Procol Harum

the Pale

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Dave Ball tells his tale …

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Procol Harum Seek Tall Guitarist With View to Long-Term Relationship

Something like that anyway. People often ask me if I had been a big fan of Procol before I joined them. Well, the truth is, I had loved A Whiter Shade of Pale and enjoyed Homburg and Salty Dog immensely, but I knew none of their other stuff, nor even that they still existed.

I did actually have a brief encounter with them back in 1967. My band of the day – Chicago Hush –were shopping for flower-power clothes in Chelsea Antique Market, which was a painfully trendy hippie arcade on the Kings Road in London. Procol Harum walked en masse into the arcade. This was when AWSoP was riding high in the charts. Mo, (poor innocent) stopped in mid stride, flinging his arms out to the side and taking a step back whilst we all tumbled into one another, and in one of the most heavily-whispered asides since Joshua paid his respects to the inhabitants of Jericho with a toot on his bugle, said: "LOOK! PROCOL HARUM … SAY NOTHING … SAY NOTHING … ACT NORMAL." I can't remember all of the precise details but "say nothing"??? What the hell were we supposed to SAY to them for Christ’s sake? "Hi, we’m sum Brummie yobs down for the day to boiy girls' clothes to wear on stage while we murder your number one hit". Really. Most uncool. Pointedly ignoring Mo’s awe I shouldered my way past them with a look that said ‘We’m moight be boiying girlie clothes, but we’m Brummies so yow’d berrer not fook us abowt - orl-roight?’ Or perhaps it came out more as "Make way … star struck band coming through" – to be honest the details are a little fuzzy.

So, when the Procol ad in Melody Maker hit the stands in May 1970, most of Britain could have been excused for thinking the band had broken up years before. The truth was that Procol had been hacking around the college circuits in America for years and had become somewhat of a mythical memory in the UK. Nevertheless, Procol Harum was a "name" band, and whilst I did not phone immediately, in fact I think I left it over a week, I did finally ring their office to book my slot.

"Sorry, we have already 80 guitarists on the list. No more required." That was Christie, Chrysalis PA to Chris Wright, who was PH’s manager. Hang on, this cannot be right, I always get to the auditions at least! "Whaddayameanthelistisfull-justputmeonthereohgoonplease" I said in a panic. "Sorry." Click brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Right, I thought, this needs the personal touch. I found out the Chrysalis office address and fronted up there dressed up in all my drop-dead-big-star-waiting-for-the-break clothes, which somewhat mysteriously included a hat, and proceeded to pester Christie until she agreed to put me at the bottom of the list. Come in number 81, your time is up.

The audition was done at the Rolling Stones' rehearsal studios near London Bridge. I turned up at the appointed hour and quickly assessed the situation. These guys were "auditioned-out". It was palpably clear that they had seen more misery over the past however many days of Robin Trower, Eric Clapton and Chuck Berry clones to last a lifetime. They seemed friendly enough however, Gary really taking the lead in things. We settled in with some of those what-the-hell-do-we-play-now-twelve-bars which seemed to go reasonably well, and then played through a few Procol songs. It all kind of petered out. I gave Keith my telephone number, then I think I said "Does anyone fancy a beer?" – which suggestion they all unanimously agreed with. We retired to the pub down the road from the studios for a few cleansing ales after which I staggered back to the tube with a fol-diddle-dee and not much hope of anything. Still, I thought. What a nice bunch of blokes.

Nicer than I had imagined. Next thing, Christie was on the phone to inform me that I was to report back to London Bridge for another beer. This was to happen a great deal over the next year or so (the beer I mean, not London Bridge).

Why me, do you think? Maybe I was the first guitarist they had seen that had not rehearsed all of their tunes and it was refreshing; perhaps I told funnier jokes than the others; perhaps it was because I wasn’t particularly nervous of the situation? I personally think it was the beer. This was a true Procol Man.

I read in an old interview done with Gary and Keith shortly after I had joined up that Keith had (kindly) said that I was the only guitarist auditioned who had "just played" as opposed to "played along". Maybe that was a by-product of not knowing exactly what I was doing. Arrogance of youth? It doesn’t really matter does it. The point is - I WAS IN AND THEY WEREN’T – Hahahahaha.

We spent a few weeks rehearsing our beer-drinking, interspersed with the odd tune, then polished everything up at the Lyceum Ballroom on a decent-sized stage. After that it was passports / tickets / money and off to jolly old America. My first of many trips.


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