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Review of The King Crimson "Epitaph" Listening Party, London

Date Submitted: 18-Mar-97
Submitted By: Robert Cervero (robertc at uclink4 dot berkeley dot edu)

The King Crimson "Epitaph" Listening Party, London, March 15, 1997

Peter, Michael, Robert, Ian, and Greg March 15 was a very special, glorious day for die-hard fans/enthusiasts of the original KC line-up like me. In the Grand Ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel, Hyde Park Corner, the 5 original KC members were in the same room together -- indeed side-by-side for awhile -- for the first time since December 1969. We all celebrated the release of heretofore unreleased live materials from the Filmore East and West shows (Nov. & Dec. 1969). I got to chat with all 5 members, shake their hands (except, as ET readers understand, Fripp's), get my CD boxsets (I picked up 4 -- couldn't resist) and poster autographed -- I felt like a middle-age groupie, which I guess is what I was! For me, this was an incredibly emotional and memorable moment that I won't soon forget.

I was 18 when ITCOTCK first came out, just entering college. This album had a profound effect on me that continues to this day. One of my deepest regrets is not having caught a show of the 1969 band. Attending the Epitaph playback some 28 years later, however, in some way helped to fill this void.

The ~400 folks in attendance sat around large round tables that filled the ballroom. I was fortunate to be in a middle table right in front of the microphone. I chose this table because it was next to the reserved table for Ian McDonald, my personal hero of the '69 line-up. Also at Ian's table were John Wetton and Steve Hackett (who teamed up a few months earlier for the Genesis Revisited tour). Next to their table was Greg Lake's (he had the largest entourage, getting two tables). Behind Ian's table was Pete Sinfield's -- which also included Vic and Dick (the band's roadies) and Judy Dyble. Behind them sat Mike Giles and his friends, and in the very back was Fripp with the DGM staffers. Among the no-shows (expected to attend) were Bill Bruford, Peter Giles, and Peter Townsend.

Fripp's soundscapes filled the air while people entered the room, sat, and waited. Band members were in the backroom conducting interviews. They arrived one by one -- first Lake (to a loud applause), then McDonald (also loud applause), followed by Fripp (very loud applause), Sinfield (light applause because most didn't recognize him) and Giles (no applause because he hurriedly slipped into his seat just when things were starting). Robert opened the playback by noting the afternoon's format and sharing his thoughts about the original band. Robert, Ian, and Greg He said he sympathized with the view that the only real KC was the original band, and stressed that he was not the leader of this band ("I'm not the Crimson Kingpin") or any other incarnation, sounding almost apologetic. He then asked a photographer to stop taking flash photos, upon which Ian piped in, "one more", and proceeded to take his own Polaroid of Robert -- to which Robert gave a "your naughty" look and Ian responded with a "got ya" smile. Then the musical celebration got underway -- in order: from Filmore -- ITCOTCK, Drop In, A Man A City; from Chesterfield -- Get They Bearings; BBC Top Gear -- Epitaph; Filmore -- Schizoid Man and Mars. After "A Man A City", David Singleton explained the process of resurrecting these almost forgotten tapes to near pristine quality using digital technology -- he first played samples of original tapes (in several cases from bootlegs) and then the digitally remixed versions. I was generally persuaded of the improvements, except for "Get Thy Bearings" -- I honestly felt the original analogue Chesterfield tape recording sounded better (or at least more in tune), a view echoed by others. Regarding the "Get Thy Bearings" playback, I must share what was for me an amusing encounter. After "Get Thy Bearings" played, I had to split for the men's room, my bladder bursting from a morning of beer and tea. I was quickly joined at the head by Mike Giles, Pete Sinfield, Vic, and Dick, who evidently had the same calling as I. Pete mentioned something to the effect that the "Get Thy Bearings" recording really stunk, which was seconded by Mike, Vic, and Dick. I was like a fly on the wall -- trying to look indiscreet but taking it all in. Then Mike pulls out a flask and takes a hit. Still at the head, Pete pulls out his own flask. They all four start passing their flasks around, seemingly as in the good old days. I wanted to join in, but felt I really wasn't a member of this fraternity of close friends. Still, it was neat to be there. (While in the head, I did ask Vic whether he had lots of live recordings of the original band, to which he responded that most of the 8-track tapes from Filmore East were misplaced and remain lost.)

