March 2017 – Festival Hall
A memorable and dramatic night! Great music with good company of friends and family and, as events unfolded, much time to think and talk in an extended interval. I had just been involved in some delicate negotiations about succession planning for the senior posts in the school in which I work and knew that I would be taking on the top job for an interim period before projected retirement in 2019. Our school has a strong musical tradition and I’d thought to myself on a few occasions about whether it might be possible to perform some of the Procol orchestral repertoire. The scores obviously existed, but would the logistics and negotiations prove an insurmountable obstacle? This would obviously take some time, and procrastination on my part could mean that if I didn’t get my act together I could end up retiring without ever finding out the answer. So, I decided to say it out loud to my companions on the grounds that if I’d put this crazy idea into the public domain there was a greater chance of my avoiding getting ‘cold feet’ – after all, what was the worst that could happen? My friend had been a passing acquaintance of Gary Brooker many years ago, but had lost contact over the years and suggested that an initial enquiry via BtP might prove a suitable ‘way in’. And thus it proved …
May 2017 – Birmingham Town
“Hello, you must be Roland…!” I was back in one of the venues that held vivid memories from student days (fond recollections of Richard Thompson and King Crimson performing here back in the mid-seventies), now suitably refurbished for the 21st century. E-mails had passed between us, and Roland couldn’t have been more helpful and enthusiastic about the idea. Preliminary diplomatic channels had been opened and a meeting had been set up with GB backstage after the gig. A very different evening from the Festival Hall, but it was great to hear new music being played alongside some of the extensive back catalogue – I’d already dropped some heavy hints that a copy of Novum would be an excellent choice if anyone was stuck for an idea for my birthday present. My son was suitably impressed that I didn’t get completely tongue-tied when speaking with one of my musical heroes and I drove back down the M40 that night buoyed up not only by a few shots of espresso but also by the adrenalin-fuelled knowledge that I’d just secured the agreement in principle from the man himself to let us have access to the scores. We were on the way.
Later that same year …
After the heady excitement of thinking that this might just really be able to happen, the more prosaic task took over of actually sorting out a potential set list and dealing with the nuts and bolts of enabling delivery of the scores. What would give us a reasonably varied programme? What would the students actually be able to play and sing? What were the deadlines that we’d need to meet? My director of music, Ben Bottone, is wonderfully open to ambitious ideas but he had to familiarise himself with the Procol repertoire, being one of the many who was familiar with AWSoP but had little knowledge of the rest of it. An exchange of ideas about what might work gave us a short list of five pieces and, after further diplomatic assistance from Roland, the willing help of David Firman and the wonders of modern technology (is there a collective noun for a group of pdf files?), by mid-Autumn we had the scores safely delivered. A small matter of an Ofsted inspection and a production of Into The Woods later, and before you know it Christmas was upon us… and I was about to take over as acting head.
First orchestral rehearsal – I ask if it’s OK if I ‘sit in’ and listen and I arrive half way through AWSoP. Our student technician is still sorting out the scores next door and getting to grips with an uncooperative Sellotape dispenser, so I step in to ‘fill’ for a few minutes to explain some of the story to a slightly bemused student body. I still don’t think they quite ‘get’ why I’m listening with such a broad grin on my face a few minutes later as the string section strikes up the distinctive intro to Conquistador. Pretty impressive for a first run through, I thought, and Ben was right when he said that we’d have a trumpeter who could cope with the ‘exposed’ parts – this will sound fine once it’s had a bit of practice and polish, and of course once we get the full band in as well. Some hesitancy with the chromatic riff at first, but after a few runs at it the strings and bass guitar are starting to go for it with greater confidence. I’m looking forward to hearing our lead guitarist getting stuck into the solos. Ten weeks and counting – it’s really going to happen!
Redborne Upper School is holding its Spring community concert in the Connolly Hall at the school on Thursday 22 March – the programme will include five pieces from the Procol repertoire, performed by band, orchestra and choir.
Procol dates in 2018