Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence
Riddle sits down with guitarist, composer, record producer and King Crimson stalwart as the band hit 50 and plan anniversary festivities
Article by Andrew Threlfall
It’s 10 am on a sunny chilly Saturday spring morning in a London art gallery. Definitely not business hours for rock stars or rock journalists who used to drink until the early hours with David Bowie and Brian Eno. But this isn’t a rendezvous with Iggy Pop. Thankfully… I think.
The gentleman striding towards me in a three piece suit with the air of the governor of the Bank of England is Bowie and Eno’s second most famous collaborator, and he is here to talk about the last 50 years of his own band.
Which is a big deal for Robert Fripp as he launches into the reasons why he had wanted to banish the mere thought of King Crimson. Maybe not forever. But close…. and now there’s a tour to play it’s all flooding back.
“When a player walks onstage, they often have a chart; ie a music score. If things don’t go so well, they stick to the chart. If things take off, they abandon the chart and go with the flow.”
“I have attempted to escape over a period of 45 years. Please don’t assume that I know more than you do about the group. It’s unlikely that I have forgotten any of my experience as a professional musician, although I no longer carry it as close to the surface as before. In 2003 I gave myself permission to let go of the larger and longer narrative of King Crimson.”
I notice that Robert is now taking a photograph. Of me. For a man who has tried to disengage from and forget professional details for so many years he is still very much, at heart the forensic accountant figure. He wants to photograph the journalist. C’est La vie.
“There were what I call the Seven Principles Of King Crimson:
1. May King Crimson bring joy to us all. Including me.
2. If you don’t want to play a part, that’s fine! Give it to someone else – there’s enough of us.
3. All the music is new, whenever it was written.
4. If you don’t know your note, hit C#.
5. If you don’t the time, play in 5. Or 7.
6. If you don’t know what to play, get more gear.
7. If you still don’t know what to play, play nothing.”
“Experimentalism, and dynamic changes of personnel demarcated those 50 years.” By his own admission he has been an awkward bugger at times.
And it’s deep. Really deep. Ready?
“It’s true that our conception of the world (metaphysics); how we know what we know (epistemology); the degree to which we are who we are (ontology); and how we conduct ourselves (ethics); are pretty much a daily and ongoing part of my life; although I don’t express it in those terms. I doubt that’s going to interest many readers of any magazine, however excellent. But when people get together, something happens. When people get together with goodwill, something remarkable may happen; and go better than we might anticipate, and deserve. And so each performance is unique. Each performance is a multiplicity of performances. The possible is possible. The impossible is possible.”
Pragmatism seems to underline the thoughts of Mr Toyah Wilcox (I think anybody might be driven to shout out her first big hit ‘I want to be free’ with Robert in his full metaphysical mood although the former “high priestess of punk” rather affectionately is Queen Crimson (Autumn 2019 tour)).
So… As the current lineup featuring the man who played guitars on Bowie’s Heroes gears up for the King Crimson 50th anniversary UK tour… (Fripp generated the unusual sustained sound by allowing his guitar to feed back by simply sitting at different positions in the room to alter the pitch of the feedback by the way) he asks “What is King Crimson and what are recurrent characteristics of King Crimson in 2019? Change. As it regularly breaks up.”
With success, there is a tendency for the things that go off-course to go very off- course. With great success, the things that tend to go off-course, go very very off-course. In these cases, the re-directions will require a corresponding degree of energy and application. The procession of events is undeniable, and King Crimson is where it is today because it got there. Crim grew up and left home, and isn’t going back; whether any of us would like it to, or not. The spirit of Crimson is elusive, impossible to pin down, and recognizable. It cannot be claimed by any of us as our own. Did all of us create King Crimson? In one sense, yes. But it may be more correct to say that King Crimson brought us all together, and succeeded despite our efforts rather than because of them. When I listen to classic Crim, it continues to take my breath away. I hear no individuals: I hear King Crimson. KC has always been primarily a hot date. This now fits with the times. Live performance is now accepted as primary for the professional. Performance Practice: the use of mobile phones, cameras and recorders now widely accepted as undermining the performance.
It’s deeply philosophical stuff but as I take my leave Robert makes one more perfectly sanguine point: “Can music change the world? Were I to be asked the question, on this spring morning, my answer/s would be…
1. That the question is asked, suggests to me that the world has already been changed by music.
2. Yes, but music doesn’t act like a lobotomy. There are subtleties involved.
3. Music speaks directly to us, acts directly on us, if we are available. So let’s not concern ourselves with subtlety! Jump in with open ears, open eyes, open heart.
4. Explaining how and why this is, and might be, can get complicated. The good news is, being touched by music is simple. It is experiential.
5. The act of music is the music.”
“A primary aim for the King Crimson Celebration Tour of 2019, celebrating fifty years of KC in the world, is to find innocent ears: ears that have never heard KC music; and ears-of-experience able to enter the musical moment as if for the first time. Although King Crimson is not the Robert Fripp Band I have to accept that KC doesn’t come into the world without myself Robert: e.g. The 21st. Century Schizoid Band, Crimson DNA, The Crimson ProjeKct. All of these were the names Robert suggested.”
And with that first person reference ringing in my ears I shake his hand and leave with my headphones on playing 21st-century Schizoid Man – the version sampled by Kanye West so famously on “Power”, from his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Enquiries: King Crimson start their Celebration Tour of 2019 on 10th June in Leipzig with three UK dates scheduled for 18th- 20th June at the Royal Albert Hall