20 October 2009

Season Sickness/Visually Enhanced

28 Asvina - Year 1931 (Saka Era)

Urgh. My first cold of the year. I've been really good the past 10 months avoiding various flus and bugs. I suppose I had to ingest at least one airborne virus sooner or later. I ended up calling out of work for three days last week. It's one of those head colds...plugged-up sinuses, mild fever and achy muscles. I feel a bit better now, but I'm still not fully recovered. I did manage to drag myself back to work this week, like the good little wage-slave that I am. Ah well, hopefully this means that I've paid my illness dues for another year.

I was trawling eBay looking for LPs, when I thought I would check for some vintage psychedelic posters from the late 60s. I was specifically looking for art from the UK psych scene, particularly from Hapshash and The Coloured Coat and Martin Sharp. To my amazement, there are some available - though mostly cheaper reprints of the 60s originals. I tried a Google search and found a few independent art dealers with small stocks of 1st printings. I warn you, though, if you're in the market for a copy, they're not cheap. A first printing of Hapshash's Pink Floyd/CIA v UFO poster in excellent condition will cost you about £300 and a near-mint copy of Sharp's Donovan metallic poster are going for around the £400/£500 mark. The rarer Hapshash posters, like the one for the Fifth Dimension club in Leicester, or the UFO Coming poster, may go for even more dosh now. Hapshash also created a couple of posters for OZ Magazine - one called Catherine and The Wheel Of Fire (pictured above) and one called Position 69. I managed to get my hands on a copy of the "Catherine.." poster by buying (not cheaply) an original OZ issue off of eBay. It's in good shape...a bit creased here and there, but the colour is still intact. I'm going to have it archive-framed at some point.

I only just discovered now that Michael English, half of Hapshash, passed away on 25th September of cancer--a loss of a great artist. A website is dedicated to his artwork over the years - though, curiously, it doesn't mention his death. You can purchase his 1970s posters, usually mundane objects air-brushed in amazing detail, for fairly decent prices on eBay and elsewhere on the web. I've ordered used copies of both of English's books, 3-D Eye and Anatomy Of Illusion. His partner in the collective, Nigel Waymouth, is still on the planet and also has a site. Waymouth is selling reprints of the more famous Hapshash posters, but I haven't e-mailed him to ask about prices.

Besides Hapshash and Sharp - the Dutch collective The Fool were psychedelicizing art in the UK in the late 60s. They were responsible for the (in)famous mural on the exterior of The Beatles' Apple boutique in London - as well as Eric Clapton's trippy Gibson SG guitar (he played it while a member of Cream) and Procol Harum's 1967 stage clothes. They also designed part of the set of Wonderwall, Joe Massot's groovy 'Swingin' 60s' film, starring Jane Birkin and featuring a soundtrack by George Harrison--and even appeared in a party scene. The Fool weren't quite as prolific as the others in poster creation, but the few they did publish seem to be quite excellent to me. The A Is For Apple poster is probably the most well-known. You can buy a reprint from the official Beatles on-line shop for a modest price (originals fetch about £250-£300 now). I bought one and it's quite good. It's a digital scan, so the colours probably aren't quite as bright as on a vintage '67 printing. They're printed on heavier card stock, rather than thin poster paper, so they're sturdy.

When The Fool split in 1970, Barry Finch and Josje Leeger moved to Amsterdam and are still together, though I don't know if they still create artwork. Marijke Koger, one of the original members (Barry and Josje joined after the others moved to London), moved to America, got hitched and still creates paintings and prints. She too has her own website, where you can buy original paintings (pretty costly) or reprints of some of her 60s poster designs. The reprints are giclees, but the quality seems to be good. I can't give a first-hand assessment, because I haven't purchased any at the moment. Simon Posthuma, also one of the Fool founders, moved back to Holland and also has a site, but there doesn't appear to be anything for sale.

There's a few other notables from the English psychedelic art scene. Alan Aldridge, who created drawings for The Beatles and illustrations for various magazines. Mike McInnerney, the cover artist for The Who's Tommy album (see the link for the details of his "Tommy" artwork) and several Oz and International Times issues. He doesn't have a website or even a Wikipedia page, so I'm not sure what he's up to these days--keeping a low profile, certainly. John Hurford also contributed to Oz and created a few gig posters, of which originals are pretty much impossible to find now. There is a book available covering most of his late 60s and early 70s work, as well as his creations to the present.

American psychedelic posters seem to be all the rage at the moment, too. I'll cover the U.S. scene in another post. If you've got any Hapshash or Sharp art you want to sell, give me a shout.

01 October 2009

The Reign Of The Crimson King

13 Tishri - Year 5770

Along with other many other landmark albums reaching their 40th anniversaries this year (Abbey Road, Let It Bleed & Aoxomoxoa, to name just a few), is King Crimson's debut. In The Court Of The Crimson King is often called the first true expression of the genre that would subsequently be called "progressive rock" or "art-rock". Prog-rock, which started as a mainly English phenomenon, was melded together from psychedelia, European classical strains and even a bit of outre jazz. The idea was to subvert the usual three-minute constraints of a pop chart single, which had already been stretched and even broken by psychedelic music - but progressive bands continued the experimentation. Adding in virtuoso performances, themed poetic/fantasy lyrics and multi-part suites (that sometimes took up entire album sides)..prog-rockers hoped to make rock-and-roll as legitimate an art form as jazz, classical..or even folk and blues. They seemed to see Blonde On Blonde, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn as standard-bearers for a new kind of rock, only one that didn't really have a name at the time.

