Procol Harum

the Pale

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Rouslan tells his Tale

The first PH album makes its impact behind the Iron Curtain

I'm a very old fan of Procol Harum; I had known this splendid group in old 1967, we all felt frozen in Moscow, behind The Brezhnev's Iron Curtain, and we were moving to our destination with a bottle of Cuban rum under the Moscow frost happened that year (it was under 20 Celsius). It was the first Procol Harum album, and it was just like a sort of prayer that helped us greatly to survive in those bad times!

It arrived up to our Northern altitudes of The Cold War, and we'd had a lot of fun! We would pay at least a couple of years of our lives for listening that masterpiece!

I don't consider myself a good writer, I only want to tell you a short story of another life, and maybe you'll find it curious and funny some way. In fact, to you some things happened in communist Russia may seem strange (they really were!) but finding oneself inside, of course it was different.

My case is just one of so many others of those Russian boys of that epoch who were the real fans of good Western music. And you could not find rock LPs in shops, so every piece that came from abroad was passing a long way through maybe few dozens of owners before it became unhearable because of intensive wear. Our record players had very high stylus pressure, about 5-7 grams, which made LP life short. A good LP from the West, like Procol Harum, for example, could have a price of 50-70 roubles that was more or less a half medium month salary of typical Soviet engineer or worker (isn't it funny?).

Few people could afford an LP collection, so usually one bought an LP, recorded it and after a short period of time sold it. Another possibility was to pay a man like him 3 roubles, come and record an LP. So did we when we crossed all the city from one outskirt to another in a 2-hour trip taking subway and tram only to record a beautiful PH album PH album (I am sure it was their first one but I don't remember whether its name was A Whiter Shade of Pale or simply Procol Harum?).

Well, it was like a revelation, I never heard a music like that before. It was very special! Mighty sound of Bach-like Hammond organ mixed with rhythm'n'blues tunes, and a hoarse voice of Gary Brooker, and it was so romantic!

You know, trading and exchanging Western LPs was considered illegal, you could finish in the police round-up and be brought to the police station. So, there were a lot of troubles for you in the future, you could be sacked, expelled from university and as consequence sent right under the arms, and in the worst of cases brought to trial for illegal commercial activity.

You bet it was not a simple sympathy for the music, it was a challenge! To the authorities all that phenomenon was like a nail in the ass, it was a real deviation from Marxist ideology! In fact, this way people created a sort of virtual reality to live at least a little part of their lives on their own, without a total control of the state, and Procol Harum also made their part in "breaking The Wall"!

Later I had other PH disks, and it always was a pleasant surprise to reconfirm their originality and a source of inspiration, relax and meditation. I'm particularly fond of other first two LPs, Shine On Brightly and A Salty Dog but I think it's only a question of personal reminiscences, and they all are superb!

Well, I think that's all, I can't remember anything else much outstanding. Excuse me for my rough English, I have no much practice speaking it; I speak better Italian: I've been here since 1989.

With best regards!

Rouslan Minin, in Rome

Olga, a Russian friend of Jonas Söderström, adds:
"This was exactly what happened! At the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, we were a bunch of privileged young people who listened to western "rock heroes". Since we went to a special English school, we could understand the lyrics, and this made the experience even greater. I remember that bad turntables ruined to us very valuable LPs in just a few days. And then some of us could offer other acquaintances to make tape copies of scratched discs for a few roubles. You performed "business". I remember that you sometimes travelled all across the town, just because you knew that someone there had a record with David Bowie, or Jethro Tull, or the latest Rolling Stones. Procol Harum was among our favourites. I remember so much when I read Ruslan's story. Thank you for a journey back to the fantastic world of my youth."

Jonas adds, 'The linguistic process behind these few lines is interesting. Ruslan's story in English was decoded by Olga and without doubt translated into Russian in her head; a response was formed and then translated into Swedish, which was read by me and translated into English ...'

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