Our great friend Allen 'One-Eye' Edelist was born, lived, worked, brought up his family – and has died, way too young – in the city of Los Angeles. In many ways a quintessential American, he also revered his ancestral roots in Europe and managed, in large part through his association with Procol Harum, to recast himself as a world citizen of such ubiquity that it was no surprise to bump into him in any part of the planet where great music was being performed.
As a successful businessman, and the owner of his own Deposition Agency, he had the means and leisure to travel the world and indulge his love of music: but his gregarious disposition ensured that this was no solitary passion. For many years on The Beanstalk forum and through the pages of ‘Beyond the Pale’ (www.procolharum.com) he shared his concert experiences by means of photographs, setlists and write-ups that acquainted thousands of readers with up-to-the minute stage-business, novel drum-fills or organ decorations, details of The Commander’s patter, audience reactions to particular songs, and of course authorised insights – though never gossip – from members of the band.
Our ’phone would ring, sometimes in the middle of the British night … no preliminaries, just a mighty Whaling Stories or Repent streaming across the globe as One-Eye shared a memorable concert moment, live, with someone he knew would appreciate it. The late Beverly Peyton (pictured), with whom he arguably shared the title of ‘Most Extreme Fan’, was a frequent and especially grateful recipient of these vicarious concert experiences.
Allen loved gadgets, forever upgrading his ’cell phone (his ‘mobile device’, as he called it, using that curious ‘mobble’ pronunciation favoured in his homeland) yet retaining a profusion of e-mail addresses associated with all the discarded models. On his first visit to Bristol he amazed my children by sitting in a Chinese restaurant, conducting business on three Mobble Devices at once. He also travelled with portable TVs, video players, and a succession of laptops, smaller and smaller as his ’phones grew larger. I recall his almost missing a flight from Stansted to a gig in Basel because Customs officials had suspiciously emptied his dedicated case for connectors and chargers and power-supplies and international adaptors … and he had immense difficulty repacking it, against the clock, once they let him through.
One-Eye’s generosity extended much further than the sharing of information. He became close friends with many fellow-fans first encountered through concert-going, and took great trouble to bring them presents, or share his passions – treating them to meals, or tickets to concerts and sporting games. Taking the Clare family as one example among many, he sent very nice presents to my son’s new-born daughter; he met up with my brother’s son at Coachella; and, on discovering that I’d never seen the Dutch outfit Kayak (his second-favourite band!), Al stood me flights, an Amsterdam hotel-room and tickets to hear them play two concerts, where we also fraternised backstage with the musicians. It was a memorable weekend, not least for Allen’s evening ramble – wide-eyed, but chaste – through that city’s unquiet zone … possibly the furthest I ever saw him walk.
His generosity was lavished in even greater measure on visitors to his home city. ‘Beyond the Pale’ held our fourth convention in LA (July 2003) and it was largely thanks to Allen’s help and ambition that we settled on the iconic BB King’s Club, in Universal City, as our venue. I stayed with him before and during rehearsals. Pat, his provident and patient wife – under the impression that the freakish Limey visitor ate little but tofu – greeted me by swinging open the door of a vast fridge and declaring that its contents – shelf upon shelf of vegan ready-meals – were all for me.
Allen’s own diet owed more to ‘Bringing Home the Bacon’ than to ‘Grand Hotel’. I was surprised to find his partner was a vigorous health-fanatic, given that he seemed to conduct all correspondence from his ‘cigar lounge’, and baulked at walking down any hill, for fear of having to walk up again. It was also a delight, in the house of a man who claimed he hadn’t read a novel in twenty years, to spend my first breakfast-time conversing with his younger daughter Sydney about Shakespearean characterisation. She’d have been about eight or ten then, I guess. And Adrian, his older daughter, was also very welcoming. Al was devoted to them both and in subsequent years he’d always keep me up-to-date with their progress and achievements.
