Last Elephant Talk

From: Toby Howard
Date: 16th February 2007
Title: Last Elephant Talk

You'd never believe it, but once upon a time, it was almost impossible to find out what Robert Fripp was up to.

In 1991, I decided I wanted to fix that.

I first encountered King Crimson in 1974 at the Records section of the Birkenhead Public Library, and although I liked the record cover (which was the natural basis on which to borrow a record), I took an instant dislike to the music of "Lizard". At the time, I was a sunny Yes-fan/jazzer, dividing my time between what we would now call "prog-rock", and what we would now call, as we did then, "jazz".

I didn't listen to a note of Crimson again until as a regular gig-going student at Manchester University I saw "Discipline" play up the road at Manchester Polytechnic on (the archives tell me) May 17th 1981. The Poly was a dirty, smelly place, beer on the floor, full of spotty students, but the music was like nothing I'd ever heard before. "Gamelan Talking Heads" I wrote in my diary. (I did, really.)

Well, this is the place to cut the story extremely short, except to say I was hooked, and in the next few years I devoured every Fripp-related "thing" I could get my hands on. Except Lizard.

In the mid-1980s Guitar Craft got going, and I got seriously interested, even writing to attend a course, but it never happened. But GC European tours were happening, and I caught them at Zeferreli's in Kendal and at the Leeds Irish Centre.

I believe it was Guitar Craft that led directly to Elephant Talk.

Or rather, it was my frustration. In those days, it was almost impossible to know what was going on -- there was no source of information. I wrote to EG Records: "I am a fan. Please add me to your mailing list". They didn't, or perhaps they didn't have a mailing list. Knowing what we know about EG now, perhaps there are other explanations.

So, one summer afternoon in 1991 in my office at Manchester University, where I worked, as I do now, as a Lecturer in Computer Graphics (not Prog-Rock), I looked at my VT100 computer terminal and it said to me: "Start a mailing list."

So I did.

I had a few contacts gleaned from the USENET News system (still limping along today) so I assembled a small mailing list and circulated these people asking if they'd be interested in a moderated mailing list to discuss anything related to Robert Fripp. This was 19th August 1991, and I said:


Hi! Thanks to everyone who's expressed interest (24 so far) in a mailing list to talk about Frippery. Tell your friends!

I started the list so we could talk about Fripp and his music/ideas, as well as former (and I hope future!) King Crimson members, and other collaborators, the League of Crafty Guitarists etc etc etc

Unless anyone can come up with anything better, I'll call the list "Discipline". For now, contact it at toby at uk dot ac dot man dot cs.

I'll do my best to moderate the list, and send out a digest every so often!

Let's go!

[ the whole thing is here: ]


And "go" we did, ending 16 years later after 1250 editions.

The name changed because Robert rang me up and suggested that "Discipline" was not really appropriate, and he was right.

I'll let the archives speak for themselves, except perhaps to highlight the April's Fool edition, which is my personal favourite, and still brings tears to my eyes ("Tony Levin interview in Hairdressing Today", "Anyone got TAB for soundscapes?", "I just had a cool idea -- let's record the show!"). Oh stop it.

Why is the ET Newsletter closing down? Well, it came from, and belonged to, a different time.

Today, as I'm sure you'll have noticed, there is certainly no shortage of information about Robert and Crimson and all the connected people.

Who, in 1991, nevermind 1974, could have ever dreamed of on-line resources like we have today? It's absolutely wonderful, isn't it? Aren't we lucky? Click-it and you-got-it.

Posts to ET have dropped off dramatically. People prefer quickfire forums and guestbooks: "I-say-X-she-says-Y" exchanges that unfold "instantly" instead of being batched up into weekly newsletters which require a sharp eye for spotting the quoting conventions within mail messages.

My role in ET has been minimal. We could not have achieved anything without the goodwill and kindness of many many many people, just a few of whom I'd like to mention here.


I had the pleasure of meeting Robert after an in-store Manchester HMV soundscapes appearance in 199-something. As we walked up the stairs to the Green Room (or "Store Room" as an HMV-employee might have described it) Robert asked me: "Why did you start Elephant Talk". I replied: "To share information".

If he were to ask me today "Why did you finish Elephant Talk", I think I'd reply: "I think we've shared quite a lot of information over the last 16 years, but now there are much better ways to do that, so we're not needed anymore."

Elephant Talk the website will live on. We have a ton of valuable resources there, and we need to decide what to do with all that. It needs un-entangling, and re-entangling somehow better.

But for ET the newsletter the time is over, and to everyone even remotely involved with us over the last 16 years, I say thank you.

Best wishes,


Mike Stok