Simon Godfrey's Letter From America

Okay, three months living in Philadelphia and not a single word written about my adopted home town. This seems to be the very height of rudeness on my part so let me redress that imbalance right now.

So first a little history; as many of you probably know, the infamous King Mellotron (inventor of the Mini-moog and heir to the Duchy of Canada) founded Philadelphia way back on the 14 of April 1970. The City’s name comes from the Gaelic word ‘Philcollins’ and means ‘He of the excellent solo career’.

I jest of course. Nobody’s solo career is that excellent.

Okay perhaps, history is not my strong suit but ninety days in and I have learnt a great deal about the City of Brotherly Love. While being the fifth largest city in these United States, you only have to spend a short time walking its streets to notice a considerably more relaxed vibe in its citizens in comparison to the city’s closest northerly neighbour, New York City.

The other thing you notice very quickly when you set up shop in this town is that there are only two subjects these Philadelphians truly care about; sports and music. Strike up a conversation with a stranger in a bar about either of these topics and they will passionately talk your ear off for the rest of the evening.

This is in stark contrast to the average Londoner who would happily fake an embolism rather than talk to a stranger about anything. You can imagine the confused expressions on the average Philly drinker as they watch this ex-Londoner spasm about on the floor after they politely ask me to pass them a napkin and how about those Phillies huh?

Okay, so apart from avidly watching the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team (which is more like witnessing a ritual suicide rather than a competition at this point in time), sporting events really aren’t my thing. Music on the other hand, hells yeah now you are talking. Oh and sorry about all the fuss over the napkin!

Like a host of other towns Stateside, Philadelphia boasts an impressive musical resume. This is the town that gave us, Sun Ra, Hall and Oates, Stanley Clarke and The Roots to name but a few. Oh and before you start asking me what has Hall and Oates have to do with prog, check out Daryl Hall’s Sacred Songs (which was produced by Robert Fripp) and think again.

Arguably the largest Annual Prog Rock festival in the world, The Rites Of Spring (RoSFest) operates out of this town and for over a decade so did the most prodigious one too i.e. the North East Art Rock (NEARFest) Festival.King Crimson, Yes, Steven Wilson, Sigur Ros, Dream Theater, Rush, Marillion, Spock’s Beard, Opeth, Devin Townsend and Tool, all schedule regular dates in Philly when they tour.

It is also the home of a thriving progressive scene. The bands Chronicles Of Sound, Shadow Merchant, The Red Masque and the two daddies of the Philly Progressive scene, Shadow Gallery and the mighty Echolyn all call Philly their home town. In other words, Philadelphia really knows it’s prog.

That’s not to say the rest of the United States is a progressive wilderness, far from it in fact, but it appears I have inadvertently set my suitcase down in one of this country’s prog hot spots. Okay I’ll admit that I came here for a girl and the world’s laziest greyhound but I got so much more into the bargain.


Now if you will excuse me, I have to find the King Mellotron memorial. Apparently it performs the intro to Watcher Of The Skies at the top of every hour.

I love a bit of history in action.

Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock.