One of the most beloved & revered in the rock music canon, hailed "an uncanny masterpiece" by Pete Townshend, In The Court of the Crimson King is celebrating its 50th Anniversary.
King Crimson biographer, Sid Smith, muses on the equally unearthly cover paintings by Barry Godber.
Words by Sid Smith
Painted in the summer of 1969 Barry Godber’s cover for King Crimson’s debut, In The Court Of The Crimson King, is one of the most instantly-recognised album sleeves of the 20th Century.
Very few LP covers convey the dramatic impact of the music they contain but Barry Godber’s ‘Schizoid Man,’ as it was dubbed by members of King Crimson, did just that.
When it first appeared in record shop windows it created a storm of interest with many awed shoppers buying the album on the strength of the cover alone.
Regardless of whatever format it has appeared on, over the five decades the album has been in print, the intensity and power of that image has never been diminished.
A friend of lyricist Peter Sinfield, Barry Godber was a regular visitor to King Crimson’s rehearsal room in the basement of the Fulham Palace Road Cafe.
The artist had already designed the “King Crimson Is…” poster printed on reflective foil paper which had been fly posted around London in April 1969 when almost nobody had heard of the group.
The distinctive A3 poster featured the flaming eye motif which Godber then adapted to cover the bass drum heads on Michael Giles’ double drum kit.
When it came to producing a cover Godber listened to demo tapes of King Crimson’s first album and produced two startling paintings. Using watercolours, Godber gazed into a shaving mirror and constructed one of the most fearful self-portraits ever to grace a record sleeve.
At the time he painted it he was working as a computer programmer having earlier quit his course at Chelsea School of Art.
The first public unveiling came when Godber took the finished painting to Wessex Studios where King Crimson was at work on their debut record.
Greg Lake vividly remembered the moment. “We all stood around it and it was like something out of Treasure Island where you’re all standing around a box of jewels and treasure...this fucking face screamed up from the floor and what it said to us was Schizoid Man - the very track we’d been working on. It was as if there was something magic going on.”
It was the first and last album sleeve designed by Godber who died in 1970 aged 24-years old following a heart attack.
In 1969 those eyes were wide open with terror, beset by something unseen and unsettling beyond the frame as Godber responded to lyrics which spoke of war, paranoia and a gnawing fear that the fate of the world was left in the hands of fools.
Fifty years on, those words and this image resonate with us still.
“this fucking face screamed up from the floor and what it said to us was Schizoid Man - the very track we’d been working on. It was as if there was something magic going on”
The original cover painting by Barry Godber, alongside a record sleeve
The original inner sleeve painting by Barry Godber, alongside the record