Interview with Michael Giles by Aymeric Leroy
Date Submitted: 7-Feb-2000
Submitted By: Aymeric Leroy (calyx at club-internet dot fr)
An Interview with Michael Giles about the release of King Crimson's "Epitaph" box-set
(This interview was made by phone before and after the second presentation of the King Crimson boxed set 'Epitaph' which took place in New York City on April 26th 1997. Thanks to John G. Perry for providing Mike Giles' contact)
Aymeric Leroy: What is the significance of having these tapes released almost thirty years after the event?
Michael Giles: Yes, it's twenty-eight years ago... I'm really proud of it, actually! I think... I'm amazed at how adventurous and how dangerous the music was, and still is. I haven't heard anything like it since. I'm quite surprised, because a lot of the music on there we never heard at the time. These tapes have been found, which were taken from the desk and various bootlegs. At the time we never got to hear them, they didn't seem to be available or they just got put to one side. So, for me, I'm quite amazed by what we were doing...
AL: Is that the reason why you've been keen on the idea of reuniting with the other members of the band for these presentations in London and New York?
MG: Yes. I'm giving it my full support! I'm very pleased that Robert has decided to put it out. And also that David Singleton spent so much time and energy making it sound good.
AL: What was the context of you joining King Crimson?
MG: I'd been playing all over the country, in different bands, none of which got anywhere. My brother and I, we just got so frustrated... We decided we really wanted to go to London, and do something different. So we went to London, where Robert was. But my name first was as session musician. And since that time I've probably made... about forty albums, as a session player...
AL: Did you see King Crimson as your 'last chance to make it'?
MG: Mmh... Sort of. It's not really 'last chance', it's more like, you know, 'let's get on and do something', that was the intention. To make some powerful, adventurous new music that hadn't been done before... and make our mark on the world, really...
AL: You can feel that sort of frustration in "Schizoid Man"...
MG: Yes. As Robert says, we were all, all five of us no matter where we came from, what Ian was doing before, everybody had been in bands, Robert was playing in a dance band in Bournemouth, everybody had been doing things which were unsatisfying... and somehow we created an opportunity to do what we wanted. And that wasn't, really, to play anybody else's music. So we didn't go for music that sounded like blues, or jazz, or rock, or... Led Zeppelin, or Rolling Stones... We didn't want to be like any of the other bands. we wanted to find out what *we* were like, what we could create...
AL: There is such a radical difference between "In The Court..." and the Giles Giles & Fripp album that you'd made just a year earlier...
MG: I think we were just... coming out and being ourselves, instead of operating within boundaries that other people had created. We decided to do away with those boundaries.
AL: What was your personal contribution to King Crimson's musical style?
MG: That's an interesting one, actually, because... I did quite a lot of the arranging, fitting different sections together, tempo changes, all sorts of things like that. I actually acted as a bridge between Robert and Ian... Not so much composing, rather presenting musical ideas at each rehearsal.
AL: Do you have particular memories of that year, 1969? Was it a special year, musically and culturally?
MG: It was! We were always... we weren't involved in the hippie movement, or the flower power, or drugs, or 'Swinging London'... We were somehow outside that, just concentrating on the music. But of course, we played, and we had access to all sorts of situations that 'Swinging London' was doing. But we didn't come from this environment...
AL: Yet King Crimson became something of a 'hip' band...
MG: Yes, there was a sort of... underground cult following, which came from nowhere, and grew, and grew... It was quite surprising to us all, because all of us had spent probably the previous five to ten years without it. So it was quite overwhelming... Overwhelming and humbling.
AL: Do you think the sixties were a great time for music?
MG: I thought it was a very interesting time indeed, between 1962 and 1972... I mean, in this country, there were a lot of pirate radios, and a lot of different music being played, on the radio and also in clubs. And everything opened up. It was very good... all sorts of music came out that just wasn't there before.
AL: Were people more open-minded and curious about music than they are today? They certainly had a longer attention span...
MG: That's true. There was a lot of concerts and club dates, there was quite a few bands that played and the audience just sat and listened, they didn't dance... And they had a longer attention span, yes... I can remember bands like Soft Machine, which was far more complicated music... There was a lot of good music, and audiences were very attentive...