I couldn't help but study expressions on the band members' faces as the music was playing -- hell, I came all the way from San Francisco for this -- and I had an excellent vantage point to do so. I could tell that for Ian, the playback was a very emotional -- the crescendo to Epitaph in particular seemed to touch him. (After Get Thy Bearings played, both Wetton and Hackett gave Ian a thumb's up for his stellar sax jamming.) Greg Lake pretty much looked straight ahead during the playback, with his manager talking to him from time to time. On a few occasions, I caught Lake wincing upon hearing some off-key vocals, though all and all, he had a lot to be proud of -- his vocals were as powerful and regal as ever. The few times I saw Robert, he was staring straight with a seemingly satisfied expression on his face. Pete Sinfield smiled to his friends on a number of occasions, but seemed not all together interested in or engaged with what was going on, as did Mike Giles. The afternoon ended with the 5 band members patiently and amiably signing autographs for the throngs (sitting from left to right, Sinfield, Giles, Fripp, McDonald, Lake). After it was over, the band members and their friends and families slipped into a private room. After chatting with Wetton and Hackett, along with many others, I went off to a nearby pub with some 30 crazy Crimson fans from Britain -- I was the only American (in fact, I didn't meet any other Americans at the playback, though there were a number of Germans and others from the continent as well as a couple of Japanese guys; almost all attendees were guys -- the few women I met were largely in tow with their husbands/significant others; let's face it, Crimson's pretty much a "guy's band".) Mike Giles joined us at the bar with his wife and son later on, and we got to share drinks and small talk with him, as well as get a few photos in. I could tell Mike was not use to this amount of attention and adulation, and was probably a bit uncomfortable with it all, though he like others seemed very grateful for having such dedicated fans after all these years.

I listened to the Epitaph CDs many times during my flight back home. It contains:

Vol. 1 -- BBC 1. Schizoid Man 2.ITCOTCK 3.Get Thy Bearings 4. Epitaph; Filmore East -- 5.A Man A City 6. Epitaph 7. Schizoid Man; Filmore West 8.Mantra; 9. Travel Weary Capricorn; 10. Improve - Travel Bleary Capricorn 11. Mars

Vol. 2 -- Fillmore West 1. ITCOTCK 2. Drop In 3. A Man A City 4. Epitaph 5. Schizoid Man 6. Mars

Vol. 3 -- Plumpton 1. Schizoid Man 2. Get Thy Bearings 3. ITCOTCK 4. Mantra 5. Travel Weary 6. Improve 7. Mars

Vol. 4 -- Chesterfield 1. Schizoid Man 2. Drop In 3. Epitaph 4. Get Thy Bearings 5. Mantra 6. Travel Weary Capricorn 7. Improv 8. Mars

The BBC stuff is some of Crimson's strongest. Lake's voice is youthful and stunning. The Filmore East and West shows are both excellent -- far better than Plumpton and I feel even better than Chesterfield. Fripp, Singleton, and others mentioned the Filmore West show was one of Crimson's weakest on the American tour since the band members knew they were splitting up. I thought the performance was outstanding. For me the highlight is "A Man A City" -- the precursor to Pictures of a City, and a clue as to what the second album of the original band might have sounded like. It has the power and raw energy of Schizoid Man, with more of a free-form jazz touch. McDonald's sax playing is outstanding (to me easily matching Collins' playing on Poseidon), and in the Filmore East take, they end it with an instrumental blitzkreig. The oft-bootlegged Plumpton and Chesterfield shows are solid, but to me less interesting since I've heard them so much. (It's the complete Plumpton show, including Schizoid and Get They Bearings, unlike bootlegs; however, it's the incomplete Chesterfield show, unlike bootlegs such as Dead Fucking Bullocks -- I was disappointed that I Talk to the Wind, which doesn't appear anywhere among the 4CDs, and ITCOTCK were cut from the Vol. 4 Chesterfield CD; they're great on bootlegs.)

Record Covers

The Epitaph boxset is smartly and compactly design (all cardboard, no jewel cases, yeah!). The cover painting seems hauntingly appropriate for a set called Epitaph -- bizarrely Crimsonesque with shadowy figures standing in the windows of a parlor/crematorium? set in a cemetery? filled with statutes? A highlight of the boxset is a delightful tell-all booklet detailing life in the original band, written personally by each of the band members and Vic, replete with memorabilia. Fripp's insights, as always, are intriguing and perplexing. He also has a long passage about the cutthroat business of the music industry and his dealings with EG Management, and one Mr. Alder, clearly a painful episode of his life. I enjoyed Ian's hilarious snippets about the band's American tour. I loved Pete Sinfield's comment about why he deserved to be considered a member of the band -- one only needs to juxtapose "The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles, and Fripp" against "ITCOTCK", released within a year of each other, to realize what an integral part Sinfield played in this band's metamorphosis. The booklet also gives thanks to one Angus Hunking (RIP), who advanced some 7,000 pounds (> $40,000 today) in his pension funds so the band could buy equipment. I was also elated to see Ian McDonald write: "There may never be a second album from the first band....", which I take to mean at least one of the original members would like to keep the door open and perhaps even give it a second go. How about it, Robert, Greg, Michael, and Pete?

