-off project from the book with Sean which seems like a good idea although the main focus of my energies will be the need to be get the first one finished.

I’ve borrowed a digital camera and might be able to spend a bit of time over the week-end capturing some of the paintings. Markus Reuter has reminded me of his offer to include some of the paintings in a virtual gallery and I’ve promised one or two people that I would try and send a couple of snaps in the post.

If I can get the hang of the digital camera and processing the resulting files then I’ll be able to send them via e-mail. Wow !

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Lizard

I've been playing Lizard to death in recent days. Though I've not heard the remastered version, the sheer umph of this album is still a force to be reckoned with.

Whereas In The Wake Of Poseidon was for the most part an attempt to consciously recreate and maintain the winning formula of the first album, Lizard represented a decisive shift into new musical territories for the two remaining members as they emerge out of the shadows and pressures cast by the overnight success of the band so early in its career.

Clearly there are elements of musical and stylistic continuity which link back to the past but the third King Crimson album sees a more conscious embracing of the music of the young turks of the burgeoning UK new jazz scene.

The incorporation of large sections of Keith Tippett’s group lends the album a vibrant pungency which in turn offers Fripp the composer, the extra capacity to underpin arrangements with a freewheeling ferocity.

Indeed large sections of the album replace the gothic set pieces of the first two albums with a more carefully orchestrated and paradoxically, chaotic free-jazz skirmishing. This offers the album an earthier, grittier patina which marks it as being very different from its predecessors.

Whist the inner core of the album centres around the relationship between Fripp and Sinfield, it is guest players which provide most of the focal points within the music. Tippett’s acerbic piano is scattered throughout confirming Fripp’s desire to see the brilliant young pianist as an integral member of the band.

Elsewhere, Oboe player Robin Miller carries the principal yearning theme of Bolero and there is an equality of emphasis between Collins, Charig and Evans throughout the second side of the album.

In this sense, the album seems to strive toward an ensemble style of playing and is very much in keeping with the other jazz influenced groups of the day who were operating in and around London at the time. Soft Machine, Nucleus and Tippett himself were all pushing at the boundaries of jazz, rock and free improvisation and electronic experimentation.

Whereas those groups were now dealing with instrumental concerns and the quest for jazz legitimacy, King Crimson had not abandoned its commitment to the song cycle and it is here that the flamboyant lyrical energies of Peter Sinfield brings a distinctive edge to the music.

Whilst it is true that many of these lyrics now feel cumbersome in comparison to the lean semiotic shorthand of post-modern era, Sinfield’s power to wield convincing pictures and impressive sub-conscious connections with this particular listener remains undiminished.

Wilfully obscure and at times convoluted, the words often impact at an intuitive level where the critical desire to “understand” something at a literal level can also be to erode their magic. I don’t so much understand the lyrics to Lizard as feel them and that feels about right to my ears.

In any event, the words and the album cover which illustrate the lyrics, offered an interpretative reference point to which the general rock audience could gain a foothold on what would otherwise have been a challenging musical terrain.

The whole album seems to articulate a series of tensions and opposites. The flawed personal chemistry within the band, structure and composition versus the free blowing inclinations and disposition of the composer, the words tugging against the music, the use of two very contrasting vocalists and so on.

Having described the album as unlistenable in his diary while re-mastering the special anniversary edition, Fripp nevertheless acknowledges that “I found myself strangely attracted to several / many parts of the album. But where it fails for me is in the inability of the (attractive, beguiling, amusing, peculiar, wobbly) parts to express the sense of a coherent whole.”

Ultimately Lizard was and remains a mixed bag. It’s a brave and bold attempt to establish a musical bridgehead that creatively searches for a way to fuse the divergent worlds of rock dynamics and jazz experimentation.

That it doesn’t quite make it does little to detract from the power and force that remains with Lizard 30 years after its release

Sunday, March 12, 2000

Lost And Found And Lost Again

In the previous entry I’d mislaid one of Pat Mastelotto’s CD’s. Just as I was about to leave I saw it sitting as plain as day on the desk. How had I not seen it ?

So I hot foot it over to Durham and meet the Bodman at the station who whisks me over to the DiN studios at a secret location in Esh Winning (it means ash tree apparently).

We spend the first part of the day running through what I’ve singled out and loading it up onto the system. Then we go through ideas and game plans. Then we start work proper. Following a break for food we push ahead and make a good start with the Bodman extracting some deep inner sounds hidden far beneath the surface of Pat’s drumming and samples.

The Bodman treats the source material with respect but moves it far from its beginnings in Pat’s garage. We stop for the evening and listen to a prospective recording which might form part of a future release on the Din label. We also get into a lengthy discussion about the label and what Ian wants to achieve. Sometime after one o’clock I decide to call it a day and get off to bed.

