Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Guitar Diary from Denmark

Gary 'Shep' Shepard

Al ('One-Eye') Edelist hung up his cellphone and turned to me over a late lunch on Saturday 19 August and said, “Gary, I’m about to make your week more memorable than you can ever imagine.” He sure was right.  

Topping three days' rehearsing your favorite music with some wonderful and talented friends both old and new, followed by a nearly-private Procol rehearsal concert on Friday at Ledreborg Castle, would be no easy task.

Follow along with the accompanying pictures for a recap of this great weekend ...

Gary and Gary take in the opening act  (click picture to see 2003 equivalent from Hollywood, USA)

While strolling on Friday by the sound booth at the castle I ran into Gary and Franky Brooker. Gary remembered me and commented on my 'Early Trower sound' on the Palers' Project 2CDs and in LA in 2003. Gary said, "Hmm, I think I’ll call you ‘Shep,’ yes, ‘Shep’ will do nicely.” We had a nice chat, and I found Franky to be warm and charming. She likened the opening act – Povl Dissing and Benny Andersen – to a Danish Joe Cocker. Gary was diplomatic. He admitted “I’d rather a bit of rock, but I’ve got to be polite.”

Geoff and Annie ... and monocular ubiquity

A bit later several of us Palers also had a fun talk with Geoff and Annie Whitehorn by the canal. Geoff said he had brought only one guitar for the gig instead of his usual two or three back-ups, figuring it was just a short few-days thing. “What could go wrong?” he wondered aloud.

Wouldn’t you know he’d break a string at the end of his Conquistador solo just a short while later?! As Geoff would later tell me, he had been rather panicky the next day (after a 90-minute guitar re-stringing), with the first big Ledreborg concert just a few hours away. After calling the local Roskilde music store, it dawned on him that the Palers’ Band must have some very good guitars with them. Why not call them for a back-up? This is where my weekend took a very fun turn, as One-Eye had predicted.

Through Jens, then Thomas 'Tommy' Raa Olsen, our great sound-man, to Al, the message had got through: Geoff needed a back-up guitar. I happened to be at the right place at the right time. It wasn’t long after that we made our way, backstage passes in hand, and entered Procol’s trailer near the grand stage to deliver my Paul Reed Smith guitar to a very-much-relieved Geoff.

Seventeen strings of doom ... nice shirt, Geoff!

The next hour or so was great getting to talk to the whole band at length about many different subjects. Geoff offered me a beer and chatted amiably for a long time. Gary came out of the trailer and snuck into the nearby trailer of Dissing & Andersen (the warm-up act) and swiped a banana! It was all great fun. Geoff and Matt Pegg admitted to me that they were nervous about the show. Matt showed me his shaking hands.  

Josh Phillips, whom I had just met the day before, said he was a little nervous, but that he was most nervous knowing us Palers were out there listening to hear if he played a flatted fifth or not in this or that chord! He was quite amazed at our collective musical knowledge as fans. I must say that Josh is one of the most humble and likeable guys you’d ever want to meet. He even apologized to me for not remembering my name amid the twenty or so that congratulated him after the dress rehearsal. His playing style is different from Matthew Fisher’s to be sure, but so is his style as a human being. I admire him for both of these differences and consider him a tremendous asset to the band. I wish him all the best with his new bride

As I watched the crew take my guitar backstage, Al and I wished the band a great show and took our leave. We climbed over throngs of half-clad concert-goers and made our way to the Palers' encampment on the grass and watched a truly great show. My personal favorites and biggest surprises were Into the Flood and Symphathy for the Hard of Hearing which offered a beautiful passage featuring a barrage of staccato violins and double-basses.

After the show Al and I were among the lucky few to again make our way backstage, this time to collect my guitar to play for the first Palers’ Revel. Once again we were treated to much goodwill and bantering as they changed shirts, swatted at yellow-jackets [Wasps, that is (Ed.)], told more stories. At long last my guitar was brought forth and we made our goodbyes and headed back to Domus Felix for our own show.

