Procol Harum

the Pale

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Le Bourdon des Alpes

and its elusive British Première

Roland Clare writes: during my recent conversation with Gary Brooker I learnt that he was to play toy instruments in a concert at Charterhouse, the posh private school near where he lives. But which Toy Symphony? I knew only of Haydn's and Romberg's: Gary had evidently been booked to play Mozart's, about which I could find nothing written. It was time to telephone Charterhouse ...

It was a typically baffling beginning: the Head of Music at Charterhouse knew nothing about the Toy Symphony concert and had never heard of Gary Brooker.

'You helped him with brass parts for Le Bourdon des Alpes,' I reminded him.


'You're not David Wright, then?'


The real David Wright turned out to be a very delightful Scotsman who laughed merrily at the notion that he was Charterhouse's Director of Music, as Gary had believed. In fact he's the Head of Brass in a six(!)-man department at the school. His Departmental head knew nothing of the forthcoming concert, because it's happening out of term-time, when David will be using the Charterhouse Hall for his own purposes: partly to raise money for charity, and partly to celebrate his fortieth birthday, which falls a few days later.

David was brought up in the Scots Brass Band tradition, and when he was appointed to work in this very Southern school he naturally got involved in the local Brass scene. He had been conducting the Godalming brass band when Gary had started researching for his Swiss Commission.

'It wasn't the sort of concert he'd normally be queuing up to hear,' said David Wright. 'He approached me in the interval with a self-deprecating "You won't know who I am, but I'm Gary Brooker ..."'

David immediately thought back to the copy of A Salty Dog at this brother's flat in Edinburgh, and began to protest that he knew his self-effacing interlocutor very well 'without additional elaboration ...' when Brooker cut him off.

'... I once wrote a song called A Whiter Shade of Pale ....' – which David clearly remembered seeing on Top of the Pops when he was nine!

So once the formalities had been completed David found himself at Gary's abode, hearing bits of Bourdon played though on the piano. 'He had it down in notation already,' David told me. 'It sounds straight away like Brooker music, though its use of a drone is unusual, and there is something definitely folky about the melody. I think it's great!'

David's task was to help Gary realize his musical ideas in a band-friendly score. Brass band writing is a law unto itself, with all instruments scored in the treble clef, even the lowest tuba! David lent him a number of brass scores and the key work on brass scoring, by Denis Wright (no relation!). The Swiss had also sent some scores to show the sort of forces they were accustomed to: they will also be adding flutes and saxophones.

A typical contesting brass band involves one E flat cornet, nine B flat cornets in four parts, flugelhorn, three tenor horns, two baritones, three trombones, two euphoniums and four tubas, and about four or five percussionists; this is essentially the British model, which has spread abroad with the growing passion for this sort of music: the European championship was held in Holland this year and will take place in Munich in 1999.

They met again once Gary had prepared a pretty detailed score, in C: this time they were in the Common Room bar (!) at Charterhouse, where there's no piano, and they talked though scoring details, hearing it in their heads. 'He's musically pretty sound,' said David, 'and nifty with pencil and rubber.' Once this score had been sorted out, it went to a copyist for the preparation of transposed parts.

So, what of this Toy Symphony that Gary would be playing in return for the brass-consultative favours. The piece David will be conducting, with the Godalming Symphonia and Godalming Band, is the one known to most people as the Haydn, now considered by scholars to have been written by Leopold Mozart, who was a great exploiter of whistles, pistols and the like in such works as the Sinfonia da Caccia; he was the father of the prodigious Wolfgang Amadeus. Various other rock musicians are being approached – Mike Rutherford, Roger Taylor – but have not been confirmed as of May 1998.

The concert will also include Tchaikovsky's Overture 1812, with cannons, and a Grand Overture by Malcolm Arnold which makes musical use of hoovers. It sounds like a grand night out, I told David.

'Yes, what with Gary's piece as well.'


'Didn't he mention that we were giving Le Bourdon des Alpes its British première?' David Wright laughed at Mr Brooker's diffidence, or amnesia, or elusiveness ...

So if you are able to get there, it's a public concert at 7 pm on 5 July in the Hall at Charterhouse, in aid of CHASE, the Children's Hospice, and Hopes and Homes for Children, a charity of the Godalming Woolsack Rotary Club. Tickets are a modest 10 pounds: to book, telephone (0)1483 429543.

We hope to have somebody there to cover this event and report back for 'Beyond the Pale'.

More pages about Le Bourdon des Alpes | Another Brooker appearance at Charterhouse, thirteen years later

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