King Crimson are a rock band founded in London in 1968 by members from western England. Widely recognised as a foundational progressive rock group, the band have incorporated diverse influences and instrumentation during their history (including jazz and folk music, classical and experimental music, psychedelic rock, hard rock and heavy metal, New Wave, gamelan, electronica and drum and bass). They have been influential on many contemporary musical artists and have gained a large following, despite garnering little radio or music video airplay. For all its break-ups, periods of non-existence and fluctuating methodology, King Crimson remains one of the interminably compelling bands playing within the domain of rock music to this day. Widely acknowledged as being the harbingers of the art rock genre with their monumental 1969 album "In The Court Of The Crimson King", they paved the way for innovative art rock/progressive rock bands such as Yes, ELP etc. in the early '70s, as well as providing a stimulus for more recent neo-progressive bands like Tool and The Mars Volta through their post-progressive work in the early '80s and '90s. More of a frame of mind than a style, the music of King Crimson has constantly sought out sustenance through amalgamations of existing forms of music, veering away from any contemporary mould, nullifying any notions that it is necessary to adhere to proven formulas in order to create commercially feasible music.
Though originating in England, King Crimson have had a mixture of English and American personnel since 1981. The band's line-up has persistently altered throughout their existence, with eighteen musicians and two lyricists passing through the ranks. The only musician to appear in every line-up of the band has been founding guitarist Robert Fripp, although drummer Bill Bruford was a member from 1972 to 1998 and guitarist Adrian Belew has been a consistent member since 1981. The debut line-up of the band was influential but short-lived, lasting for just over one year. During 1970 and 1971, King Crimson were an unstable band, with many personnel changes and disjunctions between studio and live sound as they explored elements of jazz, funk and classical chamber music. By 1972 the band had a more stable line-up and developed an improvisational sound mingling hard rock, contemporary classical music, free jazz and jazz fusion before breaking up in 1974. They re-formed with a new line-up in 1981 for three years (this time influenced by new wave and gamelan music) before breaking up again for around a decade. Since reforming for the second time in 1994, King Crimson have blended aspects of their 1980s and 1970s sound with influences from more recent musical genres such as industrial rock and grunge. The band’s efforts to blend additional elements into their music have continued into the 21st century, with more recent developments including drum and bass-styled rhythm loops and extensive use of MIDI and guitar synthesis.
In August 1967, brothers Michael Giles (drums) and Peter Giles (bass) who had been professional musicians in various jobbing bands since their mid-teens in Dorset, advertised for a singing organist to join their new project. Fellow Dorset musician Robert Fripp – a guitarist who did not sing – responded and the trio formed the band Giles, Giles and Fripp. Based on a format of eccentric pop songs and complex instrumentals, the band recorded several unsuccessful singles and one album, The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp. The band hovered on the edge of success, with several radio sessions and a television appearance, but never scored the hit that would have been crucial for a commercial breakthrough. The album was no more of a success than the singles. Attempting to expand their sound, Giles, Giles and Fripp then recruited the multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald on keyboards, reeds and woodwinds. McDonald brought along his then-girlfriend, the former Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble, whose tenure with the group was brief and ended at the same time as her romantic split with McDonald (she would later resurface in Trader Horne). More significantly, McDonald brought in lyricist, roadie and art strategist Peter Sinfield, with whom he had been writing songs. One of the first songs McDonald and Sinfield wrote together was "The Court of the Crimson King". Fripp wished no longer to pursue Peter Giles' more whimsical pop style and he recommended his childhood friend from Bournemouth, singer and guitarist Greg Lake (who had just quit a band called the Gods which also included Lee Kerslake and Ken Hensley who would go on to form Uriah Heep), for recruitment into the band, with the suggestion that Lake should replace either him or Peter Giles. Peter Giles himself had become disillusioned with Giles, Giles and Fripp's failure to break through, and stepped down to be replaced by Lake as the band's bass player, singer and frontman. At this point, the band morphed into what would become King Crimson.
