Procol Harum

the Pale

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Write it down, it might be read: nothing’s better left unsaid...

Steve Gray for BtP

Part One of this intriguing story is here ... read it first!

March 2018

I’m walking over to the Music Block with a Year 11 violinist.

“You’re quite excited about this, aren’t you?” she says to me, followed after a brief pause – it is her Head Teacher she's addressing, after all – by a reassuring, “I mean that in a good way”.

And she’s right, of course. I am excited, and it is a good thing. I still get a kick out of working with young people but it reminds me on a daily basis that the yearning for lost youth that can be the cliché of the mid-life crisis often involves very selective memories. I wouldn’t want the anxieties and insecurities of adolescence back for one minute, especially in an era where a government determined to improve rigour is increasing the pressures through an increasingly demanding examination system with a higher degree of failure built in. But the greater sense of security and confidence that can come with advancing years does have with it the trade-off that you can lose the ‘excitement of the new’. So while my role demands that I do my best to be seen as a calm reassuring presence, it is perhaps no bad thing that my colleagues and the students can see that there are the remnants of an excited teenager in there somewhere as the day of our school's Procol Harum concert approaches.

This mood is also evident amongst the governors – many are of a ‘certain age’ and recognise that this project is quite a Big Thing. Memories have been stirred of a PH gig in Dunstable Civic Hall in the 70s, and of reminiscences through the purple haze of the intervening decades about whether it was the Moody Blues or Procol Harum (or maybe both?) that had been seen almost half a century ago. No doubt there will be some righteous indignation amongst this readership about how these two bands could possibly be confused [too right! Ed.], and you can rest assured that there is no confusion in my mind – Nights in White Satin will not be part of the upcoming programme ... but A Salty Dog, Conquistador, A Whiter Shade of Pale and Grand Finale will.

Rehearsals in the hands of a skilled conductor are a wonderful thing to behold. Simple Sister is the last of the songs to be tackled and I arrive at orchestra rehearsal to hear the first run-through sounding, frankly, fairly ropey. We’re still rehearsing in sections and so without the band or choir present the orchestral parts are quite fragmented – lots of bars' rest where I can 'hear' the band and vocal lines in my head but the students won’t necessarily be familiar with the full sound. As the session progresses and Ben takes them carefully through each section, calling the rhythms, counting the bars and checking the entries, it gradually starts to take shape.

Magically, forty-five minutes later, it’s sounding tight and confident and everyone is starting to get a feel for how the piece will build to the climax. I’m hugely impressed with how much has been achieved in a short space of time and it’s another reminder of what can be achieved when you have talented adults and students working together to a common purpose. At some point we’ll have to confirm the running order, but I think that either this or Conquistador should kick us off. A snatched conversation in the corridor with our pianist assures me that the guitarist, a fellow Year 13 student who can be a shy and retiring creature, is definitely up to speed with the guitar parts and that she will definitely be ‘all right on the night’ – even though I haven’t spotted her anywhere near a rehearsal (or indeed at all) since we started.

Just over a fortnight to go – we have a rescheduled Battle of the Bands this week (a casualty of 'The Beast from the East' last Thursday) and then into the final straight. If there are any Procol Harum aficionados out there who are within commuting distance and would like to come and cheer us on, tickets (a bargain at only £4!) can be reserved by e-mailing Eva Hobson ( The concert starts at 7.00 on Thursday 22 March 22 at the Connolly Hall, Redborne Upper School, MK45 2NU.


Procol dates in 2018

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