Troubled dreams wake me and I get up and make a pot of tea. The Boddy house overlooks a valley. This morning it was bathed in glorious warm sun. A hot air balloon drifts across the blue sky.

Back in the studio. More smudging and smearing with some of the Pat tracks. After a couple of hours we come to a halt and I get a lift back over to the train station. Good progress so far and we fix a provisional date for sometime in May.

Once back in Newcastle I meet up with a chap called Chris Wilson who made contract with me after reading the diary. It’s a small world. Not only does he live in Newcastle, not only is he a KC fan but he also used to live in my very street in Whitley Bay. Chris is a self –employed graphic designer and he’s e-mailed me saying he has some ideas for the book cover and so on.

I ask Chris how he got into Crimson and he tells me that he first heard Matte Kudasai on the Noel Edmonds radio show back in 1981. For overseas readers of the page, Noel Edmonds is the most unlikely DJ you could possibly imagine playing King Crimson. I am genuine aghast at the thought of this track getting air play on mainstream radio at the time.

I get back to the house and our guests who arrived while I was over at the DiN dungeon. It’s been a busy week-end with Halina coming to stay on Friday and now Doris and Jen. Cups of tea, chats, bacon sandwich and off to do some work on the book.

I e-mail Pat Mastelotto and tell him of the progress to date with his loops. He posts back saying “look forward to hear what you do. . .Ya can't fuck it up enough for me :-)”

Saturday, March 11, 2000

Halina Comes To Call

Yesterday Debbie's friend of many years, Halina who lives in Birmingham, came up to the north-east to run a training session in the area. She’s a highly specialised education consult and a deeply wonderful human being. Debbie and Helena go back years to when they were both student teachers in Brum during the mid 70’s.

Normally she stays in some swanky hotel but this time D has managed to persuade her to stay at our house. Using her very rare visit as an excuse we book a table at the local Chinese restaurant and the seven of us have a feast of almost unimaginable proportions.

Tom masters the use of chopsticks within minutes of being shown and Joe delves into all the dishes without any hesitation or caution. After a couple of hours of constant eating we are done and roll back down the street toward home and pots of tea.

Up early this morning sorting through sketches and ideas for the Boddy/Smith recording session. A brilliant sparkling sun bathes us in glorious light. I’ve got two CD’s full of Pat Mastelotto loops and bits and pieces of work in progress and I can’t seem to find the one that Ian and I want to do some work on today.

I hunt high and low, grunting and growling with profound irritation as I had the thing two days before. Obviously I’ve wandered around the house with it in my hand or pout it down in a moment of distraction or perhaps it’s disappeared into another dimension and even as I write is being worshipped as a deity by some as yet undiscovered beings. Try as I might the CD evades my grasp and I give up the search.

We walk down to the sea front to wave Halina off in her taxi. The small sweep of the Bay with the lighthouse gleaming white does the soul good as it sparkles in the sweltering sun. It’s like a summers day.

The post brings a surprise CD from Andrew Keeling. He’s sent me a choral compilation which contains Allegri’s beautiful Miserere. We were talking about it the other day in York and I mentioned that I had yet to buy a version of it. The performance is surprisingly brisk and not at all as lachrymose as some of the version’s I’ve heard on the radio.

It’s time to go off to Durham and face the wrath of the Bodmiester for not bringing the Pat M cd. He’s got the files that Pat sent over a while back but there were a couple of loops on this particular CD which we wanted to plunder today. Oh well…

Friday, March 10, 2000

Another Step Forward

A gorgeous blue dawn washed down to tinge the swelling undertow this morning. As I walk to get the train to work the air is crisp and bracing.

A little before ten o’clock, Declan Colgan from Virgin Records phones to tell me that they are minded to grant permission for me to reproduce the artwork of the King Crimson covers. It needs to go past their legal department but he thinks it’ll be all right. Very groovy indeed.

The book takes one more step forward.

Thursday, March 09, 2000

Prog Rock In York

22.00
I miss my intended train to York by two minutes. The good side of this is that I have a full fifteen minutes to browse through a couple of magazines which I don’t normally buy.

The next train we whiz past green fields and startled flocks of black birds. I know York well enough from several previous visits but have to get a taxi to the school of music.

Andrew and I make our introductions and I help him set out the seminar room as the 20 or so students come into the room. After John Potter’s generous introduction, Mr. Keeling is of on a guided tour of progressive rock from the late 70’s to today.

The joy for me was hearing lots of stuff which I’d never come across before such as White Willow, Porcupine Tree and Thinking Plague and several others.

