The name Pete Sinfield may not mean much to the casual prog observer but to aficionados his identity will always be linked to King Crimson. As the band’s lyricist and, to a degree, Robert Fripp’s artistic muse, Sinfield contributed the lyrics to the first four Crimson albums. This was a time where progressive rock bands could employ outside verbiage vendors without embarrassment.
For reasons unknown, the firm of Fripp and Sinfield ceased trading circa 1971 but, rather cunningly, former KC bassist Greg Lake, perhaps sensing a lack of lyrical gravitas, created a similar role for him in the world-conquering ELP. This move would, in a short space of time, provide Sinfield with the opportunity to maximise his talents with not only ELP but also within their custom label Manticore; a sort of progressive rock think tank – somewhat equivalent to the Beatles’ Apple Corps, sans boutique – located on London’s Kings Road, the centre of UK counter culture at that time.
It was Manticore who agreed to bankroll Sinfield as a solo artist, allowing him to run rife with a phone book full of fellow progsters, a small but useful recording budget and a head full of dreams. Still, Sinfield’s first and only solo album was unveiled to the public in May 1973 and was quickly sidestepped by all but a very few discerning members of the progressive rock-buying public.
At the time, nobody really blinked an eye, but with the passage of time we can now see what an awful mistake that may have been. Still, co-produced with Greg Lake, may not be a perfect work and, in fact, on first listen you may be excused for thinking that Manticore’s belief in him as a solo artist might have been, er, somewhat misguided. Stick with it, however, and the true value of Still is revealed.
It’s a complex and intimidating work for sure, with a nod to virtually every musical genre, from free-jazz to complex prog rock, baroque folk to psych and all points in between; think Genesis, Greenslade and the Soft Machine but with an experimental edge. Sinfield’s vocals are particularly hard work at times – much of which is barely more than a spoken word trot – and the songs are, for the most part, wildly eclectic but that is the real beauty of this work. This is a record that could never be made in our day and age.
Working his connections hard, Sinfield coaxed a number of the prog A-list to accompany him on this journey into the unknown. Names that included Greg Lake, BJ Cole (Cochise) on pedal steel, Snuffy ‘Stray Dog’ Walden on guitar, keyboardists Tim Hinkley (Jody Grind) and Keith Tippet (Nucleus), and former KC colleagues drummer Ian Wallace, bassists John Wetton and Boz Burrell and Mel Collins on sax. Sinfield wrote the lyrics, self-produced and composed much of the music.
Best track? Surely the lengthy The Night People, a seething cauldron of vicious prog with a particularly insane sax solo and mad-cap metaphorical lyrics.
The album was issued with two different covers – in pink or the rarer blue. Look out for the 1993 CD re-issue Stillusion, with new tracks developed by Pete to complement the original work.
In the 80s and 90s, Sinfield serviced unlikely collaborators, such as Bucks Fizz and Celine Dion. These days he lives happily outside of the fast lane in the picturesque East Anglian seaside town of Aldeburgh.
This feature originally appeared in issue 1 of Prog.