St. Louis sits on the western bank of the Mississippi river in the state of Missouri and was founded in 1764 by French fur traders, Pierre Laclède and Auguste Chouteau and named after Louis IX (25 April 1214 – 25 August 1270). He was a merciful king and a devout catholic, he supported the arts and introduced many progressive ideas, including the presumption of innocence. It can be difficult to consider these fascinating facts from history whilst walking through the streets of a modern American city before a soundcheck and one must always be prepared for surprises. For example in Leicester, in the UK, they discovered the body of King Richard lll in a local car park. You might wonder where I am going with this? But next time you find yourself walking the streets, your mind preoccupied with your phone or being late, just stop and contemplate where you are, what was here before you and how incredible are the movements of history that shaped the spot you are occupying right now.
From Small Beginnings great ideas are born, great musicians are influenced by history as their fathers were before them, innovators need history to contemplate progress and you never know what will be considered important by future generations. Who could imagine that vinyl would make a comeback, that The Velvet Underground would be considered one of the most influential groups of all time and that the band that sang She Loves You would rule the world and become great innovators in their own right. Who could imagine that in the wake of Punk that Prog would make such a glorious return.
There’s a great sadness in the air after the death of Chris Squire and with his band mate from the early years, Peter Banks also leaving us in 2013 for the great complicated riff in the sky, it reminds you that even though you can play in 15/8 and learn pieces of music that are 40 minutes long whilst wearing a Japanese printed, satin, kimono, boasting an emerald green peacock with a turquoise crest – and survive, beyond this, one day you will actually have to accept that you are mortal.
Way back in time, before I can remember, on an cloudy day in Missouri, I was walking along the streets of St. Louis contemplating the Mississippi and Louis XI, wandering from book shop to cafe to record store, taking in the surroundings and soaking up the atmosphere of a city that I had visited rather less than other cities in the USA. I wondered about the famous Gateway Arch, designed by Finnish-American architect Hannskarl Bandel as a monument to progress (depending on your concept of progress), it was opened to the public in 1967 and stands astride the city, a great shining sci-fi relic of the space age.
It was then that I heard some music in the distance – I recognised it, but it seemed so unlikely. Surely this song couldn’t be being pumped out of the speaker system at a downtown shopping mall in St. Louis? I thought I must be imagining it – I must be having a Liverpool flashback, sitting on my bed listening to an album by a little known English Progressive Rock band that included ex Yes guitarist (and co-band mate of Chris Squire in three different bands) Peter Banks. But it was true, I was hearing Small Beginnings by Flash. I was later to find out that the song had been a hit in America in 1972 reaching No.28 in the US charts – who knew? It’s great, here it is – Peter Banks on guitar, Colin Carter on vocals, Ray Bennett on bass and Mike Hough on drums – Flash.