1st LINE-UP (1968–1969)
The first incarnation of King Crimson were formed in London on 30 November 1968 and first rehearsed on 13 January 1969. The band name was coined by lyricist Peter Sinfield. At this point, Ian McDonald was King Crimson’s main composer, albeit with significant contributions from Lake and Fripp, while Sinfield not only wrote all the lyrics but designed and operated the band’s revolutionary stage lighting, and was therefore credited with "sounds and visions". McDonald suggested the new band purchase a Mellotron (the first example of the band’s persistent involvement with music technology) and they began using it to create an orchestral rock sound, inspired by The Moody Blues. King Crimson made their live debut on 9 April 1969, and made a breakthrough by playing as a support act at a free Rolling Stones concert at Hyde Park, London in July 1969 before an estimated 500.000 people.
21st Century Schizoid Man
With In the Wake of Poseidon on sale, Fripp and Sinfield had material and releases to promote, but no band to play them. Fripp persuaded Gordon Haskell to join permanently as singer and bass player and also recruited former Shy Limbs/Manfred Mann drummer Andy McCulloch. Mel Collins was also retained as a full band member. Both Haskell and McCulloch joined King Crimson in time to participate in the recording sessions for the band's third album, Lizard, but had no say in the writing of the material. Fripp and Sinfield, now effectively equal artistic partners, had written the entire album themselves and had also brought in a squad of jazz musicians to help record it.
Lizard featured much stronger avant-garde jazz and chamber-classical influences than previous albums, as well as Sinfield’s upfront experiments with processing and distorting sound through the VCS3 synthesiser. It also featured Sinfield’s most complex set of allusive lyrics to date, including a coded song about the break-up of the Beatles. Lizard has subsequently been described as being an "acquired taste": it was definitely not to the taste of the more rhythm-and-blues-oriented Haskell and McCulloch. Just prior to the release of Lizard, Haskell quit the band acrimoniously, having refused to sing through distortion and electronic effects for live concerts. McCulloch quit immediately afterwards, later joining Arthur Brown's band and subsequently becoming the drummer for Greenslade in 1972. Fripp and Sinfield were forced to return to the process of auditioning new members.
2nd LINE-UP (1971–1972)
The next King Crimson line-up featured Fripp, Sinfield, Collins and drummer Ian Wallace (a former bandmate of Jon Anderson). The post of the singer went to Raymond "Boz" Burrell, who’d previously worked with his own band Boz People. Fripp approached bass player John Wetton (ex Mogul Thrash) in mid-1971 to complete the line-up, but Wetton declined in order to accept a place in Family, although he kept in touch with Fripp. Rick Kemp was eventually selected as the new bass player but turned the band down at the last minute. Once again faced with limited choices, Fripp and Wallace taught Boz to play the bass rather than start the search all over again. In 1971, King Crimson undertook their first tour since 1969 with the new line-up. The concerts were well received, but the roots-based musical inclinations and rock-and-roll lifestyle favoured by Burrell, Collins and Wallace began to alienate the more cerebral Fripp. He began to withdraw socially from his colleagues, creating tension that spread to the rest of the band, although King Crimson completed the tour intact.
Later in the year King Crimson recorded and released a new album, Islands. The band's warmest-sounding record to date, it had a loose thematic connection with Homer’s Odyssey. It also showed signs of a stylistic divergence between Sinfield (who favoured the softer and more textural jazz-folk approach) and Fripp (who was drawn more towards the harsher instrumental style with its dramatic Mellotron use and banjo-inspired guitar technique. Islands was less focused and more "American" sounding than the previous three albums.
Prelude: Song of the Gulls
Following the next tour, Fripp ousted Sinfield (with whom his relationship had deteriorated) claiming musical differences and a loss of faith in his partner’s ideas. Sinfield would go on to release a solo album, Still, featuring all of the current and previous members of King Crimson aside from Fripp, and then reunited with Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The remaining band broke up acrimoniously in rehearsals shortly afterwards, due to Fripp’s refusal to incorporate other members’ compositions into the band’s repertoire. He later cited this as "quality control". The band were persuaded to reform in order to fulfil their 1972 tour commitments, with the intention of disbanding afterwards. Despite these problems, relationships across the band gradually improved during the tour to the point where Collins, Burrell and Wallace offered to continue with the band. However, Fripp had already decided to entirely restructure King Crimson with a new musical direction that he felt was entirely unsuited to the current band, and was already recruiting new members.
