Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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The intrepid Dave Colquhoun

Interviewed by 'Beyond the Pale', 26 November 2014


Hi Dave, Roland here. I donít know if you remember meeting on Thursday morning [20 November 2014], your first session with Procol Harum?

I do, I do. But I think I was a bit in shock that morning.

Quite a shock for a Procol fan too, coming in to that rehearsal Ö and I thought, ĎThereís somebody setting up Geoffís gear for him Öí then I saw Matt was teaching you the chords of Homburg.

You had no idea about Geoff then?

There was no reason to know. Gary had arranged, a few days before, that if I turned up at that time, heíd be the only one there and we could have a chat while he signed some drumheads people had won at auction. And instead the band was all there, and had already made a start, looking quite serious! And then [backline engineer] Johnny Magner put me in the picture. As I remember, you were writing notes as you went. Was that what you had on the stand with you at The Dominion?

I asked for the lyrics, actually. Thatís what I tend to work from. Gary very kindly got them printed off for me. But I think he hadnít been asked for lyric sheets before.

I believe they got them off our website, in fact. So I take it you didnít know Procol Harumís music very well before?

Apart from the obvious Whiter Shade of Pale, I have to admit I didnít know the music, although a couple of the songs I think Iíd probably heard Ė like Conquistador Ė and not realised who it was a lot of the time, from radio play. So it was all kind of new, really: and it was all very unexpected. So I canít say I was familiar with any of the material.

And did Matt [Pegg] just give you a call on the Wednesday [19 November]?

Matt called me Ö obviously Iíd just been on the road with Matt, because Iíd got him involved in the Rick Wakeman tour ... the Journey to the Centre of the Earth tour this year. And weíd just gone out to Brazil and done a couple of shows. And I was literally in the back of a cab with him, a few weeks ago, and I said. ĎWhat you got coming up?í and he told me about this Dominion show and I thought, ĎThat sounds fantastic, you know.í So he went off to do that, and that was the last I heard from him; then all of a sudden out of the blue I got a call Wednesday and he explained the unfortunate situation with Geoff and everything. So that was it, really: Game On.

ĎGame oní: did you for a moment even consider not doing it?

Ummm [quite a pause]. Itís a difficult thing. When youíre at home, and youíre in your jim-jams, and everythingís warm and nice, it always seems very easy to say, ĎYes, I can do that.í But Ö I knew it was difficult, I knew it was a hell of a challenge, but I think in situations like this Ö itís really difficult, you know, to recommend someone, for anything, whether itís a plumber or a mechanic. Because if they come in, and they mess it up, it falls back on the person that recommended them, a lot of the time, harder than it does on the person that did the mess-up. So you have to carefully consider whether youíre going to deliver. I said, ďIíll give it a go,Ē and when the material was sent over (and these days you can also literally just get on YouTube and have a look) the first couple of tracks I put up were Something Magic and Grand Hotel. And I thought, ĎYou know, thereís some pretty tricky stuff here.í So I didnít know if I could do it, to be honest with you. But my philosophy on life has always been that, if I say Iím going to do it, itís as good as done, and thatís how I operate. If Iíd said Ďnoí, it would have been with a good reason. But if itís possible, if itís remotely achievable, then Ö I always love a challenge. So that was it, ďMy answer is ĎYesíĒ; and Ďyesí is Ďyesí Ė and thereís no middle ground.

And were you happy, in the end, with the show that you did deliver? You know of course that the audience was.

Yeah! I think, given the circumstances [excited animal noise begins] Ė we might have wait until this dogís stopped barking [pause; canine hollering gradually abates] Ė yes, under the circumstances, everything considered, it was fantastic. To be expected to do that and to get through it without a major disaster is a huge achievement. But the fact that people liked it is a cherry on the top for me.

And I wonder if you were taken aback at all by the audience response?

Very much so! They pulled me through it, actually. Absolutely. I said that to Matt as soon as we came off. Rock audiences sometimes Ė specially Prog Ė can be very Ďarms-folded / impress-meí. And I didnít feel that at all. There was definitely tension in the air, but they were definitely rooting for me, and it was fantastic.

