On this date 46 years ago in 1970 King Crimson released their third studio album, Lizard. Described at the time by one critic as “The abyss where modern jazz and rock meet”,with its clashing styles, whirling improvisations, soaring classical-tinged themes and dramatic showcases, Lizard remains a remarkable album in the Crimson catalogue. Given the ambitious ground it attempted to cover it is perhaps no surprise that it still has the capacity to polarise opinion amongst fans and band members alike.
Recorded in a state of flux following the implosion of the first band, and the release of In The Wake Of Poseidon earlier in the year, the King Crimson that entered Wessex Studios in the September of 1970 was still an uncertain proposition. New recruits Gordon Haskell and Andy McCulloch had learned a set of Fripp compositions in the band’s Fullham Palace Road basement rehearsal space. With parts allocated by Fripp rather than developed by the players themselves, the regime involved long hours of the bassist and drummer playing on their own, with little or no sense of what the final shape of the material would be.
Once in Wessex Studios, developing personal tensions between old and new members coupled with technical problems encountered at Wessex Studios, rendered this recording a somewhat fraught affair at times. “I remember the recording of Lizard was very hard” recalls McCulloch. “Bob Fripp had a lot of the music in his head as to what it was going to sound like, so you’d be working blind in the sense that we’d go and play the bass and drums with a very excited guitar track that wasn’t kept. I suppose it was a guide track. So you’d play around doing stuff, and then after you’d done your bit, then all the stuff would come out of Bob’s mind as to what he was going to put on top of it all.”
Lizard appears to represent a desire to forge a freer rock and jazz vocabulary, a commitment that could be measured by the increased involvement of Keith Tippett in Crimson recordings. Having made no secret of his admiration of Tippett’s music, Fripp formally asked the pianist, along with his wife, Julie Tippetts (nee Driscoll) to not only join the band on a permanent basis but become an equal partner in determining musical direction. "The terms would have been that I would have had musical input. He knew that I was a strong musical personality and I would have gone in and possibly taken it all in another way with his blessing because we would have been joint bandleaders," recalls Tippett. Though tempted the pianist declined. "I hadn’t long been in London and I’d left Bristol realising that I had to go to London to play with musicians who were more experienced than myself to learn quickly — apart from that I had too much love for the sextet and it would have taken me away from the jazz scene”.
Fripp harnessed two other members of Tippett’s sextet, cornet player, Mark Charig and trombonist Nick Evans, who recalls he and Charig spent two evenings in a booth at Wessex overdubbing on top of Haskell and McCulloch’s basic tracks. “Our parts were added in small sections, maybe four or eight bars at a time and after each snippet was recorded it was checked carefully in the producer's box to make sure it was exactly what Bob Fripp wanted. It took quite a time to get all my sections down on tape,” says Evans. “During that period of my life I was working with jazz musicians who were very keen on accepting the first take of any recording. You know, ‘capture the moment and maintain its spontaneity as much as possible’. This is NOT the way pop bands operate and I found the stop-start method of working a little unnerving."
The album featured another guest performance from Jon Anderson. The vocalist had been approached by Greg Lake who had relayed Fripp’s interest in having the singer record with Crimson. “I said OK and gave him my number and then about three months later Bob rang me up and said I’m going to record next month,” Anderson remembers. He had no idea what he was going to sing until he turned up at Wessex, and then couldn’t help but smile when he saw the title. “Prince Rupert was the name of a train that would go past our school every Wednesday and I thought it’s so bizarre that he wrote this song which I sang and it had that kind of connection. Afterwards I told Bob that story, and you know Bob Fripp, he just said ‘Oh. Thank you, Jon. Bye.’”