As David Sylvian and Robert Fripp prepared to go out on the road in 1993 to support their album The First Day, it was clear that they would need a drummer as a key member of the band. The material had developed since the initial drummer-less Sylvian/Fripp/Gunn trio shows the year before, and the powerful yet intricate drive present on the album would now be critical in a live setting. Jerry Marotta had left the sessions for the album early in its gestation, with the drum parts on the record constructed from early recordings and samples of his playing, at times manipulated by David Bottrill. So, a new band-member needed to be found.
As those who caught The Road to Graceland shows or own the subsequent live album Damage will know, Pat Mastelotto was behind the kit for this tour which took in the Far East, US & Canada, and Europe. His was a towering and potent presence in the band, and this was our first time seeing Sylvian without his brother, Steve Jansen, at the heart of the rhythm section. Indeed, Sylvian/Fripp saw David Sylvian embrace a musical approach way outside of his musical sphere to that date, challenging sensibilities and breaking out into new areas.
When I had the chance to ask Pat Mastelotto about his time anchoring the music on this tour, the first question had to be, ‘so how did you come to be in the band?’ It was, Pat told me, ‘very last minute, through an unusual series of circumstances. I was trading gear by posting in the Los Angeles newspaper Recycler with a gentleman Bill Forth, who was a Crafty Guitar student and friend of Robert Fripp. Through him on a Thursday evening I learned of the auditions. He gave me Trey Gunn’s phone number in NYC and I rang Trey – who basically told me to f**k off! He was busy packing and said they might not even be auditioning because they already have a drummer in mind (Bill Forth had mentioned the rumour Mike Giles).’
Pat had heard one of the tracks from The First Day on the radio a few days earlier and was not going to be deterred. He decided to try another route. ‘I tracked down a London number for manager Richard Chadwick. I called early Friday LA time and asked if it was possible to get an audition slot. He explained he thought it was futile because those auditions will be on Monday in England and they aren’t paying for flights. I quickly said, “no, I never asked you to pay for flights! My question was, if I can get myself there, can I have a half an hour to play?”, to which he replied, “but you won’t know the material.” I explained that I knew some people at Virgin records in Los Angeles so if he would say it was OK I could probably get them to release me an advance promo radio copy. He was still reluctant, but called me back after a few minutes. He said he spoke to someone at Virgin and that I seemed legitimate and yes, they would release an advance cdr. And if I could get there first thing Monday morning they would let me audition first. I jumped in my car and quickly shot over the hill from my house in Calabasas to the Virgin offices in West LA, and on my way back I stopped at Tower records on Sunset Strip and bought every David Sylvian record they had.’
Back at home, Pat located a flight for the next day, and arranged to stay on a friend’s couch in the UK for a few nights. ‘I did as much preparation as I could, condensing my notes on my snare drum head. I flew into London with snare drum, a cymbal bag, a kick pedal and trap case of percussion and drumming utensils – and a change of clothes.’
To make things a little more complicated, the venue was over a hundred miles west of London at Peter Gabriel’s recording complex in Bath. ‘The auditions were held in the gazebo at Real World studios. I arrived there via a combination of tube, train and a cab (coincidentally driven by the father of the singer of Jesus Jones who happened to have a huge radio hit in America at the time, ‘Right Here, Right Now’!). Once I was dropped off at the entrance to Real World I saw David and Ingrid sitting near a fountain, but I honestly didn’t recognise them as David looked quite different from any pictures I’d seen.’
All of the original trio of Sylvian, Fripp and Gunn were to be part of the audition. ‘I started to assemble the rental kit and my knickknacks as their roadie John Sinks assembled amps. Robert set up directly in front of me, Trey to my right, David to my left with guitar. I don’t remember David having any keyboards at that audition.
‘As we started to play, they didn’t want to do the songs that manager Richard told me to prepare, instead I think they chose to start with ‘God’s Monkey’ or ‘Jean the Birdman’. Luckily I had listened to and was prepared to play any song off the record, or any of several from David’s back catalogue. Then something strange happened.. As we were playing.. ..it seemed like they didn’t know the songs! I learned later they hadn’t played together since the recording the year before. So they would get confused and stop. After that happened a few times I tried to explain or sing to them the sections they may have been missing..! This happened a few times..’
