Procol Harum

the Pale

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Brooker / Copping / Whitehorn

Meeting and greeting friends across Australia!

Stephen Wallace sends this excellently evocative report to BtP; nearly all photos by Stephanie Wallace-Rolley

 'Fresh Fruit Meet and Greet' at the home of Chris and Vicki Copping in Melbourne
20 February 2000

After much e-mail and phone activity over the previous months, Diane Rolph notified us from her office in London that Sunday 20 February had been decided as the date for the 'Meet and Greet' in Melbourne. She had done some tricky liaising with both Gary and Chris to get a space in their schedule and the task of making it happen was now quite frightening. Beverly Peyton had sent felicitations from Florida, and Roland and Jens were helping us keep everyone up to date on BtP. Sadly, one Queensland fan, Russell Murphy, was unable to attend due to work commitments which took him to the US for the week. Russell was devastated that he was not able to join us on this day. Meanwhile, arrangements had to be made to have our four children minded while mum and dad went to meet one of the family icons whose music had pervaded every acoustic space in their short lives. The two older ones, who also wanted to meet and greet the great man, were at least promised a concert ticket. Little did they dream (in their home) that they would unexpectedly run into Gary and Franky just days later in a hotel in Adelaide!

Franky Brooker descends
the Coppings' back porch
to laughter all around.

To her left is (in the white T shirt)
Vicki Copping, Paul Annable,
and Michael Bernard

The weather in Melbourne had been relentless over the previous week - either scorching heat or drizzling rain; neither of which would cheer our British visitors. But as Chris forecast, the day did improve and it was a lovely sunny Melbourne day in Chris's back yard, so we could meet together with lots of Ozzie wines, Irish, German and British beer and a beautiful selection of hot curries inside.

Aside from the guests of honour and Chris's helpers and admirers, people came from all over Oz. Dennis Grant returned from Malaysia to attend and brought his partner Terre and daughter Nicole (a potential antipodean Paler) from Queensland for the day. Margaret and Bob Lloyd (who has contributed to the PH history) also took a long flight down from Queensland to meet the master of the muse. Michael Bernard and Alison McNicoll Smith journeyed from Central Victoria, while Marcus Romanic, Judy O'Brien and her brother Gary arrived from outer Geelong in Victoria. John Annable drove up from the Mornington Peninsula with his musician brothers Keith and Paul, and Keith brought the most fabulous book of cuttings which Jens and Roland may want to include on BtP!. Amanda Hysted had prepared Gary's presentation and Stephanie Wallace Rolley, (Stephen's 12 year-old daughter) took lots of the photos (see this pag). Greg Smith (who has provided a nice challenge for BtP) was one of the first to arrive and Karen Postill renewed her home-country connections. It was a lovely surprise that Chris's brother, film-maker Robin Copping (who shot the famous 1970s The Procol Harum film), took some video of the day.

Vicki Copping congratulates CC
on having hair in 1973

The anticipation built considerably as people nervously awaited the Brookers' arrival. Chris was his usual cheeky and ebullient self and welcomed visitors into his work-room complete with 7 foot Bluthner grand and old Precision bass. Everyone was pretty relaxed by the time Mr Brooker finally emerged down the back steps and a lively throng was soon reduced to a reverential hush as Gary introduced himself around, as he does so effortlessly. Franky (whom I had seen but never met) was her delightful self despite feeling a little poorly (as was Gary), but soon the party was in full swing. It is remarkable to watch the Brookers engage so easily with such a diverse bunch of admirers, who all felt magically touched by their presence (even my daughter, who thought all my talk of Brooker magic was slightly daggy*). Meanwhile Vicki Copping was busily ensuring the food was ready and well presented, which she did magnificently.

After Geoff Whitehorn and the Brookers had mingled with most of the assembled, the meal was served inside. Chris played some rare vinyl recordings of Gary's and people started to feel both relaxed and very grateful to have had the opportunity to meet such a remarkable musician. In addition to the enormous respect for his talent, there was palpable feeling of real affection for Gary which people seemed happy to reveal.

Amanda Hysted (the 'woman who brought her baby all the way from Australia' to Redhill in 1997) chats with Gazza (the man she went to see)

It was funny remembering my first meeting with Gary in Melbourne a lifetime ago, and how I had found him to be slightly distant and grumpy. At the time, there was nobody in the world I wanted more to meet and his reaction to our meeting initially unhinged me a bit. But it was his enormous generosity which impressed me most even then. Now, 27 years later, we were to meet in quite different circumstances. How much had changed. But I was again struck by the awe which he still commanded, and how delightfully energised I felt again by his presence. Despite the fact that he coined a nickname for me on the day, it was difficult not to feel intimidated by this towering talent which had shone so brightly into so many lives over three decades.

'Doc' Wallace (holding the photo commemoration of PH's 1973 tour presented to Gary) toasts an international treasure on behalf
of assembled admirers.

Nicole and Dennis Grant listen respectfully.

We then had a small presentation which commemorated Gary and Franky's visit with PH in 1973 (photos of which will become available to BtP later in the year) and a small token to thank Chris and Vicki Copping for their hospitality. Gary graciously signed all manner of things and cheerfully assisted in providing photo records of the event. Once again, his graciousness and patience seemed inexhaustible. As it was getting late, and most people thought the day could not get any better, some commenced their long journeys home.

Greg Smith examines the evidence with Gazza while Bob Lloyd looks on

Well imagine my surprise! Although Chris's Luxman hi-fi system was good, the sound emanating from his work-room was too good to be just a stunning recording of some Procol songs. Somebody had asked Gary to show them a few chords of Christmas Camel and, as they say, the rest was ... something magic. It is a measure of the man that Gary knew just how much this would mean to his supporters and friends. Although he wasn't feeling the best, he gave a magnificent recital for about an hour. Many people said it was the most wonderful hour they could ever remember. Watching Chris and Geoff play with Gary, it became apparent that he is held in considerable awe, even by his peers.

Photographer Steffi Wallace-Rolley continues the family tradition

Thanx for pix, Steffi!

To expect still ... more at this point seemed unreasonable. The afternoon sun was setting over downtown Elsternwick and Gary and Franky sat out on the verandah to finally relax. As we walked out to our car for the long drive home, I said to Amanda that I knew in 1973 what I know now ... there are few days in life like this one, and we need to hold these memories dear to our hearts and minds, especially in times of doubt, when everything around, even the kitchen ceiling is collapsed and crumbled ...

Thanks 'Doc' ... er ... Stephen ... check out his two fine Procol cover versions on the Whalers' CD!

* 'daggy' = naff, uncool (antipodean usage)

Gary Brooker's page at BtP

Rock Symphony programme with words and pictures

2000 Australia tour dates

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