King Crimson to tour UK in 2015
The prog-rock outfit announce their most extensive UK tour since the 1980s
UK tour dates were announced this week for King Crimson, the long-running band whose guitarist, linchpin and only constant member Robert Fripp likes to characterise in words taken from one of their more negative reviews: 'prog-rock pond scum, set to bum you out'.
Fans are rejoicing, especially since as recently as 2012, the guitarist (he refuses to be identified as the 'bandleader') was announcing his retirement from, and exhaustion with, the music business. Asked why the band was being reformed, Fripp's typically dry response was 'I was becoming too happy. Time for a pointed stick.'
To be fair to Fripp, the 2013 re-ignition of King Crimson happened only after he'd recovered from a long legal battle with Universal Music Group regarding unpaid royalties. Musicians' rights are a live issue for the guitarist, who has curated the band's legacy through his music label Discipline Global Mobile, righteously insisting that the copyright should rest not with the corporation that distributed the music but with the many, many former members who created it in the first place. King Crimson has a famously unstable line-up: the original version lasted only a year, in which it pioneered progressive rock with 1969's memorably doomy In The Court of the Crimson King.
They weren't the first English rock band to delve into free improvisation – that honour belongs to the much-loved Henry Cow – but Crimson did it in front of crowds of American teenagers, mixing it up with intricate compositions and even the odd catchy song. Long-serving but now ex-drummer Bill Bruford joked that they were the only band where you could play in 13/18 time and still get a decent hotel room. Crimson's generally dark and stressed-out tone makes them one of the few prog outfits whose music remains fully listenable. 1974's Starless and Bible Black and Red managed the rare feat of being both lyrical and violent; the latter was one of Kurt Cobain's favourite albums.
In the mid-70s, Fripp shut the band down and retired to get some re-education. He emerged at the end of the decade as a skinny-tied New Wave mandarin, issued the loopy but brilliant solo album Exposure (described by one critic as 'the punk Sgt Pepper'); and sprayed his signature guitar all over albums by Bowie, Eno, Talking Heads and Blondie. 1981 saw King Crimson reinventing itself as a crisp, gamelan-influenced four-piece with quirky Kentuckian guitar hero Adrian Belew as the frontman. It only lasted three years, but re-appeared in 1994 as a roaring, metal-edged sextet, still giving over a large chunk of each concert to collective improvisation. That too would pass, with the band repeatedly reconfiguring itself in various ways until its most recent hiatus, which lasted from 2009 to 2013. The current line up is the first one since 1981 not to feature Belew; the new singer is veteran session guitarist, radio producer and sometime comedy performer Jakko Jakszyk, and the band now features no less than three drummers, including former REM / Swans man Bill Rieflin.
Fripp has warned punters hoping to hear their favourite songs that the latest King Crimson will not be its own tribute band. One of the band's guiding principles is 'all the music is new, whenever it was written' and with reports coming in from the US of blistering, exploratory performances, these increasingly elderly men are still, it would seem, very much set to bum you out.
King Crimson play the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on Thu 17 Sep