AL: Do you think this had anything to do with... illegal substances?
MG: Mmh... Maybe. I had no contact with it. I still don't know anything about drugs, or who takes them, or what happens. But it could have been... drugs, yes, part of it. It would have helped audiences to... get more from the music. Obviously it made them more receptive.
AL: Moving on to the fateful American tour you did in late '69 which caused the breakup of the first King Crimson, how do you look back on the reasons that led to you and Ian McDonald leaving the band?
MG: I can't speak for Ian, but it's probably... His reasons are probably similar to mine. Just the pressure of being on the road, touring. The time spent waiting in airports, waiting in hotels, waiting, waiting... and only playing for a couple of hours... It's a strange way to live. And I'd recently met my next future wife, I was coming out of one divorce, moving into a new marriage, and being in a rock band on the road was not really, I didn't think, a very good way to start a new relationship. Plus the fact of all that time... on the road, and waiting around... I thought could be much better spent writing and recording, and doing other things.
AL: Was there a point when you discussed this with Robert and Greg, and put forth the idea of making King Crimson more of a studio-oriented band?
MG: Well, I don't think I wanted a studio band. The rise of King Crimson was so fast that, to me, it felt as if it was going out of control. And it was going so fast that I couldn't keep up with what was happening. I think the other thing was that we didn't communicate very well, and we didn't sit round the table and talk things through. And I'm not really sure why we didn't. I think if we'd had done that, and we'd actually talked round the table, and all of us felt as if we were involved, and reached some agreement, it might have continued. And Robert said before that it might have been a good idea to have three months off to recuperate and take stock, then get back to it.
AL: Why didn't you decide to rejoin when you played on "In The Wake Of Poseidon"?
MG: I think... It was difficult, because it was only a couple of months or so after we'd split anyway. It wasn't really long enough to make a decision to get together or... It wasn't long enough.
AL: And you'd already decided to make that duo album with Ian?
MG: Well, that was the other thing... That Ian and I did want to spend more time in the studio. And we did want to make warmer, gentler music, at that time. So that was quite a strong intention.
AL: Why did you only record one album like that? Was it meant to be a one-off thing from the start?
MG: It was meant to be a one-off project, yes.
AL: You didn't want any other long-term band project like King Crimson?
MG: Well, I've done that, on and off, with various album projects. But... yes, I think that what I'm interested with is the creative side of music-making, rather than... all the travelling...
AL: Why, then, didn't you carry on that association with Ian McDonald? Why didn't it go further?
MG: Hmm... I think Ian, I don't know, Ian and I, we never split up. That was... I think, he wanted to move to America, and explore things there, and I wanted to get on with my family and my children. It was quite an organic, natural thing.
AL: So you became a session musician...
MG: Yes... I did an enormous amount of session in the seventies, yes.
AL: Did this have a lot to do with meeting Rupert Hine?
MG: Yes, Rupert was one of the first people... I really enjoyed working with him. We did a lot of work together, we had a very good time, and made some very good music.
AL: There seemed to be a sort of family of musicians, with people like Rupert, John G. Perry...
MG: Yes, it was nice... It was also a very creative atmosphere, for me, and also a lot of freedom to express myself within the music that someone else had written. It really liked working with Rupert, and John...
AL: Was this a sort of formalized structure within which you worked together on all these albums, or was it all about musical affinity?
MG: It was just an affinity, we just liked each other, and things worked.
AL: What are your strongest musical memories of all these sessions?
MG: Anthony Phillips was... very creative. And also John Perry's two albums gave me more scope to explore different ways of playing drums.
AL: This leads us to your as-yet-unreleased solo album, from '78 I think...
MG: Well, that's really not... I wasn't quite satisfied with that. So I'm retaining all the tunes, and putting them into a different context.
AL: What sort of music was it?
MG: Well, at the time, the existing tapes, probably sounded like an extension, or a development, of McDonald & Giles. Some long pieces, me doing some singing... Involved drums, and... Yeah, I'm quite please with the compositions, but... not satisfied with the overall thing. I should be remaking most of those tunes, plus all my new stuff.
AL: So it won't come out as such, the original recordings...
AL: Was it supposed to come out on a particular label at the time?
MG: I was looking for one, but there wasn't much interest.
