‘Beyond the Pale’ – www.procolharum.com – is a unique treasury of Procol Harum facts, opinions and pictures, launched in October 1997 by Jens Anders Ravnaas (Norway) and Roland Clare (UK), who met at, and were inspired by, Procol’s thirtieth birthday party at Redhill that July. The website was ‘crowd-sourced’ avant la lettre: fans submitted a blizzard of historic clippings, band-members’ families deposited scrapbooks. When talented writers started contributing freshly-penned articles, ‘BtP’ became an authority in its own right, a trusted source for journalists and researchers.
For fourteen years our daily updates were devoured by some 8,000 unique visitors daily. Rapid site-expansion meant the webmasters (having families, jobs, lives!) never updated its ‘temporary’ format: others have offered, but the workload soon deters them. Much like Procol, BtP prioritises content over presentation. After six more years, updating weekly, we’re still using 30gB bandwidth a month, as fans in 200 countries access 1,000,000 files: setlists, features, reviews and interviews rare or new, and a copious pictorial record.
Snail-mail fan-clubs throve before the Internet age; and early cyber-chatrooms reassured Procol fans they weren’t alone. BtP, quite unintentionally, overwhelmed or absorbed them all. Such dominance was unforeseen when we started, though Brooker and Reid’s early Visitors’ Book entry was a good omen. Soon we were publishing authorised song-words, and finding band-members’ mails in our bulging inboxes. Chris Copping wrote from Australia (August 2017): ‘the Paramounts and Procol are my alma mater, and BtP is among my main means of finding out what’s happening with folk from that era’. We not only catalogue Procol’s history: their management now uses BtP to advertise future plans, and amend social-media rumours, through our ‘Fresh Fruit’ newsletter (sign up now!).
From 1997 our ‘Beanstalk’ forum – no pix, no flix, just text – speedily became a crucible of exuberant Procol chat: a taster for personal contact, not, as with Facebook, a substitute. The BtP team have been committed to physical gatherings – fans eating, drinking and playing together – in the penumbra of Procol Harum’s own performances.
At these meetings ‘the United Nations of Procol Harum’ find music their common language. It’s unusual to meet a Procol fan without sensing an immediate rapport, and it’s been a great privilege to facilitate ‘old friends meeting for the first time’. Rehearsing and performing has also been joyful: 98 players from thirteen nations – almost all managing to ‘leave their egos at the door’ – have played 120+ songs of Procoloid origin at nine major parties. After our initial gathering (Guildford, 2000) – when Gary listened moist-eyed to the first Palers’ Band (feat. Dave Ball) – Procol en masse have honoured us as party-guests in Kristiansand and Manchester (2001), Los Angeles (2003), Lejre (2006), London (2007), Wuppertal (2013), Long Island (2014) and Zoetermeer (2016).
2001 offered a proud moment, when Jens introduced Procol in his hometown, Kristiansand, knowing BtP had helped re-energise their touring: not by attempting direct influence, but by stimulating fan activity and showing ‘The Commander’ its scope and fervour. From then until the 2017 tour ends, they’ll have played well-nigh 300 gigs, in twenty countries.
It’s impossible to choose a favourite BtP party – all so memorable, in different ways – but 2006’s stands out: as well as enjoying two Procol orchestral shows, and a dress-rehearsal by invitation, 25 musician-fans from eight nations played 30 pieces, including In Held and The Worm and the Tree, before an appreciative Harum (who played twice themselves, and joined fans for Whaling Stories); we sang Happy Birthday to Franky Brooker; Gary sang Poison Ivy with a Paler line-up including both webmasters and their guitar-playing sons; and the catering was second to none.
Apart from Gary Brooker’s kind donations of memorabilia for auction, it’s fans who have financed all this: the hire of venues and sound-gear; our server-rental in Salt Lake City, domain-name fees, and much more. Gratifying numbers bought three 2CDs of Procol ‘re-inventions’ from Roland’s recording collective, The Palers’ Project (www.palersproject.com), to which 170 musicians from eighteen countries gifted their talents. It’s been fun seeing fans wear his designs on badges and tee-shirts, and other items from our online store (recently superseded by Backstreet Merchandise). Many appreciative readers press BtP’s ‘donation’ button, and more click our Amazon links and text adverts: it all adds up.
Whatever income we make goes straight back into activities benefitting fans, enabling us to price all gatherings keenly. Staging 2007’s Fortieth Anniversary weekend was our costliest endeavour to date, including booking band and venue for two central London concerts. The Palers’ Project provided the second-night opener, and ‘Beyond the Pâté’ handled catering: skill, energy and commitment from all concerned.
So, though ‘Beyond the Pale’ has in a sense been a two-man show these twenty hectic years, it’s also depended hugely on a worldwide circus of fellow-fans (too many thank here by name, excepting two generous and patient wives, Titti and Linda), and the goodwill of the band, and their tireless manager, Chris Cooke. Please keep sending website contributions! Twenty years on from Redhill it’s a delight that the world’s media are finally onside, as Procol Harum tour their new album far and wide. The Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations, rather than being confined to one single place, are happening all around us.
Who runs the website?