3rd LINE-UP (mid 1972–1974)
The third major line-up of King Crimson was radically different from the previous two and the interregnum work, being both the first without saxophone or woodwind and the first to embrace active improvisation as a major musical element. Fripp’s first new recruit was the free-improvising percussionist Jamie Muir, who had previously worked with Sunship and Derek Bailey. In the first of King Crimson’s “double drummer” line-ups, he was paired with former Yes drummer Bill Bruford, who had chosen to leave the commercially successful Yes at the peak of their early career in favour of the comparatively unstable and unpredictable King Crimson. Fripp also finally secured John Wetton as King Crimson’s singer and bass player, recruiting him directly from Family. The line-up was completed by David Cross, a relatively unknown violinist (doubling on keyboards) whom Fripp had encountered through work with music colleges. With Sinfield gone, the band recruited a new lyricist, Wetton's friend Richard Palmer-James (the former guitarist for Supertramp). Unlike Sinfield, Palmer-James played no part in artistic, visual or sonic direction. His sole contributions to King Crimson were his lyrics, sent by post to Wetton from his home in Hamburg. Rehearsals and touring began in late 1972, with the new band’s penchant for improvisation (and Jamie Muir’s startling wild-man stage presence) immediately gaining King Crimson some excited press attention.
Larks' Tongues in Aspic
A new album – Larks' Tongues in Aspic – was released early the next year. This was the first King Crimson record to demonstrate Fripp’s dominant compositional vision, without either the template of Ian McDonald's songwriting and arrangements or the influence of Sinfield’s elaborate conceptual lyrics and references, and as such was also the first King Crimson record to escape from the shadow of the debut album. Its unorthodox concepts and structure didn't sound like anything being produced by any other band at the time. The band's new sound was exemplified by the album's two-part title track – a significant change from what King Crimson had done before, drawing from influences as diverse as Bartók, the free music scene, Vaughan Williams and the embryonic heavy metal sound, and featuring a whisper-to-scream dynamic that was extreme even by the band's previous standards. There were some nods to the past in the continued use of Mellotron, as well as in the inclusion of stately ballads, but the band now featured a small ensemble sound with an emphasis on instrumental music. In particular, the record was permeated by Muir’s freewheeling approach to percussion. Wetton’s loud, crisp and overdriven playing style provided King Crimson’s most distinctive bass playing to date, while Fripp’s guitar playing had taken on a wiry and aggressive character previously seldom heard in the band’s studio recordings. The group became a quartet in early 1973 when Muir suddenly departed and Bruford took on additional Muir-influenced percussion duties to flesh out the band's sound.
During the lengthy tour that followed, the remaining members assembled material for their next album, Starless and Bible Black. This was released in January 1974, earning them a positive Rolling Stone review. The album built on the achievements of its predecessor, precariously balancing improvised material with careening heavy-metal riffs and songs that recalled both the Beatles’ White Album experiments and aspects of electric jazz fusion as performed by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis. Although most of Starless and Bible Black had been recorded at live performances, it was painstakingly edited to sound like another studio album.
By this time, the band were once again beginning to divide into performance factions. Musically, Fripp found himself positioned between Bruford and Wetton, who played with force and increasing volume and Cross whose amplified acoustic violin was increasingly being drowned out by the rhythm section, forcing him to concentrate more on keyboards. An increasingly frustrated Cross began to withdraw musically and personally, with the result that he was voted out of the group following the band's 1974 tour of Europe and America.
The remaining trio reconvened to record a new album, which would be called Red. Fripp was increasingly disillusioned with the music business and he experienced a spiritual crisis immediately before the band entered the studio, leaving Bruford and Wetton to direct most of the sessions. In spite of this, Red proved to be one of the strongest and most consistent King Crimson albums to date. It has been described as "an impressive achievement" for a group about to disband, with "intensely dynamic" musical chemistry between the band members. The album finale was the majestic twelve-minute “Starless”, which acted, in effect, as a potted musical history of the band, travelling from Mellotron-driven ballad grandeur via intense improvisation to savagely structured metallic attack and back again. Red also included guest appearances by former members and collaborators. In addition to Cross’s appearance, both Mel Collins and Ian McDonald played saxophones on “Starless”. Two months before the release of Red, Fripp announced that King Crimson had "ceased to exist". The group formally disbanded on 25 September 1974. Much later on, it was revealed that Fripp had attempted to interest his managers in a Fripp-free version of King Crimson (consisting of Wetton, Bruford and McDonald) but had been turned down.
