David Cross was elbowed out of King Crimson in 1974 because violin didn’t really fit in with the direction of the band at the time. His input on Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973) had helped create a well-balanced album but the departure of Jamie Muir had an almost immediate impact; providing additional Mellotron and electric piano ensured his usefulness but straining to hear himself in a live setting, battling the ever more powerful Wetton/Bruford rhythm section that seemed to work only in rock and jazz/rock idioms, was always going to prove an uphill struggle.
My first experience of Cross outside of Crimson was the David Cross Band supporting John Wetton at London’s Astoria in November 1996. The assembled group were technically brilliant and I thought they were better than Wetton’s band. The music, taken almost exclusively from his forthcoming release Exiles (1997), was quite unlike Crimson but undeniably progressive: fast, complex, angular and at times aggressive. I eventually managed to find the album in one of the many small, short-lease shops somewhere around 7th and 33rd West in New York in 2000 and I’ve been trying to find his other material ever since. I don’t remember when I bought Closer than Skin (2005) which, according to one review I’ve seen, is closer to King Crimson. This opinion may be simply informed by the Richard Palmer-James penned lyrics because I think the music is mostly similar to that on Exiles with a noticeable Arabic flavour. There are too many songs for my liking, as opposed to instrumentals; I feel deceived because not all song words are printed on the inner sleeve.
Recent activity on social media indicated that Cross was becoming active again. He was about to release a new album with Robert Fripp and also perform with Andrew Keeling at the Spring Fever event on 27th April at London Metropolitan University, which sadly I wasn’t able to attend, so when the Bedford Arms concert was announced I got in touch with Jim Knipe and we signed up immediately. I considered it a bonus that David Jackson would be part of the band.
I was at The Bedford for the Resonance Festival last summer but on this occasion tables had been laid out in the Globe Theatre. Unfortunately, on this occasion there was no real ale available in the pub, from any of the three hand pumps. Jim and I both bought copies of the Cross and Fripp CD, Starless Starlight from the merchandise stand and waited for the performance to begin. The premise of the album, and the gig, was a Fripp soundscape recital from 2006 that utilised the theme from the Crimson classic, Starless. Fripp named his pieces Starlight I and Starlight II and, for this release, Cross performed a series of improvisations over the top of Fripp’s wistful guitar, incorporating the Starless motif, sometimes in inverted form.
Cross (with his white 5-string electric violin) and his accomplices David Jackson (saxophones, flute and whistles), Tony Lowe (guitar) and Yumi Hara (keyboards and vocals) performed much of the Starless Starlight album. It wasn't your normal gig because they had a PowerPoint presentation detailing the genesis of the event; they did a recital of part of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood and, on its 50th anniversary, David Jackson introduced the Stan Tracey tune Starless and Bible Black from the seminal album Under Milk Wood.
There was plenty of improvisation on violin and horns and Jackson even used the saxophone keys as percussion; the album track Starless Starlight Loops was reinvented for the occasion as Bedford Loops. I thought that Tony Lowe’s guitar was a little hesitant at first but he grew into the performance adding subtle tonal shades. Yumi Hara (who joined forces with ex-Henry Cow members Chris Cutler, John Greaves and Geoff Leigh in 2009 in a band called, in typical RIO fashion, The Artaud Beats who are about to release their first studio album, Logos, on June 5th) was instructed by Cross to look out for some sudden endings to songs and she might have been caught out on one occasion but she also inflicted the same fate on the rest of the ensemble. Her keyboards were spot on but her voice is an acquired taste as she sang the two Crimson numbers, Exiles and The Night Watch.
Cross did most of the communication with the audience, at one stage announcing the wrong song before correcting himself, though when the band were called back for an encore Jackson told a tale of Robert Fripp performing sessions for Van der Graaf Generator, the essence being if you wanted to record Fripp, you had to be quick. This story fitted the rather intimate nature of the gig, it was like a conversation with friends; the crowd may have been small but the atmosphere was relaxed and the music was really good. An unusual but immensely enjoyable gig.
David Cross & Friends
Bedford Arms, Balham
26th May 2015