AL: It was a bad time for progressive music...
MG: Well, the thing is, there was a whole backlash against the decadence of the supergroups and their non-availability. And that backlash of course was represented by punk, who could play in pubs, had enormous energy, and could make an album for a thousand pounds on the new recording technology, four tracks, and eight tracks. And that was revolution!
AL: What was your personal view on the punk movement? Did you agree in part that... these 'supergroups' had become dinosaurs, in a way?
MG: Yes, I thought they'd gone over the top. And I can understand the punks and the people supporting the punks reacting against that. And... every generation's got to have somewhere to play. But of course I suppose the punk thing was just... too ugly, and too aggressive, and too reactionary. Since after that, 1981, we've had the emergence of more global music, the most popular first explorer of that area was of course Peter Gabriel...
AL: But the late seventies, you'd basically stopped playing live and only did sessions?
MG: Yes. My children were growing up more, I had my own studio, and just enjoyed producing various things. Yes, not a high profile... rather a low profile.
AL: I understand you contacted Robert Fripp around the time when he formed the new King Crimson line-up with Adrian Belew, with a view to forming a band with him. Is this correct?
MG: It is true. Actually I think I wrote to him before that, bedore the 'Discipline' band came out, which I must say is one of the best bands I'd ever seen... And that actually stimulated me... But I'd written to Robert before that. And actually, it's very strange how... There's sometimes some sort of telepathy going on, because I also had in my mind to suggest to Robert that he put two guitares, two basses and two drums together, before the recent double-trio...
AL: Did you have a specific concept in mind for this new band project?
MG: I think it was just a continuation of my attitude of wanting to make dangerous, adventurous music, and explore territories which hadn't been explored. And the reason why I contacted Robert was because I knew that he shares this attitude.
AL: Why, in your opinion, did he decline the invitation?
MG: I have no idea... Probably he already had his own plan coming up...
AL: And why didn't you carry on the idea with other musicians?
MG: Hmm... Because I couldn't... There was only one other person I could find, and that was a guitar player called Mark Wood. And we both did extensive auditions, advertising, research, with all sorts of other players. And we just couldn't find anyone... we couldn't find two other players to share our attitude. So we tried to continue working together and we started to do some television music, mainly.
AL: In 1983, you recorded a film soundtrack with Jamie Muir and David Cunningham. How did that happen?
MG: I can't remember how I met David but... Well, he was producing Michael Nyman, and I think he may have called me for a Michael Nyman session. And he was also in contact with Peter Greenaway, and also the director of "Ghost Dance", Ken McMullen. And Ken said he needed some music. So the three of us got together. And good it was, too...
AL: A strange combination of musicians for sure, with you and Jamie Muir from two different incarnations of King Crimson, and Jamie had actually disappeared for about ten years before he reappeared on this recording...
MG: Yes, Jamie went off to India and studied buddhism... He's now a painter. He paints large canvasses.
AL: Was the film "Ghost Dance" actually released?
MG: Yes, it was a Channel Four/ZDF production. It came on television quite a lot.
(Problems with the recording prevented the rest of our conversation to be committed to tape at this point. We briefly discussed his involvement with the Greg Lake/Geoff Downes project Ride The Tiger, and Fripp refusing an offer to reform the original King Crimson in 1992 due to the legal problems surrouding EG Records)
AL: I have heard of a project to reissue the McDonald & Giles album on CD with bonus tracks...
MG: I haven't heard that... We do want to re-release it at some point but... we're not there yet. Yes, it would be good to have it out on CD, but there are no plans or dates at the moment. But it will... sometime in the future. Within the next year...
AL: Were there leftovers from the sessions?
MG: I'm not sure. We need to look through the master tapes and see if there is anything. I don't know where you get your rumours from!
AL: There weren't any gigs by McDonald & Giles at the time?
MG: No... We didn't have any plans to... Neither of us wanted to go on the road at that time. We wanted a break from being on the road. So no, nothing at all.
AL: Going back to the 'Epitaph' boxed set, I think the performances on volumes 3 & 4 are really amazing. The band is even tighter...