4th LINE-UP (1981–1984)
|Tony Levin - Adrian Belew|
By 1981, Fripp had no intention of reforming King Crimson. However, his first step was to contact Bill Bruford and ask whether he wanted to join a new band, to which Bruford agreed. Fripp then contacted guitarist and singer Adrian Belew (ex-David Bowie/Frank Zappa). Fripp had never been in a band with another guitarist before, other than his stint in Peter Gabriel's 1977 touring band, so the decision to seek a second guitarist was indicative of Fripp's desire to create a sound unlike any of his previous work. Belew (who agreed to join the new band following his tour commitments with Talking Heads) would also become the band’s lyricist. Tony Levin was selected as the band's bass player. Fripp named the new quartet Discipline, and the band flew from New York back to England to rehearse and write. By October 1981, the four members of Discipline had made the collective decision to ditch their original name and to reactivate and use the name of King Crimson. The new version of King Crimson bore some resemblance to New Wave music, which can be attributed in part to the work of both Belew and Fripp with Talking Heads and David Bowie, Levin's work with Peter Gabriel, and Fripp's work on Exposure and with The League of Gentlemen, a futuristic new wave band.
The first album by the new line-up was 1981’s Discipline, an immediate benchmark for the new sound and still considered to be one of the band’s finest records. The songs were short and snappy by King Crimson standards, with Belew’s pop sense and quirky lyrical approach a surprising contrast to previous Crimson grandeur. The music incorporated additional influences including post-punk, latterday funk, go-go and African-styled polyrhythms. While the band’s previous taste for improvisation was now tightly reined in one of the album’s two instrumentals.
Frame by Frame
Discipline was followed in 1982 by Beat. The album had a loosely-linked theme of the beat generation and its writings. Reconvening to record Three of a Perfect Pair in 1984, the band found the compositional process hard and this time had difficulty reconciling the disparate musical ideas of the four members. They ultimately opted for a "two-sided" album consisting of "the left side"-four of the band's poppier songs and a melodical instrumental- and a "right side" of experimental material that ranged from extended and atonal improvisations in the tradition of the mid-1970s band to a third tightly-structured episode in the "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" sequence. The last concert of the Three Of A Perfect Pair tour, which was also the last concert played by the 1980s line-up, was recorded at the Spectrum club in Montreal and subsequently released in 1998 as the live album Absent Lovers: Live in Montreal. Immediately after this concert, Fripp dissolved the band having become dissatisfied with its working methods.
5th LINE-UP (1994–1997)
At some point in the early 1990s, Adrian Belew visited Fripp in England and strongly expressed his interest in playing in a reformed King Crimson. Following the end of his tour with David Sylvian, Fripp began to assemble a new version of the band, bringing Belew and Levin back from the 1980s line-up while adding Trey Gunn on Chapman Stick and Jerry Marotta on drums. In the early stages of planning, Marotta was replaced by Pat Mastelotto. The last addition to the line-up was Bill Bruford as second drummer. Fripp explained the unexpected sextet arrangement by claiming to have had the vision of a “double trio” (two guitarists, two bass/Stick players and two drummers) to explore a different type of King Crimson music.
King Crimson released their next full-length studio album, Thrak in April 1995. Containing revised versions of most of the tracks on Vrooom, the EP released in 1994. Thrak was described by reviewers as having "jazz-scented rock structures, characterised by noisy, angular, exquisite guitar interplay" and an "athletic, ever-inventive rhythm section", whilst being in tune with the sound of alternative rock musicians in the mid-1990s. The album also featured the brief return of Mellotron to the band’s sonic palette. During 1995 and 1996 King Crimson continued to tour. Although musically exciting, the Double Trio was expensive and cumbersome to run. At this point, the friction between Fripp and Bruford effectively ended the latter’s time as a King Crimson member.
Rather than split up absolutely, the six musicians of the Double Trio decided to work in smaller "sub-groups" called ProjeKcts. This enabled the group to continue developing musical ideas and searching for Crimson's next direction without the practical difficulty and expense of convening all six members in one place at once. As with previous King Crimson endeavours, the ProjeKcts embraced new technology. The first four ProjeKcts played live in the US, Japan and the UK during 1998 and 1999 and released a number of recordings demonstrating a high degree of free improvisation.
