Saturday, November 5, 2016

Discipline - The return of King Crimson, 1981

The shock of the new - that's how it felt to behold the reformed King Crimson in 1981.

Six years previously, Robert Fripp called a halt to the band, which by then was just a three piece with John Wetton on bass and vocals and Bill Bruford on drums. They were at the peak of their popularity, but that was part of the problem for Fripp. They had become like a conventional rock band and he didn't want that. The closer they got to the mainstream, the less comfortable he became.

He wasn't idle in the immediate aftermath, and indeed as Bowie's go-to guitarist from Heroes to Scary Monsters (1977-80) he made his mark on the mainstream in any case.

In 1981, news came through that Fripp had a new band. Me and three bandmates, all big Crimson fans, bought tickets for the first gig in London, May 1981 at Her Majesty's Theatre, Haymarket.

They were called Discipline. We had no idea what to expect but we hoped they would play some old stuff. We certainly didn't expect it was going to be a life-changing experience, in the sense that this new band was making music from the future, and their influence would endure into KC’s music to this day.

So Discipline started off the concert playing a new track (called Discipline as it turned out) and the first thing that struck me was the rhythm, a hypnotic pulse driven by Bruford's electronic drums, but with a distinctive bass. This was the first time that most of us had ever seen a Chapman Stick, and wielded by the (nowadays) acknowledged master of the instrument, the distinctive dome of Tony Levin.

Then all hell broke loose! The band launched into Thela Hun Ginjeet. We were pinned back by the dual onslaught of Fripp and new lead guitarist Adrian Belew producing all manner of sonic fireworks. Bruford attacking his kit with staccato rolls. This was most people’s introduction to Belew and none of us had ever seen anything like it. This must be what it was like to see Hendrix doing the Star Spangled Banner or the swoops, swirls and explosions of Machine Gun with the Band of Gypsies.

Each new track was distinctive, from the "this is a dangerous place" storyline of  Thela Hun Ginjeet to the sheer shimmering beauty of Matte Kudesai, or the interstellar soundscape of The Sheltering Sky.

Vintage footage of 'Discipline' playing Thela Hun Ginjeet

They played some old too. Red was tucked into the set early on and they played Larks Tongues part 2 as an encore. But to be honest, they seemed tame in comparison to the new stuff. Like Elephant Talk, a bizarre but compelling statement of the new Crimson, which many people now feel surpassed the classic albums of the 70s.

King Crimson on US TV in December 1981

Soon afterwards, an almost inevitable name-change, from Discipline to King Crimson, took the band into a highly successful period, artistically and commercially, that has sustained right up to the latest line-up, which still owes much to the inventiveness of the 1980s version.

Everyone has their favourite period of Crimson and there have been so many different phases. But 35 years on from this particular gig, I can still remember how we were blown away by this new music.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Zappa/Mothers - One Size Fits All, reviewed in Sounds 1975

Fans of Frank Zappa's early and mid 70s albums rate 'One Size Fits All' as one of many career high points. Featuring some of the band's stage favourites from the period, including Inca Roads, Florentine Pogen and Andy, it is a consistently excellent record musically, with outstanding contributions from his core group members at the time, George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Chester Thompson and Napoleon Murphy Brock.

Here is Pete Makowski's review from the weekly UK music paper Sounds from June 1975 when the album was released. Not particularly detailed or illuminating, but it does reflect the widespread acceptance of the album, one of his most enduring recordings. Some Zappa purists dismiss the mid-70s material (the trilogy of Overnite Sensation, Apostrophe and the OSFA) because it marks the closest Zappa ever came to the mainstream. But their accessibility is entirely due to the quality of the songwriting and the playing.

The basic track for the opener, Inca Roads, was taken from the recording of a 'TV special' in Los Angeles, the video of which reveals just how tight and well-rehearsed the band were, as all Zappa's bands were!

The solo on the album is lifted from a show in Helsinki during the 1974 tour of Europe. This is typical of Zappa, who recorded pretty much everything and rarely let a good performance go to waste.

There's one story told by drummer John Guerin (who appears on the Hot Rats album track 'It Must be A Camel', and also on the Apostrophe' album).

Guerin didn't recall playing on the Apostrophe sessions. Zappa had liked the drums at another recording session and simply isolated them to create a new song, which turned out to be Excentrifugal Forz.

Guerin told Modern Drummer magazine: "Frank was a genius in the editing room. For instance, on the Hot Rats album, we let the tape run most of the time. There was no music, he just directed different feelings, or we’d establish a groove and he’d cut it off. Then, a few months later, an album with actual songs would come out. That was the beauty of his editing.”

On One Size Fits All, the track Sofa #2 features a lyric in German, the translation for which is typically bizarre:

I am the heaven
I am the water
Ich bin der Dreck unter deinen Walzen  (I am the dirt beneath your rollers)
(Oh no, whip it on me, honey!)
Ich bin dein geheimer Schmutz (I am your secret smut)
Und verlorenes Metallgeld (And lost metal money)
Ich bin deine Ritze (I am your cracks)
Ich bin deine Ritze und Schlitze  (I am your cracks & crannies)

I am the clouds
I am embroidered
Ich bin der Autor aller Felgen  (I am the author of all tucks)
Und Damast Paspeln  (And damask piping)
Ich bin der Chrome Dinette  (I am The Chrome Dinette)
Ich bin der Chrome Dinette  (I am The Chrome Dinette)
Ich bin Eier aller Arten  (I am eggs of all persuasions)

Ich bin alle Tage und Nachte  (I am all days and nights)
Ich bin alle Tage und Nachte  (I am all days and nights)

Ich bin hier  (I am here)
Und du bist mein Sofa  (And you are my sofa)
Ich bin hier  (I am here)
Und du bist mein Sofa  (And you are my sofa)
Ich bin hier  (I am here)
Und du bist mein Sofa (And you are my sofa)

Yeah, my Sofa

In the absence of the 74 shows on Youtube, seek out the DVD entitled 'A Token of His Extreme' which contains the whole show and for fans of this period Zappa is well worthwhile