Tag Archives: King Crimson

December 6th/7th 1973

• “Borrowed Sparrows’ foot in custard – un grosse bage de crap”
• “Fixed speaker sumhow”

Hahahahahahaha!

OK, so the album sleeve on the right might well be a giveaway to some, but would anyone like to hazard at a quick guess as to what “Sparrows foot in custard” might relate to?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?…

It refers to King Crimson’s 1973 album “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic” (See what I did there?)

6 tracks of progressive pomposity, waved away with a customary “Un grosse bage de crap“, my very poor faux French-ise for “A big bag of crap

Other than the undoubted magnificence of “21st Century Schizoid Man” I’ve never really “got” King Crimson. It’s actually not for want of trying. In 1973 I obviously tested the waters with this (terrible) album, but as recently as last year I borrowed the 4-disc CD retrospective of the band from our local library… just in case I had missed anything in the interim 36 years. I hadn’t. As quickly as the discs were ripped to my iTunes they were removed again. Noodly rubbish.

I think because of the early-70’s Greg Lake and/or Roxy Music and/or PFM connections, I felt I was supposed to like King Crimson back in the day. I even went so far as to write their name on the cover of my 1972 diary for flips sake!

I think on this occasion I can chalk up my outward fascination on peer pressure.

Still, at least I was really able to hear how bad “Sparrows’ foot..” was, given the apparent fact that I had magically managed to repair my duff speaker.

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March 6th 1973

“Done drawing – not very good” / “Put some more patches on trousers” / “Took bak Trev’s Matching Mole”

I’m far from surprised that I took back that Matching Mole LP. I know many people kneel before the altar of songwriter Robert Wyatt (including Elvis Costello who covered Wyatt’s turgid “Shipbuilding“) but I am certainly not one of them.

I suspect that I would have borrowed the album based on being told that it was produced by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and that Brian Eno guested on one track.

Matching Mole were part of what was known back then as “The Canterbury Sound”, a kind of avant garde jazzy conglomerate which also included Soft Machine and Caravan – two more bands which I have never warmed to.

The name Matching Mole is – by Robert Wyatt’s admission – a pun… albeit a really crappy one. The French translation of “Soft Machine” (Wyatt’s former band) is “machine molle”. Is it any wonder then that the the contained esoteric jazz-rock was a lame as the name?

I have no idea what kind of ‘patches’ I put on my trousers, although I vaguely recall a pair of jeans with some strange shapes attached to the front thighs and back pockets so maybe these are what I am referring to?

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January 28th 1973

“Dave came up in the morning and borrowed Pictures and lent me Roxy Music”

I was almost dreading the debut mention of Roxy Music in this blog.

Why? Because it is extremely difficult to explain the impact that the band – and their style – had on this particular teenager. It’s also difficult to explain to an audience now wholly familiar with their sound just HOW radically different they appeared to be in 1973.

Vocalist Bryan Ferry – originally a ceramics teacher from Newcastle – formed Roxy Music in November 1970. This was a few months after he had failed to secure the spot as King Crimson‘s new lead singer following the departure of Greg Lake. (Yes, that Greg Lake) However, Crimson’s Robert Fripp and Pete Sinfield liked Ferry so much they helped the vocalist’s young band obtain a management contract with EG Records.

Ferry started the band with bassist Graham Simpson, then recruited saxophonist Andy MacKay and drummer Paul Thompson via wanted ads placed in Melody Maker. MacKay brought along his university chum Brian Eno to act (initially) as a technical advisor. Phil Manzanera joined the band just as they started recording their debut album, replacing former ex-Nice guitarist David O’List.

Ferry initially monikered the band “Roxy”, an homage to the name given to old-fashioned cinemas and dance halls across the UK. He then found out there was already a similarly-named American band, so added “Music” to differentiate the two.

The band’s debut album was recorded – along with their quirky hit single “Virginia Plain” (not included on the original LP release, but subsequently added to LP & CD re-issues) – in March 1972 and unleashed on the public a few months later.

I feel somewhat ashamed in retrospect that it apparently took me until January 1973 to first acknowledge it!

The sleeve alone stood out as completely different to everything else I was listening to at the time. Whilst groups like ELP, Deep Purple or the Edgar Broughton Band featured terrible representations of the band members, Roxy Music turned things on their head by having an extremely glamourous model – Kari-Ann Muller – lounging across the gatefold.

If that wasn’t enough to draw this impressionable teenager in, then the musical contents certainly did.

