Procol Harum

the Pale

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Jonas Söderström, for BtP

From a funeral to a wedding to a dream : AWSoP played to the king and queen of Sweden

A Whiter Shade of Pale was played at the funeral for Ruzzo Reuss, 11 November 1999, in Härslöv in southern Sweden.

Ruzzo Reuss is probably unknown to most Palers. He was the second husband of singer Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad, formerly one of the As in ABBA.

AWSOP was played together with As Tears Go By, If I Were A Carpenter and Why Worry, by a trio of keyboard, guitar, and 'cello. This reflected the personal favourite songs of the late Mr Reuss, and maybe of his widow. Guitar was played by Swedish guitarist George Wadenius, once a member of Blood, Sweat and Tears, and prolific studio guitarist in the US since the seventies.

This was a private funeral, yet of course reported by the Swedish press, since it included a lot of celebrities; foremost the King and Queen of Sweden.

I normally wouldn't have read any newspaper story about a celebrity funeral like this (not having been a big ABBA-fan, either). What caught my eye was the reference to AWSOP - not hidden deep down in the text, but right in the first line below the headline:

"The old, white-washed church of Härslöv was filled by the sound of As Tears Go By and A Whiter Shade of Pale. Silently the friends, among them the royal couple, marched past the coffin ..."

The writer (or editor) chose to start the article in that way, because it sets the scene and the mood of the event. To me this shows just how AWSOP has a unique place in the hearts and minds of everyone that has heard it. It is a powerful catalyst of emotions, it is a shared experience (yet personal) that conveys feelings of solemnity or melancholy.

Among the guests was also Frida's first husband, Benny Andersson, also of ABBA. The connection is interesting, since Benny's band prior to ABBA, The Hep Stars, has been rumoured to have played an early gig with Procol Harum in Sweden in August 1967.

Now, Hep Stars was a band quite like the Paramounts - playing only covers of R'n'B-songs (one of their first records and major hits was a cover of Cadillac). They had been - and were - immensely popular, but in 1965-66, the public had started to fancy bands with original material more and more, and Hep Stars saw their star begin to fall.

So they changed. Benny Andersson, who played the organ, started to make his own music, and soon became the musical centre of the group (though the lead singer, slightly hunchbacked and club-footed former bus conductor Sven "Svenne" Hedlund, still got the most attraction!).

On of the first songs Benny Andersson ever did, and which became Hep Stars' first own, straight-to-number-one hit, was Wedding, which has a very characteristic classical-sounding organ part. It's not like AWSOP at all; it's a brisk march-like tune, not unlike Mendelssohn's well-known wedding march (from A Midsummer Night's Dream), but at double the speed. This was in 1966, so Benny Andersson wasn't influenced by AWSoP or PH when he wrote that. Neither did he play a Hammond, but a small, simple organ.

But there are these similarities in their early careers. They're the same age - Benny Andersson is born 1946. And after Hep Stars, Benny turned to only playing the piano.

Benny Andersson then went on to ABBA and to musicals. So I have asked myself many times: since Gary has a great experience of taking some text and putting it to music - and a great gift for beautiful melodies - and an excellent ear for orchestration - why shouldn't he follow Benny this time, and take on the musical scene?

And, to expand this dream: consider Mama Mia, the musical based on ABBA's songs - what about a musical based on Keith's hallucinatory landscapes from the early lyrics? Why, we'd have mermaids, unicorns and all kinds of stuff. Considering how popular fantasy novels are right now (at least in Sweden), that would really be interesting...

Many thanks to Jonas Söderström


More Feature articles written for BtP

Abba in the Procolpaedia

More about AWSoP

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