MG: I was amazed too! I though the Chesterfield and Plumpton gigs were very excellent performances. I'm certainly amazed at the improvised sections from 'Get Thy Bearing', 'Drop In' and all that... Dangerous stuff! Which I hadn't heard at the time...
AL: I don't find the same level of tightness on the American performances...
MG: Well, I think to some extent that's due to the recordings. The American recordings are done more from a distance, while the Plumpton and Chesterfield are much closer. I think that helps to make it sound tighter. I don't think there's much difference apart from that.
AL: There's a few more jazz-rock oriented tracks 'Travel Weary Capricorn'...
MG: I'm not so pleased with that! I'd call it more sort of... progressive Mark Murphy!
AL: Were you keen on developing your role as singer, or did Greg want to keep that for himself?
MG: No, no, he was quite happy for me to do little bits and pieces... Yes, I think I could have developed it, I could have done a bit more singing if we'd had more time.
AL: The jazz influences suggest a possible change in musical direction.
MG: Well, the jazz influence is something which we would have worked through our system in time and then moved it on and... In some of the improvised sections you can hear that, although we might start off with a jazzy sort of tune, when we get to the improvised bits, the jazz gets dropped, and then we get into pure music. So I think in time, the band would have developed a music which was more purely music, with less identifiable styles in it. So I think we would have been doing less jazzy things, and less rock things, and less of... everything. And getting more and more our own, you know, even more powerful identity.
AL: The amount of improvisation is lower than with the later line-up with Wetton and Bruford. Was there more than we hear on these tapes?
MG: Well, no... I think the CD is representative of all the different things we were doing. I think that Robert wanted to go on and develop the improvised stuff, after the original band split, or when the opportunity arose... yeah.
AL: What have you been up to, musically, in recent times?
MG: Well, I think I mentioned it before, I've made about 45 albums as a session musician, most of which you can get from the Japanese discography people. They're very good at it. I wish I had a copy because they've got all my work logged quite nicely, whereas my diaries are incomplete. So yes, session musician with lots of different things... Some film and television music. But now, after all that, I'm developing my own drum/percussion music. I'm getting back to my true self...
AL: You were talking of two different projects...
MG: I'll be combining the two things. With my percussion project, the emphasis is on drums, rather than guitars and keyboards, and... It doesn't sound... It's not the conventional drum kit, and there's not much snare drum in it.
AL: What instrumentation are you using apart from percussion?
MG: Well, anything that's suitable. Bits of guitar, bits of keyboards, bits of anything that... Lots of voices, though.
AL: Will you play everything?
MG: I'll be doing quite a lot. I can do that if I'm recording. I improvise alongside myself. But for a live band I'm going to need at least eight people.
AL: Is it a mixture of different material?
MG: Well it will be... 21st century music. There won't be any jazz in it, or any rock, or blues or anything... Nothing like anything that's been done before.
AL: Can you be more specific?
MG: Well... A percussion orchestra, with vocalists...
AL: Will it please your old fans?
MG: I hope so! (laughs)
AL: How far are you into the recording?
MG: I'm just setting up.
AL: So nothing's recorded yet?
MG: I've got quite a bit already recorded from about a year ago, but that needs completing. So I'm probably about... a quarter of the way through at the moment.
AL: Any idea when it would come out?
MG: It could be out at the end of this year but I don't want to promise anything, because if that doesn't happen this year then it would probably be spring next year.
AL: Will there be other presentations for the boxed set?
MG: I think it would be nice to do one in Japan, but it wouldn't be a launch because it's already been out there for two months. But I think it would be nice to meet the Japanese people. So I hope there's a chance of doing that.
AL: I hear Ian McDonald's working on a solo project. Will you be involved?
MG: Yes, I will be, yes... He's invited me to play on it, yes. So I'm waiting on his schedule for that one. And he might come over and do some things on different flutes on my thing.
AL: It's nice to see you two working together again after such a long time...
MG: Yes... And he's a lovely, brilliant musician.
AL: He's just been working with Steve Hackett...
MG: Yes. Steve and I have been talking as well. Yeah, things are looking good!
AL: So all's well in the progressive world...
MG: Well.. If anything's progressive, then we make progress, so... In fact I've got a track that's called 'Progress'!!
AL: Is your project close to progressive rock?
MG: No, not at all... But it's music that is progressing, yes!