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LIFE WITH THE DINOSAURS

IN THE COURT OF KING CRIMSON by Sid Smith 
(Helter Skelter Books. 346pp. £14.99)

As someone who has tried to follow the tortuous career of Robert Fripp’s many-headed beast, I was curious to read what appeared to be a history, a supreme act of devotion and the testimony of a long-suffering fan. And I suspect all Crimson fans have suffered. The vocals/lyrics on ‘Moonchild’, for example, have caused me to suffer. But I wouldn’t have missed any of their releases, however flawed some might be.

Smith takes the reader through blow-by-blow accounts of their recordings, the soured friendships, the break-ups and the minutiae of a band on the road and in the studio over thirty-odd years whilst simultaneously undergoing constant and innumerable personnel changes. An act of fandom, if ever there was, and constantly readable too. Not many would be prepared to do it. Or would they ? Such bands doinspire fierce, if somewhat perverse, loyalties.

I learned things I never thought I’d want to know. Like, how Fripp’s excessive diet of beef curry and the resultant vomiting may have been the source of ‘hurri curri’ in the lyric of ‘Cat Food’. The trials and tribulations inflicted on mellotron players are exhaustively catalogued. What about the instruments themselves? if only they could speak. And those odd noises in the opening section of ‘Lark’s Tongues in Aspic Part One’? Now we know. We also know what Ian MacDonald’s then girlfriend thought of Robert. You probably won’t be surprised.

Reading this book, I found myself returning to the albums and enjoying that mix of instrumental prowess and lyrical banality, especially, though not exclusively, in the early material. For every turkey, like ‘Cirkus’ or ‘The Letters’ they also gave us ‘Trio’ and the ‘Thrak’ improvisations. The best and worst of a band. Sid Smith covers them all. The construction of each album is presented in detail, track by track, and isn’t totally biased in favour of the band. His views on ‘Happy Family’ from Lizard are not exactly complimentary: ‘there is little more on offer than bluster and ballyhoo’, he says. He casts an equally honest eye over all their output so he comes across as a fan but not a pushover with no powers of discrimination.

Reading between the lines I get the impression that, despite the many reincarnations and resurrections, the creature may now be sleeping with the dinosaurs. Smith details the disintegration of King Crimson into the various  ProjeKCts’ and although they are officially still on ‘active service’ as KC there is a sense by the end of the book that they are not exactly a force to be reckoned with now. Bruford seems clear that he no longer needs the band and Tony Levin has always had other commitments. So, is there life out there ? We’ll see.

                   © Paul Donnelly 2002