In this piece I talk to the King Crimson guitarist and vocalist about his career and his new album ‘Secrets & Lies’, released 23rd October.
JWS: Hello Jakko, how are you doing?
JJ: I am ok thanks, doing as well as anyone can in this current virus situation I got a kicking In Mojo and what seemed to be an unnecessary sentence at the end of the review in Uncut.
JWS: What did the Uncut review say?
JJ: It said, “only occasionally does it slip into Marillionesque slickness”, whatever that may mean?
JWS: Fair Enough.
JJ: Is It?
JWS: Well it is a reviewer’s view…
JJ: Of course.
JWS: They must listen to loads of stuff, often only cursorily, and most of that will be mediocre.
JJ: Well the artists view (i.e. mine) is that, of the reviews I’ve seen, 96% are great, fantastic even, but the one I can quote is the mediocre one. Also, he didn’t like “The Trouble with Angels”, he said it was like a mid 80’s advert for chocolate.
JWS: I have got a review to write for Progradar.
JJ: Well do not use either of those lines …
JWS: My first impressions, when I heard the album, were incredibly positive, although, and I do not want to offend you here, but it put me in mind of Nik Kershaw.
JJ: (Laughs), I will tell him as he is a friend of mine, an exceptionally good guitarist and a very musical man indeed, he will like that!
There is actually a clip of us playing together on YouTube:
JWS: I was listening to one of your earlier albums, ‘Are My Ears On Wrong’, it is in the nether land of the loft, I had a few of your 12-inch singles too if I remember correctly.
JJ: Best Place for them!
JWS: Well I quite like them, the album is good too, especially Dangerous Dreams, that was a really good song really. So, King Crimson; quite a move from those earlier days, obviously you have a lot of history with KC, seeing them as a teen in Hyde Park many many years ago.
JJ: It was the later Hyde Park show, I was too young for the first show. I saw them at Watford Town Hall in 1971 then later that year at Hyde Park, where Jack Bruce was headlining. It was an amazing time for music in the early 1970’s, I saw lots of great bands in those days.
JWS: I grew up in the 70’s listening to Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. I wasn’t really into the psychedelic stuff that was about, although I’ve gone backwards and discovered stuff like Spirit for myself. To be fair, I was never a big Crimson fan, although I did enjoy Starless and a few other bits and pieces. But not in the way that collectors are over these new box sets like the new ‘In The Court of…’ set that’s due imminently, although a friend of mine that you know, Sid Smith, is.
JJ: Yes I know Sid.
JWS: I read in an interview recently that you met Alan Holdsworth?
JJ: Yes, I’d heard about him from Robert Fripp and, at that time, Alan had joined a revamped Soft Machine who I went to see at The Rainbow Theatre in 1975.This would be the ‘Bundles’ album they were touring and his playing astonished me. He was totally different in his approach to any other guitarists that I’d seen.
I was working in a record shop at the time and I phoned up Virgin Records, I think I was about 16, and asked them for his number, pretending I was a fellow Bradfordian who knew him but had lost his number, and they actually gave me his phone number!
I rang him up and asked if he gave lessons He said, “No”, he was his usual dour self,“I don’t know what I’m doing man, I can’t teach anyone anything”, he then said, “but you can come round if you want.”
So, for a few weeks I would go around to his house where he was warm and friendly. I’d take my guitar and play chords that he would so over the top of. It was incredible to see him play in such proximity! He taught me about effects, he would play me an album and ask if I could spot the compression that had been applied to it. He was also not averse to getting his soldering iron out to attack pickups attempting to improve his guitar tone etc.
He taught me a lot about how he got his sound, amps and effects and such. So that is how I met him as a teenager, thereafter I would see him around and we would say Hello, then there was that weird time with Level 42…
Alan played guitar with Level 42 after Phil Boon had left and he was great, playing all over everything, I think there are some live recordings around. Then, later on, Mark King had rung me up and offered me the job in Level 42 as guitarist. However, Mark had also rung Alan up the same day saying thanks, but you’re not what we want for the band, however brilliant Mark thought he was, he just didn’t think he was right for Level 42.
