PGiles interview

Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 22:40:51 +1100
From: "Keenan, Owen" <okeenan at railaccess dot com dot au>
Subject: PGiles interview

This is from the VoicePrint newsletter for any ETers who may be interested

Why Don't You Just Drop In On
Giles Giles & Fripp

Richard Ormerod talks with Peter Giles

Giles Giles and Fripp were a short lived but highly important part of rock music's heritage, mainly because they quickly evolved into the mighty King Crimson. Voiceprint have just released "The Brondesbury Tapes 1968", an album consisting of pieces recorded at the band's home (in Brondesbury Road, London) on a Revox F36 tape recorder.

RO: I'm familiar with the GG&F album "The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp". My first reaction to this "new" release is that it's a much "heavier" album, with more experimentation going on. Why is this?

PG: Firstly, it is important to keep in mind that virtually all of the tracks on "The Brondesbury Tapes" were written and recorded after we had completed the "Cheerful Insanity" album for Decca in May 1968. From June onwards, we had Ian McDonald's added input as songwriter, arranger, singer and multi-instrumentalist. Therefore there was a great incentive to write new songs. As soon as each song was written, we all got together in our makeshift studio and jammed until we were happy with our parts. Then we recorded them straightaway. It was an exciting way to work. Excitement galvanises the will. The quick turnover enabled us to develop our songwriting and thereby bring a 'tighter' (my interpretation of your word "heavier") edge to our music.

I liken the process of songwriting to composing a letter to a distant friend. They are both challenging ways in which personal thoughts and feelings are expressed. I used to notice that my initial efforts were often little more than an undifferentiated flow of consciousness where a heartfelt idea would get swamped by vagueness or long-windedness. It's rather like the joke which runs: "Sorry this letter is so long - I didn't have time to write a short (ie. strictly to the point) one." The same applies to songwriting. Finally, the song is arranged, recorded and listened to by others, and the letter is sent and read by the friend. The act of communication then attracts the processes of feedback and review in order to complete the creative cycle.

GG&F's songwriting slowly progressed from the somewhat "indefinite" style of the "Cheerful Insanity" album to a more disciplined but fluid approach which finally saw its true fruition in the King Crimson songs on "In The Court Of The Crimson King".

I suspect that the many months we spent in the Brondesbury Road music room laid the foundations for good songwriting for each of us. In a sense, we had unwittingly put ourselves through an intense CSE course - ie Concentrated Self-Expression!

RO: Who were the band's main influences at the time?

PG: I cannot speak for the others in this regard. I was not "influenced" by anybody; however, I was inspired by many artists. It would be futile to try to compile a list of these - there were so many of them in the fields of classical, jazz and pop music. GG&F never tried to copy anyone, or follow in their footsteps. On the contrary, we focussed on exploring and developing our own style of writing and playing, whatever that turned out to be.

RO: "The Cheerful Insanity" sounds worlds away from what the same musicians were playing only a year or so later as King Crimson. Is this new release "the missing link"?

Definitely. There was a subtle shift in the original spirit-of-the-band that manifested as the "Cheerful Insanity" album; this was modified in the music of "The Brondesbury Tapes", and finally transmuted into the seed-vision of King Crimson. In a way, it sounds like a chemical compound being subtly altered by the addition of new ingredients in two stages.

On reflection, a year or so seems a very short time for such a large evolutionary jump in terms of musical styles. A quantum leap might better describe the difference between Giles, Giles and Fripp and King Crimson; but they are "linked", as you say. GG&F were the caterpillar and KC the butterfly. In between, there was the chrysalis stage, represented by the music on "The Brondesbury Tapes".

RO: The sound quality is remarkably good for 1968. Why is this?

PG: This topic is dealt with in some detail in the CD sleeve notes. I would like to add that my brother, Michael, and I had worked in several top recording studios prior to forming GG&F. Hence, we had an internalised reference, as it were, to the possibilities of recorded sound quality. We constantly worked towards this theoretical goal with GG&F even though we were only using inferior recording equipment.

With the present proliferation of home and project studios, it is an ongoing issue that only a minority of working musicians seem prepared to devote the time and effort it takes to get the best out of whatever pieces of recording equipment they are using. Music is sound. So it behoves all of us to explore the technical limits of each piece of equipment we have bought before we pass judgement on its competence or replace it with something that is often fulsomely advertised as "better". It's like a very poor driver buying a great car. He could not possibly appreciate its capabilities, so why bother? So he impresses everyone - until they sit in the passenger seat beside him.

