The League of Gentlemen – Robert Fripp, Sara Lee, Barry Andrews, Johnny Toobad

The front - the reason I bought this in the first place!

Listening to this in the car yesterday after quite a long absence from the ipod made me realise (once again) what an underrated and versatile musician Fripp actually is. Here he records an ensemble put together as “a wonderful little bopping band” to play for people to actually dance to.

For Fripp, the League of Gentlemen represented a sort of musical populism – a populism, however, not of a naive sort, but of a reflected, thoughtful quality. Much of his work with the musicians of King Crimson had involved virtuosity at a self-conscious level, but Fripp had come to be suspicious of displays of artifice for their own sake. He expressed the dilemma in terms of the contrast between competence and ideas: “I’ve found that musicians who can play 10,000 notes tend to play them, and the 10,000 notes I hear I don’t enjoy.” Better to have a limited set of chops and through them to express something of real significance.-

He had just been working solo, as the Small Mobile Intelligent Unit with his Frippertronics setup of two revoxes and pedalboard, but found “It is very difficult to play Frippertronics to drunk people at rock’n’roll clubs.” I think it’s fair to say Fripp has long had a testy relationship with the music business and the pre/misconceptions of fans, but praise be to him that he has always been true to his artistic impulses. So how danceable is this album? Hard to say, never tried it! However listening to the live incarnation on the album they would undoubtedly have been a thrilling prospect in a smallish venue with the driving rhythm section of Toobad (or replacement Kevin Wilkinson) and Sara Lee (taking a break from her cake empire), allowing Fripp and former XTC Barry Andrews to career about melodically over the top (both literally and metaphorically sometimes!).

rear with tourdates

The studio album -recorded at Arnys Shack – is a slightly different beast however. Here we have an intriguing mixture of audio-concrete collages, J G Bennett (Fripp’ mentor and interpreter of G.I. Gurdjieff et al)rubs together with the Roches and others in an amusing and witty way, breaking up the musical tracks. These comprise pounding muscular workouts, where Sara Lee really shines holding together Andrews keyboard stabs and swirls (and what an underrated player he is) and Fripp’s polyrhythmic single note workouts and slashing chords. He uses a variety of tones on the studio album, but generally steers clear of the King Crimson sounds he was best known for. Other tracks can be tinkly keyboard versions of the mesmeric Frippertronics setup, or pointillist rinky-dink chirpiness. One standout is the track Minor Man featuring the albums only proper “vocal” from fantastic sleeve illustrator (the reason I bought this on impulse!), and Lemon Kitten <Danielle Dax, where she bemoans the lack of romance in her life and the uselessness of her suitor.

“Love songs told me lies, they promised me I’d fly away, fly away my arse!”

Overall the band and album are a fine experiment, the slightly more basic garageband approach to the rhythm section means Fripp and Andrews playing is showcased more, and is more accessible than in King Crimson in full flight, although Fripp ultimately found it too limiting and even depressing, moving on to form Discipline (how apt for Fripp – if you can, get a copy of Eric Tamm’s Book on RF’s teaching style and methods), which became the reborn Crimson. I like Discipline, but I like this, in all its looseness a lot better.
Read more here quite a way down the page. Interesting stuff.

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