Forty years ago I bought a music cassette (remember those?) bearing the rather pompous title A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson. Up to that point nearly all my music purchases were in the progressive rock genre. I'd heard a few tracks from the band's 1969 debut album on Radio Caroline--and they certainly fitted that description. But the other tracks collected on 'Guide' were less easily classified. Some were angular, jazzy, dissonant; others were beautiful one moment and harrowing the next, as exemplified by the twelve minutes of musical alchemy that is Starless. Forty years on and that track remains my favourite piece of music, even though my tastes have long since diversified. I suspect that 'Guide' ultimately helped to point me in lots of different musical directions. Maybe that's why I still seek out new music.
At the time, my exploration of King Crimson's back catalogue occurred in the knowledge that the band had already split up, seemingly for good. Not only would there be no new music from them, but also I would never have the chance to see them play live. Luckily I was wrong on both counts. In the decades that followed new versions of King Crimson formed and subsequently fell apart, but none ever played Starless. I saw the Double Trio version twice during the mid-90s, and revelled in their live versions of Red and 21st Century Schizoid Man, but never once imagined that they'd play my favourite track. Wonderful though that line-up was, it lacked the requisite instrumentation and, more importantly, was focussing on playing new music. Fair enough. Some dreams don't pan out.
But King Crimsons come and go. In 2014 a new version emerged.
Last night, I went to see King Crimson play at The Hackney Empire in London. Their dazzling two-hour set, which featured tracks old and new, climaxed with the stage drenched in the deepest imaginable shade of crimson while the seven-piece band delivered a mesmerising rendition of Starless.
I'm not ashamed to say that I cried.
Sometimes the wait is worth it.