Things were to get stranger still.. ‘After about a half an hour Robert Fripp put his still-looping guitar down and walked out the door behind me, whilst I continue to play with Trey and David. After a few seconds I realised Robert was standing next to me, over my left shoulder. This startled me and we stopped. Robert said he’d like to speak with me outside and when I stepped out he was busy writing something. He handed me a piece of paper as he said, “I don’t know what will happen with this gig – it’s up to David; but if you ever need a recommendation please have them call me and I’ll give you the highest recommendations.” To which I replied, “thanks!.. and.. since you’re being so nice, could I get an autograph?” He signed my drum-head, smiled and said, “anything else?” I asked if I could hang around long enough to meet my drum hero Michael Giles and assured them that I would quickly disappear after that.’
Pat did indeed meet King Crimson co-founder Michael Giles later that day at Real World, helping him unload the rehearsal kit from his Land Rover. ‘I told him his drumming changed my life and that I hoped he’d get the gig so I could actually see him play. Then I called a cab.’
The mad dash from a casual conversation on Thursday in LA to being put through his paces four days later in Somerset, UK was worth it. By the time the band was back together again, things were much more organised. ‘The rehearsals were held many months later in Chanhassen at Prince’s Paisley Park complex, so I’d had a few months to prepare and by then I’d actually spoken with David Bottrill and Jerry Marotta about how the drumming was done on the record.. so I had things mapped out.. I had my samples and loops prepared. I love the Rain Tree Crow record and was really excited that we’re going to get to play some of that material! I think we had three weeks of rehearsal at Paisley Park. So plenty of time considering they were only learning about ten or twelve songs; I think ‘Gone to Earth’ and ‘Blinding Light..’ were added late in the rehearsal period.’
As the tour worked its way across Japan and then to the US, Pat got to know the characters and working styles of Messrs Sylvian and Fripp more fully. ‘I was comfortable working with both.. ..David actually said very little to me throughout the entire tour.. we had a few good conversations backstage or sitting at the airports, and he spoke to me at length about me working on his next studio record. There were many times David relayed his feelings with just a glance, a smile, his sly grin. You know, sometimes a glance or raised eyebrow was enough. But there wasn’t much or any casual chitchat. I didn’t take offence at that, it’s just David is a quiet guy and he was certainly busy with Ingrid and their brand new baby that they brought on tour (Ameera Daya). Robert on the other hand was quite bubbly.. I was surprised how conversational he would be.. at times he would certainly put the “cone of silence” on, like when we were around other people or if he was in “show mode”, but outside of that he could be outgoing and quite perky, and that surprised me.’
Sylvian has spoken of Robert Fripp’s complete dedication to the discipline of live performance, citing his influence as transforming his own outlook on touring. Now being a member of King Crimson as the band surpasses 50 years of existence, Pat has shared a stage with Fripp on many occasions, but back in 1993 it was all new. ‘Like most working musicians I know, his focus all day is on the show that will come that evening.. for Robert that means he needs a lot of time alone to mentally prepare, and hours to practice his technique. And yes, that’s been the same routine for the Robert I’ve known for over 26 years now.’
