The delay and decay guitar experiments Robert Fripp used as the foundation for God Save The Queen / Under Heavy Manners were recorded in 1979, with the album being released in January 1980.
A couple of months later, Fripp started rehearsing a new band in—according to the back cover of the subsequent album—“a 14th century lodge just outside Winborne”. Now, I don’t know where Winborne is, nor what constitutes a lodge (other than a place where freemasons hang out with other masons), but I’ll hazard a guess this edgy New Wave garage jump-pop music would have scared the pants off your average 14th century squire. It makes me jittery seven centuries later.
Recruiting ex-XTC keyboard player Barry Andrews on organ, Fripp added Sara Lee on bass and Jonny Toobad on drums and put together a bunch of music to take on the road. Every gig The League of Gentlemen performed is listed on the back cover of the album, cataloging the entire life of the band.
Then, of course, there’s the record.
The LP was released in February 1981.
Like God Save The Queen / Under Heavy Manners, The League of Gentlemen has never been released on CD.
The League of Gentlemen pivots around the duels between Andrews’ choppy organ and Fripp’s circulating guitar figures. Sheets of angular arpeggios, squalls of organ flurries.
Imagine if a mid-60s West Coast garage psych band were thrashing out an instrumental bridge for “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet” and suddenly discovered they could actually play.
Imagine if a virtuoso baroque lute player was given acid and an electric guitar.
Although there is no singing as such, there are voices. These are recordings Fripp found—or made—of people opining on various subjects, including the english mystic/teacher JG Bennett who was influential in Fripp-world at the time. There’s also a generous dollop of orgiastic female moaning (uncredited).
It’s such an unusual album. One piece sounds like an off-kilter carousel soundtrack, the dancing guitar almost delicate; another churns with new wave attitude and almost begs for Andy Partridge to drop in an early XTC vocal. Still others have the Fripp & Eno experimental feel of a music box with mental health issues. A number of the pieces have—and this is important, kids—fast-picked arpeggios pealing and repeating like chromium wavelets on a concrete beach. Echoes of XTC, of Mod-revival; a kind of punky minimalism with a garage beat and prog chops.
The one-and-only League of Gentlemen album is not going to be everyone’s bunch of petunias. That’s because there’s nothing flowery about it at all. But interesting it certainly is, and an important step in the path that was emerging for Robert Fripp. The spoken word outro—JG Bennett again—provides the clue…
“The next step is discipline”
Section 2 of The Path to Discipline