Skip to main content

Simon Godfrey's Letter From America

September wasn’t just any old month boys and girls. It was the month King Crimson came to town.

Even a verbose old tosser like me finds it hard to put into words the feeling I got when I arrived at the Kimmel Center in downtown Philadelphia and prepared myself for an evening of music performed by Mr. Fripp and his meticulously selected ensemble of musical Jedi.

As is often the case with such events, the porous membrane that is the progressive scene, had disgorged a musical mass of recognizably ‘Crimboid’ shaped individuals onto the foyer.

I quietly took a mental inventory of the myriad of band t-shirts, outlandish facial hair, comfortable footwear and intelligent yet carefully studied expressions, behind which lurked an almost child-like glee at the prospect of tonight’s show. It was as if the IQ of the world had suddenly shot up 200 points. I did my level best to look smart and urbane, and then promptly spilt orange juice on my crotch.

In an attempt to mitigate the accident, I pointed to the wet patch and said in what I thought was a reassuring voice to anyone in earshot ‘Ha ha… don’t worry, it’s not urine.’

Obviously, I am not good in a crisis.

Taking my seat, I was acutely aware that witnessing Crimson live is something (even Stateside), which doesn’t happen that often. Sadly, I found myself doing that uniquely British of activities; mentally folding my arms and grumpily challenging the band to meet my individual emotional shopping list of expectations. I try hard to banish this little fanboy in my to oblivion but the irritating bastard is a tenacious bugger.

The banishing process was aided by one of the many things I find utterly wonderful about American society; the almost total lack of cynicism in its citizenry. I consider myself to be a fairly outward going and up-beat bloke but compared to the average East Coast inhabitant, the average Brit is more akin to Eeyore with a hangover and a chainsaw. These Philadelphians paid to have a good time and god-dammit, they are going to have one!

Prior to the band taking the stage, we are treated to the now semi-famous request over the PA by the band, asking people to refrain from taking photos or recording the concert on their phones. Again, maybe it is the make up of the average American music fan but everyone I see around me happily complies with this request, save one; more of that later.

The moment KC took the stage, I am struck by just how hard this band works to operate as a single performing unit. Each individual on stage is allowed to shine yet as the set list unfolds, there is a level of technical teamwork going on which is palpable in its presence, yet doesn’t distract from the whole as musical entity. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced such an evening balanced so perfectly between visceral energy and musical craft outside of a Rush concert. As both a fan and musician, it is a real delight to behold.

The only distraction came in the form of a bloke directly in front of me. Maybe I’ve attended entirely too many gigs both as a punter and a stage performer but there was something just not right about him. It took me almost and hour of music to process the fact that he wasn’t clapping between the numbers, was dressed like an all American sports jock (in start contrast to the rest of us prog nerds) and sat there like a statue while all about him were moving about in time to the music. The final giveaway came late in the show when the lights came up before the encore and I spotted a pair of wires extending from the back of his shirt and up around his baseball cap which was connected to two tiny microphones.

Being located right next to the sound desk, I dutifully leaned over to a woman sat behind it and said ‘That guy is bootlegging the show I think.’ pointing in the direction of the bloke in front of me. It was only then that I realized the lady in question was Robert Fripp’s wife, Toyah Wilcox. I’m not entirely sure what I expected Toyah to do with this information but the 14 year old boy in me who had fancied her madly back in the 1980s, probably hoped she would fell the guy with a well aimed flying kick and then thank me with a snog.

Well a boy can dream can’t he?

The reality was a little different. Toyah looked at me with a look of utter confusion on her face. In my haste to explain what I had seen over the thunderous sound of the band, I had taken to using hand gestures in an attempt to clarify what I had witnessed. To my horror, I realized that what had been an attempt to mimic the duel microphones using my index fingers either side of my head, actually looked like I was pretending to be a cow.

So here I am, right in the middle of King Crimson’s thunderous encore of 21st Century Schizoid Man, performing bovine impressions at Robert Fripp’s wife. To Toyah’s credit, she didn’t knee me in the balls and have me dragged from the building. Instead, she politely acknowledged the surreal interaction with a gentle smile and nod, and then sat back down again.

Perhaps it’s better that King Crimson don’t tour that often, less of a chance to make a tit of myself on an annual basis.

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, as well as sleevenotes for many major record labels. He lives in North London and happily indulges a passion for AC/DC, Chelsea Football Club and Sydney Roosters.