|Some weeks ago I wrote about 'Red', the famous 1974 album by King Crimson. Shortly after the release, Robert Fripp called it a day, leaving Wetton and Bruford behind. Although both did several projects, they missed playing in a band and they formed UK in 1978.
There had been an attempt to form a band in 1977 with Wetton, Bruford and Rick Wakeman. As John Wetton recalls in his biography: "It was good, actually. It was very good. Some of the music we were playing was excellent. But Rick didn't want it to happen, and when there's only three of you and one person doesn't want it to happen, then it isn't going to fly. It's something that Bill has constantly downplayed, and I've never heard Rick talk about it at all, but it happened. We spent six weeks of our lives doing it and even had photographs done on the set of a James Bond movie. One of the songs I took out of it was 'Thirty Years.' We played that vaguely. One of the songs that Bill took in was 'Beelzebub,' and he took it out with him again. And apart from that, I don't know of any of the material that's ever surfaced, but then I haven't listened to that many Rick Wakeman albums."
In his book, 'When In Doubt, Roll!' (1988), Bill Bruford also recalled how the trio fell apart: "Mercifully, A&M Records was unwilling to let its 'star,' Wakeman, walk off with a used, slightly soiled King Crimson rhythm section, and the idea failed."
When Wakeman left, Bill and John decided to carry on once again and create something bigger. The premise was that John would bring in a musician of his choice, and Bill would do the same. So John brought in keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson, who he knew from his work with Roxy Music in 1976 and Bill got guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who had played guitar on Bruford's debut album, 'Feels Good to Me' (1978). That brought U.K. into existence.
Featuring members of Yes, King Crimson, Roxy Music, and Soft Machine, UK was one of the most prominent progressive-rockgroups of the late '70s and the first of a concept that would be called 'a super-group'. Various members of UK had all played together in their previous bands, but when the group formed in 1977-78, it was the first time all of the musicians had played together. Although and the group was short-lived, the band maintained a dedicated cult following years after their early '80s breakup.
Soon after the 'birth' of the band they released a self-titled debut album, that captured the attention of progressive-rock and jazz-fusion fans, as did the record's supporting tour. During this tour many new songs were tried out for the first time, but those were never to be recorded with this line-up.
As a result of musical differences, the lineup was unstable; Holdsworth and Bruford left after one album to from 'Bruford', with former Frank Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio replacing Bruford. UK didn't hire another guitarist. As a result Uk became a trio with a classic 'ELP-line up' (drums/bass/keys). The new lineup of UK released Danger Money in 1979 and followed the album with a tour. Once the tour was completed, the group broke up. The posthumous live album Night After Night was released shortly afterward. Regrettably, no live-recordings by the first, legendary line-up were released. Until this year, when a 'Concert Classics'-album saw the light of day, consisting of recordings from 1978, including several tracks that had never been available by the first line-up before, such as Caesar's Palace Blues. However, this albums had already been withdrawn from the market because of a dispute between record-companies about the rights.
Following the disbandment of UK, Eddie Jobson became a member of Jethro Tull, Terry Bozzio formed Missing Persons, and John Wetton formed Asia with fellow progressive-rock stars Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, and Geoffrey Downes. Bill Bruford would be part of a new edition of King Crimson...
Nothing was heard about UK until 1997, when a new UK-album was announced featuring Wetton and Jobson as key persons and starring Bruford and Holdsworth as well. Guest appearances by Steve Hackett, Tony Levin and Francis Dunnery (ex-It Bites) were also announced.
Although recordings have been done, the status of the project is still unclear, especially since John Wetton withdraw his contribution to the project. Bill Bruford confirmed his contribution with the words: "It's just a thing we did for Eddie". Probably, the album - tentatively called The Legacy - will be released at some time, but no longer under the name of 'UK'.
Side one of 'UK' is one of the best 20-minutes of music I know. The vinyl version of the album - see below - even suggests it's one piece of music, whereas the CD-version just mentions 4 different tracks. Musically I think you have to say it's two: on the one hand the trilogie of In The Dead of Night, By The Light of Day and Presto Vivace and Reprise and on the other hand Thirty Years.
The album opens with the keys and bass of In The Dead Of Night. The bass has an unusual, morse-like bass-rhythm on top of which Jobson on keys and Bruford on drums seem to play their own 'counter-rhythm'. Very nice. Wetton's singing is - as ever - very powerful. Holdsworth plays an unequalled solo.
A softer and slower part, full of synth-sounds marks the transition to By The Light of Day, a beautiful ballad with the same melody-line, but a completely different rhythm (5/4 and many other things). Jobson adds something very beautiful with his electric violin. Nice breaks for synth-waves end this part.
Drum-riffs annouce a very hectical Presto Vivace, which is -as the title suggests - a very lively intermezzo by means of a psychedelic keyboard-part. Since this three-minute-part also includes Reprise, the main 'morse'-theme is reintroduced. I'm often accused of being a '7/8'-freak, but here you can really hear why this kind of rhythm is so nice. It certainly gives a very special drive to the song.
A tapestry of CS 80 Yamaha-sounds and an acoustic guitar form the scenery for this very special track, with its almost a-tonal vocal-lines. No rhythm, just sounds and John Wetton singing at the top of his voice. But after three-and-a-half minutes the atmosphere changes radically with a keyboard-solo, followed by another inventive beat by Bruford. Not many times Bruford earned song-credits, but for this track he really deserves (and gets!) them. Without his contribution the song wouldn't have been half as spectacular. Towards the end, the initial vocal-melody returns, but now accompanied by a full band. Holdsworth again plays a memorable solo, that defines the 'middle-ground' between fusion and prog.
Alaska is a Jobson-only composition and it shows! Very dark and mystical, this instrumental piece opens 'side 2' in a great way. After a slow keyboard-part a heavier part follows with just enough room for Allan Holdsworth to put his sweeping guitar 'somewhere' in between the other three musicians' contribution to the volatile nature of the track.
Alaska leads directly into Time to Kill, a musically very interesting track, where a lot happens, despite the not so special vocal-lines. In the middle of the song there's an awesome break with another electric violin-solo. Simply great. I wish more bands had experimented in this way with a combination of 'rock' and 'classical' intruments.
For the last two songs of the album, Allan Holdsworth gets credits as well. Nevermore opens with an acoustic guitar and a keyboardpart, not unlike Thirty Years. In between the choruses guitar, keyboard and violin get some space for solos. A nice, long 'duet' between Jobson and Holdsworth forms the highlight of this song, which is a bit harder to get into than some of the other compositions, but certainly worth while. The last part of this song consists of an atmpospheric soundscape again with a threatening touch.
Mental Medication again starts with a very unusual vocal-line, acompanied by a jazzy guitar. Hectical breaks interrupt more melodic parts. In the middle there's a lovely beat - bass and drums - on top of which a guitar-solo is played. After a break, it's the violin's turn again. Like Nevermore, a bit harder to get into, but certainly worth the try, because there's a lot to enjoy. The musical skills of these four gentlemen is a joy for the ear and I seldomly hear a band producing such a special crossover between musical styles with such a unique sound.
It's really a pity that 'UK' had such a short existence, since this music suits me like a glove. But on the other hand: this music hadn't been so interesting if it hadn't been the result of an experiment, and normally experiments don't last long. On top of that, the short life of this group adds to the mythical status of it. A status that continues with the recent quarrels over copyright and the withdrawal of Wetton's contribution to the 'Legacy-project'. The legend continues...
Written by Jan-Jaap de Haan