Well you know that the fans love Geoff and his playing; and a lot of them probably have never heard Procol songs played live by anyone else on guitar. But that doesnít mean weíre not going to like the bloke who helps out by standing in (or sitting in). Itís the opposite.

Yeah, thereís this ridiculous idea with guitar players, the stupid question: ĎWhoís the best guitar player in the world?í Itís like food, you know: you donít say, ĎIím just going to eat chicken curryí, because itís not the kind of thing you would want to eat on the Underground at 8 oíclock in the morning. Guitar players and this ridiculous Ďcompetitioní thing, Iíve never bought into that. And if youíre asked to fill in for someone, it doesnít mean that youíve got to Ďbeí them. Youíve been asked to get the gig to happen, and to play ... Gary's music. So itís not Ďabout meí and itís not Ďabout Geoffí, itís about getting the gig done and playing the music.

And have you been aware of Geoffís work, if not with Procol, then with other people?

Actually I saw a gig, it must have been about Ė I worked with Matt, around 2000 [in The Grass Virgins] when we were playing with Francis Dunnery from It Bites, we were in his band for about a year. They [Procol Harum] did an outdoor gig somewhere down at Guildford with an orchestra, and I went with my wife, and we watched it but I think [laughs] I drank quite a bit and I canít remember an awful lot.

Stoke Park, September 2000. Geoff was sharing the guitar work with Mick Grabham on that occasion. The only time.

Oh, there were two guitar players? Well, thatís how drunk I was! Anyway thatís all Iíd seen of them. Iíve kind of bumped into Geoff. When I got the job with Rick Wakeman I filled in in similar circumstances for another guitar player called Ant Glynne, though he was ill like brain-tumour ill, but it was a similar situation, a gig in Jakarta. But Iím digressing. They had a benefit gig for him, and that was the last time I saw Geoff: he was at the bar with Phil Hilborne and I just went up and said hello to the guys, you know. And obviously Matt mentions him quite a bit and heís obviously a great character: I absolutely wish him the best ... I believe heís out of hospital now and I hope he gets better really really soon.

Have you heard any playback from Monday?

Thereís a bit on YouTube, I saw Conquistador. But Iíll wait until Friday.

And how much pain are you in, with your ankle?

The problem is, it was eight weeks ago that I broke it [out running, while on tour, Dave put his foot clean into a pothole], and itís been really painful. Iíve only just took the cast off, a week ago. Iíve only worn normal shoes since last Sunday, really. Sunday was the day I took two or three baby steps, and it was a Eureka! moment. Itís really painful, and when you stand on it, it swells up like a water melon.

But you stood up for most of your solos?

I tried standing up in soundcheck, trying to do that for the whole thing. But it was agony. I wasnít playing that well, youíre just thinking about how much pain youíre in, you canít concentrate. I know Matt was really surprised when he saw me walk in to the rehearsal. When we were off on this tour, with Rick down in South America, they were pushing me everywhere in a wheelchair. Itís brilliant at an airport, when you get in for Priority Boarding and all that, I had a lot of helpers Ö like all of them Ö trying to get on.

I asked Matt how this new guitar player had been chosen, and he just said ĎHeís on crutches, so I thought heíd fit in.í [Characteristic PH humour, since Geoff Whitehorn wasnít the only casualty at this time. The bandís sound man, Geoff Curtis, was also unable to make the gig, having suffered a heart attack. Fortunately as we go to press Chris Cooke reports that both Geoffs are now out of hospital Ďbeing grumpyí at their respective homes. Front of House sound duties on the night were taken by Ian Barfoot, also from the Rick Wakeman tour. The Commander reportedly joked, ĎWhy donít we get Rick in as well to play the piano?í For some old, strange Wakeman/Procol history, read this page]. But I think we could see how Matt helped you out a lot when you were onstage.

Mattís been brilliant, he helped me a lot. Obviously he wanted the gig to go well, but itís also that thing of Ė if Matt said I can do it, heís not responsible exactly, but that is how you feel if you recommend people. I recommended Matt for Rickís gig, so Ö I understand. I said ĎPeggy could do thisí and Rick did a very similar thing, Matt was thrown in at the deepest of deep ends. And you have to know that whoever you recommend is capable of dealing with last-minute changes.

