Procol Harum

the Pale 

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A quick dip in the wishing-well

Roland Clare – England

It was two years ago this week (ie in 1996) that I got to grips with my first search-engine, and came across a Norwegian homepage with a list of bands I liked, topped with the name Procol Harum. Uncertain what might result, I sent this message off into cyberspace:

  • So glad to see that Procol are top of your alphabetical list! I saw them three times in the last 12 months. Last of all with the London Symphony Orchestra ... one of the best days of my life!
  • Jens Anders Ravnaas was the triply-Norse name of that brief page's proprietor; he wrote back promptly with the following message:
  • >It must have been. I didn't know about the LSO concert until the very day of that gig. Othervise I would seriousely considered a pilgrimage from Norway. Myself, I have only seen them live once, shortly after Prodigal Stranger came out. A sacred moment. Altough I like a lot of music, PH are my absolute no 1.
  • Jens and I immediately began to correspond, but I was not to meet the man behind that impressively fluent English for a whole year: until the day of the Redhill party, in fact. We were by no means the only e-correspondents to meet for the first time at that marvellous show: it would have been well-worth going to, even if there hadn't been any music! How odd that this was the first Procol gig that Linda and I had ever been to with my brother Martin, also a fan since childhood; the two empty seats you saw at the Barbican belonged to him and his wife Nicky. Soon we also met fellow Barbican veterans Peter Christian, a friend for over twenty-five years, and Will Fraser, Hammond-player from Magdalene College, Cambridge, one of rather too few former pupils of mine to have caught the Procol bug. And by the end of the evening I had met far more fellow-enthusiasts than ever before ... with some far-reaching consequences.

    Jens had by that time expanded his simple page into an elaborate website, 'Shine on Brightly', and I had sent him a few PH clippings and pictures; I'd also volunteered to attempt some spell-checking for him! We talked about such matters once or twice at Redhill, and I agreed to write a little review of the day. When the show was over, however, I wanted to write much more than a simple article: I felt like undertaking an extended piece that would attempt to commemorate my feelings of admiration and gratitude for the musicians and organisers, and I ended up giving birth to a lengthy diatribe, This Old Cat. It has been good to learn that this helped some fans, who were not lucky enough to be there, to enjoy the marvellous show vicariously. And I must admit that it was a source of humble pride to see the whole piece reprinted in the Shine On Glossy, and to know that it would probably find its way into the hands of all the musicians who had played to us on that glorious evening.

    A few weeks after the Redhill experience Jens and I agreed to become collaborators on a 'remastered' website that would eventually supersede his rapidly-growing 'Shine On Brightly': thus 'Beyond the Pale' was born. And already, 1500 late-night e-mails later, having put up at least a page a night and corresponded with innumerable Procoholics all over the world, we find ourselves at the anniversary of the Redhill Show – after a runaway-train of a year surprisingly full of Haroid excitement and interest, despite an absolute lack of live music from the band during that interval (arguably with the exception of this!).

    It's been a great pleasure to find myself presenting, and occasionally writing, reviews and articles about this mighty band, whose work seems so capable of sustaining and rewarding fans' scrutiny. But having written at such improbable length about Redhill already, I didn't expect to be invited to say anything more about that day.

    On reflection, I look back on the Redhill weekend with quite a lot of regret. It stands out so boldly among the cultural highlights of the last decade – I wish it had lasted longer; I wish it had felt less final; I wish most of all that it was happening again tomorrow.

    I wish I didn't have room in my head for that middle-aged clichι of wanting to be young again: in fact, I half-wish that I'd been older when I was younger, more inclined to take the plunge: my girlfriend / wife and I went to numerous Procol gigs when we were at college but it simply never occurred to us to go backstage or communicate with the men who made the music. Shaking hands with Keith Reid at Birmingham Town Hall in the mid-seventies was a serendipitous anomaly that I never thought to repeat. But if I'd known then what I know now ...

    And I wish we had taken our children to Redhill – though they did enjoy the day with their grandparents – so that they could sense for themselves the quality of the Unique Entertainment that now chains their father to his terminal night after night! My daughter Jane was actually at Shepherds Bush, and chatted with Gary (see also here) about a string arrangement of AWSoP that I had concocted for her to play with her chums [and she used to sing A Salty Dog as a very young child: 'Not at all the sort of song for a wee girl to sing,' said my late mother, herself a fan who bought AWSoP in May 1967 and contended that In Held 'Twas in I would become 'the classical music of the future'] – but Shepherds Bush didn't have the intimate atmosphere that made Redhill such a wonderful party.

    And in a mad sort of way I wish I had travelled half-way round the planet to be there: the extravagance and reckless commitment of the overseas fans made Linda and me feel like cheapskates, tootling up from the South Coast to Redhill in something less than an hour. But will we actually be able to afford to go to the next quasi-Redhill, if it happens anywhere but England? I doubt it, on the wages of a pedagogue and a piano-teacher!

    The biggest wish of all is that there should be more Harum activity to come. 'Beyond the Pale' has a page ('Still There'll Be More') where fans can write their wishes for the Procol future, but the response has been a bit disappointing so far. I'd like to see a new album for the millennium, comprising fresh or rare Brooker / Fisher / Reid material played by established Procolers, and promoted on a well-funded tour of big venues where they play long concerts. And I'd like to see another Redhill-type convention, where fans who are also musicians get together to tackle the PH repertoire themselves, purely for fun, or perhaps even for the amusement of the men who have for so long played it to us!

    'Dream on!' you may tell me. But why not? Our dreams are not all sold, unless we ourselves sell them. If the internet in general, and 'Beyond the Pale' in particular, can accomplish anything Procoholically, it can allow us to demonstrate to Gary, Keith, Matthew and the others that a big audience still exists – fervent, demanding, quite critical – which is as eager as it's ever been for the sort of fine music they purvey, and which can be relied upon to listen to it – as ever – in the spirit in which it was made.

    More Redhill anniversary pieces
    This Old Cat
    'Still There'll Be More'

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