Peter Sinfield

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Peter Sinfield
Peter Sinfield in Genoa, 2010.jpg
Photo by Gianni Ansaldi
Background information
Birth name Peter John Sinfield
Born (1943-12-27) 27 December 1943 (age 70)
Fulham, London, England
Genres Progressive rock, art rock
Occupations Lyricist, record producer, songwriter, musician
Instruments Vocals, guitar, synthesizer
Years active 1960s–present
Labels Manticore, E.G. Records, EMI, Imagem Music
Associated acts King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Roxy Music, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Greg Lake, Keith Christmas, Five Star, Bucks Fizz
Website http://www.songsouponsea.com
Notable instruments
EMS VCS 3

Peter John Sinfield (born 27 December 1943) is an English poet and songwriter, most famously known as the lyricist and co-founding member of early incarnations of King Crimson, whose debut album In the Court of the Crimson King has been regarded as one of the most influential progressive rock albums ever released.[1]

In 2005, Sinfield was noted as a "Prog rock hero" in Q magazine, for his impressive lyrical contribution and creative influence while working within the rock music industry.[2]

As a lyricist, Sinfield has a distinctive approach to the sounds of words, filled with surreal imagery, and a special facility with water-images and ideas involving the sea. Later on in his career he adapted his writing for pop music, and co-wrote a succession of hits that were to be sung by artists such as Celine Dion, Cher, Cliff Richard, Leo Sayer, Five Star and Bucks Fizz.

Early life[edit]

Sinfield was born at Fulham, London, to mixed English-Irish ancestry and a bohemian, activist, bisexual mother Deidre (also known as Joey or Daphne).[3] He seldom had contact with his father Ian. Up until the age of eight, he was raised largely by his mother's German housekeeper Maria Wallenda, a high wire walker from the circus act The Flying Wallendas, after which he was sent to Danes Hill School in Oxshott.[4] It was there that Sinfield discovered a love of words and their use and meanings, with the guidance of his tutor John Mawson. He came to devour books of all kinds, especially poetry. He left school at sixteen and worked briefly as a travel agent,[5] believing that this would "allow him to see the world". He then went on to work for a computer company for six years, travelling around Europe when he could and hanging around with friends from the Chelsea School of Art. To compete with his art school friends, Sinfield began learning to play the guitar,[5] and write poetry in the mid 1960s, and made a living on market stalls selling handmade kites, lampshades, paintings and customised clothing. He spent a number of years drifting around Morocco and Spain before returning to England. Sometime in 1967, he started a band that did not have a lasting future,[6] but one of the members was Ian McDonald, who was impressed with Sinfield’s talents as a lyricist, if not his abilities as a singer or guitarist.

King Crimson[edit]

In 1968, McDonald decided to join Giles, Giles and Fripp, a progressive pop trio consisting of Michael Giles, Peter Giles, and Robert Fripp, who were looking to do more with music than their three-man line-up could manage. McDonald let the others know that he was already working with someone who could write lyrics. In their primordial form, Giles, Giles & Fripp, augmented by McDonald and ex-Fairport Convention vocalist Judy Dyble, recorded an early version of the McDonald-Sinfield song "I Talk to the Wind", which later became part of King Crimson's repertoire.

Peter Giles left the group at about this time, to be replaced by Greg Lake, and Sinfield joined around the same timespan. In his own words, "I became their pet hippie, because I could tell them where to go to buy the funny clothes that they saw everyone wearing". Sinfield also came up with the name King Crimson. Sinfield loved working with the band and, in addition to writing the phantasmagorical lyrics that came to be part of King Crimson's trademark, he also ran the group's light-show at their concerts. Apart from writing lyrics for In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), In the Wake of Poseidon (1970), Lizard (1970) and Islands (1971), and offering advice on artwork, album design, and other details of the band's releases, Sinfield's musical role in the band was limited over the first four albums. He was not a good enough singer to contribute to the band's vocals, and the presence of Robert Fripp made his guitar playing superfluous. However, Sinfield occasionally added touches of EMS VCS 3 synthesizer, see, e.g., the Ladies of the Road album recorded live on tour in 1971 and '72 or the title song of the Lizard album. It was during the recording of the song "Lizard" that his influence reached its peak. Fripp became involved with other projects (most notably the Centipede orchestra), which left Sinfield with much of the responsibility for the final version and design of the album, including the uniquely ornate jacket. Even so, the relationship between Sinfield and Fripp had become increasingly strained as the band progressed. On their next album, Islands, Sinfield began exploring new lyrical territory, with more sexual imagery juxtaposed with the languidly surreal title track. On 1 January 1972, however, following a tour of the United States, Fripp got tired of Sinfield's fantasy-based lyrics and Sinfield left.

