Saturday, November 14, 2009

King Crimson: In The Court Of The Crimson King

Last Saturday, I featured a song from one of my favorite albums – Cream’s “Disraeli Gears,” and I have made up my mind to use this as a regular feature. Today, I am featuring King Crimson’s debut LP “In the Court of the Crimson King” and my favorite cut when I first got the album: “I Talk to the Wind.” The vocals are handled by Greg Lake and Ian McDonald.

I received this album, I believe, in the winter of 1972 and loved every cut on the album; however, the heavier “21st Century Schizoid Man” was and is probably my least favorite cut on the LP. I prefer the mellower King Crimson songs and, while I am probably leaning towards the song “Epitaph” as my current favorite, I already used this song in connection with the piece on the Mellotron (see my post on the Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow”).

"I Talk to the Wind" was written by Ian McDonald and his lyricist, Peter Sinfield, and features Greg Lake and McDonald on vocals. I just love the woodwinds on this song, McDonald’s flutes and clarinets make this piece the great song it is. Add to this Robert Fripp’s contemplative guitar lines, the Mellotron (played by McDonald), Michael Giles’ drums, and Lake’s bass and you have a masterpiece.

A depiction of the 21st Century Schizoid Man painted by 
Barry Godber who died shortly after the debut album's release

In my opinion, “In the Court of the Crimson King” was King Crimson’s absolute best album bar none. While some of the other Crimson LPs have merit, they do not have the consistency that the debut album exhibited.

Although “I Talk to the Wind” was released in 1969, two additional versions of the song were recorded as demos by the band’s precursor: Giles, Giles, and Fripp.

The first of these features Judy Dyble, the original female lead vocalist with Fairport Convention. Ironically, Judy worked with two Ian McDonalds. The first, the original male lead vocalist with Fairport Convention, changed his name to Ian Matthews – using his middle name Matthew with an added “s” to avoid confusion with King Crimson’s Ian McDonald. Matthews now uses his birth spelling of his first name as “Iain.”

Following Dyble’s departure from Fairport Convention, she began dating the King Crimson Ian McDonald and both joined Giles, Giles, and Fripp in 1968. They produced a number of demos including the original version of “I Talk to the Wind,” which first appeared on the 1976 compilation, “A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson.”

Giles, Giles, and Fripp: I Talk to the Wind (with Judy Dyble)

When McDonald and Dyble’s relationship ended, she left the band and a second demo was cut by Giles, Giles, & Fripp with McDonald and the Giles brothers on vocals. This version was not released until 2002 with the issue of “The Brondesbury Tapes: 1968.” This incarnation features an excellent guitar solo by Fripp and a different flute solo by McDonald that was not used on the King Crimson version.

Giles, Giles, and Fripp: I Talk to the Wind (with McDonald, Giles, & Giles on vocals)

When Fripp and Peter Giles didn’t agree on the direction of the band, Peter Giles left the group. Fripp, Michael Giles, McDonald, and Sinfield enlisted Greg Lake for bass and vocals and this lineup became King Crimson and the personnel for the debut LP. Following an American tour to support this LP, Crimson disbanded.

In the wake of the split, Greg Lake formed Emerson, Lake, and Palmer with Keith Emerson (ex the Nice) and Carl Palmer (ex Atomic Rooster). McDonald and Michael Giles became a duo that was appropriately named McDonald and Giles (enlisting Peter Giles on bass and Sinfield on Lyrics).  McDonald and Giles recorded one self-titled album that was released in the US on Cotillion. Beginning in 1971, Fripp reformed King Crimson.  This is something he has done several times and has been the only constant member of the band in all of its various incarnations.

Incidentally, Peter and Michael Giles returned as a members on the second album, “In the Wake of Poseidon.” Ian McDonald was replaced by Mel Collins on woodwinds and Keith Tippett on keyboards. McDonald was later enlisted to be a session musician for Crimson’s seventh LP – “Red” in 1974.

Since the 70s, King Crimson alumni have been involved in numerous projects. Crimson disbanded a second time in 1975. After a five year hiatus, Fripp reformed the group in 1980. The band would split and reform numerous times always with Fripp at the helm.

In 1976, McDonald was a founding member of Foreigner and played on all of their hits from the 70s and 80s. In 2009, he produced Judy Dyble’s album “Talking with Strangers.” Robert Fripp was also utilized as a session musician on this project.

To support the re-release of several CD versions of “In the Court of the Crimson King,” a new group was formed by King Crimson alumni and Michael Giles’ son-in-law, Jakko Jakszyk. Jakszyk may have the best voice of anyone who has sung this song. The lineup of the 21st Century Schizoid Band included:

  • Michael Giles – drums
  • Peter Giles – bass
  • Ian McDonald – woodwinds, keyboards, and vocals
  • Mel Collins – woodwinds and keyboards
  • Jakko Jakszyk – guitar and lead vocals

21st Century Schizoid Band (poor live recording): I Talk to the Wind (with Jakszyk and McDonald on vocals)


  1. Great post, Jim and thanks for the history. I'm listening to the album right now at work. I'm sure you're aware of the brilliant use of Court of Crimson King in the film "Children of Men"