Procol Harum

the Pale

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Mark Brzezicki chats to BtP

In the run-up to Procol's Millennium Concert

On 26 July 2000 Mark rang BtP just to let us know what he had been up to recently it developed into a lengthy and interesting chat, touching on how he became involved in Procoldom all summarised here as far as paper, pencil, and my choking on a cup of tea permitted. RC

Mark has been working lately with all kinds of musicians at all levels of the industry: Spike Edney's SAS Band at the Party in the Park; Martine McCutcheon, Marti Pellow, Suggs, Brian May, and Lionel Ritchie.

He played with Chris Thompson, Leo Sayer and Fish lately, at the Empire. He plays in a band celled 'Dad's Army' with his brother Steve on bass, Josh Phillips, Steve Roux on guitar and Damon Hill, whom he rates as a musician. There are plans for a 40th birthday gig for Hill soon, which might conceivably involve George Harrison and / or Gary Brooker.

He has been touring with Leo Sayer and played with Roger Taylor at the recent benefit for the Freddie Mercury AIDS foundation., and is now writing with Desiree. 'I also play keyboards, drummer-style,' he says, 'and I am in the studio most days at my brother's place.' He has done the music for a current British TV commercial, an 0898 chatline. 'It's a very short piece, and they paid for it by the second,' he jokes.

Mark is also playing drum clinics and seminars: he has just done one in Wales and another is imminent in Winchester. He doesn't teach (though he knows his Rudiments, having taught himself from books, and is a good reader): he demonstrates, starting with a twenty-minute showcase solo, talking about the instruments, and taking question and answer sessions. 'People even fly in from the States for these things,' he explains. 'Some want tips on points of technique, you know, how to get more out of their double bass-drum set-up; and someone asked me about working with Procol Harum, whom he'd seen me with in the States.'

Big Country are not disbanded, but are on ice, following a 'farewell' tour including live album and video of their concert at Barrowlands, Glasgow. On that tour Mark also drummed with both the support bands, Intervert, and the Alarm. On a handful of dates all three bands took the stage. 'I have got plenty of stamina!' he commented.

Intervert is a London band, in their early twenties, with whom Mark is continuing to expand his drumming horizons. 'They work with loops and recorded tracks, a very Massive Attack feel, very dance-oriented,' he explains. There is a CD of their compositions out, all original.

Mark is a close friend of Josh Phillips and plays drums on most of what Josh writes. They were working together in 1991 in a studio on the Isle of Man (with Simon Townsend) when he got the call from Gary, asking if he'd like to work with Procol Harum. 'Josh could hardly believe it had been Gary on the 'phone he's such a huge, huge Procol fan himself. So he came with me down to Black Barn in Ripley, Surrey, where all the drum tracks for The Prodigal Stranger were recorded. And that's how he got to know Gary and to become Procol's deputy organist.'

'I know that Matthew Fisher was a big advocate of my drumming, and thought I should be called, and Keith was also keen on my work,' Mark remembers. 'It was a huge honour to be asked to do that gig. I wasn't a big record-buyer as a teenager, but I remember being knocked out by Pandora's Box. That flute solo is still one of my all-time favourite pieces of music. I started drumming at 16 and was mostly into jazz fusion, Blood Sweat and Tears type of stuff. I didn't buy many records where the vocal was important but I made an exception with Procol music. I liked the idea of a blues-based music with interesting chord-structures and Gary is simply one of the country's great musicians.'

Other commitments prevented Mark from playing with Procol beyond 1992, at which point Ian Wallace took over his throne. But he spent a fortnight rehearsing Matt Pegg into the band for the later tour, contributing to the compilation of Last Train to Niagara, while Ian Wallace learned his parts from recordings. Mark is looking forward to working with Matt Pegg again, and to working with Mick Grabham for the first time.

'It was an honour again to be asked to play the Guildford gig,' says Mark, who was present at the Barbican simply as a fan. 'Gary has a list of fine drummers, all of whom I respect very much, and he shares the Procol work around, which is lovely.' Mark enormously enjoyed the Edmonton II orchestral concert, as well of course as his 'Within our House' experiences with Gary. 'Quite a challenge to play that quietly!' he observes. 'I know Josh took Pete Townsend's mother along to the church, and she really enjoyed it. But at one point she leaned over to him and said, "Do you think Gary's been listening to Tommy?"!'

Mark looks forward to meeting fans at Guildford, and 'will do all [he] can' to put in an appearance at the Palers' Musical Convention on the Saturday night. 'There's a potential problem in that the Big Country Convention is also slated for Saturday 16 September,' he says, 'But let's hope I can get that changed.'

Thanks, Mark!

Mark Brzezicki's page at BtP

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