Among others, you can see Donna, Mrs One-Eye, Josh, Geoff, One-Eye, Franky, Jeff Levine and the Commander in this happy shot

How fun it was to play for the partygoers and Procol Harum themselves later that eve and watch Geoff sit on the floor following my solo during Grand Finale. He gave a big thumbs up and everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. After Taking the Time, on which I played piano, Gary Brooker said “Shep, I didn’t know you played the piano, too!”

Geoff, Mark and Matt playing on the Palers' Band gear

Geoff didn’t get to play my guitar during their big concerts, but he did enjoy playing it in the quick set Procol played for us Palers. It was a bit comical watching Geoff unplug my guitar twice while trying to play A Rum Tale, with me playing roadie under his and GB’s feet trying to fix it. He finally gave up and plugged it in directly to the Marshall stack.

'Shep' makes adjustments as the band plays on. Roland's setlists around the piano must have lessened the element of surprise for GB

On the way out Geoff asked if he might borrow my guitar again on Sunday for the concert. I told him not to worry, I’d be there.

When we got there on Sunday Gary said, “I heard you played Bridge of Sighs after we left (the party) last night. I would have liked to have heard that one!” Then he joked, “Anything other than a Matthew Fisher song!”

The ‘boys’ said they were not nearly as nervous this day as they had been on Saturday and Geoff was definitely more relaxed knowing he was comfortable with the backup guitar I had to offer. Mark surprised me when he said nothing made him more nervous than playing for Palers’ parties, because he wasn’t prepared for what GB might offer up to play. He didn’t like being unprepared or caught off-guard. He was the only band member to tell me he didn’t really like these events because of that. Everyone else in the band said they really appreciated us and enjoyed our entertaining them.

Guitar chat (click picture to see 2003 equivalent from Hollywood, USA)

Geoff and I had fun discussing different fingerings for 'Heavy Glimpses', as Roland has termed the fast fourteen-note guitar/bass riff from In Held 'Twas in I that the Palers’ Band had played on Saturday night. We discussed the different ways we both had used in counting off the gaps between the notes. He then got the whole of Procol to autograph the back of my guitar in permanent marker, complete with best wishes and dated ‘Ledreborg  8/20/06’ - “I’ll even date it the American way for you,” a magnanimous Geoff said to me. Matt was afraid to ‘ruin my beautiful guitar.’ I wasn’t at all, and sign it  he did.

I don't think you'll be seeing this particular instrument on eBay

Someone mentioned hard-to-remember songs and their chords and The Dead Man’s Dream came up. Matt couldn’t remember the changes. Gary thought carefully. Matt said “Ask the Palers, they’ll know it!” We all laughed. They meant it, but they laughed anyway. They were all very nice and it was great fun.

'Shep', Torjus Ravnaas, Peter Clare, Gary Brooker

The Grand Finale to all this great backstage camaraderie was at our second and last Palers’ Revel on the Sunday night. First, I had the pleasure of playing piano and singing backup while Gary sang Poison Ivy from the new Paramounts’ Live DVD. I thanked him for this honor and he said “I rather like standing here singing, this was great fun. You make a good side-man, Shep.”

Great shirt, Geoff!

After our attempt at the very difficult The Worm and the Tree, we ended with Whaling Stories. About half-way into the piece, Roland and I realized we had no bass-player! What a great gesture it was that Matt Pegg came onstage with us and finished the song, only to be joined by the whole of Procol Harum singing 'Shalimars' and seeing our grand wake.

'Shep', Hans Tammes, One-Eye, The Commander and Mark Brzezicki, Shalimaring their way to the curfew

It was truly a remarkable week of great music and events, beautiful sights, wonderful friends, both new and old. ‘Til the next meeting of Fellow Travelers ...

More about the Ledreborg concerts here

Procol dates in 2006

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