ELP, Roxy Music, PFM and Still[edit]

In 1972, Sinfield remained associated with E.G. Records, which represented King Crimson and Roxy Music, and it was while Sinfield was producing Roxy Music's debut album and their hit single "Virginia Plain", that he first decided to try his own hand at recording a solo album. In 1973 he wrote English lyrics for the Italian group Premiata Forneria Marconi (also known as PFM) and produced their first album for ELP's Manticore Records, titled, Photos of Ghosts, as well as The World Became the World.

Sinfield's debut album, Still, united numerous former (Greg Lake, Mel Collins, Ian Wallace) and future (John Wetton) Crimson alumni. Sinfield intended Still as the start of a solo career, but while working on it, he was approached by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, who needed a lyricist of Sinfield's calibre. Still was originally released on ELP’s own Manticore label in 1973, but Sinfield found himself subsumed into Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Already having a fear of the stage which he had little time to overcome due to writing demands, his solo career was stillborn, while he worked with the trio for the next few years, giving their music more lyrical facility than ever before. During this time, Sinfield lived with his first wife Stephanie in The Mill House,[7] Surrey, which was loaned to him by ELP. His neighbour was Gary Brooker of Procol Harum, with whom he co-wrote five songs on Brooker's first solo album No More Fear of Flying. He also released a book containing his previous lyrics and poems titled Under the Sky (named after one of the lyrics from Still). In 1975, his song co-written with Greg Lake called "I Believe in Father Christmas" was released.

Ibiza years[edit]

After naively overestimating his wealth and underestimating his percentage of royalties from ELP, he moved to Ibiza to live as a tax exile, and enjoyed his first break from continual work in the music industry. Here he met a circle of artists, actors and painters and members of the Chelsea Arts Club such as Peter Unsworth and Barry Flanagan, eventually parting from his first wife. During his time in Ibiza, Sinfield had a break from songwriting and was able to spend his time travelling, socialising and reflecting, which he had been unable to do for the previous decade.

During the late 1970s, he continued to move in communities around Spain. In 1978, following the success of his previous lyrics for Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Sinfield was asked by ELP to produce lyrics for their album Love Beach, now regarded by many (including Sinfield himself) to be the worst of all ELP's albums.[8] In 1978 he also narrated Robert Sheckley's In a Land of Clear Colours, an audio sci-fi story released the following year on a limited edition of 1000 vinyl records. The backing music for the story was provided by Brian Eno, with whom Sinfield had previously worked while producing Roxy Music. By the time he returned to London in 1980, with his new Spanish wife (a model and runner-up for Miss Spain), he discovered that progressive rock music was no longer in demand, and that punk had emerged in the UK.

In 1978–1980 Sinfield also wrote the lyrics for the English versions of Alla fiera dell'est (Highdown Fair) and La pulce d'acqua (Fables and Fantasies), by Italian singer-songwriter Angelo Branduardi.

Pop years[edit]

Upon his return to London in 1980, his publisher introduced him to Andy Hill, a composer and fellow songwriter who Sinfield worked with to create hits such as "The Land of Make Believe" by Bucks Fizz,[9] which reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart,[10] and became one of the biggest-selling hits of the decade. While re-educating himself to adapt to the pop music industry with the help of Hill, he returned to Spain, where he was already established in the communities within Ibiza and Barcelona, and as his career progressed, moved into a house in Majorca. At this time, he appeared on Spanish television programme Musical Express, where he was interviewed and performed a set with Boz Burrell, Tim Hinkley, Michael Giles, Bobby Tench, Mel Collins and Gary Brooker.