The Edelist residence in Encino was spacious and well-appointed, but not ostentatious. His pool was modest, and rarely used. One could not but feel at home there, surrounded by cats and hundreds of well-thumbed albums shelved in the main living-room. We needed an accordion, to perform Nothing That I Didn’t Know: Al had one, he told me, in one of the garages, but he no longer played because he ‘couldn’t reach that shelf’. He proposed hiring a man to lift it down for me! Needless to say it was a top-quality instrument, as was the grand piano around which The Palers’ Band practised harmonies chez Edelist one Sunday morning. The ‘rehearsal snacks’ he promised turned out to consist of numerous catering platters stacked with cold cuts, salads, fruit … bewildering largesse. Clearly he was incapable of doing anything by halves. I ate surplus salmon for days after that.
‘Here, we’ll take a Procol tour …’ (most of his conversations started somewhat abruptly with ‘Here,’ or ‘Lemme tell ya sump’n …’). In his tiny Audi TT sports car, with a hard bass-guitar case wedged tight in front of my face, I got a lopside-on – yet exhaustive – rundown of the clubs, venues, even car parks associated with his music memories and encounters. Eight Procol shows at the Santa Monica Civic! Clandestine rehearsal-watching on the eve of 1973’s Hollywood Bowl show! Clearly he was the ultimate Procol nutter … or perhaps that’s how I seemed to him? I remember the new Procol album blaring from his speakers as we queued in jams on LA’s freeways, and he sang along, at least an octave below Gary Brooker’s vocal: ‘Saw a great highway all choked up with cars … ’ Allen relished any real-world event that could be related to the works of Brooker/Reid, hailing even the most tenuous Procol coincidence with a self-mocking cry of ‘Continuum!’
But his singing! I’d first heard it at the ‘Beyond the Pale’ Convention in Manchester (June 2001), a dark, gravelly, gargling rasp … not conventional in anybody’s terms, but a confident, feeling voice charged with lived experience, and informed by decades of careful musical listening. As well as She Wandered through the Garden Fence, A Souvenir of London, and Memorial Drive he’d sung the Procol rarity One Eye on the Future, (see illustration) making it his own so compellingly that its title contributed his enduring nickname. He relished this, choosing a single eye as his symbol on Facebook when that got going. Later Palers’ Band performances included Going Down Slow, Quite Rightly So, ’Twas Teatime at the Circus, Bridge of Sighs, Drunk Again, and the Worm and the Tree epilogue. At St John’s Smith Square – a première London concert venue – he sang Seem to Have the Blues (Most All of the Time), The Final Thrust, and Whisky Train … and his swinish squeaking, with suitable farmyard grimaces, had us all in stitches as we rehearsed Piggy Pig Pig in Southend-on-Sea. At Live Club Barmen (Wuppertal, April 2013) he tackled Hear What You’re Saying, So Far Behind, Power Failure, Ghost Train, a share of Echoes in the Night, and a notable Bringing Home the Bacon ... and followed up his adventurous One Eye party-piece by putting his own, bold stamp on a second scarcely-played lyric, Keith Reid’s Venus Exploding. ‘One-Eye’ might seem a perplexing cognomen for a man with two working eyes, but ‘Venus’ might have felt even stranger.
He’d have made a wonderful cartoon character … larger-than-life, instantly recognisable, almost preposterously endearing, borderline crazy in his ways. Yet he was also a highly-qualified professional in an important field, and a Fellow of the Academy of Professional Reporters. He took me to meet the staff at his Agency, people he’d hired, mentored, sponsored, and who struck me as constituting his second (or third?) family. His business premises were informal (and, for a time, they were the downtime refuge for a homeless Paler on whom Allen took characteristic pity). No jackets, no neckties! Yet for one single number, at BB King’s Club, One-Eye traded his downbeat tee-shirt and loafers for some kind of million-dollar suit in which to deliver Juicy John Pink, gutsy and authoritative, albeit sung with aide-memoir in hand.