The opener, “Re-Make/Re-Model“, starts with the sounds of a cocktail party in progress before launching full-tilt into what, on the surface, appears to be a traditional rock & roll song from the 50’s, complete with solos from each of the band members. Subsequent listens unveil a whole separate texture to the song, with Eno’s futuristic synthesizer sounds and MacKay & Manzanera’s instruments creating an almost cacophonous roar. There’s more than just a cursory nod to The Beatles “Day Tripper” in the riffing, but the most off-the-wall element is the vocal chorus of “CPL 593H“, allegedly the number plate of Ferry’s car at the time!

Ladytron” is one of Ferry’s (what-would-become) trademark ‘seduction’ songs, and kicks off with an eerie duet between MacKay’s oboe skills and Eno’s synthesiser blips and gloops before eventually descending into another band battle of sounds and noises.

If There Is Something” is quintessential early-Roxy. It forges a sound that the band would duplicate over and over again;- Ferry’s vibrato – but utterly nonchalant – vocal styling at the forefront with repeated band melodies behind him. MacKay’s oboe playing is nothing short of magnificent, his mid-song solo bringing the tune its melancholy.

It would be easy to think that “2HB“, which closes side 1, is Ferry’s personal tribute to pencils. It is actually a song dedicated to actor Humphrey Bogart, specifically his role as Rick in Casablanca. In keeping with the movie, this song has a detached moody atmosphere, entirely driven by Ferry’s electric piano and MacKay’s erie Eno-enhanced sax.

Side 2’s opener is “The Bob (Medley)” , a bitty & somewhat unstructured affair – and probably my least favourite track on the whole album. Punctured by the sound of warfare (Bob is an acronym for “Battle of Britain”) the song is split into sections that veer dramatically from each other. It’s almost as if the band are showing off just a little too much, or trying a little too hard with this track, although it has be stated that without Thompson’s thumpy drums or Manzanera’s fretwork it would amount to very little indeed.

Things get properly back on course with “Chance Meeting“, one of Ferry’s more traditional love songs. It is peppered with Manzanera’s guitar – having first been fed through Eno’s box of electronic tricks – and underlined by Ferry’s own gentle piano playing.

I personally feel that “Would You Believe” is one of Roxy’s unsung little masterpieces, so ‘unsung’ that there’s no footage available at all on YouTube. The boogie-woogie piano, drum, guitar and sax section that intersperse the contrary starkness is pure rock and roll, and offers more than a mere hint to some of Ferry’s influences,

Sea Breezes” is, pure and simple, a Roxy Music ‘classic’ – assuming such a thing even exists. It is one of my – admittedly many – ‘shower songs’, wherein I persecute the walls of our bathroom with my singing. It starts off pretty traditionally, Ferry’s gentle voice overlaying some fine guitar, synth and sax work. Suddenly the silence is punctured by a drum break and we find ourselves in new territory altogether, amps turned up to ’11’ and the band members noisily battling each other. Then, as quickly as the noise starts, it all mellows out again and Ferry once again professes his love for the song’s protagonist. Delightful stuff.

Bitters End” ties the album up, a 50’s doo-wop pastiche containing a strange choral refrain of “bizarre” almost summing up the entire album’s sound. Its also the song that seems to ‘go’ with the band’s image seen on the inside LP sleeve.

I think those images ‘drew’ me to the album as much as the music itself. There’s Manzanera in ‘fly’ sunglasses a decade or two before U2’s Bono discovered them, MacKay personifying “rock’n’roll”, and Ferry & Eno in leopard/tiger skin leather jackets, the latter looking particularly ‘other-worldy’ (and, bless him, displaying early signs of hair loss)

The second Roxy Music album “For Your Pleasure” was the album that REALLY sealed my personal – and lifelong – fascination for the band, but this very assured debut introduced me to their quirky stylings and unique sound in a major way.

It also goes to underline the fact – repeated again for those that have forgotten it – that I was willing to listen to – and appreciate – just about anything that came my way. Whilst many of my school chums may have been fixated only by Heavy Rock or Pop Music my own listening rounded up both of those and a whole lot more besides.

I often wonder if bands such as Roxy Music would stand even half a chance in the current music ‘business’. I would like to think that with someone as always forward-thinking and technically-savvy as Brian Eno in its ranks the band would find a way of getting their music across to the masses but I’m not convinced there would be a 100% guarantee of success.

