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Beyond the Pale

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Barry Sinclair remembered

Roland from 'Beyond the Pale'





I’m writing on a ’plane to Australia, no online connectivity, no chance to research this brief article … which is prompted by something I’ve just found on my ’phone. The message must have been picked up in the transit lounge at Singapore: a thunderbolt from Franky Brooker, telling me Barry Sinclair has died.


I’d first seen Barry fifty years ago: he came onstage at Lanchester Poly, an attentive tech responding to Gary’s somewhat testy complaint about unwanted reverb on BJ Wilson's snare drum. I guess he’d already been dubbed ‘Sinkers’ by that stage.


He and Gary had been friends during Southend schooldays, before Barry went to Art School. His involvement in design continued during rock’n’roll times, and in the early days of ‘Beyond the Pale’ he contributed a great collection of interesting tour passes (and, later, gig dates, which form the backbone of our historic concert schedule).


Following Procol’s ‘Old Testament’, he settled on the US West Coast, establishing a production company that designed and created stage sets for touring rock bands: they had some high-profile clients! He also designed and made the faux grand in which Gary concealed his various digital pianos on prestigious concert stages.


When Barry stood in for Chris Cooke for a handful of ‘New Testament’ West-coast dates in 2003 Jens and I got a first taste of what would become his managerial style. We were standing with some fellow Procoholics at the Fillmore West, when the venue management confiscated the tape from their illicit VHS camera. As the ‘Beyond the Pale’ team, we were asked if we could somehow get it back, so after the show, backstage, we gingerly raised the matter. ‘Bring this cameraman to me,’ said Barry. The transgressive fan came before the manager, head bowed. What sort of showdown would ensue? Barry reached into his shirt pocket and dropped the tape cartridge into its owner’s hand. ‘Don’t get caught again,’ he laughed. An eye-opening moment.


Whenever Palers would gather in Southend to hear Gary's 'other' band, No Stiletto Shoes, playing at Club Riga, Barry would be there, genial, approachable, laid-back. Likewise at 2005’s memorable Paramounts reunion. And if there would be a shared meal the following day, perhaps at a pub in Shoeburyness where Barry lived on returning to the UK, he’d be somewhere along the table holding quiet court tales of Bill Graham perhaps, and Madness the epicentre of frequent roars of laughter.


I remember driving to Shoeburyness in 2012 with memorabilia for an excellent exhibition – commemorating the richness of musical artists from the ‘Thames Delta’ – which Barry co-presented at the Focal Point Gallery. His knowledge was encyclopaedic, and it seemed he knew everyone; what’s more, his relaxed and good-humoured nature guaranteed that he’d remained on very good terms with them.


On one visit, while his wife Gail plied us with tea and cake, Barry allowed Linda and me to glimpse the world of his shed, where his lovingly-maintained Hornby railway layout illustrated another dimension of his kinship with the Brookers. Numerous items of railwayiana also decorated the house, many of them of Indian origin, reflecting Barry’s keen love and admiration for that continent, its people, its colours and fabrics.


Like Chris Cooke before him, Barry was an adventurous traveller. He kept his Facebook friends entertained with offbeat, unpredictable images of his sojourns in India and return visits to the US West Coast, always hallmarked with an artist’s eye for composition and colour, and a perennial solidarity with the working person.


On taking over the Procol reins from Chris Cooke, Barry steered the band’s tee-shirt artwork in a new direction, adapting some favoured lettering from a 1970s’ US flyer to create the very striking 2020 tour tee-shirt with the psychedelic blue-and-red lines. Not a single concert-date shown on this garment was ever played, but Barry ensured – by offering the whole stock for sale through ‘Beyond the Pale’ – that the unintended rarity found its intended way into fans’ wardrobes.


His voice on the ’phone was always patient, friendly, relaxed … especially during the long days of lockdown when pretty well every call would concern some freshly-organised gig postponed, or a venue closed, or a promoter gone bust. It’s fair to say that he presided over a very trying period for Procol and fans. And Barry and Gail were outstanding friends to Franky all through Gary’s illness and beyond.


In February 2022 I was driving in Paris traffic when the long-dreaded call came in: Gary had died, would I write an obituary? Even at that most difficult of moments Barry signed off in characteristic fashion, ‘Alright, m’dear. Cheers.’


It was through touring merch that ‘Sinkers’ and I changed from nodding acquaintances into working colleagues, and one tiny anecdote may serve to illustrate the wit and insight that underscored his mellow demeanour.


February 2019: I presented myself for work at the City Winery in Manhattan, frankly – and I hope understandably – wondering how the manager for the band’s US dates would match up to the sharpness and wiles of Chris Cooke on the road. First impressions were slightly discouraging: Barry handed me a wad of bills to serve as a ‘float’ on the stall, saying, ‘Here’s 175 dollars.’ But when I went off and counted them, it wasn’t 175 at all. ‘Hey Barry, you gave us 200 for the float.’ He took back the overcount with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Cheers, Roland, knew you were an honest man.’ Clever, gentlemanly. Then and now, I valued that sense of a subtly-arranged job interview, one that had somehow been passed on both sides.


Such a good man, Barry Sinclair: a valued acquaintance and friend to so many grateful people.


Roland Clare




Franky Brooker's tribute to Barry Sinclair