Blind Faith

Blind Faith - cartoon

Regular readers of the Crotchety Man blog may have picked up that I hold a non-religious view of the world. I’m a humanist – one who believes that there is probably no god and we must, therefore, base our moral code on being nice to one another. I came to this way of thinking because it’s so difficult to be sure about … well, anything. Descartes had it right when he said “I think, therefore, I am”. Everything else could be just an illusion. The one thing that annoys me more than any other is certainty in the absence of evidence – blind faith. It doesn’t matter what your belief is, if there is no evidence to support it you have no right to believe it. And even if there is some evidence you could still be wrong.

So, if I’m so antagonistic about it, why am I writing about blind faith? Well, for a start, it’s not the unjustified (and unjustifiable) convictions of religious fanatics that I’m referring to here, it’s the one and only album by the first ‘supergroup’, Blind Faith. The band deserves a slot in these pages simply because I can give a first hand account of their first public performance at the free rock concert in Hyde Park, London on 7th June 1969. (See this post on my Stoney Fish Tales blog for a personal story about that day.) But the main reason for writing about Blind Faith is that it’s a darn good album.

Blind Faith - personnel

Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, Ric Grech, Steve Winwood

There are six tracks on the Blind Faith album. The first is nearly 9 minutes long, the next four are a more radio-friendly length (3, 4 or 5 minutes) and the last is a 15 minute excuse for individual members of the band to demonstrate their improvisational skills. All of the first five songs would make excellent singles (with some judicious trimming in the case of the 8 minute 48 seconds of Had To Cry Today). Just looking at the track titles kicks Crotchety Man’s mental jukebox into life: Can’t Find My Way Home, Well All Right, Presence of the Lord, Sea of Joy – they come over the psychic streaming service one after another as if God has made a celestial playlist and is proving to me that He really does exist.

Not that I’d take any notice of an old man with a beard and long white hair, dressed in a flowing robe and sitting on a throne in the clouds. The music may be heavenly but it’s not truly divine. Still, to show there are no hard feelings, here’s Eric Clapton’s composition Presence of the Lord as a representative sample of the songs on the Blind Faith album. It is, as you can guess from the title, a testimony of faith in the Christian god. I don’t agree with the sentiment but Eric is entitled to his view and I can’t be too dogmatic – after all, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, he just might be right.

This video is actually a clip taken from a film of the Hyde Park concert released on DVD in 2006. (The full concert can be found here if you have an hour to spare and your conscience lets you ignore the copyright notice on the DVD.) Presence of the Lord is a slow, bluesy track that suits the guitar, keyboards, bass and drums combination that gives Blind Faith their distinctive sound – a relaxing accompaniment to a sunny day in the park. On the album there’s some nice piano work instead of Steve Winwood’s organ used in the live performance.

Of the remaining tracks my favourite is Sea of Joy. It’s a Steve Winwood composition with a jaunty guitar/bass hook and some soulful violin playing by Ric Grech. This is a song that can spin in my head for days and never grow stale.

The lyrics are, frankly, quite odd. What are we to make of “Is it just a thorn between my eyes?”, I wonder? And what’s a thorn got to do with a sea of joy, anyway? But it really doesn’t matter when the music is so enticing.

I suppose I should mention the controversial album cover. It features a topless, pubescent girl with luxurious hair holding a model of a futuristic aircraft/spaceship. In some places it was regarded as inappropriate and banned; the album was issued with an alternative cover in those regions.

Blind Faith - cover
The image was created by Bob Seidermann, a photographer friend of Eric Clapton’s, and was supposed to represent innocence bearing the ultimate technological achievements of humanity. In Bob’s words, “The space ship would be the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the girl, the fruit of the tree of life”. He titled the artwork “Blind Faith” and the band took its name from that. I can’t imagine any other band has been nameless until the cover of their first album provided the inspiration they needed. But it’s so hard to know these things.

I’m sure the Blind Faith album is familiar to most readers of the Crotchety Man blog but my advice to anyone who hasn’t dipped their toes into the sea of joy on it is this: don’t take my word for it; faith is not enough; gather the evidence for yourself; listen to the album and form your own opinion; then, whether or not you agree with me that this is a jewel of artistic achievement, you can never be accused of being blind to the sparse but exquisite fruits of the first supergroup.

King Crimson

They say, if you invent a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door. I think there is some truth in that, but it has to be a much better mousetrap. Fortunately, there are a few examples of products that are so desirable that they hardly need to be promoted at all: the Morgan sports car, the Apple iPhone, the Gucci handbag. King Crimson performances are like that, especially their live concerts.
King Crimson Hydepark-69
I first heard King Crimson back in the days before Woodstock – about a month before, actually, at the free Hyde Park concert in July 1969. That was the one headlined by the Rolling Stones but, for me, King Crimson stole the show. The Stones’ performance was OK and the other bands played well enough, but only King Crimson filled the open-air arena with sound. When I went home that day three songs stayed with me: 21st Century Schizoid Man, In the Court of the Crimson King and Epitaph, all from the King Crimson set.

King Crimson is a difficult band to blog about. The band was formed in 1968 and is still going today. (They have just announced a UK tour starting on 31st August 2015.) There have been several distinct lineups over the years and with every change of personnel their musical style changed. The band’s history is complicated enough to warrant two charts on the King Crimson Wikipedia page: one showing the personnel changes and another showing who played which instruments on which albums. I won’t try to summarise that here.

For me there have been two King Crimsons: the band as it was from 1968 to 1974 when they released 7 albums before splitting up, and then the various lineups from when they re-formed in 1981 to the present day. In the early years King Crimson helped to define the progressive rock genre along with Genesis and Yes. Using guitars and keyboards the prog rock bands created big, expansive walls of sound reminiscent of classical works – a kind of intellectual rock music.
Larks Tongues
King Crimson
‘s music has always been complex. Yesterday I listened to an interview with Jakko Jakszyk, the second guitarist, in which he mentions playing Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, a track from the earlier period; he was playing alternate bars of 10 and 11 beats while the rest of the band were playing in a 7 time. That’s mind-blowingly complex!
Discipline Logo
The Crimsons’ compositions from 1981 onwards were, if anything, even more complex to my ear. At the same time each song was fairly short and improvisation was largely absent. Those tracks sound like rhythmically and harmonically complex pop songs rather than the grand orchestral synthesiser pieces characteristic of the prog rock era.

There’s more to King Crimson‘s music than I can describe here – much more. There really is no substitute for listening to them. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to find anything online that we can play legally without buying it first. There are no King Crimson tracks on Spotify, presumably because the band’s management company (DGM) hasn’t done a deal with Spotify. There are a few cover versions of King Crimson tracks on Spotify and 30 second previews are available on the DGM web site. (You may have to register with DGM to hear those.)

Here are a few links to covers of early period Crimson to get you started:

If you are willing to spend a tenner to explore the King Crimson canon I recommend the 2 CD compilation The Condensed 21st Century Guide to King Crimson (1969-2003). And if you’ve ever wanted a sports car, a high-tech gadget, a fashion accessory or a better mousetrap something by King Crimson, my band of the year 1969, will fit beautifully with your aspirations.

Update, 28 May 2015: There are a large number of King Crimson tracks on myspace.