Procol Harum

the Pale

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'All songs now played at least once …'

Gary Brooker's Edmonton diary

Procol folklore – possibly even mainstream rock folklore, in this rare instance – tells how the days and hours leading up to band's performance with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, captured so brilliantly on their sixth album, were fraught with all sorts of problems.

Gary Brooker's sleeve-note, dated '7.30pm, 18th November 1971, Holiday Inn, Edmonton, Alberta' offers some significant hints about the trials and tensions of the preceding days: 'To say our one and a half days of recording had gone smoothly would not be true, and so an excited nervousness is present instead of confidence … symphony musicians tend to save their best until the performance … the amplified choir … do know what they're doing …'. Until very recently this was the most authoritative account available, but it left us to do quite a lot of reading between the lines. What was this about 'one and a half days of recording'? And why was no conductor credited?

But in February 2000 Gary rang 'Beyond the Pale' with the suggestion that we might like to make use of 'some items of limited interest' that had recently come to light. Preparing to go to Australia with the British Rock Symphony, he had been rummaging for some music he needed, and had come across a diary, handwritten in black felt-tip on airmail tissue headed with the logo of the British Overseas Airways Corporation, that he thought 'must have been intended as notes for the album sleeve.' Unsurprisingly we told Gary, 'Yes, we would be rather interested in publishing this at BtP.' So here is that scoop!

A very few days later the promised papers arrived by snail mail: and very interesting they were too. Clearly this had started out as a public document, explicitly identifying 'Chris Thomas (producer)'; but by the foot of the first page, it's clear that it could never have been used verbatim on an album sleeve! As the hours go by it becomes more telegraphic, less explicit, obviously less careful as its writer became more and more tired (When did he eat? He seems to work in most of the coffee-breaks!). There's no doubt that this log was written at the time (three of the five pages remain attached to the writing pad) but it seems amazing that its author had the equanimity to keep it going, in the face of other pressures, and also amazing that it betrays no trace of self-doubt: the sense of humour ('getting nervous') persists to the end, and the characteristic relish for language surfaces repeatedly ( an 'army' of sound men 'buzzing' …)

Now, of course, we'd love to know which songs received most rehearsal, and whether the unreleased numbers (Shine on Brightly, Repent Walpurgis, Simple Sister) received least: only one song is mentioned by name (its curious spelling testament enough to the exigencies of the hour!), the others being lumped together as 'five songs', 'all songs' etc. It's perhaps interesting to note that Keith Reid is not mentioned, any more than any of the other players: It's Chris Thomas who seems to be the right-hand man. But such matters, so strikingly omitted from the perspective of thirty years on, must at the time have seemed so commonplace, or so immediate, as to require no commemorative mention.

It's fascinating to see how the creative artist also assumes managerial tasks, musical direction, technical consultancy, and social duties, as well as giving his performance: this account covers exactly 48 hours, of which Gary seems to have spent no more than nine in bed.

[16 November 1971]

Arrived at Edmonton, Alberta, from Los Angeles, Calif. at 8 pm local time.

9 pm checked into hotel.

9.30 left hotel with Chris Thomas (producer) and Bob Hunka (symphony organizer) to meet for the 1st time with Lawrence Leonard, conductor of ESO.

From 9.45 to 11.15 running thru' tempos etc with Mr Leonard at his house.

11.15 to 1.15 discussing concert, particularly the 1st half (which we had not intended to partake in) and after which ended in an argument between Lawrence and myself causing him to say he didn't want to do the concert and me telling him he needn't bother.

Chris Thomas acted as referee to the contest: Lawrence was being childish

1.30 am arrive back at hotel and discuss with Thomas the revelations of the argument and other aspects of the forthcoming concert

Went to bed 4.30 am (very tired)

[17 November 1971]

8.30 am wake-up call

Left 9.30 to Jubilee Auditorium for note rehearsal with orchestra. This involves the orchestra playing thru' each score, checking notes, bowings, rests, tempos, and trying to communicate to the conductor the way it should sound (in layman's terms).

A slow rehearsal, (not unexpectedly) and by the end of it at 1pm ( 4 ) 5 songs have still not been played thru'.

1 – 2 pm lunch break

2 pm scheduled rehearsal of orchestra

together with group but our equipment is being hassled at the Canadian customs and is not expected until 4 o'clock

So we run thru' just note rehearsals of the songs we hadn't yet heard and then go over the other ones again, with me playing piano to them

(An army of recording and sound men buzzing everywhere with 50 mikes onstage and wires everywhere, it's hectic)

At 3.30 there's a coffee-break and we spend that checking the pre-recorded tape we intend to use in the performance.

Discussions with the sound company about the quadraphonic effects and the fact that they must

put additional mikes on the orchestra. Continued rehearsal with the orchestra, our equipment operating by 4.30

Half hour rehearsing full group and orchestra. 5 numbers still not rehearsed. One (Conquistador [?]) not even arrived in 'part-form'.

5 – 5.30 hearing back test recordings in play-back room.

5.45 arrive back hotel

6.15 leave for dinner at private house with officials and friends of ESO.

7.55 leave dinner with CT for note rehearsal with Choir at Jubilee Aud. Check over parts and rehearse unwritten parts

11.30 leave choir rehearsal for Hotel. Continued discussion

with CT about recording etc. Bed at 3 am

[18 November 1971]

Wake up call 8.

Leave hotel 9 for group soundcheck.

10 o'clock rehearsals with orchestra

11.45 coffee break. Playback of test recordings.

12.15 Choir arrive and full rehearsal with everyone from 12.15 – 1.00 pm.

1 – 3.20 continued rehearsals with orchestra. All songs now played at least once.

3.30 - 5.30 listening to playbacks and 5.15 back at hotel.

5.15 – 8.00 spent getting nervous and waiting.

8.00 concert started.


Many more pages devoted to the Edmonton concert

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