The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp
Between now and Christmas, HFoS intends to feature all seven King Crimson studio albums from the 1969-1974 period. A classic era for a band that, from day one, existed in a state of flux; the single constant being, of course, the thinking man’s guitar legend (and occasional Mellotron maestro) Robert Fripp.
With a timorous and unassuming bearing, it’s difficult to equate his appearance with the fearsome sound that King Crimson produced, beginning with the heart-stopping opening to ’21st Century Schizoid Man’, right through to the closer of 1974′s Red, the wonderfully eclectic and moving ‘Starless’.
1968′s The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp, featuring Mike and Peter Giles – both of who would feature at some point or another in the ever-changing King Crimson line-up – came out a year before In the Court of the Crimson King, the KC debut, and couldn’t sound any more different to that album if it tried. What a difference a year makes, eh?
The Derek and Clive-style album cover signposts Cheerful Insanity… as a jocular affair. There is none of the oppressive, yet exhilarating darkness that would mark King Crimson out as a force to be reckoned with, nor any of the labyrinthine complexity that was a particular feature of their sound. Instead, Giles, Giles & Fripp offer a light-hearted trip into the realms of psychedelic pop whimsy, punctuated by the unfortunate saga of one Rodney Toady (narrated by Fripp, in Python mode) and a young chap called Just George.
Leaving King Crimson aside for the moment, The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp is a singular entity, deserving of consideration beyond the marvellously extensive legacy fashioned by its noble heir.
The first thing that strikes thee about the album is the Englishness of it all. From the aforementioned cover, to the polite gent-about-town channelling of Viv Stanshall’s behind-the-mic persona. It is supremely silly in places and moderately darker in others, while treading a musical path that is – in the spirit of the tremendous talent showcased here – interesting, though in no way revolutionary for the time.
The off-kilt, gentle humour that pervades throughout is largely the concept of the Giles brothers, who are credited with writing the majority of the material hereon. Indeed, it was allegedly Peter Giles’s desire to continue along this whimsical path that saw him ousted from the original King Crimson recording line-up in favour of Greg Lake, who would take his place on both bass and vocals.
The mundanities of life come under the microscope in minor gems such as ‘One in a Million’, ‘Digging my Lawn’ and ‘Thursday Morning’, all backed by a melodic, jazz-flavoured pleasantness. Fripp has his guitar moments throughout and his technique is really allowed to find a purchase on his own composition, the oft-busy, multi-faceted ‘Suite No. 1′.
With added string contingent, brass section, backing group and Rolling Stones’ cohort Nicky Hopkins on keyboards, The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp is a beguiling and, most importantly, enjoyable romp through the green pastures of English eccentricity; a moderately more refined, less showy, take on toytown psychedelia.
As an added incentive, the bonus tracks on the CD reissue include the original version of Fripp’s otherworldy ‘Under the Sky’ (an alternative Julie Dyble sung rendition of which, is on the comprehensive The Brondesbury Tapes); later recorded by King Crimson lyricist, Pete Sinfield, and featured on August’s HFoS Prog Rock Mixtape.
The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp is reissued by Esoteric and available to buy from Amazon.co.uk
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