Some modern musicians (you know who you are!) are so spoilt for choice and impressed by glossy ads that their studios are full of new gear which will never be fully explored or truly appreciated. Sadly they will miss out on the great joy of getting a fantastic sound out of an old battered piece of equipment. (Ageing husbands have the identical problem with their wives! Ha! Ha! Ha!). In an imaginary modern Musicians' Bible, one can picture the injunction "Know thy self" being replaced with "Know thy gear". It is not a question of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. It is the realisation that the sonic performance of a piece of recording equipment has more to do with the user's ability than with the manufacturer's specification. Or am I wrong?

RO: Although the album as a whole is quite unlike King Crimson, one track, "I Talk To The Wind", will be well known to King Crimson fans. There are two versions here. What's the story?

PG: "I Talk To The Wind" is a McDonald/Sinfield composition. It is a superbly crafted song, both musically and lyrically. When Ian McDonald came to record with us at Brondesbury Road, we did a version of the song with Ian and Michael sharing the lead vocal. This was further refined in a subsequent recording made with Judy Dyble singing with Ian. This is one of my favourite tracks on "The Brondesbury Tapes CD".

In my opinion, the version of this song on King Crimson's "In The Court Of The Crimson King" album did not do full justice to it; and it seems that Robert Fripp felt the same way when he chose the Brondesbury Road recording (with Judy Dyble) for the King Crimson compilation album in 1975. So the listening public have four versions of this song to choose between, if we include Opus 3's dance version.

RO: Why are there no songs written by Michael Giles on the "Brondesbury Tapes"?

PG: Good question - you've obviously done your homework. The simple answer is that none of Michael's songs have been found on the original tapes. I have kept the tapes in a large wooden box for the last 33 years and it seems extremely unlikely that any of them are missing. Michael certainly wrote some good stuff for the "Cheerful Insanity" LP, and both singles (taken from the album) released by Decca in 1968 were his compositions.

Now I think of it, I don't recall him writing any new stuff after the album had been recorded, even though he was always full of great ideas for other people's songs when we were recording at home. The real answer is that he was the only one out of the four of us who had regular paid work. He played regularly with the Mike Morton band, doing ballroom gigs and radio broadcasts. Perhaps he simply didn't have the time to write.

I was very surprised not to find any of Michael's songs when I put the "Brondesbury Tapes" together - so was he! We certainly never noticed that he was not writing any new songs back in the summer and autumn of 1968. It all seems very strange now because it seemed at the time that we were all busy writing.

RO: Are there any more unreleased GG&F pieces?

PG: Nope. That's it to the best of my knowledge. Everything has been included on the "Brondesbury Tapes" except two pieces which were not up to standard. Only a musical masochist would be interested in hearing those outtakes. Perhaps I ought to destroy them, just in case.

RO: So, GG&F became KC, but you didn't join them at the beginning. Why was this?

PG: Most band splits are due to irreconcilable personal and/or musical differences. This was not the case regarding my departure from GG&F. I simply felt that I wanted a complete change from working in pop music. Yes, I snatched failure from the jaws of success. Je ne regrette rien. It was perfectly amicable between us. The others wanted to continue, so Greg Lake was recruited. He was an excellent 'frontman'.

With hindsight, I can see how the personal and musical energies of the original KC line-up were perfectly balanced and complementary. All the ingredients for a successful group were there. Pity that they didn't stay together for a much longer time. Their first album was truly amazing. I was full of admiration for what they had achieved, especially after all that Michael and I had been through together over the years. They used to write to me when they were touring the states saying "Don't give up playing". But I had made my decision. I never thought "Oh shit, I should have stuck with it".

Strange as it may appear to some people, there has never been any bad feeling between the others and myself.

RO: What are you doing musically these days?

PG: For the past thirteen years I have been working in music with my musical partner and one of my soul mates, Yasmine. She is a gifted piano/keyboard player and singer. Also she is blessed with the ability to channel great song ideas, and we have completed the preproduction for our first CD which we are now recording ourselves in our private studio. No! I am not recording it by track-bouncing on a secondhand Revox F36 tape machine! I am enjoying the luxury of having sixteen tracks to play with.

We call ourselves ALUNA and, who knows, perhaps our debut album will, like King Crimson's, be a seminal one. See you at the top!

Available NOW through Voiceprint:
giles giles & fripp
The Brondesbury Tapes (1968)

Mike Stok