Antonio Costa Barbé is a lawyer, musician and freelance journalist. The following interview with Procol's Dave Ball was made late in January 1999, for BtP to première: it will also be broadcast on Il Pezzo Mancante ('The Missing Piece'), Antonio's show on Radio Azzurra Novara. Antonio's English gets more fluent with every interview: Dave speaks rapidly and enthusiastically, a faint trace of Australian tingeing an otherwise 'RP' cultured Englishman's delivery.
Hello, David Ball? I am Antonio from Italy.
Sorry, I was on the Internet before.
Yes, I have found the line busy. And I have sent to you a short message via Internet. Thank you for your kindness.
It's no trouble.
Thank you, very very much. I am so glad, and a little emotional, to be speaking with you. May I ... did you, did you receive my small package, my cassette?
To be honest, I have been taking it to work every day, I'd like to listen but I've been very busy. I'll get to listen very soon.
Thank you very much. Sorry for my broken English.
Your English is fine!
Thank you. I didn't learn English at school: my only teacher were English songs, Procol songs, Jesus Christ Superstar, and so on.
So. May I ask you some questions?
Thank you very much. First of all, you were in a group, if I remember well called Big Bertha. How came you in touch with Procol Harum?
From an advertisement in a music paper here, called Melody Maker.
Melody Maker, yes. I know.
I think they had interviewed a lot of guitar-players, and I was ... I think I was the last one!
But did you know the previous LPs ... er... discs ... of Procol Harum? Did you know your songs?
No, not really. I knew of them in their early days, and would listen to their earlier things; but I think that when they went to America, same as a lot of people in Britain, we kind of lost track where they were ... it was difficult to know what they were doing.
I was playing in other bands of course, then, So when I went to audition with them, I didn't really know many tunes at all.
And did you remember the first audition with Procol Harum?
Yes I remember it well.
Can you tell me something about?
Yes. Well firstly I went to their office, I phoned up and they said they had enough guitar-players auditioning, they had a list of maybe eighty guitar-players. So they didn't think they needed to have any more. And I decided I would go to their office and talk to their ... PA or their secretary or whatever, and see if I could find myself on the list. So I went down there and talked with her, and convinced her to put me on the list anyway. So I was put on the end of the list, and when I got down to the audition ... they had already gone through ... over a few days I think they had gone through these eighty guitar players ... and when I got there they were very tired. It was quite obvious they'd probably seen too many guitar players. We played some R&B, some blues type rock and roll, some ... just general things, and then we went through a couple of their songs. They had music sheets there too for the chords and so on.
And ... the first traces I get of your presence in the group were, to my knowledge, in a TV video,. German Beat Club?
And the famous Live in Edmonton. What do you remember about your first gigs with Procol Harum?
Um ... the first gig ... we rehearsed for probably two or three weeks before going to America ... and the first gig I did with them was in Phoenix in Arizona, in America. It was ... I remember the show, it was in a round theatre with a revolving stage, so the audience sat round the outside and we slowly turned, during the course of the evening a few times round. It went well, and I think the band were pleased enough: we had no bad mistakes or anything. It went well: we did two shows that night, an early-evening and then later on we did another show: so that was my first gigs.
And ... can you tell me something about the personalities of Gary Brooker and Keith Reid?
Gary is much the easier one for me, at the time, he was much easier to get on with; Keith was with the band on tours, and was probably a little harder to get to know. Obviously I did get to know him reasonably well, because we used to be on the road for five or six weeks at a time, and obviously you get to know everybody quite well. But, you know, Gary's personality was very much ... very easy to get on with.
OK. And please, can you tell me about the creative process of the birth of the songs. What do you remember about the songs? Did you try to compose some songs, some tunes, by yourself, or did you only play the Gary / Keith songs?
I more or less ... well there are two sides to it. I didn't try to write anything, at the time then I was quite young, twenty years old or so, playing at that time for maybe eight years, since I was a child, so I really wasn't too interested in writing at that time; I was very much ... you know .. um ... a young person out on the loose, enjoying life: I liked to play, and that was really where it ended. I liked to party as well, so I probably didn't think much about doing any writing at that time. And in terms of the Procol repertoire, obviously I had input when Gary and Keith would come up with new songs, we would all work together to ... you know, try and formulate the right sound for it. To that extent I was involved, but really I just enjoyed playing, and um … and I enjoyed my moment ... for guitar solos, and I very rarely worked anything out before, I didn't use to sit down and work out what would be a good solo, I just tended to play intuitively .
