Three Friends: All Saints Centre, Lewes. Why do they put themselves through this?

Having written a preview to tonight's gig, I can hardly not do a review of the gig itself. It's billed as Three Friends playing the music of Gentle Giant. It's hard to write this, though. Not because I can't be objective, but who am I writing for? Everyone interested in music has a band they feel is theirs, and Gentle Giant is (one of) mine. And as I am part of the online Gentle Giant community of fans, it would be natural for me to write for them. "Great to see 3F live again in an intimate venue… Gary on great form… They played "Proclamation/Valedictory" for the first time…" All true, but not what I am about here. I'll save that for the On Reflection gang.

I find myself thinking, "What would Sid Smith do?" Sid is the music writer who wrote an acclaimed bio of King Crimson. But even that doesn't work for me. I am not Sid. When I let all those thoughts pass, what I am left with is wonder, if not downright astonishment. Why on earth do Three Friends do this? It's a thought that occurred to me midway through the concert. But as I took my seat, in what used to be a church; formerly All Saints, Lewes, I suppose, I made a small connection with the guy next to me.

"Is this Steve Reich?" I say, commenting out loud on the before-gig music. My fellow audient says, "It's Terry Riley." I immediately turn to my friend Chris and say, "I just said that, you did hear me, didn't you?" My excuses don't matter, we have made contact and start talking about Gentle Giant. It's a conversation familiar to me; "When did you first hear them?", "Did you ever see them live?", "How come you are here tonight?" And that's the one that interests me. Why are a couple of hundred souls gathered here together to see what might be called a tribute band. The objects of their musical offering a cult progressive rock group that finished playing in 1980?

My new concert buddy admits to knowing the bass player: Roger Carey, having accidentally met in a pub where Roger had been playing recently. He admitted to being knocked sideways during innocent enjoyment of a quiet pint when he recognised a Gentle Giant number the pub band was playing. The previous song had been a Van Morrison song, nice to hear, but not unusual. He was totally unprepared for this: Gentle Giant?! He had to investigate and saw it was his old friend Roger, who revealed that he was in a Gentle Giant tribute band who were playing next week in Lewes. And now he was chatting to me. Gentle Giant fans connecting in the UK is a bit like recognising a fellow mason.

In the second set, I catch myself with that thought, questioning the very existence of Three Friends, "Why are they doing this?" Well, on the face of it, it is an interesting gig; to play for an audience of locals and friends, but to then see it grow into a few gigs in Europe, Japan, North America. But jeez, you've got to really want to do this. This is hard, hard music to master, and on top of that, Gentle Giant fans are very picky. As they finish Schooldays, and on receiving genuinely rapturous applause, the faces of the band betray triumph and delight. Gary Green admits to us that it had been "crap" in rehearsal. Their reward is their satisfaction in their accomplishment, partly. But also they get the acknowledgement that they nailed it in front of this audience. From that moment, Three Friends flew. What had up to then been very enjoyable – accomplished, even, became something extra.

And maybe that's getting near the why; It's the love of the music, no doubt, but that's not the whole story, I'm sure. I wonder, if perhaps Gary Green and Malcolm Mortimore – the only two Giant alumni in this band – along with the other superbly accomplished musicians (themselves Giant fans) get a sense of Three Friends putting right some of the injustice that the music of Gentle Giant didn't quite get the appreciation it deserved in the band's lifetime. Three Friends becomes bigger than the band members. If that's anywhere near what's driving them to learn the almost absurdly complex rhythms, the bonkers melodies (and their counterpoint), then isn't that the real tribute? Otherwise, why do it? Sticking to Van Morrison covers or jazz standards, or whatever they all do in the rest of their musical lives, is surely a much more sensible choice. Not merely a cover band, but a band on a mission.??

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