Echoes in the Night
It’s New Year's Eve; and as silence finally falls over our homes, it is time to think back over the year that just ended. What did it bring of experiences, great moments, music and friendship? What are the echoes in the night from 2013?
The year started with lots of excitement for Procol Harum fans. The Palers’ fun in Wuppertal was only three months away. And even before that, many of us were going to hear one or more of Procol Harum’s orchestral concerts in Denmark.
In March, Procol Harum with DR Underholdningsorkestret and choir gave us five fantastic concerts to full houses, some of them even with a waiting-list for tickets. And as rumoured (and very much hoped for), In Held ‘Twas In I held a central position on the setlist. Those of us lucky enough to be in the audience got a concert memory that will remain in our hearts for a long, long time.
And then there was Wuppertal. We had announced the ‘Echoes in the Night’ Palers’ Convention in June the year before, so a lot of time had been available to build expectations and make plans for the festivities, in collaboration with our very good friend Michael Ackermann from ‘Whaling Stories’. The Wuppertal convention also turned out to be the highest-attended of all BtP’s seven major conventions so far. It was probably also the most extensive, complicated – split venues, transport laid on, online booking through an agency – and had the best-planned events. We hope people think it was also the most fun.
Some of us arrived almost a week before the gigs. The Palers’ Band had set aside five days for rehearsals before playing to an international audience of Procol Harum fans. The excitement was evident and friendship warm as we checked in to BtP’s basecamp hotel, and met new and old friends we would sing and play with. Sadly Dennis Grant, who had sent his Hammond organ ahead all the way from New Zealand, was not in the end able to make the trip himself. Many toasts were raised to him! The days of rehearsals – when we were brilliantly looked after by Louise and Rainer Emerson – were filled with excitement, commitment, music, laughter and much, much friendship between 35 musical fans from more than ten nations. And not everybody got ill!
Procol Harum’s concerts at the Stadthalle (see picture) were completely sold-out both nights. So high was the demand for tickets that friends of the choir and orchestra were allowed in to the dress rehearsal on Thursday. And that made an opportunity to see the concert a third time for the Palers. The magnificent venue and the 80+ choir set the stage for a great musical experience; the Wuppertal orchestra was fantastic and the dancers from Wuppertal’s Pina Bausch tradition made a great contribution.
Sold out was also the Friday Night Palers’ after-gig get-together. People trying to buy tickets on the door had to be apologetically turned away.
The Saturday convention was divided in two parts. Before and after the Procol Harum concert, 130 Palers had booked for the Saturday convention; an additional 150 guests were invited by the local promoters – Marcus and Dirk, who were hugely helpful in every way – for the after-gig party. Live Club Barmen was in many ways the most suitable venue we’ve ever had for these events. As always, there was music from the Palers’ Band, food and guest speakers. Interesting and amusing talks were given both by ex-Procol Harum guitarist Dave Ball, and Procol biographer Henry Scott-Irvine. Dave also played with Palers’ Band for the third time; Gary Brooker gave the live world premičres of two of his solo-songs, and Geoff Whitehorn made a completely unplanned guest appearance with the Palers at the very end, which raised the roof. As one party-goer put it, ‘… just when you think that it can't get any better, right at the very end of a week never to be forgotten, it does!’
Much can be, and is, said about the Palers’ gatherings. A lot of work and thinking goes into them (thanks again, Michael – and poster-artist, Holger Weber). We think the most important thing that comes out is all the friendships made and developed there. It is so nice to see the band, management and crew (and families) mingling with fans from all over the world, and everyone having a great time.
The Procol Facebook group which grew to about 2,000 members under ‘Beyond the Pale’ leadership has also provided a nice forum particularly for people who cannot get to the gigs, or whose interest in the band is less focused on the present day. It is continuing to grow, under new administrator Henry’s eye. It was good to see his Procol book get some good reviews, helping to keep the band’s name in the public eye.
In October more Procol Harum gigs came our way: this time Sweden and Finland were visited on a band-only mini-tour. Again the attendance was excellent, and the band was in fantastic shape, and never sounded fresher. The final gig was at Helsinki on 8 October, the day original Procol Harum drummer BJ Wilson died (and BtP was started on this date to honour him). The Finnish fans gathered for a meal organised by Pirjo Aalto, who also provided a bouquet of flowers (see picture). Roland and Jens from BtP were invited to come on stage by Gary Brooker during the gig, to place them on the drum riser, on behalf of Procol Harum fans worldwide, in memory of BJ Wilson. The band then gave a wonderful performance of the rare Nothing That I Didn’t Know, the words specially adapted by The Commander, for the occasion.
Procol’s last performance of the year was at the wedding of their excellent manager Chris Cooke to Eliza, which was a very nice affair. Chris (who wore a stage-pass saying 'groom') and Eliza made suitably moving speeches, as did the best man, Chris's friend from school-days in Southend-on-Sea, Gary Brooker. Everyone had a great time. (As the band was one man down, Roland from BtP was invited to fill in on organ/bass, so he went home pretty happy too!)
And as the year ends, there is the by-now traditional fun of the Christmas puzzles, which get easier and easier as the prizes get more and more special. Thanks to all this year’s donors! It was nice to see the new BtP online store passing its 2,000th order during the year. In general we don’t set out to make money with this enterprise, but any small surplus we do make goes to fund the prize-postage, or the planning of our next communal entertainment for fans.
And now the first gigs for 2014 have been announced, with the promise of more to come. And we have good reason to believe we shall hear new live recordings from the band. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could meet for another Palers’ Convention before the year is over, in another nice part of the world? Sign up for our ‘Fresh Fruit’ newsletter if you want to be in the know about all the latest developments.
It’s an exciting time, but our thoughts are also with the people in the Procol community who are preoccupied by health difficulties or family problems and bereavements. We hope music helps to bring comfort and light to them.
Whatever opportunities, concerts, recordings or fan-meetings the New
Year may bring remain to be seen. But we know one thing: the Echoes
in the Night will never be silenced.
Good wishes for 2014!
Jens + Roland
from Norway and England
Procol dates in 2014