A View From 2009
The recent BBCtv4 documentary Prog Britannia
was the first time I have seen English Progressive Rock represented/recalled without side, sneers and/or nastiness. As well as a forgiving re-appraisal of the musical movement as a whole, this may be an arrival point begun in Wire (1993), in a review of The Great Deceiver
, for the rehabilitation of King Crimson's music of its first period (1969-74). Although I note:
i) the association of King Crimson with the demonstrable excesses of the period is inaccurate and mistaken;
ii) the excesses of anyone are forgivable, may be explicable, but are rarely excusable.
So, yes to forgiving, equanimity and reason. These were young men caught in a sudden eruption of attention, money, manipulation and exploitation, drugs, adulation, food served on linen and ordered from a menu in French, higher-quality accommodations and readily-available companionship. For some, the externals of the life were of greater interest than a purely musical aspiration.
So, yes also to a critical engagement, based in goodwill. A systematic history of the period will include and address the music, musicians, audience, music industry and its players, situated within the overall culture of the time: the counter culture, Vietnam, drug use, open air festivals, growing affluence, the Generation Gap and youth power, technological change, the Permissive Society and growth of liberal views, the end of privilege and deference to Establishment views and characters, the widespread dispersion of Eastern philosophies and practices in the West - and we haven't even got to Radical Therapies and Feminism (unless they are filed under liberal views). That these are mainly English chapter-headings, or American widely-adopted in England, is because Progressive was conceived and born in England.
What is often forgotten, and is difficult to grasp today, is the power of Music when it leans over and takes us into its confidence. When the power turned on, lives changed. For some, their fuses blew, and not everyone came back from the Musical Zone quite as they went into it.
How to explain, in 2009, the notion that simply by listening to and engaging directly with music, the world might be transformed? In the emerging culture of 1967 this was a given; even in 1970 few would have dissented with the view. Today, no one could seriously present this as an idea and hope to be taken seriously.
What is King Crimson? Several approaches:
the individuals in the group/s;
the group/s of individuals;
a society in microcosm;
a business structure;
a musical repertoire;
a way of doing things;
a place where the conditioned and unconditioned meet;
a school of practical learning;
a business opportunity for King Crimson's professional advisers.
Within the overall history of Crimson, Lizard
is attributed to Transitional Lineup II (1970). 1969 did not carry over into 1970, and this was not merely in the case of King Crimson. The Sixties and the Seventies parted company, overnight.
At the beginning of 1970 I felt that everything to be done for the next two years would be wrong, but had to be done anyway - to get to the other side. What was on the other side, I didn't know; but knew it would be there.
Positioned between the live Crimsons of 1969 and 1971, this was a purely studio album for A Way Of Doing Things mainly oriented towards live performance. The personnel were not road tested. The main parties were not on good terms. The album was unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, the transitional era of 1970/1 had its own particular triumphs and some of them are on Lizard
My view of Lizard
, until very recently, has been this:
Lots of ideas, mostly presented simultaneously and very few of which work. Various bits are unsure whether to try and make connection with a unified central theme, or maintain their independence. Mostly, the search for a unified central theme escapes satisfaction and the constituent elements adopt a semblance of neutrality, so as not to attract culpability for their involvement. Labour and labouring, mostly joyless, strive effortfully to present the appearance of cohesion.
There is one exception: the Bolero. The main theme, played on oboe by Robin Miller (co-principal oboist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Boulez at the time) is a gift. This is a melody which sustained me in difficult times.
A being-melody can survive almost anything we do to it.
Within the corpus of Crimson albums, Lizard
is, historically, one of the least popular - if we are to rely on royalty statements for the numbers. (NB but best not to rely on royalty statements for very much at all, including numbers and royalties). (A current distributor & Lizard
fan notes that in recent years sales of the album no longer fall behind other КС catalogue albums & are now closer in quantity to those of its chronological near contemporaries Islands & In the Wake of Poseidon
Nevertheless, some strange characters in the listening community liked, even developed a passion for, Lizard
; above all the Crimson albums of the First Period. Perhaps the leading very-strange-Lizard-lover
is Steven Wilson, a driving force in moving the Crimson catalogue to 5.1 and re-presentation for the coming decade.
My gratitude to Steven for taking this on. I had not believed it possible for anyone to see into the centre of Crimson in a way that would convince me. Even were that possible, surely Lizard
would defeat them? Steven has reached into Lizard'
s heart and drawn out its central core essence. Steven's choices are 95-98% the choices I would make myself. For the first time I have heard the Music in the music.
Steven is in the minority, but not quite alone. A second very-strange-Lizard-lover
is Jakko Jakszyk, leader of the Schizoid Band. And, from time to time, in different places, I have met others who admit to the same strange passion. Now I can hear why.
The music of Lizard
And in that there is hope.
The contribution of Keith Tippett to the Transitional Period of 1970-71, his determining contributions to In The Wake Of Poseidon, Lizard
, have in the past been appreciated, recognized and acknowledged; but not as fully as Keith deserves.
I am grateful to have the opportunity here to thank Keith once more.
Scepticism is a virtue, but risks becoming cynicism.
Cynicism is a vice.
Faith is a virtue, but risks becoming belief.
This is a weakness.
May we hold scepticism close;
may Faith hold us closer.
But let us not belittle the beliefs of others,
for although beliefs are legion they may lead to faith.
And Faith is one.
Friday, 24th April 2009;
Bredonborough, Worcestershire, England.
With its grandiose aggregate of clashing styles, whirling free-form improvisations, soaring classical themes and dramatic showcases and showdowns, Lizard
, is even by today's standards, a remarkable and extraordinary album.