I remember other, more mysterious, signs of his authority on that Californian trip. Disastrously, our airline tickets from San Diego to Oakland were for the wrong day … but One-Eye had a quiet word with the desk, and we were ushered aboard the next 'airplane' without further comment. In San Francisco, during another Procolcentric tour in a hired car, he took Jens and me to dine at his favourite fish restaurant. Our anticipation was dampened by the enormous queue (or ‘line’, in OE lingo), but again, lumbering up to the front, Allen exchanged a few words with the doorman, whereupon a table was quickly made ready. My first taste of Petrale Doré, One-Eye’s delicious recommendation. He insisted, of course, on footing the bill.
It was hard to make any sense of the sudden news, on 16 May 2018, that Allen had died. I dug out the third Palers’ Project 2CD and listened to his quirky, peace-making Poor Mohammed. It sounded great – exuberant, monstrous, heartfelt – completely characteristic and authentic in its own strange terms [play mp3 here]. It’s good to be able to hear him also on Lost in the Looking-Glass (Quite Rightly So, with authentic – if disputed – variant words) and, on From Shadow to Shadow, on Juicy John Pink and The Pursuit of Happiness. For ‘The Pursuit’ he had extra percussion afterthoughts, and dictated parts down the ’phone to Bristol where my drummer son Peter enacted them at the kit.. And his rumbustuous Robert’s Box had a characteristically terse genesis, in a transAtlantic call that simply started, ‘Wanna do a track in Roy Wood stylings.’ He growled some notes down the phone, approved my hasty demo, and multi-tracked the vocal – right down to ‘… as I slithered under’ – during a subsequent visit to Bristol. That track (attributed, naturally, to ‘The Monoculaires’ [play mp3 here]) had quite a few air-miles on it by the time it wrapped, and even then he unwrapped it, again, over the 'phone: ‘More organ! More organ!’
It was splendid to welcome him to my home city for a reciprocal visit, though he declined to stay in a private house. ‘I need my own space … for coughing,’ he laughed. I forget which trip that was … possibly the 2005 Cream reunion (see the picture of Allen flanked by wife Pat and brother Evan at the Albert Hall) or Gary Brooker’s all-star Highclere Castle show with Band du Lac. Certainly we followed Highclere with a tourist-trip to the heavily-marketed city of Bath (Bristol’s demure half-sister) at One-Eye’s perplexing insistence. His stamina had always been surprising, and this was the first time Linda and I had seen him quite so poleaxed by jetlag. He was falling asleep literally in mid-sentence, as we drove, yet resuming the thread, or stream-of-consciousness, on jerking awake moments later. When I offered to take his photo to send home to Pat and the girls it wasn’t the Royal Crescent nor Bath Abbey nor the Roman Ruins he wanted in the background, but the local branch of Debenhams. I wish I had a photo of him at a table, in the refined ambience of The Pump Room, with his order of six cream cakes. Leaving him at Bath railway station, where the service for Gatwick airport was waiting, we couldn’t help pondering the state of his health (and his wallet) when he ordered a taxi instead, to avoid lugging his bag from one platform to another when changing trains at Reading.
It could be argued that he looked after his friends rather better than he looked after himself. The European tour he undertook in 2003, for instance, following the band but travelling independently, was a gruelling marathon. Nineteen gigs in four countries: how many flights, how many hotels? Sometimes he’d book an extra, adjoining room to accommodate all his touring luggage. He was almost equally busy in 2005, 2006 and 2007. If the band had a day off, Allen would squeeze in a fleeting side-trip to Iceland or some other country that he could tick off his mental list, despite seeing little more than the airport hotel. If he managed to score a bowl of his favourite Corn Chowder in any city (see picture), he reckoned that a successful visit!
Yet he did manage to spend quality time in some parts. I remember his reverence when we visited the synagogue in Budapest (July 2004), and read the barbaric history of the WW2 ghetto there. We’d travelled to Hungary for a Procol concert, which fell through thanks to promoter incompetence. With characteristic chutzpah One-Eye held a replacement recital, a full programme of Procol rarities played through his portable hifi system at the very time and place where the live band had been scheduled. His audience was Linda, Mrs One-Eye, some pigeons, and me, sitting enthralled among the cobbles of Lion Square. Earlier he’d bought a camera, by comic, convoluted mime, in a shop where no English was spoken (and he had no Hungarian!). Later we interrupted our Danube cruise, hiring a kind of bicycle-based four-saddled jalopy to explore Margaret Island. Pat certainly contributed the lioness’s share of the Edelist pedalling. One-Eye’s outrage, when I claimed we could have hired the motorised version for just one dollar more, was unforgettable … as was his explosion of mirth when he realised I was teasing. A man who can laugh at himself – as he did again in Helsinki (July 2009) when, acting out ‘the waiter brought a tray’, he became engulfed in a runaway cloudberry sorbet – is a good man.