Alan wouldn’t play rhythm or open strings, Mark also wanted him stand at the back to play rather than the front and he was a bit annoyed with this. I found this out several years later. The next time I saw him he was a bit off with me and he asked me how is your new job? He said he knew why he did not get it; it is because he looked like Methuselah.
Then in 2014 Crimson did a string of dates at the Nokia Theatre in New York and on the last day Alan was doing a show at The Iridium (jazz club in NYC). Tony Levin, Gavin Harrison and I went to see the show to watch him play and afterwards he greeted me with a hug and talked like an old friend once again, Tony took some lovely pictures of us together that I still have and treasure. To this day. He was a remarkable musician and a unique voice on the guitar, so that’s my connection with Alan Holdsworth.
JWS: So did you record anything whilst in Level 42?
JJ: No, there is a box set that has some things I co-wrote on and there is some live stuff on there too.
JWS: You have a fluid guitar style, would you say that Alan was an influence?
JJ: Up to a point, yes, I do play like him, there are certain aspects of what I do that are inspired by him but obviously not in the same league at all. He was beyond all of us.
JWS: Sadly, I never saw him although I did see the second version of UK with Wetton, Jobson and Bozzio that was mind-blowing. Going back to your album, you have a great list of friends helping on it. I especially like that you have made notes about each of the tracks.
JJ: Well, I’m from the age that, when you bought an album you had the journey home before you could play it, and I liked that sort of thing. If the song has an interesting story behind it then a note about the song will be useful and interesting. I was keen to tie everything in together, all the artwork etc, I am not keen on making videos but the two animated ones are brilliant.
JWS: I also have your 21st Century Schizoid Band. I love the opening song on your album it has a lovely fluid guitar line to it. You are obviously a very melodic player?
JJ: Yes, I like to have melody in my playing, it’s not just showing off or technique displays, I want it to have some emotion as well.
JWS: Some of the songs are really interesting, The Rotters Club Is Closing Down for instance, the Pip Pyle character sounds like an intriguing chap?
JJ: He certainly was, left a trail of destruction in his wake! He always liked to go out and party, one of the free love generation, and left broken hearts all around, half the women he cheated on were at his funeral! He was also a very good writer for Hatfield and The North. He wasn’t a singer, so when I had to sing his songs like Seven Sisters, I’d have to sing at both the top of my register and also the lowest point.
JWS: I also notice that your son plays on the album, on the track Uncertain Times.
JJ: He asked if he could play on a track, so I sent him the song and he just sailed through, it even with all the time changes. Both kids are talented, their grandfather (on their mother’s side) is Michael Giles (original King Crimson drummer). They both seem to have music in their DNA.
JWS: Uncertain Times is also remarkably interesting being as it is about the divisive politics of the referendum and Brexit.
JJ: It is all about the how such populist politics have made extremism acceptable. When the Brexit debate was over, I wrote a comment on Facebook and hundreds of sympathetic messages were followed by ten days of vitriol and attacks. I’m a London born adopted child of an Irish mother and a US Airman, there is nothing posh about me at all. But such is the nature of politics nowadays, with the like of Trump, that anything can be said, he behaves like an autocrat. When lockdown happened in the UK we bulk bought toilet rolls and pasta, in America they stockpiled guns and ammunition.
Touring will be a nightmare going forward, with carnets required for everything! We’ve made some merchandise that we were going to sell on tour available, with all the proceeds going to the crew. As artists, we’ll be ok for another year or so, but the crew are living hand to mouth and then Rishi Sunak says that we should retrain!
Well, I have spent 50 years training to do what I do, maybe I should retrain as Chancellor of the Exchequer, like a job share or similar, it’s sheer nonsense.
JWS: Anyway Jakko, my time has gone so I will thank you for your time and wish you well with the album, nice talking to you
JJ: Thanks John, nice talking to you too.