Simon Godfrey's Letter From America

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It’s 8.00am on a Friday and it’s already hot...

This Philadelphia summer is proving to be deeply unsettling for an Englishman and rather than sit back and enjoy the sunshine, the lizard part of my brain is telling me to expect scattered showers and tube strikes.

I should also be drinking something cold and refreshing with my breakfast but again, habit has drawn me towards a steaming hot cup of PG Tips. Tea is the ignition key for my day and woe betide the deluded numpty who tries to engage me in conversation before I’ve had my first cup. The last person who tried is now making a living strumming popular tunes at his local underground station using his pubic hair, which were unceremoniously super glued to his beard.

Since living through the double trauma of the death of Rik Mayall (in this I can find no-one Stateside with whom I can truly share my woes) and the premature underpants splash that was England in The World Cup, I can at least take comfort in the knowledge that I’ve managed to purchase tickets to see King Crimson perform at the Kimmel Center (the Philadelphian equivalent of The Royal Festival Hall in London) later this year.

There’s a lot to be said for the big spectacle gig. I’ve seen my fair share over the years, drank the Kool-aid, brought the T-shirt and moaned endlessly about not hearing my favourite song. These artists put the bums on the seat and keep everybody talking about the genre we know and love. We need them as much as they need us.

Let us not forget that however much we love and respect the mega bands who help act as the river mouth to an entire genre, they are no longer its ultimate source anymore. That honour goes to the myriad smaller acts in the bars and clubs all over the world, who seek to make a name for themselves and follow the example the big bands set, down to deeper waters.

Yeah, it’s now 8.30am and I’m already employing river metaphors. This can’t be regular PG Tips can it?

To give you a perfect example of what I mean, I was witness to one of the more idiosyncratic nights of progressive music this past week at The Milk Boy venue in downtown Philly. The night in question played host to the band Chronicles of Sound. CoS are a young bunch of blokes who have been plying their trade for around three or four years now and have released a couple of albums and EPs. What makes this outfit stand out from the rest however is their recent album concept album Dayside is also accompanied by a graphic novel and live, they have a penchant for multimedia backdrops and playing enthusiastic covers of video game theme tunes.

Now perhaps this kind of thing is not for you, but for me this band is a classic example of why the progressive genre we know today is still an interesting place to visit. Maybe no-one told them this was a bonkers thing to attempt and even if they did, I’d like to think they went and did it anyway simple because they could.

I sat there at the back the venue with a soft drink in one hand and my wife in the other (yes, I really am that strong and macho), while watching the band perform to a room full of sweaty people getting down to a prog version of the theme to Sonic The Hedgehog. At that moment, I truly realized that perhaps there is something more in life than being cool and trendy. It’s called being original.

Spare a thought for these small bands the next time you step into an arena to watch your favourite legacy act playing their 20 year old classic tunes, in time to a light show which could cook a medium sized chicken in 20 seconds. That band played the small bars and clubs too at one time and had nothing but a good tune or three to keep the crowd amused.

Those small bands still exist and they are every bit as magnificent as their venerated big brothers and sisters in the Enormo-Domes. So I urge you, grab your car keys, turn left at the bottom of the road, drive to your local venue and support them. Not only will it give you fantastic bragging rights when they become big and famous, you will have added something deeply brilliant to your life; the memory of having visited both ends of that magnificent musical river.

Speaking of magnificent, I need more tea.