The trouble for me with a lot of the new prog-rock is the degree to which the influences (Genesis, Yes, ELP,etc) get in the way of the music. As Porcupine Tree played on I found myself sourcing the various sections – oh that bit’s taken from Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and so on.

Andews attempt to assign certain artist into the neo-prog canon was very interesting and certainly thought provoking. I can just about see an argument for including David Sylvian (Hmmmm…maybe not actually) but to my ears a composer like Paul Schutze is operating more within the jazz fringes of electric era Miles Davis than anything else.

That’s the trouble with labeling and pigeon-holing types of music. I’ve seen Henry Cow installed into the prog-rock pantheon in recent times but can’t buy that one either. Their music borrows far more from the European improvisation tradition and agitprop – which from a political point of view has more to do with punk than prog.

Notwithstanding the problems of labels and sloppy critical attribution, Andrew’s talk with highly informative and very entertaining. There was a small discussion following the lecture and then two of the students from the course gave a small presentation on Pink Floyd and commercialism which was rather good. Afterwards, one or two polite enquiries are made about the book and I confess that I feel like a bit of a charlatan

Andrew, John Potter and I then went to have lunch and chatted about the Hilliard Ensemble of which John is a member and of which I am a fan. Talk moves onto the development of downloadable music such as MP3 and the development of Bootleg TV.

After John pops off, Andrew and I get a drink and continue to chat. I also take him through three of the small paintings I’ve done in response to his music. He seems to like a couple of them though I think he struggled to see any connection between the smudgey swirls, arcs and smears and his compositions. My take on this is that the paintings aren’t meant as a literal representation of the music or even the themes that underpin the music.

Rather they are improvisatory responses to hearing the music. So if Quickening The Dead doesn’t look like Quickening The Dead sounds…that’s because it isn’t …as someone almost once said. Phew, I’m glad I made that clear.

Leaving York there’s light rain in the air and black sodden clouds which trail the train all the way up to Newcastle. The downpour when it hits is very impressive.

6.25 a.m.
Another dark and stormy night though thankfully no-one falling this time. After the howling, rattling anguish of the night, the dawn is quite beautiful. After the slow burning amber against slate grey, it is now replaced with a fabulous wash of burnished gold melding into a blue smeared with greeny blue.

Getting ready to go off to the York. Debbie snoozes.

Wednesday, March 08, 2000

Debbie Takes A Tumble

Sometime in the night I awoke and it seemed the whole house was rattling and banging. For a second, I was gripped by that primeval fear which percolates through, no matter how familiar we are with the cause of the noise – the loose window catch rattling in the wind for example.

Somewhere in a half asleep state, dark nameless monsters and imaginings scratch and scrape away at our reasoning.

Debbie who up to that moment had been fast asleep, got up to go to loo. As I settled back down, the wind seemed to reach a crescendo followed by a muffled thump. I began to drift off to sleep only to be awoken by Debbie several moments later who told me she had just fallen down the landing stairs.

The cat of course said nothing.

Spent this evening beavering away at the book. I completely revised and re-wrote Indoor Games, Happy Family and Prince Rupert’s Lament. I’ve not yet heard the recent remasters of this album but if ITCOTCK is anything to go by, I’ll probably end up re-writing the re-writes.

Tomorrow I’m off to York for the day to listen to Andrew Keeling’s lecture on prog-rock. For me the classic progsters (no pun intended) have held little interest for me since their glory days.

John Kimber of leafy Highgate has played me some bits and pieces of the likes of ELP and Yes and I just can’t make the connection. I’ve also managed to avoid hearing anything of the likes of White Willow, IQ, Spocks Beard or whatever the new kids on the block are called.

So, I’m hoping that Andrew’s lecture will bring me up to date with the post punk prog-type of prog. York also has lots of associations for me. I had my honeymoon in York many years ago as well as some very nice little book shops. I’m hoping that Andrew and I will have some time to go for a cup of tea afterwards.

Friday, March 03, 2000

Half-hearted and inconclusive.

21.15

Tonight is shrove Tuesday and so I spend an hour making pancakes for the assembled horde. As fast as the gloopy mixture is frazzled in the pan and served, it’s scooped up into the mouths of the ravenous gang.

Several e-mails from various e-chums telling me about how stunning the new KC remasters are. Tony Gassett tempts me with the following;

“In a mad moment yesterday I purchased the new KC remastered titles (£33) and the new Steely Dan (£10) release.

With the 3 KC discs, please answer/guess the following....
1. Which track did I play all the way through first?
2. Which track did I just listen to the end?
3. Which track did I just listen to the start?”

For reasons which I cannot entirely understand I respond to Tony’s little quiz;

1. Sailor's Tale
2. Islands
3. Circus

The rest of the evening is spent sorting and sifting through some of the loops Pat Mastelotto sent over a while back. Some of these cool beats will form the basis for the collaboration with Ian Boddy which goes into the studio this Saturday.