And just a question from a musician like me, ie an amateur musician: there were sheet music pages for the musicians? Or only notes or traces for the new songs, indications, chords and so on?
Normally, I think when I began we had some chord sheets just to give me an idea where ... some of the chord structures were fairly complex ... but mostly Gary would play the tunes and he would either tell us what chords he was playing, or we would work them out as we went along. I don't recall that we would ever write down the music itself. Obviously for Edmonton Gary was writing out all of the scores
All of the scores?
Yes, all of the scores. He finished them on the 'plane to Edmonton.
It was an hard job, I think?
I think so. He's a very talented man. I recall on the 'plane flying to Edmonton, we were sitting in sort of facing seated with the table between us in the 'plane, and Gary had the score sheets out and people were humming parts so that he could get an idea of what other ... what a piccolo should do here, and what a bassoon should be doing in another place. And so on. So, you know, he really finished it on the way, and then I think worked with the conductor to brush things ... to make it cleaner when he got there. [Gary's diary of these days is here]
And now, just about your guitar style. You seem to me a competent, a qualified guitarist. But I remember that Chris Copping has declared that his personal style was in respect of the style of Matthew Fisher: you did not follow the footsteps of Robin Trower: you were more rhythmic, more flexible, with those speedy solos. Correct?
Yes, I think that's correct. I wouldn't ... I mean Robin was superb in what he did, and I think he was quite happy to be someone who played a style that was more like Jimi Hendrix. Some of the sounds he produced had very much a Hendrix sort of feel. I mean he'd been playing like that for a long time, and I think that was always his style. Probably still is. I think my style, originally I had listened to people like Otis Rush, Eric Clapton, I was a big fan of Eric Clapton with John Mayall, and people like Freddie King, a lot of the blues players that I enjoyed. And I suppose with Procol, when I got the chance for a solo, I probably played much the same as I would've with anybody else. I don't think ... not consciously, I wouldn't compromise what I played: I just played in my own style, whatever that was.
And did you get some kind of indications or suggestions from Gary Brooker, for your style of playing, or did you by your own?
I think, in the solo parts, really just my own. Certainly in the structure of some of the Procol songs, it was organised in an orchestral kind of way, because we had to ... with two keyboards ... you will know as a musician ... you've got a lot of chordal instruments in there so the guitar player really, probably in the five-piece which (you recall when Robin ... before me ... they just had four pieces) but with mine ...it was important not to just be playing chords all the time. I probably played riffs and tried to play the accompaniment, but as a backing instrument but not necessarily just chordal work. And I think to that extent, yes, Gary would probably have been influential in what I played on that.
And what was generally the opinion of the Procol fans and the press towards you? I have on Internet read an article about Octopus and your reply and the Cozy Powell reply. So, what was the generally the feeling of the fans and of the press?
Generally quite good. Robin had a lot of fans and was very popular member of the group, so I think ... I never had anybody give me a bad time, so I didn't have any problems with people saying ... well maybe one or two in the press might have preferred Robin's style, and that's fine, I had no problem with that; but mostly people were very kind, I think. And there wasn't any problem. I did have people in America, funnily enough, on that first tour, one or two Robin fans actually came up to me ... I remember outside Santa Monica ... two girls came up, we were just leaving, and they came up with pictures of Robin and wanted me to sign them: 'Oh Robin, what a great gig' and that sort of thing. You know, I held the pictures up: this is poster-sized pictures of Robin Trower ... and stood next to it and held it up and looked at the girl and said, 'You want me to sign this?' 'Yes please, Robin!'. Some people didn't even notice – it was very amusing – didn't even notice that he'd gone. I don't know whether to be flattered or not!
And, er, why you quit just in the middle of realization of a new album, Grand Hotel album?
Bad timing for me, in a sense: we'd had ...Grand Hotel was going quite well, and I had finished all but two of the tunes on there: the backings had been done, and some solo work as well. When you hear the album now, I'm on most of the backing tracks, but Mick Grabham, who came after me, has played the solos.
