In the Court of the Crimson King turns 50
"an uncanny masterpiece"
– Pete Townshend, 1969
It’s a quote that’s forever associated with the album. It was used in advertising at the time of release. Unlike many claims made in advertising it has, like the album it heralded, stood the test of time.
Words by Declan Colgan
It’s easy to forget how quickly things moved for the first incarnation of King Crimson. Formed on January 13th 1969, by April they were regulars on stage at the likes of The Marquee and The Speakeasy clubs and performed with Tyrannosaurus Rex at The Lyceum. By May they had recorded the first of two BBC sessions, initial (abandoned) album recording sessions in June and then, in early July - the big breakthrough - played to 650,000 people in Hyde Park supporting The Rolling Stones.
The album was recorded in August and they signed to Island Records (Atlantic in the USA). They just missed the Isle of Wight festival due to illness/exhaustion, played more gigs and a second BBC session in September, had a Top 5 and unanimously lauded album in the UK, followed by a Top 30 debut in the USA weeks later.
A tour of the USA followed, with concert appearances at legendary venues such as the Boston Tea Party, Chicago’s Kinetic Playground, New York’s Fillmore East and another appearance on a bill with the Rolling Stones – this time at a Miami festival. Then, following a series of December appearances at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, it was over as quickly as it had begun.
The arc, from the band’s formation to dissolution, had taken less than a year.
King Crimson would return in many different line-ups over the years, each different from its predecessor. With two concerts at The Palladium in late 2018 and three shows at The Royal Albert Hall in June 2019, the current line-up has played to more people in London, its city of origin, than at any point since 1969. In the process, King Crimson has played more of the material from 1969 than any line-up since the original.
The current line-up has, on more than one occasion, been described as “the best live band in the world” – an accolade also bestowed upon the original line-up.
50 years on the studio recordings of that first King Crimson line-up remain uncanny masterpieces. They left behind an iconic - both musically and in terms of cover art - self-produced, debut album and a fearsome live reputation.
King Crimson were a band that, in its first brief period of existence, set its own agenda. Today, they continue to do so.