After their departure from King Crimson following the conclusion of the band’s first North American tour in 1969, multi-instrumentalist whiz Ian McDonald and drummer extraordinaire Michael Giles briefly formed their own band, appropriately named McDonald and Giles. Their eponymous debut album, released in 1971, is a gem I recently discovered while searching for some live King Crimson videos on the web. The lesser known half of the four man monster that was King Crimson’s original lineup (the other two being Greg Lake and, of course, Robert Fripp), McDonald and Giles proved that they were no slouches themselves when it came to musical talent. Giles, of course, had already established himself as one of the finest drummers of his day for his frenetic yet polished performance on 21st Century Schizoid Man. McDonald was and still is a man of many talents: his instruments of choice include saxophone, flute, keyboards, guitar, bass, and percussion, among others. Oh, and both gentleman can also sing. As a matter of fact, Giles sang lead vocals for King Crimson’s precursor, Giles, Giles, and Fripp. The two play all the instruments on the album except for bass guitar, which is played by Michael’s younger brother Peter. Now onto the album itself.
McDonald and Giles’ first and only album sounds more like a Giles, Giles, and Fripp album than a King Crimson album. Although jazz influences certainly do permeate the music, McDonald and Giles opted for more optimistic and cheerful songs than the ones found on In the Court of the Crimson King. Here are brief descriptions of each song:
Suite C– a lengthy (over 11 minutes) and progressive opener with a jazzy vibe; Steve Winwood (of Traffic fame) guests on piano
Flight of the Ibis– a dreamy love song that sounds like it could have been on one of Pink Floyd’s earliest albums; also sounds like the gentle King Crimson ballad Cadence and Cascade
Is She Waiting?– a brief, gentle acoustic peace
Tomorrow’s People-The Children of Today– solid vocal performance from Giles, and even better drumming; catchy saxophone, too; best song on the album
Birdman– longest piece (over 22 minutes); eerie a capella opening; softer song with solid drum and percussion work
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the album did not sell particularly well, although it has gained popularity over the years as more King Crimson fans discover it. McDonald and Giles split up after the album’s release, and each man went their separate ways. Michael Giles would stay out of the limelight for the most part, but he would co-found the 21st Century Schizoid Band in 2002. He has not performed live since 2009, however. Ian McDonald, on the other hand, went on to co-found one of the most popular bands of the 70s and 80s: Foreigner. He left the band in 1979, but has continued to appear as a session musician on a variety of albums.
If you enjoy the sound of King Crimson, but perhaps prefer more cheerful lyrics, then this is an album worth listening to. And if you are not so inclined to listen to King Crimson, this album is still worth a listen. The drumming of Giles is excellent as usual, and McDonald does a fine job on every instrument he plays. Featuring an array of styles from jazzy drum and sax interludes to soft, sweeping acoustic guitar, this album could appeal to many if they gave it a chance. It is a hidden gem waiting to be rediscovered.