And so ... and could we hear today some guitar parts of you in Grand Hotel album, and at what points?
You just hear it in the backing. Guitar solos are all Mick. But I think you'll find that a lot of the tracks that are on either are the original (here a loud whine on the tape obliterates a few words) ... there's some question from some people about whether this is so, but I have a couple of tapes that somebody gave me that were taken from the recording booth from the sessions, when I was on the sessions, and they are the same tracks as the ones on the album. So basically I'm playing on there. The manager of the band after I had left came, and we met, and he asked me what I wanted for my work on the album, because they probably didn't want to go, have to record everything again. And perhaps foolishly, because I was still young, I said 'Buy me a dinner, and that'll be OK.' So I didn't get any credit for it on the album.
And now if you have some minutes more for me, can you ... freely to speak about your nomadic life post-Procol Harum.
Yes, well I went from Procol Harum to play with Long John Baldry, and made an album with him called Good to be Alive, and that was a lot of fun. My brother was playing bass with Baldry at the time. And in fact what had happened was ... I had been staying in Los Angeles with Procol Harum still, and Long John Baldry had played in a club down the beach somewhere in Los Angles. And I had gone along and had a jam session with the band, and it had been a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. And when I had left Procol I actually asked John if he ... if I could have a spot in the band, I'd like to join his band. And he was very flattered and said yes, he did have a space for a guitar player, and yes please come along, so he was quite pleased for me to do that.
And then you ... became expert of computer.
Before then I had one more band after that, called Bedlam , with Cozy Powell on drums, and we recorded one album which has just been re-released on a fairly small record label called Zoom ... I just got sent a copy actually, and ... just looking on the album itself, I have it here, called Zoom Club Records, but they've just re-released that Bedlam album. Heavy rock sort of album, with a few quieter tunes, and that was produced by Felix Pappalardi.
Yes, the Cream producer.
That's the one. Himself and his wife had written one track for the album, and Felix played piano and did various things on it. So we had that album and toured in America, toured round Britain and Europe. And it as after that that I left music. I think I had probably had enough of the business, I didn't like the business much. And I went into the Army in fact.
And then you are .. went in ... work.
That was later. First of all I was in the Army, a serving soldier.
Oh capito, yes,
And then after I had left the Army I went into computing at the end of 1979, beginning of 1980, round that time, and learnt IBM programming languages, Cobol, TL1, Assembler, these things. And ... started working in the IT industry, which I'm still in, working now for a big international bank over here.
And so today you are out of the world of music. Can you play sometimes the guitar in some occasions?
Yes, in fact last week I formed ... at work ... you're aware of course of EMU – Economic Monetary Union – we formed a group to play at a party at work, called it Eurotrash just for fun, and I put the band together with people from work, I found people who could play something and we actually did a gig at a party, 400 people at the party, and we played quite a successful show. So I still play and whilst I've been in computing I still play, just occasionally I'll join a band for some while, so I still play! [picture here]
And just a question about Internet. What do you think about the world of Internet?
I think it's good. Like all new things ... relatively new I should say ... there are always good and bad things, but I think the Internet is a wonderful means of getting information around and connecting. I have a videophone on my machine here and I talk to my son in Australia, I have one son in Australia and a son and a daughter where.
Big drop-out out the tape here.
And have you some kids?
Yes I have a son here who's almost 18, he's in computing, and I have one son in Australia still who's coming up 15 years old and who's also very keen on computers but plays mostly soccer, and I have a daughter who's ten months.
Oh very very young! And just a little last question. What kind of music listen you today?
A mixture of ... mostly old music, so many things; but my collection of records probably I still like to listen to Otis Redding, I still like to listen to some UB40, I like Eric Clapton, who still makes good records. I like some of the ... Alanis Morisette, fairly a wide mixture: Misha Maidski, the 'cello-player I'm keen on. A real mixture.
And did you have some regrets for the good old days?
I think it would be nice to do it now, when you're a little bit older and a bit more mature. You could probably see more, you know I toured all over the world and probably saw very little. I had a good time, though!
Dave, you are very very kind, I am grateful to you. And I think to send this interview first to the BtP site, and I hope soon this interview will appear in the page of 'Beyond the Pale'.
Thank you very much, Antonio.
Read more Procol Harum interviews from Antonio at Radio Azzurra