The band that recorded "In The Court..." consisted of a few chancers from the Bournemouth area, a woodwind player they met, and a good-looking young bass player from Poole. Most of them were barely out of their teens. Robert Fripp, the guitar player, Michael Giles, the drummer and Peter Giles, bassist - had recorded one album as Giles, Giles & Fripp, which was released to some underground acclaim in 1968. Peter was replaced by Greg Lake (out of psych outfit The Gods) and Ian McDonald joined the band, playing keyboards and wind instruments. They practised hard and gigged for six months, then entered Wessex Sound Studios for about ten days between June and August 1969. They were originally to be produced by Tony Clarke, who had guided The Moody Blues through their psychedelic excursions on In Search Of The Lost Chord and On The Threshold Of A Dream. The sessions with Clarke broke down and the boys were essentially left alone to produce themselves (rumour has it that Lake did most of the production work himself).

A friend of Fripp's, Barry Godber, painted the striking images that would become the album artwork. Sadly, he passed away some months after the album's release. The screaming face on the front is said to be "The 21st Century Schizoid Man" and the smiling face on the inside of the gatefold sleeve is either referred to as "The Wizard" or "The Crimson King". Gatefold sleeves became de rigeur after "Sgt. Pepper.." and especially for progressive rock albums after "In The Court.." was released.

The band had already previewed the material in their live sets. They had a short residency at the Marquee Club in London and they had also been one of the support acts for The Rolling Stones' free concert at Hyde Park in July 1969 (along with Third Ear Band, Family, Battered Ornaments and a few others). Their set was fairly short, but they managed to wow the crowd with their alchemic blend of styles. "In The Court.." was released by Island Records in October 1969. The band began to fragment soon after an American tour, which soured McDonald and Giles on the prospect of long-term touring. The original line-up split at the end of 1969, leaving Fripp to continue on with the K.C. name. He offered to leave, instead of Giles and McDonald, but they both agreed the group was "more his than theirs". Lake also left, to join The Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson and Crazy World Of Arthur Brown/Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer to form prog 'supergroup' Emerson, Lake & Palmer, in 1970. He did agree to help out on the follow-up to "In The Court..", In The Wake Of Poseidon.

The music? If you've never heard the album..the tunes range from the near-heavy rock of 21st Century Schizoid Man to the gentle balladry of I Talk To The Wind to the kitchen-sink prog of the title track. The important thing to remember about this record, it seems to me, is that it's a true band effort--contrary to the belief that Crimso was Fripp's band from the very start. Lake's vocals, McDonald's exemplary flute and sax-playing and Giles's almost martial drumming all contribute to the tunes. Peter Sinfield, the band's lyricist and light-show operator, provided some complimentary baroque and mock-profound words for Lake to sing. Fripp himself proved a wonder, if a little unsteady, on his trusty Gibson six-string. He became a new sort of guitar-hero - the understated egghead. Contrast him with Jimmy Page, Alvin Lee, Hendrix, etc. and his unwillingness to strut and act the showman is miles away from the others. His playing relies little on the blues roots of most other rock guitarists of the day and even when he attempts some jazzy noodling in the center section of Moonchild, it doesn't sound like what one would expect as 'jazz'.

In a live setting, the band were even more of a monster, with "21st Century Schizoid Man" sounding ever more sinister than the studio version..and yes, they were able to do all of the stop/start rhythms. If you haven't heard any of the shows from 1969, check out the Epitaph set, released in the late 90s. There's also a Collector's Club disc, which features one of their Marquee sets from July 1969.

After "In The Wake..", Fripp really did become Crimson's guiding force, with an ever-changing line-up helping him to release records at the vanguard of prog-rock. The 1973-1974 line-up of Fripp, Bill Bruford (ex-Yes), John Wetton (ex-Family and Mogul Thrash) and David Cross nearly matched the 1969 roster for brilliance, especially on the Larks Tongues In Aspic album. Fripp finally split Crimson for good early in 1975 and went into session work for the likes of David Bowie and Brian Eno. He reformed Crimson in the early 1980s and then again in the mid-1990s, while balancing those incarnations of the band with a solo career. The future of King Crimson is unknown, but there may be one more reformation. I don't think it will be of the 1969 vintage, though. That one's left to the recordings and the memories of the band members and the audiences who were lucky enough to be there.

Discipline Global Mobile, Fripp's label that he set up in the early 1990s, are commemerating "In The Court.."s anniversary with a 2-CD set, a CD & DVD-A set and a massive boxed set, with 5 CDs and a DVD-A. The boxed set is rumoured to be packaged in a 12"X12" case...pretty much LP-sized--like Mike Oldfield's Ultimate Tubular Bells set, released earlier this year. You can find the details of the various versions here. I think I'm going to go for the box, myself. Steven Wilson, of Porcupine Tree, helped R.F. with the re-mixing. There's also re-issues of Red and Lizard soon to be available..and the rest of the 70s Crimson albums should be re-issued in the coming months. Summon back the firewitch, it's time to hang out in the court of the Crimson King again!