Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

Le Bourdon des Alpes

7 June 1998, Gryon

Our thanks go to Antonio Costa Barbé, who travelled to Gryon to interview Gary Brooker, hear his new piece played, and report exclusively to 'Beyond the Pale'. More interviews from Antonio here.

In the background, tannoy announcements following the massed performance of Le Bourdon des Alpes; close by, adult voices at the bar, including Franky Brooker arranging the interview, François Courvoisier buying beers, children shouting excitedly ... then Antonio's opening remarks ...

Oh Maestro, it's a pleasure ... we met for the first time at the Barbican Concert ... Kellogs ...

Is this the bar? Oh yes, a beer, please.

Thank you for your kindness ... I have read your interview via Internet but I have only a few questions. It seems to me that your enthusiasm for orchestral arrangements and compositions is at the present time prominent. Is a new age for you as writer and composer?

No. I've finished with it now. That's finished from today. Now I'm going to do rock and roll again.


Not rock and roll, but group music.

OK. How did you proceed for musical scores for the various instruments? Did you write the transposition by hand or by computer?

No I wrote it all by hand, in concert pitch with a pencil, wrote it all out properly, and then I got somebody in London, a girl, to put it on to the computer, to transpose it and print the music properly. I used to do that myself but ... you know ...

And has you got an idea how will sound this composition played by such a huge ensemble, in London? Have you had a rehearsal with a minor ensemble?

No. Yeah, they played it last night ...

And did you enjoy this execution of your piece?

No (pause) they made many mistakes and at the end it should have been twice as fast as that.

I am musician too ...

Somebody got lost, one side of the orchestra was lost, weren't they? They were two bars in front. And at the end it should have been twice as fast as that. But luckily I made a recording last night when the brass band of the Bernese Oberland, or something, played it who are a fantastic band and they played it in the cantine last night and it was magnificent (laughs). [Brass Band Berner Oberland, four consecutive years Swiss Champion Brass Band, were 'Swiss Band of the Year' 1997]

At the time you are in contact with Keith Reid for writing new songs?

At this time? I'll see him in the summer, yeah. Well, we hope one day to make a new recording with Procol.

A new recording?


Good! With new songs?

Yeah (pause) One day.

One day, yes! (laughter) And there may be place in this recording for some additional musician? E.g. fans, musicians-fans, just in one song?


Yes, one presence of our presence ...

There's already too many people! If you went to Redhill you know that there's already too many musicians ...

No, five or six ...

But if you want to form an orchestra with violins and things, maybe!

Thank you. Last question, Mr Brooker. The last question is about A Salty Dog. Many of us regard A Salty Dog as the most perfect song ever heard. Can you remember the birth of the song and how came in mind the unusual chord progression and the subsequent development?

Well it was a very natural song, It was born in Switzerland. I was sitting at a piano at where I was staying and a train went past. And Swiss trains - maybe they've changed their noise now but - you know what a hooter is (GB makes hooter noise) well this one made a noise, I thought 'That's strange notes,' so I worked them out on the piano and I thought, 'Oh, that's it,' which is the start of Salty Dog, and I went da - da - da - da - and then my fingers moved and they kept moving for the next three minutes, and that was that. That's how long it took.

And the text came after, or before?

Do you know, I can not remember? I really do not remember that. It might have been there on the piano, I cannot remember it, it was all a dream.

Maestro thank you, it was very kind of you ...

But it was made great ... by BJ Wilson ... I must say that. He's the only one who could have played drums on it, really there is no drums on Salty Dog, but BJ made drums for it.

OK. If you need the right sequence-chords of The Dead Man's Dream, remember that I am Italian guy transcribing off the record at seventeen the song ...

Have you ever recorded it? Oh, I've heard it! It was very good.

But done without BJ, naturally.

Let me know the chords one day because I've forgotten them! Thank you, Antonio.

You are very kind. Thank you very much Maestro. Until the next time. And now you are in Gryon for a little while?

Going home tomorrow, or tonight. I think we're leaving tonight.

Good trip, have a nice trip!

This photograph, by François Courvoisier, shows Antonio and Gary holding the very conversation that is recorded above.

Note the discarded instruments!


More pages about Le Bourdon des Alpes

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home