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the Pale 

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More News from the Western Frontier

The Story of Gary Brooker and Ad Visser • Frans Steensma

In February 1987 an album was released in The Netherlands by a Dutch deejay/multimedia performer/singer-songwriter, Ad Visser (b. 1947). The title was Hi-Tec Heroes (Vertigo 830 813-1 LP/Vertigo 830 813-2 CD) and all songs were written and produced by Visser himself. The second side of the LP opened with No News From The Western Frontier. In the notes on the back of the album sleeve Visser wrote: ‘Sung by my all-time hero GARY BROOKER’.

Left, the single sleeve (1987)

Right, Visser himself in 1985

The surname 'Visser' translates into English
as 'Fisher'


At the same time as the album was released, the single  No News From The Western Frontier/ No Word From The Western Frontier (instrumental version) (Vertigo 888 323-7) by Ad Visser & Gary Brooker entered the Dutch Tipparade. On 14 February 1987 it was at number thirty, then it climbed to eighteen.

Ad Visser made a video for the single in which GB appeared (lip-synching).

Gary Brooker at the Feijenoord Stadium
(12 July 1986)

GB’s picture comes from the Los-Vast Kuipspektakel, when TV presenter Jan Rietman asked GB to perform at a huge show (60,000 people turned up) at the Feijenoord Stadium in Rotterdam.

Jan Rietman had GB several times as a guest in his very popular TV Show Los-Vast in the eighties

This photo stems from the same year GB made the single with Ad Visser.


Before this single with Ad Visser GB had three minor hits in The Netherlands: (No More) Fear Of Flying (Chrysalis 100.669) (June 1979); The Angler (Mercury 6059 532) (July 1982); and (with Dutch singer Lori Spee) Two Fools In Love (Philips 884 600-7)(February 1986).

On the back sleeve of the single Ad Visser explained the meaning of the song: ‘In the near future, according to plans of several governments, there will be space stations/spaceships around the earth, armed with laser weapons. The popular nickname for these ideas is Star Wars projects. In No News From The Western Frontier we move ourselves to this future. A captain of such an armed space station (Gary Brooker) looks out of the window in his spaceship. He sees this small, blue planet (Earth) and wonders: why is the human race its worst enemy?


Glowing in red, darker than blood
I see the earth below
The final sunset, oh my God
How far will they go


No news from the western frontier
No news is good news, we say here
Holding back the tears
This ain’t the [no] time for fears
No news from the western frontier


Smouldering in blue, brighter than steel
Laser claws can burn
Our human mind, so cold to the feel
Will we ever learn

 In February 2015 Ad Visser (TV presenter of Toppop  (1970–1985), the Dutch Top Of The Pops) published his autobiography in Dutch (but with the English title, Strange Days, Marmer ISBN 978 94 6068 215 5).

 ‘When I heard A Whiter Shade Of Pale (on Radio Luxemburg) for the first time,  I stood transfixed. Such a sound, such an atmosphere, such a composition, such lyrics, such a voice. With notes from Bach on a Hammond, and psychedelic lyrics, Gary Brooker’s unique voice  created a magical atmosphere. The song reached the top of the hit parade worldwide.

 I decided for myself that one day I would make music with this singer. I knew how slim the chance was, because Brooker was building an international career with Procol Harum,  and worked with George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman and Peter Frampton.

But twenty years later, in 1987 [should be 1986] during my ‘synthesizer period’ I wrote ‘No News From The Western Frontier’ for my album ‘Hi-Tec Heroes’. The song just cried out for a unique voice, Gary Brooker’s voice. The album was released on the famous Vertigo label, of which I was one of the initiators in 1970.

‘Hi-Tec Heroes’ seemed to be a sort of time machine. The plot thickened. I started looking for Brooker. The Voice. With houses in the most beautiful resorts all over the world, plus an international career, he seemed hard to catch (there were no mobile phones at the time). But believe it or not, my first try struck gold. Even more remarkable, the next day, on his way to the Caribbean, he was to stop at Schiphol and – thanks to my enthusiasm – he was willing to disembark.

We were to meet at the bar of Americain on the Leidseplein in Amsterdam. I had the instrumental version of the song on a cassette with me, on  a small recorder that refused to work as we sat at a table. I walked  to the bar and asked the lady if the background music might be replaced for a short while by the music on the cassette. When she left, to ask the manager if this was permissible, I changed the tape quickly and played my song to Gary at blistering volume.

Though the guests reacted irritably, and the bar lady tried to turn down the volume, I managed for 5.42 minutes to prevent her – by standing in front of the amplifier and not moving an inch, and reasoning with everybody who tried to interfere, I succeeded in reaching the end of the song without a fight. After this incident I was requested to leave the bar immediately: no problem, mission accomplished. Gary Brooker found the song intriguing, and fit for his voice.

The only problem was to find a date in his agenda to record the song and to clinch the deal. I knew how it worked: it was a now-or-never situation. The chance of his flying in especially for this project later in the year was slim. Other priorities would arise, and would cause delay.

I strongly inclined to immediate action. My album ‘Hi-Tec Heroes’ was about to be released. I told Gary that a professional studio was booked for him  the following day, including recording engineer etc. It worked. I quickly called the famous Soundpush Studio – run by Jaap Eggermont (former Golden Earring drummer) – and managed to arrange a recording session. Brooker stayed the night at the Americain hotel. The next day he sang. Engineer Jan Schuurman and I literally fell off our chairs when Brooker opened his mouth to sing the first line of the song. The Voice.

Later the song was chosen by Radio 3 [a popular Dutch radio station] as the Megahit of the week or something like that. But the music biz wouldn’t be the music biz if something strange didn’t happen. Two years later, supported by a big advertising campaign on television, the CD ‘ The Treasure Album/Greatest Hits by Procol Harum featuring Gary Brooker’ (Qualitel Q-CD 269-2 or Q-LP 269-1) was released. And what was remarkable: on it we found their greatest hits plus my own ‘No News From The Western Frontier’. My name wasn't mentioned in the tracklisting on the back, and can only be found in the inlay as composer of the song. The track was stolen from my album, without my consent. That’s against the rules! Later I found out that illegal manipulations with contracts had taken place, without my knowledge and without Gary’s  consent too.

I leave out further details. It’s not thrilling. What is thrilling is the guy who works under the nickname ‘bellerob’, who at the moment on YouTube (without my consent or knowledge) has made a very beautiful video for this song. Google ‘No News From The Western Frontier’ and enjoy. [The original video (with Visser & GB) can be found at the same place (nickname bofbit)].

By the way: strictly speaking I am, according to the title and inlay of ‘The Treasure Album/Greatest Hits’, a member of the band. Unthinkable when, in 1967, I stood transfixed at the first notes of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. (freely translated from ‘Strange Days’ (pages 140–143))

Ad Visser the TV presenter,
with Dire Straits (Toppop)








Thanks, Frans!

Brooker gigs outside Procol | More Procol Harum writings by Frans Steensma

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