That movie director Toby Amies’ previous subjects have been outsiders and eccentrics probably stood him in good stead when he was invited to make a film about King Crimson. Four years in the making the finished documentary gets inside the life and times of the band and the entangled, sometimes difficult relationships that are threaded together by King Crimson’s equally complex music. Here are 10 things we learn about King Crimson from Amies' film which Variety describes as “about as good as rock documentaries get.”
King Crimson wouldn’t exist without many ‘midwives’
Drummer Michael Giles, who quit in 1969, makes this telling observation about the mechanics of Crimson. “Robert’s always been good at inviting other voices in. He knows he can’t do it on his own...So it’s understandable that if King Crimson is his baby then he wants lots of midwives.”
Fripp begins weeping at one point
Although nearly five decades have passed since Fripp put King Crimson on hold in 1974 to study with spiritual teacher JG Bennett, the one and only time the two men met, a month before Bennett's death, still carries a profound emotional charge for the guitarist. Recounting their brief conversation, Fripp falters and is moved to tears.
Fripp takes a cold shower every day
Originally called Discipline when they formed in 1981, Tony Levin hated the name, arguing that the word 'discipline' means punishment in America. Happily, after a couple of months, they changed names with Discipline becoming the title of the first of three albums Crimson released in the 80s. Discipline has always been an important part of Fripp's lexicon. In conversation with Amies, Fripp mentions his daily regime of cold showers. "Your body doesn’t want to go in a cold shower so you’re saying to your body, ‘Do as you are told...’ in a word, discipline.”
Bruford on the difference between the British and the Americans in the band
The 1980s Crimson is Bill Bruford's favourite era. With two Brits and two Americans, he reflects on their different approaches to playing music. "Robert and I would discuss pretty much everything...including the philosophy of life as we know it. The two Americans would go and play pool or have a burger, or whatever it is that Americans do, and they, having not said anything... played the shit out of the music anyway. So despite this vast weight of verbiage that the Brits would go through...it was a wonderful combination of balance of the American ability of can-do and some good strategic thinking from the more analytical Brits."
Trey Gunn compares Crimson to an infection
One of the best quotes about Crimson life comes from Trey Gunn, who played touch guitar from 1994 to 2003. “Being in King Crimson’s a bit like having a low-grade infection; you’re not really sick but you don’t feel well either.”
Crimson made Belew’s hair fall out
Adrian Belew, who was in the band from 1981 until 2008 and was not invited to rejoin in 2014, admits things were not always easy for him in Crimson. “There’s conflict in working with Robert because people think of him as God,” going on to complain that journalists and fans would frequently be asking him what Fripp thought about a given topic or issue. Being scrutinised by Fripp wasn't a barrel of laughs either he says. “When I came back from making some of that music my hair had fallen out it was so stressful...” Despite this Belew concludes that 90% of the time things were beautiful and unique. “Robert has a way of creating a situation in which music is going to occur that you couldn’t otherwise do and to me, that was worth everything.”
Gavin Harrison told: “reinvent rock drumming”
Gavin Harrison was tasked by Robert Fripp to ‘reinvent rock drumming’ for the new King Crimson, the interlocking arrangements and parts Harrison scored for the three-drummer line-up were part of the band’s renewed success in 2014. Amies captures a lovely moment during a soundcheck as Harrison, Jeremy Stacey, and Pat Mastelotto, find themselves confused lost over who was meant to come in at a particular point while running through a new number. A reminder that even musicians as technically proficient as these are only human after all.
How Jeremy Stacey responds to Crimson pressure
Drummer and keyboardist Jeremy Stacey, who joined Crimson in 2016, was asked how Crimson compared to the many other bands he’s been in. “You can’t walk into Crimson unless you know exactly what you’re going to do. At times, certain members get focused on and the microscope goes on…It’s just more difficult because anything could be seen as a problem. I don’t have a problem with it. I actually like having some major hard-arse making it as good as it can be.”
Fripp interrupts and takes over Jakko’s interview
Despite having been invited by Fripp to make the documentary, Amies frequently bumps up against Fripp’s unwillingness to take part. However, there’s no shortage of Fripp’s waspish wit or pithy commentary. In one hilarious moment, as Amies talks to Jakko Jakszyk at a soundcheck, Fripp shouts from across the stage urging Jakko to “Tell him he’s talking shite,” clearly exasperated at what Fripp regards as Amies’ lame line of questioning. Even as Jakko formulates a reply Fripp impatiently and loudly butts in with, “There’s an even better answer than that,” proceeding to take over the rest of the interview.
Bill Rieflin talks about life and his death
The film deals unflinchingly with drummer and keyboardist Bill Rieflin’s terminal cancer diagnosis. Although his illness wasn’t made public at the time, Rieflin continued to tour despite mounting pain and exhaustion. Asked why he chose to spend his remaining time on the road Rieflin argues that playing music can restore a state of grace in the world, “if only for a moment,” going on to observe, “Seeing the end of your life coming, it can increase the sense of urgency. Interestingly, I think you could say urgency is one of the characteristics of King Crimson’s music.” Fripp describes Rieflin, who died in 2020, as “the only personal friend who has ever joined King Crimson.”
In the Court Of The Crimson King, King Crimson At 50 opens for one day only in select independent cinemas worldwide on Wednesday October 19, with a specially filmed introduction.
Following that, the film is scheduled to stream via nugs.net (opens in new tab) on October 22. A BluRay/DVD release and larger box set will follow, which will include previously unseen live performances from the band, outtakes and hours of unreleased additional footage.