 But I think you stepped in and did exactly what had been scheduled for Geoff, no setlist modifications?

No, we did the list I was sent, and that was that.

What have you got coming up next?

Iíve actually got Ö Iíve been in development of my own album, singing as well; and Iíve got this marvellous project which Iíve named Belly Up. That may be the way it goes! But itís also called Belly Up because I play the guitar with the strings upside down Ė a right-handed guitar but the strings are the other way over, the sixth string nearest the floor Ė the whole album. This might sound bizarre and awful, but thereís a few other little tweaks, the clever part of it, that I canít divulge at this point, but thatís the concept. So Iíve been in development of that, recording it and writing the songs, and thatís what Iím aiming at. Iíve done two big tours with Rick this year, so Iíve been pulled away from it, and obviously having a broken ankle hasnít been very good for anything in terms of work. But Iím hoping to get a bit of time on Belly Up this month and through December Ė it usually goes a bit quiet around Christmas Ė so Iíll be plugging away at that, really.

Youíll let us know when thatís going to come out?

You can put my Facebook ID up, and anyone who wants to follow it can send me a friend request. Iíll be using that page to talk about it. Iím quite a perfectionist, though, and itís a big challenge on the singing, but thatís all developing. It was wonderful to sit next to Gary Ö

I saw your reaction to Gary! You were quite surprised by the power of his voice, during the concert?

He saves it all for the gig, you know? And when he lets it go, itís a huge sound. But I knew that from the recordings Ö what heís capable of Ö but itís not just power, itís like a fine wine: an amazing sound.

And did you have a favourite, out of the songs you played?

Picture courtesy of Charlie AllisonItís got to be A Whiter Shade of Pale. For every reason.

As you said on the BBC film, Ďit transforms the roomí.

Iíve been fortunate in the past to play what would be unarguably called Ďthe biggest hití of a band [artists DC has worked with are listed here]. When you play that big hit with the original artist, thatís the one you relate to: it can be as bizarre as playing Robert de Niroís Waiting with Bananarama, or Making Your Mind Up with Bucks Fizz, or Crazy Train with Ozzy Osbourne. When you do that itís like the shop window of the band, the nucleus of the gig, if I can put it like that.

When Chris [Cooke] got married and Matt couldnít be there, Procol Harum played A Whiter Shade of Pale for him and Eliza, and I was lucky enough to stand in on bass. It wasnít in public or anything Ė but I still witnessed the spell of the song, how quickly it worked on everyone in the room.

Yes, itís such a moment, and everybody feels it, and thatís why that song is what it is, worldwide. So that would be the first tune on my list. I really really like Blink of an Eye, and I absolutely adore Salty Dog. So those would be my top three. But I donít think there was a song in there that I didnít like, to be honest with you.

You enjoyed letting rip on Wall Street Blues I think.

They say a lot of their tunes are blues, then they give you five hundred chords to learn! But yeah, that one was a blues. Give a guitarist a solo to play in E, and heís going to be happy.

[Then we talked a bit about when Dave was born, and where: see the top of this page]

Itís a funny thing, I remember in Ö 2005 it must have been Ö being told, by Sony Records, that I was Ďtoo oldí. Then the next day I was in Abbey Road with Ozzy, then Iíve been with Rick, and thereís people like Gary. How can it possibly be that youíre too old in your mid-thirties? How did they get where they are? I do think attitudes are changing now. But itís ridiculous, isnít it?

 Finally, Dave, can you tell us about your guitars from Monday night?

I used a Gibson Les Paul Custom, and a Fender Strat Ö thatís a kind of real Frankenstein guitar, itís got a different neck, and body, and all sorts. But that was for Ö I donít often get asked for seagulls in my line of work, but you have to swell the volume pot for Salty Dog and itís difficult with your little finger on the Les Paul; you can really only do it on a Strat. That was why that one was pulled out. The Les Paul is the Rolls Royce of guitars for me. You can take one anywhere.

Thanks Dave. Once more can I just say, on behalf of a wide world of Procol Harum fans, ĎGreat jobí?

Thanks, mate: glad to be of service. Take care.


Dave Colquhoun's BtP page


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