And a man who is moved by great music. That’s what counts. Right back at the first BtP Convention, Guildford 2000, Al had tears running down his face by the conclusion of Mick Grabham’s showcase, Grand Finale. ‘Lemme tell ya sump’n,’ he whispered (it was the first time we’d spoken). ‘I’ve seen all the great bands, Beach Boys, Stones, Allmans [I think] … but nothing comes close to Procol’. How I’ll miss that confidential arm on the shoulder, and his uncomplicated delight! He offered no musical contribution at the Guildford party, but socially he made instant connections, notably in the first of several hyper-anecdotal all-nighters in the bar – One-Eye nursing a Coke, nothing stronger – with the late, great Dave Ball.
In time all of Procol Harum and team would get to know Allen, trust him, and enjoy his company. Omnipresent, yet self-effacing, he assumed nothing, paying his way like any other punter, and being visibly moved by occasional special treatment … such as the award Procol presented to him (see picture) after the fortieth Anniversary recital in London, promoted by ‘Beyond the Pale’. Later, following his heart-attack, then an alarming car-crash, Procol gave him a tee-shirt bearing the legend ‘I’m not dead yet’ which he wore with pride.
Between 2000 and 2009 I reckon Allen and I coincided at some 23 Procol concerts, in eight countries: Denmark (2), Finland (1), Germany (2), Italy (3), Norway (2), Switzerland (1), UK (11) and USA (3). After 2013's two Wuppertal concerts, however, he was less in evidence on the Procol scene (though it was good to see him at The Dominion Theatre (November 2014) and the Royal Festival Hall (March 2017) for two memorable London orchestral shows). But there was no waning in his fascination with the band’s music. No AWSoP-fixated retrohalcyonist, he moved with the times, wholeheartedly embracing changes in line-up and musical emphasis. He was certainly a discriminating listener; but even his most critical opinions were rooted in a warmly positive outlook on the world. And pretty well every discussion would end with the consensual affirmation, ‘Exactly!’ and a gurgling chuckle. The generous spirit of ’67 lived on in him. Yet ‘ … just 67, and now he’s dead …’ Continuum, anybody?
It’s not possible to imagine, nor put into words, how his untimely loss must have affected Pat, Adrian, Sydney, brother Evan and their families. But I hope this memoir needs no apology for its heavy Procol bias: even at the memorial service, his family’s tributes gave significant space to his obsession with that very special British band. Somewhere I have a demo sketch of Allen singing a Gary Brooker rarity he was hoping to finish for a future Paler Project … and as these tributes from fellow fans show, he really did ‘… build a world of love’. Procol Harum themselves sent a floral tribute to the memorial service, aptly in the form of a single eye, inside a lifebelt marked ‘PH Hero’. Fellow fans sent a Cerdes-flavoured wreath laced with carnations, 98 blooms to represent his amazing tally of Procol shows.
It was only ten days before his death that Allen e-mailed me, enquiring about new dates trailed on our website. He'd already booked his place at the forthcoming London Palladium show. ‘Anything around the 9th [October]? Getting ready to book my flight … wanted to make 100 PH concerts’. It was not to be … yet if everyone who remembers him fondly goes to their next two Procol gigs in One-Eye’s memory, I think we can feel that we’ve carried him into that record-breaking territory.
No mere hundred, in fact. If we all do it … ten thousand!
One-Eye performing Whaling Stories on stage with the Procols | On tour with the Procols | Jamming in Southend with the present author | Glowingly reading his Certificate from the band
Palers' Band | Allen's Procol shows | Fans' tributes | Floral tributes