The most requested song of all time on BBC Radio 2 is “How Wonderful You Are” by Gordon Haskell. In 2001, it reached Number 2 in the charts behind Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman’s cover of “Somethin’ Stupid”. Gordon Haskell was scheduled to appear on “Top Of The Pops” in late 2001 but EMI Records and the City of London Bank, who were in the process of finalizing a £42 million deal with Robbie Williams, caused the broadcast of his performance to be delayed for more than a year. David Enthoven was Robbie Williams’ manager at the time and he had previously managed King Crimson when Gordon Haskell was a member. The album “Harry’s Bar” got to Number 2 in the UK Charts but his follow up album “Shadows On The Wall” did not chart – although he had received a £2.8 million advance from Warner Brothers, he was dropped by the record company, owing them money.
Before he joined King Crimson, Gordon Haskell was at school with Robert Fripp after which he played bass for the magnificent psychedelic rock group The Fleur De Lys. Pete Sears was also a member of The Fleur De Lys and he later played with Papa John Creach who introduced him to Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and Marty Balin; together they formed Jefferson Starship and recorded the outstanding “Dragonfly”. Other members of The Fleur De Lys include Bryn Haworth who has now recorded 22 solo albums and Phil Sawyer who played in The Spencer Davis Group. Some of The Fleur de Lys’ tracks were produced by Jimmy Page, Glyn Johns and Chas Chandler who added a guitar overdub by Jimi Hendrix to a song called “Amen”.
Gordon Haskell joined King Crimson to sing the lead vocals on “Cadence And Cascade” from “In The Wake Of Poseidon” and he then joined the group full time for “Lizard”. However, the progressive rock inclinations of Robert Fripp meant that Gordon Haskell’s voice was manipulated and distorted, much to his disgust. He left King Crimson acrimoniously. He subsequently wrote an autobiography called “The Road To Harry’s Bar – Forty Years On The Potholed Path To Stardom”, lived in Skopelos for several years before returning to the UK and releasing two albums, “It’s Me And You And Them And Us” and “The Cat Who’s Got The Cream”. He died from cancer on October 15th this year.
Andy McCulloch was born in Hiroshima and drummed for the Manfred Mann group before joining King Crimson for “Lizard” after which he joined Greenslade, a progressive rock group formed by Dave Greenslade, formerly of Colosseum. He is now a Yachtmaster and charters his own yachts around Greek islands.
Mel Collins is a flautist and saxophonist who, after playing on “Lizard”, recorded with Dire Straits and The Rolling Stones and many other acts. In 2002 he joined a King Crimson tribute band called “21st Century Schizoid Band” until Robert Fripp asked him and the singer Jakko Jakszyk to help him reform King Crimson in 2013.
Pete Sinfield never knew his father. His mother was bisexual and he was largely brought up by a housekeeper called Maria Wallenda who was a high wire walker. When he heard the opening line to “Colours” by Donovan (“yellow is the colour of my true love’s hair“), he knew he wanted to write songs. He joined King Crimson as lyricist, designer of their light show and, as he put it himself, “their pet hippy”. Greg Lake was in the early incarnation of King Crimson and Pete Sinfield wrote the lyrics to “I Believe In Father Christmas” which has been a perennial Christmas hit for Greg Lake. Pete Sinfield claimed that the major influences on his writing have been William Blake, Kahlil Gibran, Shakespeare and Enid Blyton.
I haven’t mentioned Robert Fripp. He is married to Toyah Wilcox and during lockdown, they have been putting out weekly YouTube videos. Never accuse Robert Fripp of having no sense of humour. Or of not being a little crazy.
That’s a long introduction to this album but suffice to say that the genius displayed on this album was probably inspired by a little madness in everyone that played on it. The album is split into two very distinct sides. Side One has four songs on it and Side Two has a suite of four songs, collected together under the title “Lizard”.
“Cirkus” is a menacing opener which roars into life with a swirling mellotron playing behind Mel Collin’s jaunty saxophone, Andy McCulloch’s inventive drums and Robert Fripp’s classical style guitar. “Indoor Games” and “Happy Family” fit together with piano and horns leading into some free style jazz playing. Gordon Haskell’s voice is very appropriate in the context of these drug-inspired fairy tales. Side One ends with a short acoustic track “The Lady of Dancing Water”.
Side Two starts quietly with Jon Anderson, the singer with Yes, taking lead vocals for “Prince Rupert Awakes”. The chorus is pretty and catchy with some great backward guitar. “Bolero – The Peacock’s Tale” starts with a mournful cornet played by Mark Charig who was to surpass even this majestic playing on the title track of their next album, “Islands”. Robin Miller’s cor anglais takes over while Keith Tippett’s piano playing is subdued at first before all three instruments jam together in a flamboyant and exciting groove. There are no vocals.
The third section of the suite (“The Battle Of Glass Tears”) is nearly eleven minutes long and itself is split into three parts. It starts quietly with an oboe before Gordon Haskell sings a tale of an imminent battle – the armies are preparing for battle which explodes into action with sounds reminiscent of King Crimson’s debut (“In The Court Of The Crimson King”). The drumming takes centre stage at first before the trombone and flute bounce off each other until they all become quite manic. The mellotron provides a clear structure for these instruments to improvise and the result is thrilling.
Finally, “Prince Rupert’s Lament” consists of a lovely understated guitar solo from Robert Fripp accompanied by some menacing timpani playing before the unsettling one minute coda of “Big Top”.
If it takes a little madness and unconventionality to produce great music, I’m all in favour.