In the United Kingdom, he continued to release hits with Hill, such as "I Hear Talk" by Bucks Fizz and "Have You Ever Been in Love" by Leo Sayer (which they wrote with John Danter). He also co-wrote Five Star's "Rain or Shine" with Billy Livsey.[9] After divorcing his wife and leaving Majorca, he returned to the UK around 1990 to a flat in Holland Park and continued to write lyrics for popular music. In 1993, he re-released his solo album as Stillusion. In the same year, he and Hill released "Think Twice" by Celine Dion, which went on to become a massive hit and won an Ivor Novello Award for "Best Song Musically and Lyrically". Sinfield and Hill had won an Ivor Novello a decade previously, for the Leo Sayer track, "Have You Ever Been in Love".

Haiku[edit]

There had been rumours of a second solo album, and Sinfield worked on it for a couple of years with vibraphone player and programmer Poli Palmer, formerly of Family. It was always a challenging project, made slightly more so by Sinfield's quadruple bypass operation in 2005. After a period of convalescence, Sinfield attempted to restart the project but it foundered.

During this time Sinfield wrote an increasing number of haiku. After his appearance at the Genoa Poetry Festival at the Ducal Palace in June 2010, he has turned his creative energies more towards poetry. In 2012 wrote the lyrics for a song written by Italian avantgarde musician Max Marchini and singer Paola Tagliaferro, "Blossom On The Tree" and also read some verses on the same tune issued on the album "Milioni di Lune". In 2009 the Italian duo already wrote the music for a lyric written by Sinfield years before "Poem To A Blue Painting", published on the album "Chrysalis".

He is still active as a writer, and gives interviews to the media concerning progressive music and his career as a songwriter. He appeared in the 2009 BBC documentary Prog Rock Britannia: An Observation in Three Movements.

Personal life[edit]

Sinfield now lives in Aldeburgh. He is still active within the songwriting community and is a member of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors committee. He underwent heart surgery in 2005, from which he is now fully recovered. He is a devoted herbalist and researcher of alternative medicine and has used various natural remedies to cure his own and others' health complaints. Sinfield's other main interests include cooking and gardening.

Influences[edit]

Sinfield had a fairly unusual and colourful upbringing, being an only child (bar his adopted brother, Dennis) of a bisexual mother who ran a hair salon and one of the first burger bars in London in the 1950s. He grew up in a bohemian household, and claims to have vivid memories of extravagant and wonderful Christmases, later inspiring the lyrics for his hit "I Believe in Father Christmas", which recalled a lost and naive faith in Father Christmas.[11] Sinfield claimed that A Poet's Notebook by Edith Sitwell[5] had an important influence on his writing, as well as the works of William Blake, Kahlil Gibran, Shakespeare, Enid Blyton and various science fiction writers.

Musically he was largely influenced by Bob Dylan and Donovan. Hearing Donovan's opening line of "Colours": "Yellow is the colour of my true love's hair"' was, Sinfield stated, the defining moment when he decided he had the desire and ability to start writing songs.[12]

Discography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ In his 1997 book Rocking the Classics, critic/musicologist Edward Macan noted that In the Court of the Crimson King "may be the most influential progressive rock album ever released". http://www.ulike.net/In_the_Court_of_the_Crimson_King
  2. ^ Prog Rock Hero Q magazine article 2005
  3. ^ An Interview with Pete Sinfield
  4. ^ Danes Hill School homepage
  5. ^ a b c Peter Sinfield Q&A
  6. ^ A Bowl of Soup
  7. ^ "A House of Hopes and Dreams"
  8. ^ ELP's Love Beach: Interview with Peter Sinfield
  9. ^ a b Maconie, Stuart (2004). Cider With Roadies (1st ed.). London: Random House. p. 55. ISBN 0-09-189115-9. 
  10. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 85. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  11. ^ YouTube video: Interview with Greg Lake and Peter Sinfield about "I Believe in Father Xmas"
  12. ^ Exclusive interview w/ Sinfield: Donovan influence

External links[edit]