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July 21st 1972

“Trev came up. He brought up N.E.T.E. + Elegy. In afternoon we played cricket + F.ball and got told off by Grumpy”

I got told off by myself? Oh…. got it, this was not 2008, but 1972!

I really was an energetic little toad wasn’t it? Cricket and football all in the space of one day? I’d be pushed to play both of them in one decade now.

Still, once again Trev brought with him some more musical ‘education’, and the mere mention of one – N.E.T.E. – has surprised me significantly.

I have always maintained that the Island compilation album “Nice Enough to Eat” (hence “N.E.T.E. “) was the first album I ever bought. It would seem from this diary entry that I have deceived myself – and others – for a very long time? After all, I would not borrow the album if I already owned it, and didn’t I buy an Emerson, Lake & Palmer album a few months ago?

Given the fact that “Nice Enough to Eat” contains gems from the likes of Traffic, Nick Drake, King Crimson and Blodwyn Pig, and “Emerson Lake & Palmer” is … well … Emerson, Lake & Palmer, I can no longer ‘boast’ to be anywhere near as cool and hip as I’ve always thought I’d been with my first ever record.

Bugger.

That said, N.E.T.E. is a great album and (had it been my first) the perfect primer for a my ‘life in music’.  Part of a trend of ‘sampler’ albums released by the more intelligent labels around this time – the trend including Bumpers, You Can All Join In, El Pea, and The Rock Machine Turns You On, this was sold at the bargain price of about 79p (or $1.50).

The word ‘gems’ I used earlier is not an overstatement either. From Nick Drake’s utterly sublime “Time Has Told Me” (which was to become a personal anthem for my wife & I during our dating years…. “You’re a rare, rare find“) all the way to Spooky Tooth’s anthemic “Better by You, Better than Me” and via the somewhat scary “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson.

The album single-handedly introduced me to a lifetime’s appreciation of the work of Steve (Traffic) Winwood and Free, as well as utter adoration for Nick Drake’s brief but staggering output. However, the Drake song aside, there is one cut that has stuck with me more than any other. Dr Strangely Strange stumped up “Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal” for the compilation and what a great song it is, peculiarly summing up how I often feel about myself. I have included this on so many mix tapes over the interim 36 years, I feel like I have somehow personally introduced this band to the world, even though they have continued to very much remain an unknown quantity. The problem is (in my ‘umble opine) that whilst that song was great, the album it came from, “Kip of the Serenes” – despite being produced by the mighty Joe Boyd – has always been a massive let down to me. Like so many other bands and artists – just the ONE killer song!

Yes, despite now discovering it wasn’t my first ever vinyl LP purchase, N.E.T.E. will always feel like it was… even if my introduction to it was as yet another ‘borrow’ from my friend Trev and his brother Steven.

Elegy” by The Nice is another matter altogether. The Nice included amongst its number the “E” from ELP, (yes, them again!) which is why I was eager to hear it. I only liked the one cut, and a diary entry a few days from now will go into it in far greater depth.

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The 1972 Diary

As you can see, I have decided to remain coy about my real name by fuzzing out the incriminating evidence.

Not surprising when my hand-scribbled cover of this 1972 “personal memo diary”, printed by Northern Novelties (Pencils) ltd., from Bradford, is already proving incredibly embarrassing to the 50-year-old me.

Not only do I describe myself as a “M.C.S” (Manchester City Supporter*), but I appear to have pledged my 14-year old self to an extremely questionable list of bands and artists:-
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Focus
Curved Air
Deep Purple
King Crimson
Family
Man
Hawkwind
and erm……. Fudd (yes, you may well ask who the hell Fudd were. Even allmusic fails to have a listing for them!)

I suspect this cover was not drawn in one go, rather scribbled on in spells as the year progressed, Fudd actually being the giveaway because I know for a fact that they didn’t come across my naive teenage radar until September of 1972, the date of my first ever rock concert!

*The whole Manchester City thing is/will be HUGELY embarrassing to me. I am actually a die-hard Southampton FC fan, having been born within miles of The Dell. My fascination in 1972 for Man City was obviously due to
a) the phenomenal success they enjoyed
b) the GREAT team they had back then
and
c) really NOT knowing the ‘ground rules’ of football supporting

I was, thus, no better than the prawn sandwich eating Man Utd fans other supporters enjoy taking the piss out of in the 21st Century. If there was a turning point, I suspect it was May 1st 1976, although my diaries may tell a different story?!

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