A favourite track from the ..Graceland tour is “20th Century Dreaming (a shaman’s song)’. It typifies the new, bolder approach that Sylvian seemed to find liberating at the time as, enabled by his band-mates, he pushed beyond the sound palette of his previous work. There are growling chords and fast solo lines from Robert Fripp’s guitar, with loops that come to the fore as the track reaches its conclusion. Michael Brook provides supporting guitar parts, whilst the bass from Trey Gunn gives pugnacious accompaniment to the lead guitar and then burbles uneasily in the mid-section. Sylvian’s lyrics bring him into new territory too, a wider vocabulary taking in the ‘social, economical’ as well as the ‘spiritual’, and imagery like little that has gone before:
‘Take my fire
Take my food and water
Forget about those promises
Of social good and social order
Lassoed by the cowboys
Tied down and it shows
Well I’m roping in those bad dreams
And selling off my working clothes’
Rhythmically I find the piece really unsettling, matching the sentiment of the lyric. The song progresses through at least three distinct ‘movements’ being the initial verse/chorus segment, the slower vocal ‘as the river runs..’ mid-section, and the ‘here comes the dreaming’ coda. Pat explains more: ‘From memory I think that most of the lyrical part of the song was in 5/4 but with the snare drum on the downbeat. Then it opens up into a free improvisational section which is basically in a 6/8.. my intention was always to play that in sort of a skittery Michael Giles flavour. For the actual touring drum kit I had taken my 22 inch Paiste gong and drilled a hole in the centre so I could mount it on a cymbal stand for that dark dry sound that seemed to fit right into the registry of David’s songs – and especially this particular song, so I used it a lot.. ..Once it’s finished with the vocal sections it’s free, free to improvise; not a free jam but within the tempo and flavour of the composed sections that preceded. It’s like many songs in the King Crimson repertoire in that it’s just up to the musical spirit of the moment to let the music take flight.’
Working in a rhythm section with Trey Gunn, who became the de facto bass player in the five-piece Sylvian/Fripp line-up, was ‘awesome… a completely wonderful feeling for a drummer to get to sit in Trey’s banquet of bass. That’s my idea of drummer heaven.. to have my drumming sit in such a thick gooey sound.’
The sub-title of the song no doubt refers to the artist as ‘shaman’, seeing other worlds and communicating them through art. Of course it’s imagery that Sylvian had used previously for the Words with the Shaman ep and the In Praise of Shamans tour. This time the artistic foresight encapsulates the political as well as spiritual, and the free instrumental section that Pat describes conjures up for me some sort of frenzied shamanic dance, with the sample of a low grade recording of a chanting ethnic voice adding colour to that vision.
Being selected for this tour would lead to new things for Pat Mastelotto. He and Trey Gunn both joined the next line-up of King Crimson from VROOOM the following year and 1995’s Thrak album, Pat lining up with Bill Bruford in a two-man percussion section. Looking back now, 25 years on from those shows with David Sylvian and Robert Fripp, the impact of the experience shines through: ‘It was great. I loved it. I was fortunate, I was privileged. It was a real game changer for me and allowed me the freedom to move away from Los Angeles and distance myself from the game of commercial music.’
On my playlist, live tracks belong in their set-list sequence or as released on live album. However, it’s well worth exploring the music that Pat and Trey Gunn have recorded together. Trey released an album called Raw Power: Surfacings, Vol 1 in 1999, which included two tracks co-written and performed with Pat. The instrumentals ‘Anastasis’ and ‘Kukuriku’ run continuously and capture something of the spirit of their contribution to Sylvian/Fripp, being also recorded in 1993. During rehearsals for the King Crimson album The Power to Believe – subsequently released in 2003 – the pair formalised their duo as TU, working after the main band rehearsals on their own material. Both studio and live recordings by TU are available on bandcamp.
’20th Century Dreaming (a shaman’s song)’ – live
Music by David Sylvian, Robert Fripp and Trey Gunn. Lyrics by David Sylvian.
Produced by Robert Fripp and David Bottrill. From Damage, Virgin, 1994.
Later re-released, remixed and produced by David Sylvian, Virgin, 2001.
lyrics © copyright samadhisound publishing
Many thanks to Pat Mastelotto for sharing his recollections for this article. All quotes are from our 2019 conversation. The image of Pat is a still from the Sylvian/Fripp laser video disc Live in Japan, 1995.
Physical media links: Damage (David Sylvian remix) (burningshed)
‘Like ‘Darshan’, ‘20th Century Dreaming’ has a relaxed repetitive groove and it’s very long so it becomes meditative as well as hypnotic.’ Pat Mastelotto, 2019