Given the ambitious ground it attempted to cover, it's perhaps no surprise that King Crimson's third studio album still has the capacity to polarise opinion amongst enthusiasts, and even those who helped make the record in September and October 1970.
It was during this time that Fripp and Sinfield's partnership began to drift apart. New recruits, Gordon Haskell and drummer Andy McCulloch, also found the recording a stressful experience. These unsettling elements, coupled with technical problems encountered at Wessex Studios, made its recording something of a fraught affair.
Nevertheless, a complex tapestry of songs and audacious instrumental firepower was somehow marshalled and assembled together in an original and distinctive manner that separated Crimson from the crowd. And it wasn't just the music that stood out either.
Gini Barris, then just 19 years old, was commissioned to provide the gatefold cover's sumptuous and ornate illustrations. With visual references to the Lindisfarne Gospels and 15th Century French illuminated manuscripts, it took over three months to complete, mirroring the epic, painstaking qualities of the words and music.
By the time of its release in December, Haskell and McCulloch had quit leaving Fripp, Sinfield and Mel Collins to pick up the pieces. Not for the first time, Crimson had managed to snatch defeat of sorts from the jaws of victory.
If its predecessor In The Wake Of Poseidon
adopted a holding pattern, Lizard
represents a radically different re-imagining of what King Crimson could be and saw Fripp as composer finally emerge completely from under the shadows cast by the original line-up.
Melody Maker's Richard Williams praised Crimson for grasping "the concept that rock can be built on a scale to rival classical music", whilst the Evening Standard offered the somewhat back-handed but inadvertently accurate compliment "The abyss where modern jazz and rock meet."
Fripp's desire to traverse that abyss and his commitment to finding a freer rock and jazz vocabulary could be measured by the increased involvement of Keith Tippett in Crimson recordings.
Having made no secret of his admiration of Tippett's music, Fripp formally asked the pianist, along with his wife, Julie Tippett (née Driscoll) to not only join the band on a permanent basis but become an equal partner in determining musical direction.
"The terms would have been that I would have had musical input. He knew that I was a strong musical personality and I would have gone in and possibly taken it all in another way with his blessing because we would have been joint bandleaders," recalls Tippett. Though tempted the pianist declined. "I hadn't long been in London and I'd left Bristol realising that I had to go to London to play with musicians who were more experienced than myself to learn quickly — apart from that I had too much love for the sextet and it would have taken me away from the jazz scene".
Fripp harnessed two other members of Tippett's sextet, cornet player, Mark Charig and trombonist Nick Evans, who recalls he and Charig spent two evenings in a booth at Wessex overdubbing on top of Haskell and McCulloch's basic tracks.
"Our parts were added in small sections, maybe four or eight bars at a time and after each snippet was recorded it was checked carefully in the producer's box to make sure it was exactly what Bob Fripp wanted. It took quite a time to get all my sections down on tape.
During that period of my life I was working with jazz musicians who were very keen on accepting the first take of any recording. You know, 'capture the moment and maintain its spontaneity as much as possible'. I found the stop-start method of working a little unnerving."
This methodology presented Steven Wilson with many challenges when it came to remixing the album in 2009.
"One recording channel would have lead guitar one minute and then the next there would be a split second silence and then it would move to a saxophone, then a tympani part, then a lead vocal. Then there would maybe be a bounce of something they'd used or not used. I mean it was as though they were trying to make an album with 48 channels but they only had 16 available. It was very ambitious.
In order to do the surround sound and the new stereo mix I had to listen to the original stereo mix and then listen to all the scraps and fragments of stuff on the tapes, and match them up to what we know. Six or seven instruments all blowing away and sometimes when its free-jazz it's really hard to hear.
I had to figure out where all the little bits were being dropped in and out on the stereo mix and that's the difficulty with these early tapes when they're not catalogued properly.
Multiple takes like the Cor Anglais, trumpet solos - there's no indication on the box which take was the master because they probably thought they were never going to have to mix them again and why do we need to write anything down for anybody in the future? Having spent months working on the thing they probably knew exactly what was going on but I had to figure it all out."
Despite the difficulties he faced piecing the 5.1 and new stereo versions together, Wilson has no doubts as to the importance of the music he was working with.
"For me Lizard
has always been an album that was too big for stereo to contain. I've always felt that if presented in the right way, I could make a case for this being the most experimental rock record ever made. It's extraordinary what they're doing on this album. In terms of fusing free-jazz with progressive rock for me there's almost no parallel."
Sid Smith 2009
Фрипп верно отмечает место музыки тогда в 60-70-е. Она была активна, будоражила и сердце и ум. У нас такое будет позже, в конце 80-х. А скепсис с альбомом строится скорее на том, что его плохо приняли. Не удивительно, группа убежала далеко вперед от своих почитателей. Много свингового джаза, хотя и простого по мелодиям, но свингуют все одновременно. К прогу только привыкать стали, а они завернули такое. Совершенно можно согласится с Сидом «грандиозная совокупностью сталкивающихся стилей, кружит импровизации свободной формы». Инструменты играют, в смысле развлекаются. И "очень-странный-любитель-Ящерицы" Стивен Уилсон удачно выразил эту игру-развлечение (он даже с стерео версии активно ставит инструменты, используя глубину при необходимости). Баладности, ласкающей слух, фактически нет, ну Леди, отчасти, Принц. Но если сильно смущает активный инструментальный «навал», попробуйте в уме сопоставлять инструменты парами, причем любыми, они все согласованы, при всей импровизационной «живости» альбома. Хотя дистрибьютор сейчас отмечает, что Ящерица стала продаваться в объемах, как и другие альбомом группы, но пониженный интерес все же ощущается на форуме: не просились представлять, все дружно выжидали. А ведь из трех юбилейных дисков этот имеет самое активное пространственное сведение.