Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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I got there against all odds

Stephen Wallace Australia


It was 14 June 1997 when, in a moment of whimsy, I surfed across some sites to find if Procol Harum had a home page. It took a little while of indirect search before the screen revealed a stunning textual moment there was indeed a home page for all things Procol and there was a special meeting to be held in just over four weeks.

I wandered upstairs to ask my partner Mandy if she would like to go to England to see Procol Harum. She was used to all kinds of strange behaviour but this was unusual for 11.00am on a Saturday morning in eastern suburb, Melbourne. It was cold and dreary and perhaps the seasonal affective disorder had got to me this time. But she humored me as we went back down to the computer to see if a work-related event co-incided with the proposed reunion.

When we found a two week window that would allow me to see a special conference and the reunion, I was now determined. I quickly phoned some colleagues to organize a series of work
meetings and started the planning.

All went horribly wrong initially. I got sick, my financial arrangements went awry, and all sorts of other problems arose. We had a six month old child and two other children to consider, three dogs and a work commitment to complete. We had little money and obstacles were being thrown at us by customs and the banks. We had planned to holiday in the snow in early July and I was getting no better physically. I finally saw a physician in early July fearing that the trip would need to be cancelled. She advised me to go as I would be feeling better the day before take-off.

But we speared headlong onto this adventure while reality was shouting at us to slow down and be cautious. My partner Mandy organized everything and through good neighbours, a lot of arse, good luck and heaps of motivation, we flew out for the adventure of my life on Sunday July 13. The further I flew from home the better I felt. This was truly a transcendental experience for me and I was going to enjoy the ride.

On Friday 18 we walked what seemed to be the longest street in the world (Oxford St) from Virgin to Virgin, and I found the remaining copy of Prodigal Stranger, feeling very proud to have acquired such a trophy. We picked up the tiny bronzed Fiat up in London and Mandy drove it back to our flat in Pimlico. We consulted the map and finally got onto the M23 and headed for Lakers Toby past some places I had only ever read about.

We arrived at what seemed like a film set at 7.05 and walked into another world. We met the fans we had only e-mailed and talked with others. It was a truly cosmopolitan experience and we were struck that all spoke our language so well, as we anticipated struggling with a range of European dialects. It was a real community of aficionados we had encountered. The beer was almost as warm as the welcome we received (in Oz the beer is served extremely cold) and as Jens introduced himself we felt part of the team that had gathered to pay its tribute.

We didn't stay long that night as we had now touched base and felt we had made contact with the group. We drove home and observed just as much excitement on the return drive although we got (predictably) lost returning at night to Pimlico.

The next day was pretty exciting. First thing in the morning I rang my eldest (ten year old) daughter who told me to tell Gary Brooker to 'shine on'. It was a beautiful day and we rested in preparation for the night's climax. I had spent the day charging up the video recorder battery and felt that all was well.

But from here on things started to really hot up. When we arrived in the Saturday sunshine of Redhill, again the excitement was palpable. We went inside the foyer for a drink and bought the memorabilia, noticing the excitement on so many faces. We enjoyed the photographs and mingled discreetly. Soon I discovered some problems. I had indeed charged up the video battery but had left it on (to flatten) for a couple of hours.

I had no adapter for the British AC system and I had little charge left in the battery. I had come 10,000 miles to not record the concert memories. I would be defeated by a battery and some local electronic conventions. I thought fast and hard and ran for the Sainsbury's to buy an adapter plug but was advised they had none. I ran to the hotel for an adapter that may be on the site, but to no avail. I was running out of options. I asked Diane Rolph if the technical people could help me but they had no ideas.

In sheer Australian desperation I now realized I was on my own. I had exhausted all my class by now and it was time for some antipodean arse. I ran through the almost-closed Sainsbury's to rifle through their electronic sockets and found an open package which proclaimed, 'Shaver use only not to be used for other purposes'. But Australians are outlaws and never obey such directives. This was my adapter and I would make it work for the video. I ran back to the now assembled who had devoured most of the prepared meal and quaffed a couple of vegetarian type offerings. I was really desperate now. Christina H had tried to assist me but I told her that this was the only chance we had.

I went into the theatre and set up the camera using my 'shaver only' power supply. I asked the sound guys if I could take an audio line direct out of their Behringer board but they sneered at this ageing Ozzie and said no they couldn't find an interface. So I would be recording the greatest band in the world in their possibly last outing with a shaver power and crappy
microphone. But I had to remember my personal witness was the most important, the electronic record was to be just an aide memoire.

Well I got through most of the first half and thought I would try to charge the battery for the after-concert foyer shots. It was at this point that my outrageous fortune ran out. The shaver supply just puffed out and I was now as powered as I would be for the next couple of hours. I recorded some of the last half and some of the foyer before the battery finally ran out. It
was a triumph against all odds, my own Gallipoli, with a much better result this time.

We loved the concert; my six-month old (Emilia) slept through the great music and we filed out to drink some more and luxuriate in the afterglow of the great event. I talked to a few becoming-familiar faces and waited for the musicians to emerge,. Again Christina and John offered to help us meet some of the band and we talked to Chris as I had on the phone in Melbourne.

I met (Grandpa) Matthew which was a real moment for me, photographed Gary and Frankie and chatted to Pete. I chewed some of cake and felt that I could ask no more of anybody. Sure the players would probably go back to the Lakers, but I had met them before 25 years ago in Oz, and that was my mountain. It would be selfish to occupy their time when so many others clearly wanted to join with them. I felt completely satisfied to drive back to London that night knowing that an historic moment had been forged.

Stephen carrying his daughter Emilia, Amanda and Matilda (from Sweden)

This was probably it for the band, but I got there against all odds. I don't know how I did it but I did, and I got the video to prove to my children's children: I was at Redhill when PH played their 30th. What a night! I felt decidedly privileged and extravagantly lucky to have experienced those moments. I will cherish them forever. Not a day goes by in my life that I can't recall those moments I hold them close in my memory as reminders of that triumphant victory. When the grim twilight of life surrounds me I will find memories of the Harlequin to take me away ...

For me it was celebration of all that is good about Procol Harum: loyalty, good humour, obdurate luck in the face of almost certain failure, and sheer inspiration. I can hardly talk of these days without tears coming to my eyes, but those closest to me know the origin of the tears. It is really unexplainable ... it is beyond all these things ... as we all know, it is the experience of Procol Harum

Stephen Wallace
School of Psychology, Deakin University
Burwood Campus, Burwood 3125
Victoria, Australia


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