This brief interview with Ed Palermo led to his contributing two live tracks, recorded by his Big Band to Lost in the Looking-Glass, the double CD album of fans' versions of Procol material, which you can order online here
Ed, if your Big Band is playing Matthew Fisher tunes in New York every couple of months, you must presumably be quite a Procol fan?
Yes, I am a Procol Harum fanatic. Have been since the first time I saw them live (w/Matthew Fisher) in 1969 at Philadelphia's Electric Factory. I even remember the cape that Matthew wore! The show opened with a dark stage and total silence. When the first notes of Shine on Brightly blasted at the same time the lights came on, my heart raced like crazy! I still have a very clear emotional memory of it. I saw them many times since.
You were lucky! The UK had far fewer chances, I think. And what is your own music like?
I've had a big band for the last twenty years, but only started getting a bit of recognition in the last seven, when I stopped performing my original material and dedicated my time to arranging and performing the music of another hero of mine, Frank Zappa. We perform every couple months at a club in New York called the Bottom Line. Needless to say, with FZ, there's an enormous wealth of material. But I still, however, have this driving urge to arrange other music of my youth – the music that truly inspired me to become a musician. Music I still love as much as the day I first heard it.
What pieces have you turned your hand to from the Procol Harum repertoire?
The first thing I arranged was the finale of In Held 'Twas In I. We ended a couple of our Zappa shows with it. I play a little guitar, so I extended the guitar solo section. At a recent show 28 September 2001 we played Wreck of the Hesperus (one of my all-time favorites – I never saw them perform it live), Autumn of my Madness and Look to Your Soul from In Held. For me, it was orgasmic! I hope the Zappa freaks liked them because I'm gonna do more, like Pilgrim's Progress perhaps.
I've never heard of a live performance of Hesperus, except for our own with the Palers' Band (band-only in Hollywood, and with a very small orchestra in Guildford). But where is this all leading, in your case?
Well, I'm a weird guy. I have a big problem with business acumen. All I do is write music all day and don't spend any time at all with trying to get a record deal. Too much past rejection, I suppose. So, it's not leading anywhere except to feed my soul. I would love to record a CD of PH material with my big band, but who would buy it? What record company would sign it? I'm open for anything, though.
You seem to have a strong bias towards the Fisher tunes (all the ones you've mentioned, except Look to Your Soul, are Matthew's tunes). I should think Repent Walpurgis is a must!
Actually, you're right. I love Gary's songs, but Matthew's are the ones that are more deeply etched in my soul. That's why I'm aching to hear the solo stuff he did. If I could get some more things like Pilgrim and Autumn in my life before we all die of Anthrax poisoning, it would be wonderful.
If you are in touch with those two, I want to thank them for enhancing my life!
You can order Ed Palermo Big Band Plays the Music of Frank Zappa from Amazon here