The beginning of 1970 found King Crimson in a precarious state. The previous six months brought hectic activity for the band, with the second half of 1969 being consumed with the recording and releasing of their dbut album In The Court Of The Crimson King, constant live performances throughout the UK during the summer and fall including the historic July 5th show at the Hyde Park Festival headlined by the Rolling Stones, and a first tour of the US in November and December. The US tour proved to have a seismic impact on the future of the band. Aside from lyricist and conceptualist Pete Sinfield, three quarters of the musicians in the band wanted out. Greg Lake connected with Keith Emerson during the last performance of the US tour at the Fillmore West and they decided to form a new band. Reeds and keyboard player Ian McDonald and drummer Michael Giles found road life and the sudden success too overwhelming and wanted to continue on their own. Robert Fripp’s Journal, 3 January 1970, reads: “The American tour was such a total experience of plasticity that Ian and Mike now feel that getting their feelings across on records is more important than performing to audiences.”
The tipping point could have been an offer for the guitar position in Yes, who were left with no guitar player when Peter Banks was asked to leave the band. Another offer came from Aynsley Dunbar’s Blue Whale. Had he opted for one of these options, the King Crimson story would have ended right there, leaving us with a single album for the ages. Luckily Robert Fripp declined the offers, and together with Pete Sinfield decided to continue the band concept. Their immediate future was unclear, but they came through a difficult period with their next three albums, of which In The Wake Of Poseidon was the first.
Fripp and Sinfield’s first task was to cobble together enough material for the second album, not an easy task given the critical contributions the departing members made in the first album. From a songwriting perspective the biggest loss was Ian McDonald, who wrote two of that album’s best compositions, I Talk To The Wind and the album’s title track, The Court of the Crimson King. Robert Fripp was not a prolific composer at the time and becoming the sole musical contributor left him with one obvious choice – use as many pieces of music that were created and rehearsed in the past but were left off the first album. Peace, the dreamy song that repeats in three variations on the second album, was created in 1968. Pictures of a City started as A Man, A City and showed up on the band’s set list in their US tour in 1969, around the same time that the band started working on Cat Food. In addition, many similarities exist between Cadence and Cascade and Flight of the Ibis that appeared on McDonald and Giles’ album a year later, both based on ideas worked by McDonald during 1969 when he was with the band.
Still, Fripp had to polish up these pieces and come up with new material to complete an album, and he did an excellent job, including turning Cat Food into an unlikely semi-hit and landing a BBC Top of the Pops appearance with it, the band’s last until 1981.
Some of the first album’s staple innovative music forms found their way into the making of the followup album. Pictures Of A City reminds one of the aggressive, manic scale runs that shocked and awed listeners the first time they dropped the needle on the first side of the debut album and unsuspectingly became aware of new sonic possibilities with 21st Schizoid Century Man. The great saxophone playing is courtesy of Mel Collins, who was recruited by Fripp from the band Circus. Collins would continue as a member of the band during the next two albums Lizard and Islands, and would contribute as a guest musician the great soprano sax accompaniment to the timeless Starless on the Red album in 1974.
The “Progiest” piece on the album is the title song In the Wake of Poseidon, one of the best showcases of a Mellotron captured on vinyl and a great achievement for Fripp who had to fill up Ian McDonald’s Mellotron skills, so prominent of the first album. The title track also features great acoustic guitar playing by Fripp and excellent drumming by Michael Giles, who together with brother Peter on bass was recruited as studio musician to help realize the album.
A critical part to the sound of the second album is Greg Lake, who agreed to contribute vocals during the album’s recording, as he was waiting for the formal beginning of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. His vocal delivery on the title song is no less powerful than the one he sang on Epitaph from the first album, considered by many his best performance with King Crimson.
One more guest musician invited for the studio work was Keith Tippett, who’s free jazz ensemble shared the bill with King Crimson and sax player John Surman at the Marquee club’s New Paths series in 1969, a program that aimed to show how rock and jazz are idioms that can meet to create new music. At some point Tippett was offered a permanent position with King Crimson which he politely declined, but his impact on the following albums was substantial and in line with Fripp’s forays into Jazz territories during that period. His piano playing on Lizard and Islands is priceless and one of the main reason I like these albums so much. On Poseidon he adds an array of sometimes dissonant runs on Cat’s Food and at other times beautiful and lyrical melodies on Cadence and Cascade.