Speaking of which the Bodman tells me that the expanded blurb I’d written for the Ian Boddy/Chris Carter cd Caged is going to be used by Carter on his web site. The scourge of Smith spreads further afield.

8.00 a.m.

Up early to a grey featureless dawn. Stepping out of the shower, I notice that it now takes me longer to dry my beard than it does to dry my hair. Another example of the passing years and the relentless progress of time.

Spent a while last night re-working the entries for the Lizard album. Reading them back I’m struck by the tone of hostility contained in the writing which I find odd given that Lizard has been one of my favourite Crimson albums for many years.

Listening to Side One I find much of the playing half-hearted and inconclusive. Why ? What’s changed for me ? I’m not saying that this is a bad album and I certainly don’t subscribe to RF’s view that it is “unlistenable” and yet, as I listen to it, trying to be as objective about it as I can be (i.e. not very) I find a lot of the playing on Indoor Games and Happy Family, unconvincing and insubstantial.

So, given that the music itself has remain unchanged since I first heard it, what has changed in me that I hear it with different ears ?

Thursday, March 02, 2000

Heavy-duty Dalek mode

The boys are on heavy-duty Dalek mode at the moment as a result of looking through lots of my old Dr. Who annuals from the Sixties. Tom produces eight pages of closely drawn diorama’s of Daleks doing their thang on the unsuspecting people’s of the universe, complete with chilling dialogue such as “We shall be masters of the world” and “Hahahahah”.

Joe gleefully draws a production line where the evil pepper-pots are constructed. He takes great pride in drawing in every grim lump of the Dalek’s innards and colouring it a fabbo slimy green.

These pages are then gathered into a bound volume collectively entitled “The Total Dalek Invasion” by the boys and presented to me with great ceremony.

It’s a sign of a different age when Tom and Joe look at the original Dalek story (first broadcast in December 1963) without batting an eyelid. I recall being completely terrified by the same story – quite literally hiding behind the sofa.

However, it is with some small degree of satisfaction that I note although the fear factor seems to have vanished from the veteran sci-fi series, it still has the capacity to capture the wee imagination. And mine.

E-mails from Andrew Keeling regarding our forthcoming rendezvous at York. I’m going to bring along three of the small paintings very loosely inspired by some of the pieces on his CDR at Andrew’s request. As I’ve said in the past, I probably talk a better painting than I actually paint.

As I said to Andrew - Please don't build your hopes up for any great art Andrew. I make no claims to be a great artist. I simply enjoy the act of engagement and do it really for my consumption. Crikey, you should see the walls of our house.

Other e-mails arrive from Markus Reuter who points out that in my enthusiasm for the new Centrozoon album, I’ve added an extra track. It should be four instead of the five I ascribe to them. Oops.

Listening To…
Little Red Record by Matching Mole
Miserere by Allegri
Requiem by Mozart
Eight Lines by Steve Reich
Shaker Loops by John Adams
Party Of One by Nick Lowe
801 by 801
Mainstream by Quiet

Wednesday, March 01, 2000

Blast by Centrozoon


















To Ambiguity And Beyond...


Blast
Centrozoon

DiN

What is with the Germans and the synthesiser? From Tangerine Dream Kraftwerk and Can, these Teutonic knob-twiddlers have wielded the sine wave like a scythe through our consciousness and they show no signs of slowing down with their sonic assault.

The latest in this long line of existentialist cosmic toe-tappers is a duo called Centrozoon. Featuring Markus Reuter on Warr guitar (an off-shoot of the Chapman Stick) and Bernhard Wostheinrich on synth, Blast is their first album for the electronica label DiN.

Unlike many of their predecessors, there are no heavily regimented sequencers or crashing drum machines crunching four to the floor of the Berlin School. This kind of Blast is altogether more subtle, a passionate music pulsating with an inner light.

There are few signposts in the way of rhythms or solos to be found on the album. Instead each track is a collaboration of equals, where Reuter and Wostheinrich meld their respective sonic palettes to create a work of considerable poise.

In this quest for balance they display an almost painterly concern for the use of space, tone and colour. Each aspect assiduously compiled and compacted, with luminous motifs and phrases sweeping up through the rich layers before fading away.

It’s this ambiguity which paradoxically lends Blast its strength, ensuring that the listener remains intrigued and thus engaged - part of the overall process rather than separated from the proceedings.

Don’t be tempted to think this is tame ambient wallpaper. It’s not. There is a sureness of touch which ensures the music resonates vibrantly throughout each of its five tracks.

A work of maturing clarity from two fine young players.

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