It's so intense at the Palers’ Band sessions – as organised from time to time, and in various countries, by ‘Beyond the Pale’ – that after four or so days’ work with fresh acquaintances (in the crucible of rehearsal, and at party performances for fellow Procol-fans) the bandmates involved tend to feel as if they’ve been friends for a whole decade. In the case of Luiz de Boni, of whose death I sadly learnt this morning, we really had been corresponding for a decade or more before 2013 brought him to Wuppertal, at the heart of the seventh Palers’ Band incarnation.
Our e-mail acquaintance predated the first Palers’ Project compilation, Lost in the Looking Glass, released in 2002: his Conquistador treatment was a natural opener – track one, disc one – and we also used his versions of A Salty Dog and of Repent Walpurgis. At that time Luiz’s careful written English had given me the impression of a seasoned and serious-minded musician, and this was reinforced by the photograph he provided for the Palers' Project website, in which he posed with proprietorial pride at the console of the professional studio he ran in his birthplace, Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Luiz made his first stage appearance at the age of nine, at his sister's school graduation party, when he sang A Whiter Shade of Pale accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. His musical career began in 1972 as the bassist in a band called Cia. Iltda ('Unlimited Company') with school friends. In 1976 he switched to keyboards and played with many Brazilian artists and rock groups, like Tom Zé, RPM, Mutantes and O Terço. This last was a principal Brazilian progressive rock group, and he recorded three CDs with them between from 1991 to 1996 (some of these are available on Musea, the French progressive label ). One of these, LIVE at PALACE - 93, was recorded live in a major music hall in Sao Paulo, and O Terço played their best music stuff with a Symphony Orchestra. In 1980 he opened his own Recording Studio in Sao Paulo, ('New Studio'), where he worked as composer of TV and Radio Commercial Music, and also as producer for several groups and artists of various styles including Samba, Bossa Nova, Rock, Blues and Progressive Rock. With a business friend he ran the Brazilian Progressive Rock label, Record Runner from 1991–1995.
His mononymic byline – simply ‘de Boni’ – radiated self-assurance, as did the sonorous voice and the stately pace of the tunes he chose to cover: his follow-ups were Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone) on 2004’s From Shadow to Shadow, and Fires (Which Burnt Brightly) on Trace of a Feeling from 2006. He also contributed to a memorable, albeit curious, Typewriter Torment.
Luiz was the very last of 35 musicians to sign up for BtP's 2013 Wuppertal sessions, and it was a huge relief to have a versatile instrumentalist join the ranks at a time when accidents and illness were shooting holes in our somewhat complicated cast-list (five starters did not finish!). The prolific correspondence between Bristol and Brazil, in the weeks leading up to the Wuppertal rehearsals, began to reveal more mercurial dimensions of the de Boni character.
>I must tell you: I’ve played in many gigs, including Rock in Rio II in Maracanã (1991, I guess ... ) for an attendance of around 90,000 people ... and I’ve never been more excited and anxious for a show … this is a kind of “tour-de-force” presentation for me. Procol Harum music means so much for me, for my life ... all songs still touches me as when I first listened to them. Playing them live with all of you is a “dream come true”.
He was energetic and productive in providing chord-charts to share; he wrote with imagination about synth voicings and patches; he responded with quick excitement to line-up changes and welcomed any new challenge we could throw at him.
>It will be a TRUE pleasure to share the stage with you and all those folks! Playing the bass will be very joyful for me! It’s the instrument I’ve started playing when I was 13 (some forty years ago, my god!)! I'll start practicing NOW and do my best to not let you down. Singing will also be a tremendous honor for me.
His wide experience meant he understood the organisational magnitude of the task we were undertaking and he was enormously appreciative.
>I’m not jealous at all about the “job” you and Jens have in hands: 35 musicians together! I suffer to put up a band with 4 or 5 members ... imagine 35! And with the dozens of wonderful PH songs to be played ... hard task indeed! Perfect choice of songs … I'm proud and honored with my allocation!
And in the flesh … it was a case of all this and more. He immediately revealed himself as exuberant, hilarious, and resourceful. Luiz had recorded so many bands, and made so many records; he knew not only his allotted songs, but he could 'read' the rehearsal room and help everyone position their amps where they’d sound best.
We had some 32 songs on the rehearsal list: if someone was temporarily missing, Luiz would sing their part, or fill in on piano or bass, with charm and panache … and no detectable ego. Tireless, affable, spirited and capable, he raised everyone’s game by example rather than by rivalry or self-promotion: a marvellous gift.
Luiz wasn’t just a gifted instrumentalist and a
passionate singer (About to Die [above] was ironically his stand-out): he was
also our main line of liaison with the pro. sound-crew. As he’d written,
And when Gary Brooker joined us [right] to run through his tunes (especially the metrically-tricky Saw the Fire) Luiz – who, I was later to learn, didn’t really read music – calmly beat time to keep the ensemble in order and also provide The Commander with his entries. This strategy was so successful that he repeated it in performance at Live Club Barmen. There’s a film somewhere on YouTube at the end of which [5.26] you can hear his modest response to Gary’s thanks: ‘Don’t follow me, I’m lost!’
But Luiz – who took over more and more vocals as
the Wupperlurgy struck – was clearly never lost at all, and he visibly
loved every moment. His only equal in terms of experience and high
spirits was Dave Ball (his frame as lanky as Luiz's was compact) … and it’s cruel to
think that neither was destined to 'make old bones', in Dave's words. Luiz had brought many presents to Wuppertal – CDs
of his many bands and a fresh set of d’Addario bass strings for me – and
I’m sure most of us were strongly hoping to bring presents to him on
some future transAtlantic engagement. He himself wrote ...
But, as they say, the Universe had other plans. Luiz's name was often mentioned in the run-up to 2016’s Zoetermeer convention and it was a terrible shock to everyone to learn how ill he’d grown. Nothing That I Didn't Know was sung with him in mind. Looking back now, one sees omens even in his 2013 e-mails … he complains of his ‘brain fading’ and mentions that '... my mind used to be set in Quadraphonic, now it’s more like playing in mono ... ’. Facebook showed us heartening evidence of the love and care with which his family, led by his daughter Leka, surrounded him.
Luiz’s bandmates weren’t the only ones who missed him. When Gary Brooker took the stage to sing The Pursuit of Happiness with us, his first words were ‘Where’s my Brazilian conductor?’ … and this was before the Procols had learned of Luiz’s illness. We collected their signatures on the front of a special Zoetermeer Convention tee-shirt, which, with Palers’ signatures on the back, provided great comfort to Luiz in his final days.
To be affectionately remembered so far away – on the strength of so brief an acquaintance – is testament to some outstanding qualities; and it’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of loss felt by Luiz's family and friends in Brazil, for whom it’s a life-long companion they mourn. Our sympathy and condolence go out to them at this terribly sad time.