The last musician to appear on In The Wake Of Poseidon, and in hindsight maybe the first recruiting mistake Fripp made, was his high school friend Gordon Haskell, with whom he played in the band League of Gentlemen back in 1965. Haskell has just released his album Sail In My Boat when Fripp called. Haskell: “I straight away, without any hesitation, said ‘absolutely not’. I was totally R&B oriented and it wasn’t my sort of music. I didn’t like King Crimson. Anyway, after a while I said I’d think about it, and my wife got to work on me because she wanted a regular income so in the end I joined.” The rest of the tale does not get any better. After Haskell contributed vocals to Cadence and Cascade, the band moved on to rehearse and record material for the next album, Lizard. Haskell, who sang and played bass on Lizard, holds a grudge: “The drummer, Andy McCulloch, was in tears – Fripp used to bully him unmercifully. He bullied us all. I don’t go for that though, so where Andy would cry I would just laugh. At the end of one song, ‘Indoor Games’, I just burst out laughing. You can hear it on the album. They thought it was really freaky, that I’d understood the lyrics and my part – but the truth of the matter is, it was a lousy song, the lyrics were ludicrous and my singing was atrocious so I just burst out laughing. And they thought it was wonderful!” Unsurprisingly Haskell and McCulloch did not last long. The band did not perform live shows in 1970 and after the recording of Lizard the two split and another lineup was assembled. McCulloch would end up as drummer with Greenslade, and luckily Haskell’s grudge did not extend to other King Crimson members. His 1974 album It Is And It Isn’t features John Wetton who added great bass lines to the album’s songs.
Cadence and Cascade demonstrates the group’s ability to play a delicate ballad, similar to the role of I Talk To The Wind on the first album, only this time purely acoustic. Mel Collins plays a beautiful flute solo and Keith Tippett adds interesting piano flourishes. As usual Michael Giles plays his melodic phrases on the cymbals, a signature of his that he used so well on Moonchild.
The New Musical Express summarized the song well on their May 9th 1970 issue: “Cadence and Cascade is a tale of two groupies. A delicate, wispy song with a pretty melody that features Gordon Haskell’s vocal and the restrained and tasteful piano and flute work by Keith Tippett and Mel Collins.
Fripp: “Gordon Haskell has been a friend of mine since the age of 11. We were in our first group together at school. We thought he had the right kind of phrasing for this song. I play celeste on it.” You can hear that celeste in the ‘Caravan Hotel’ part of the song. “
The lyrics Peter Sinfield wrote for this song employ his typical style of fantastic imagery, and deal with two groupies who are enamored with a touring musician (Sinfield?) but later find him, well, just a man. Meeting girls on the road was a favorite topic for Sinfield. A year later he repeated the subject matter with Ladies Of The Road, albeit a raunchier take this time.
In The Wake Of Poseidon was released in May 1970, and riding the critical acclaim of the debut album, surpassed it by reaching the fourth position in the UK album charts. Journalists were mostly complimentary: “Crimson – A force to be reckoned with”, “King Crimson’s peak of evil excellence!”, “King Crimson’s basic still there”, and the ridiculous “If Wagner were alive he’d work with Crimson”. Others found the album too samey to In The Court Of The Crimson King. I can see similarities, and side 1 of the LP places stylistically similar tunes in the same order on both albums. But Poseidon is still a great album that is significant in the band’s discography for featuring the last pieces of material associated with the original band.
Throughout the 70s King Crimson acted as a vehicle for Robert Fripp to deliver his musical vision via a revolving door of talented musicians. Even as the band’s nucleus stabilized in the mid 70s around Fripp, Wetton and Bruford, there are no two records with the same personnel until the 80s incarnation of the band, and no two records sound alike. I agree with Fripp’s viewpoint that he was never part of the “Prog” scene and is not of the same ilk as the genre’s top bands such as Yes, Genesis, ELP and others. The focus on experimentation in the studio and more so in live situations and the constant search for new ways to play and produce music sets King Crimson apart. That type of restlessness has prevented the band from sinking into artistic boredom combined with recycling and repetition of old materials, a fate that found most of their “peers”. So not a Prog band, but perhaps the most progressive of them all. Here they are showcasing their lyrical side from that tumultuous period in 1970 – Cadence and Cascade:
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