Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

A Southend Shade of Pale

John Bobin

In the dim and distant early Sixties a favourite haunt of mine was The Shades. Set on Southend sea-front this coffee bar, owned and run by Robin Trower's parents, was a magnet for 'Mods' and wannabes who frequented a 'club' no more than a few doors away from a 'Rocker' equivalent. Surprisingly the Shades also attracted a fanatical Rock'n'Roll contingent who widened their musical horizons to include esoteric American Pop, R'n'B and Blues by some well-known and lesser names from the States.

Thanks, Claes, for the graphic

The jukebox at the Shades had the odd 'token' English disc (such as the earthy She's in Love with a Teenage Idol by the Laurie Jay Combo) but the main musical direction was across the pond. At Christmas the featured record was Run Run Rudolph by Chuck Berry (who else?) and the atmosphere at the Shades was even more electric.

On Sundays The Paramounts held court on a tiny stage downstairs, where all the walls had been lovingly (but not very effectively) soundproofed with egg boxes. At the back of the stage was a cartoon mural of The Paramounts on which some wag had scribed comments.

As a young and inexperienced bass guitarist myself (see here) I happily paid my one shilling and sixpence (7 1/2 pence) and stood transfixed during the Paramounts' sets. Gradually I came to know and love this heady mix of Rock'n'Roll, Blues and eccentric selections of American Pop music. (The repertoire was wonderful! See here)

The upright piano took a severe punishing, particularly during Jerry Lee Lewis numbers - Gary doing battle with the poor submissive instrument whilst his musical cohorts thundered away behind him. Diz Derrick was one of the few bass players I had seen using an Epiphone Rivoli. This was a departure from the norm as the Fender Precision was pretty much the industry standard. The Rivoli's deep and full tones supplemented Barrie Wilson's enormous drum style perfectly. (This was pre the 'BJ' tag.) Barrie seemed to smile continuously - he was enjoying himself so much. As the baby of the band it is particularly saddening to remember his untimely departure from the World's 'stage'. Rob (or Robbie) Trower played a Gretsch Country Gent guitar in a way that its manufacturer had surely never envisaged. (The more formal 'Robin' stage persona emerged later.) Using a Selmer 'Little Giant' as crude but gutsy sounding pre-amp, the over-driven bluesy sound was a radical change from the ubiquitous Hank Marvin sound that was everywhere else.

8 January 1966 : back cover of 'TV Week' from TasmaniaSeparately then, the individual members of the band were great. But together, the whole band kicked arse and perfectly complemented Gary's wonderfully expressive voice. Their early recordings give some idea of the raw sound and power of the group, but their live performance was the tops.

Along the way changes were made, such as a better PA, the usage of a Hohner Pianet instead of the unreliable house pianos, the temporary change to a different drummer, but the band really cooked. Their repertoire widened and they experimented with new material; for example early James Brown numbers featured heavily at one time.

I have followed Gary and his peers' careers with interest and remember well a girlfriend of mine enthusing over A Whiter Shade of Pale' (which at that time I had not heard.)

'What's it like?' I asked.

'It's not like anything else,' she puzzled.

A tatty Chinese restaurant (The Flying Dragon) above a market arcade in Southend had this diverting tribute to the Paramounts scribbled on the wall of the toilet: a mistaken scrawler had written 'The Paramounts are shit.' Underneath the rejoinder from a Paramounts devotee was:

'Superlative of course!'

Thanks, John ... hear him on this 2CD!

More Procol Harum features

Index page for The Paramounts

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home