Sorry about overextending my fair share of bandwidth, however I'd like to offer the following to those ETers who, like me, are huge fans of the original KC line-up, but couldn't attend the Epitaph playback. Others please skip over the rest. Here's a few other tidbits to share.

1. This trip being a bit of a pilgrimage for me, I decided the evening before the playback to achieve my own version of "spiritual oneness" with KC, so I took the Tube to Queens Park and proceeded to 93A Brondesbury Road, where KC was conceived in Nov. 1968. Nice flat that just sold. I then proceed to 193 Fulham Palace Road, where KC first played. It's no longer a Cafe but rather a Kebab House (try the chicken kebabs). The basement was locked, but I peered in the window; too dark to see much. I strolled by the garage door leading to the basement; a lot of graffiti was scrolled on the door, but nothing about KC. I changed that -- adding, Here King Crimson was born, January 13, 1969.

2. I got to the Intercontinental Hotel early, and proceeded to make new Crimson friends as well as meet each member of the original band. I thanked Ian for his beautiful music and confided the huge impact ITCOTCK had on me. Both he and Mike seemed astounded by the attention they were getting. I got them both to autograph my McDonald and Giles CD cover. Talked to Wetton several times and got him to autograph Red, and discuss ProgFest '97 (where he headlines). Engaged Fripp about bootlegging (he remembers me from ET) and my encounters with him at Madame Wongs in '78. I shook hands and thanked Greg Lake for coming (many didn't think he would). My most friendly encounter was with Pete Sinfield. He's aged quite a bit, but in a gentlemanly way. Got to discuss PFM, Still, and other tidbits with him -- by the way, straight from his mouth, "Under the Sky" was written by him and McDonald, not Fripp. Steve Hackett was also friendly, discussing the Genesis Revisited work with a bunch of us.

3. I managed to hear interviews given by Lake and McDonald. Lake eloquently described how special and unique KC was, speaking of the band reverently. McDonald was hounded mainly by questions about why he left the band, causing its break up. He admitted it was a mistake, but said he can't rewrite musical history.

4. There were all kinds of "ghosts from the past" around, including Judy Dyble, David Enhoven and John Gaydon (E & G fame), and even Charlotte (the woman on the McDonald and Giles album cover who, some might say, Ian left the band for in order to spend more time with). There was even a relative of Barry Godbar, the creator of the Schizoid Man and Crimson King album cover, who died a year later. The relative left a cake with his photo on it as well as a press clipping for Fripp, asking that Robert add it to his KC memorabilia collection.

Michael with Crimheads5. After the playback, a bunch of us sat around a pub reminiscing about early Crimson. Surprisingly, almost no one was from London -- mainly Brits from other parts of the country. I met a guy who saw 3 Crimson shows in '69, and proceeded to pick his brain. It was a blast drinking with Mike Giles. A bunch of us got our photos taken with him. I asked him why Crimson never released "Travel Weary Capricorn", which Giles sings, on a studio album, and he responded "because it's a crappy song". The crowd erupted into applause when Mike left the pub with family in tow, obviously a bit shocked, embarrassed, but please with the sudden celebrity status. His wife and 17 year old son seemed particularly astonished and amused by what took place.

6. Epitaph seemed a befitting title for this 4 CD compilation. The song Epitaph ends with "I fear tomorrow I'll be crying", with McDonald's crescendoing and chilling mellotron whaling in the background. I still get chills when I hear Lake's powerful closing vocals on this song. I almost feel this lyrical passage was a presage about the band's future -- fear of crying....crying that this incredible musical burst of energy and creativity would be short-lived and would not have a chance to repeat itself. However, we now have Epitaph to rekindle our memories and spirits.

I am grateful to DGM for pulling together this playback. It was a glorious celebration to be a part of.


All photographs and memorabilia courtesy of Robert Cervero

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