6th LINE-UP (2000–2004)
By the time the ProjeKcts came to an end, Bruford had entirely left the King Crimson world in order to fully embrace his jazz work with Earthworks and others. Levin’s session career commitments – mostly to Peter Gabriel and Seal – were also obstructing future King Crimson activity. The remaining four active members of King Crimson –Belew, Fripp, Gunn, and Mastelotto– continued with the band, sometimes referring to themselves as the “Double Duo”.
King Crimson recorded their next album, The ConstruKction of Light, in 2000 and proved to be the band’s most hard-rocking album to date, with a distinct electronic texture, a heavy, processed drum sound from Mastelotto, and a different take on the interlocked guitar sound that the band had used since the 1980s. Although the whole band contributed to arrangements, the basic material on The ConstruKction of Light was almost entirely composed by Belew (songs) and Fripp (instrumentals). To avoid creative frustration, the band recorded a parallel album at the same time under the name of ProjeKct X, called Heaven and Earth, conceived and led by Mastelotto and Gunn (with Fripp and Belew playing subsidiary roles in the band). The album’s title track was also included as a bonus track on The ConstruKCtion of Light. Like The ConstruKction of Light, Heaven and Earth was criticised for an apparent lack of new ideas.
King Crimson’s 2003 album, The Power to Believe, was described by Fripp as "the culmination of three years of Crimsonising" and which was possibly the most self-referential album of the band’s career. Songs such as “EleKtrik” fused 1970s, 1980s and 21st century Crimson styles, and the album ran the gamut from metal to ambient. In late November 2003, Trey Gunn announced his departure from King Crimson. He would continue his active association with Mastelotto in projects such as TU and KTU, as well as leading his own band. Tony Levin was subsequently reinstalled as King Crimson’s bass player, reconvening with Fripp, Belew and Mastelotto for rehearsals in early 2004. Following the early 2004 rehearsals, King Crimson was placed on hold for another three years, although the band did not formally split up.
7th LINE-UP (2007–2009)
A new King Crimson line-up was announced in late 2007, consisting of Fripp, Belew, Levin, Mastelotto, and a new second drummer – Gavin Harrison (the band’s first new British member since 1972). Although best known as the drummer for Porcupine Tree (a position he continues to hold alongside his King Crimson work), Harrison had a formidable reputation as one of the best session drummers in the music industry and had had a long career including work with Level 42, The Lodge, Jakko Jakszyk, Sam Brown and innumerable others. Live, the band revealed an increasingly drum-centric direction but no new material or any extended improvisations. However, many of the pieces from the back catalogue received striking new arrangements.
On 5 December 2010, Fripp announced that he was not currently interested in performing or writing with the band. In spite of the fact that the band is on hiatus since 2009, activity related to the band continues. A separate band based around Jakko Jakszyk, Robert Fripp and Mel Collins (who played last with King Crimson on Red) was announced in 2011 as being called "A King Crimson ProjeKct". The album A Scarcity of Miracles features these three musicians, along with Tony Levin and Gavin Harrison. The 2000s also saw the reunion of former King Crimson members from the band's first four albums. The 21st Century Schizoid Band (fronted by Jakko Jakszyk and featuring Ian McDonald, Mel Collins, Peter Giles and Michael Giles, the latter later replaced by Ian Wallace) toured and played material from the band's 1960s and 1970s catalogue. In September 2008, a line-up called Crimson Project with Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Eddie Jobson and Eric Slick (from the Adrian Belew Power Trio) played a short set at a Russian festival. In 2011-2012, a band consisting of Belew, Levin, Mastelotto, Julie Slick and Tobias Ralph (both from the Adrian Belew Power Trio) and Markus Reuter (from Stick Men with Levin and Mastelotto) played King Crimson material live, latterly under the name Crimson ProjeKct. In an interview with Financial Times published on August 3 2012, Fripp announced that he was retiring from the music industry, leaving the future of King Crimson uncertain.
In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
In the Wake of Poseidon (1970)
Larks' Tongues in Aspic (1973)
Starless and Bible Black (1974)
Three of a Perfect Pair (1984)
The ConstruKction of Light (2000)
The Power to Believe (2003)