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Remembering Dave Ball

Poul Achton, from Denmark, for BtP

Poul Achton writes (3 April 2015)

With the news of Dave Ball’s passing, the first thought that came to my mind, after the initial flow of tears, was : “How lucky I am to have met Dave in this life!” And, so are all of us here – were it only for a brief moment or encounter!

Let me take you back to SOUTHEND, July 2007; I was a member of a happy coalition, the Danish tribute band PROCOL HARUM PROJECT, formed by Søren Borello in 2006, inspired by the Palers’ gathering in Lejre, Denmark that same year.

We were fairly ambitious, and loved playing the great music of Brooker and Reid. And, although we had built up a neat repertoire of about ten songs and felt comfortable with them, it was still a HUGE boost, when Søren was contacted by Roland and Jens and we were invited to join the 2007 Palers' Convention and celebration of Procol Harum's 40th anniversary – in Southend and London!

In the months preceding this wonderful event, I became a part of the wonderful project of Jens and Roland’s admirable task of arranging the whole affair, coordinating everything, including, of course, matching the combinations of musicians, from gifted amateurs to hardcore professionals, for the many songs to be rehearsed and performed. One of the participants, who was presented on our mutual homepage, was a guy with a big grin on his face – to be honest, I didn’t know him at the time, and the fact that he presented himself as “ Le Comte de Bollocks” did NOT make him more familiar ...

It wasn’t until the actual arrival at the “NIGHTFLY STUDIO” in Southend that I found out, that it was in fact Dave Ball from the original Procol Harum. And, the thrill for me was to know, that I had been chosen to play the drums in one of the songs with Dave participating, the straight blues song SEEM TO HAVE THE BLUES (MOST ALL THE TIME).

Mr Ball arrived in midweek, and there was a buzz about it, no doubt. Not in words, but you could feel it in and around the studio, among us all. And there he was.. this tall guy, totally laidback and nice and smiling – at the same time you respected him a lot from the first second – but from that very same second, you also felt like he was your friend... a good, warm feeling!

Dave’s first rehearsal was SIMPLE SISTER, and ALL hands were on deck in the July-warm, damp and non-air-conditioned studio. It was full speed and max volume, and everybody smiled – so did I, even more, when our song was to be worked with an hour later. We did one take, I think, and during that song, Dave and I just clicked! First solo was a wonderful Hammond B3, mastered by DON MILIONE – then, it was Dave’s turn; halfway through it, I did some kind of waltzy intro to his second half on my cymbal, and he turned around and yelled “ YEAH” with a big smile on his face – and I was in my own little heaven!

After the last beat on the crash cymbal to end the song, he smiled at me and said “Cool!” – Thank God, I have this whole song on some DVD footage, that a kind Paler, Jeff Levine, sent to me afterwards. We performed the song at St John’s Smith Square in London later that week, and afterwards I said to Dave : “You may not know it, but I have to play some more with you one day....!”. He smiled and we exchanged phone numbers ....

About a month later, me still being elated by the wonderful goings on in England and the many new friends I had met, I received an email from Dave, starting with : “Always beware of what you are wishing for, it might happen!”. Dave, about to end a lengthy period of employment as some kind of IT programmer for a company in Frankfurt, Germany, wanted to say goodbye with an intimate concert in a café there – CHARIVARI – to say goodbye to friends. Dave made friends EVERYWHERE – and colleagues, and he was short of a drummer; I was baffled and proud to be asked, and jumped at the chance, of course!

But first, being a little humbled by the invitation, I openly and frankly said to him : “But Dave... you have only heard me play ONE song.. are you sure that you indeed want ME to come and play ?!” The response was Dave all over : “I trust you, Poul – you’ll do fine!”.

Then, some days later, the idea came to me, inspired by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, to suggest to Dave that he called this band  DAVE BALL & THE BALLBREAKERS - I’m glad that he liked the idea and used it.

The set-up was : thirty songs in three sets, mostly straight and old blues material + some rock’n’roll. There would be hardly any pay, it was a gig  without paying audience. Who was thinking of pay ? I certainly wasn’t, and I made that clear to Dave from the start, of course. I was just happy and proud and ready! I gladly paid for my own flight ticket and Hotel accommodations... There would be no time for rehearsal – the personnel was Dave on guitar and vocal, me on drums and two young German guys on keys and bass.

Dave created a very detailed rehearsal map with all songs and notes and sent it to us. I have NEVER, before or after, worked so much with music as I did with those songs in the weeks leading up to the event on 15 September 2007; I found all the songs and recorded them and listened to them again and again until I knew them by heart ... of course, most of them were classics and were easy to memorise.

Although no time to have rehearsals (the two German guys wouldn’t arrive until one hour before the gig itself!), I still wanted to meet with Dave for a quick run through the material, and Dave agreed. Friday the 14th, I boarded the plane with my wonderful big sister Judy, who is always there for me..... equipped with a heavy cymbal bag and my favourite snare drum – the rest of the drum kit was supplied through rental in Frankfurt.

We had a rendezvous with Dave at his favourite pub near his home, and we exchanged big, warm hugs – and Judy and he clicked as well!

Saturday afternoon, I went to Dave’s cosy apartment for the run-through, and we spent 90 minutes, he on his acoustic guitar, me playing on a cardboard box with my jazz brushes (!). I had underlined a lot of parts with suggestions of me doing background vocals, and he accepted it all with a smile, once we had rehearsed it – THANKS, Dave – for that, too!

The gig itself was wonderful – I was truly in heaven, but I guess you can all imagine that!

The German guys ran through the songs by the stage, an hour prior to show start – they were very skilled, and did a great job! Dave gave me some pointers about his signs to me about when to do what... and it worked perfectly – hmmm ... ALMOST perfectly.. there was one song, where I missed his cue at the end twice! so, with big laughs, we did that ending three times – Live - until we finally got it right!

Café CHARIVARI is situated in a residential neighbourhood, and we had been warned about not playing too loud...... but – not playing loud was never an issue for our Mr. Ball – and, consequently, during the intermission before the final set, German police entered the place and we were told NOT to play one more song that evening! In a way a fun and fitting way to do a gig with Dave Ball : spreading joy and fun and then being stopped by the authorities....

Dave was so great during that weekend – he did not miss one opportunity to thank me and my sister for coming down there to be and play with him. He was so gracious in that way – in every way always, actually!

Four years later, we played again – in Copenhagen, where he joined The Procol Harum Project at our last concert as a band – with me on the drums, anyway – where he performed four blues songs with us and tore the house down!

Finally, in WUPPERTAL, two years ago, we once again met and played a blues song together, as part of the Palers' gathering there – once again, a wonderful affair, with great music, lots of work and fun, and old as well as new wonderful Paler friends to meet! Dave, once again, being his easy-going, kind and funny self, making us all feel good and relaxed around him!

I feel very privileged to have played with Dave, and I am proud to be able to say that he was indeed my Friend ...

Thanks for everything, DAVE BALL!

Dave Ball's page at BtP  


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