Procol Harum

the Pale

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BJ's music-making in days before the Paramounts

Kindly sent to 'BtP' by Barrie Wilson's brother, Richard

This first, tiny picture (captioned 'Barrie Boys' Brigade') gives little away, beyond the indications it offers to those unfamiliar with the age-range and the Christian background of the institution in which BJ first wielded his sticks. It’s not easy to tell whether the young people in this picture are on parade, or are lined up to give a performance … but there's no sign of any drumming going on. It's perhaps rather astonishing that such a small picture, in which so little facial detail may be descried, has survived.

However this next snap, despite the damage it has sustained down the years, unequivocally shows Barrie in proud action, closest to the camera, marching along some forgotten street while a splendid London 'bus waits for the parade to pass. Interesting that the picture has had bits torn off all four corners down the years, and a boon that its central interest to Procol fans has survived relatively unblemished.

Here we can clearly see how the 'mixed' grip BJ always favoured is also employed by his fellow percussionists: undoubtedly they were taught to play in this way. Those deeply-built snare-drums for marching were commonplace in ceremonial music-making at that era, and any school with a Cadet force would have had several, probably painted with the appropriate heraldic regalia. Clearly visible are the leather 'clasps' that can be pushed up or down to bring pressure to bear on the cords connected to the rims: by this means the top and bottom heads could be approximately tuned. Drummers in this sort of context also made use of the sounds made by knocking the sticks together (as often heard in rock-music intros) … and here pitch was approximately controlled again by hitting shorter or longer sections of the sticks against each other.

A different copy of the next picture, showing an older Barrie socialising, flanked on his left by his friend Kenny White, has been shown at BtP before, in the revealing interview feature that was the first-ever page of 'Beyond the Pale'.

Finally we have two sides of a promotional postcard for the band Jimmy Powell and the 5 Dimensions, in which Barrie played for a while. Kenny had persuaded Barrie to leave The Paramounts to play with the Dimensions, and Diane Rolph and her friend Barbara (nicknamed 'Aunt Maud' by Gary, a name that stuck with everybody) went to see BJ playing with Jimmy Powell. Chatting afterwards they found out that Barrie felt he'd made a bad move and was really missing The Parmounts. However, he didn't want to admit that to Gary, although he would have loved to reverse the decision. In the meanwhile The Paramounts had brought in Phil Wainmain, who'd even inherited Barrie's stripy jacket.

As Diane puts it, 'Aunt Maud wasn't having this situation fester. She phoned Gary the next day, told him that Barrie wanted to come back to The Paramounts, and that very same day Gary phoned Barrie and asked him to come back. Now if Maud hadn't made that phone call, Procol history might not have been as it was!'

This was presumably Diane's first first involvement in the evolution of Procol history: much more was to come later!

The Five Dimensions later mutated into The Score, and worked the same sort of circuit as the Paramounts did. Ken and Barrie may be seen kneeling in front of that egregiously-shaped item of street-furniture. The six members of the band (presumably one Powell and five Dimensions) are dressed in a notably varied fashion with respect to jackets, ties, weskits and suchlike. The fact that two of them are actually off the pavement, in the road, reminds us how long ago this was … an era of sparse traffic that is difficult to imagine nowadays.

The card mentions two singles from the band: I've been watching you / Sugar Baby, and That's Alright / I'm looking for a woman. To know more about the 5 Dimensions connection, do re-read Kenny White's BJ memoir.


BJ's page at BtP

BJ's sister's scrapbook

BJ's brother's scrapbook

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