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

Lance-Corporal Dave Ball, vanished pop star

Dave Ball's comments on this Sunday Express piece from 1 October 1978

  The Sunday Express, 1 October 1978

Vanished pop star turns up on lonely army isle

A mystery that has puzzled pop fans for years – What happed to Dave Ball, lead guitarist of the top-selling ? Procol Harum Group? – has been solved.

He has been serving with the Army on the tiny island of St Kilda in the Atlantic.

He starred with Procol Harum and other gold album groups, but disappeared in 1974 [sic] after announcing he was 'sick of the music.' He covered his tracks well, though not deliberately, he says.

Until last week few people knew he had joined the Army and, at his own request, was posted to join Britain's most isolated community – the 30 soldiers who maintain a missile tracking station on St Kilda, 100 miles from the Scottish mainland.

It meant a steep drop in income, but money, he says, was not a consideration.

Lance-Corporal Ball, now 28 and due for demob and a return to the London pop scene in February, said over a crackling line 'I have had plenty of time to think. Now I feel ready to go back into music.

'It shouldn't be difficult. The pop scene has been stagnant, and I have new material – St Kilda-inspired songs I want to record.'

Of his two years with Procol Harum he said: 'We had made an LP in Canada with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and it became a gold album in America. We were recording what turned out to be another big hit, Grand Hotel, when I left them.

'Financially it was the wrong time to make the break, but I was tired of playing the same music.'

So he joined the Royal Corps of Transport (Maritime Regiment).

'I was delighted when they sent me to St Kilda,' he said. 'It rises out of the sea musts like some fairy castle, and its many moods, tranquil, stormy, always spectacular, are so evocative I knew I would be putting it to music.'

April 2011: a message to 'Beyond the Pale' from Dave Ball, entitled Zaballski’s 'Vanishing Point', sheds some interesting light on the above!

In 1978 a reporter from The Sunday Express was (apparently) trying to find out what had happened to me, and once I had been located, had got permission from the Army to conduct an interview. Personally, I had ZERO interest in doing this, but dutifully took the radio call. During the ensuing session I had said very little of any substance or interest, but the reporter – undeterred by this – just fabricated pretty much the entire interview. Apparently I was about to return to music armed with a bunch of St Kilda inspired songs … well, there were no such songs, and he was about 33 years adrift in his prediction of my return to music (oh, it IS now in 2011 by the way).

From what strange flight of fancy the newspaper had imagined that ‘Pop fans’ or indeed anybody (other than perhaps some creditors, a few barmen, the odd dealer and maybe my Mum) had been wondering where I had disappeared to – Lord only knows! I’d better give you a bit of background to this tale, so let me take you back to a period before the infamous article appeared.

In 1974, when I had quit the music business and accepted the Queen’s Shilling, I did not completely enlighten the Army Recruiting Office as to my previous occupation/circumstances (ie soon-to-be Vanished Pop Star – and I think a LOL might be in order there, maybe even a PMSL). I think I had just put ‘Self Employed’ on the forms, and when I started training and then working nobody knew I played guitar for the simple reason that I didn’t own one and I didn’t tell them – I had quit, remember? Well, a couple of years into my service it happened that a record company accountant wanted to pay me a substantial sum of money from accumulated record royalties (yes – hard to believe, I know!). I assume he traced me via my National Insurance Number or something like that and found me on the HM Forces payroll, and from there tracked me to Gosport where he sent off a telegram to 20 Maritime Regiment HQ who owned me at that time. Now in the days before e-mail a telegram was something of an event. If you were having your 100th birthday it would be a congratulatory message from the Queen; most others were regarded as potentially threatening and so were approached with trepidation – said missives often being the bearers of bad news, bereavements and such. So it was with this in mind that the Adjutant (the Colonel’s PA basically) decided that he should make direct contact with me. He eventually got through via radio-telephone and asked me whether I wanted the telegram forwarded or should he just open it himself. I asked him to go right ahead and read it to me. Well, with our breath firmly held he started to read. The text (or a reasonable facsimile (and yes – that is a terrible pun)) was as follows:

<From: Chrysalis Records Ltd> <Attention: Dave Ball>

<Urgent you contact us> STOP <American Royalties in the amount of xx,xxx arrived at London Office> STOP <Require instructions for disposal of funds> STOP <Should we pay into Channel Island Account> STOP <Await your reply> STOP

By the end of the reading the Adj. was clearly adj-itated (yup – there goes another one) and his voice had risen to a piping schoolboy treble (actually, I think he might have been more suited to musical theatre than soldiering) “Well, Ball.” he squeaked, “What should I do? Should I reply? What are your instructions?” He was clearly all of a jitter. I asked him to reply and confirm payment into my Channel Islands account. “Righto Ball, I’ll get straight on to it ...” which he did.

I don’t wish to sound blasť, but I just forgot all about it; no – honestly I did. You see I was perfectly content with life. I picked up my 21 pounds a week, always got fed, generally had some sort of roof over my head and didn’t really have to think too hard about anything, so the money was pretty irrelevant to me; and that should have been the end of it, except the news that I was (apparently) moneyed obviously filtered through into the Officers' Mess. Now in the early days of regiments of the line, commissions were generally bought. A title clearly helped, but money talked. Even today there is a rule that states you cannot be worth more than your commanding officer. So the Colonel now saw me in a completely different light – here was a man of independent means – one of ‘us’, possibly even a gentleman! So he put my name forward for the Queen's Commission. They wanted to make me a Rupert

We are now approaching the point of this long tale, and also the reason that I found myself posted out to the Hebrides and then on to St Kilda and then on to page 17 of the Sunday Express (shortly after this I made it into the Daily Record in Scotland as well, but that’s another story).

Now that I was to become an Officer I was told I had to change my habits. I was told to grow my hair longer and style it – foppishly if at all possible (my coupe du jour at this time was a Number 4, but this was considered an ‘other ranks’ style and not appropriate to my new status). I had to read all the ‘serious’ newspapers each day (interestingly, this did not include the Sunday Express). At meal times I had to sit separately from the other ranks and – shock horror – I had to start using cutlery! I was taken off normal duties and if I was not on some stupid education day in Aldershot or Sandhurst you could find me sitting around the Guard Room reading the papers and looking foppish.

This was just no fun at all, and the people (new Ruperts) that I was forced to mix with were such a bunch of pompous self-absorbed little prigs that I lost my sense of humour with the whole business and decided to drop out. When I announced to my Commanding Officer (who had sponsored me) that I was opting out of my opportunity to become a certified Officer and Gentleman, he took it really well and assured me that my decision would not affect my career within the armed forces a jot.

Within a week I was handed a travel warrant and posting to the Artillery Ranges on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. [where the above photograph was taken]

Perfect! A bunch of noisy bloody Gunners for the next year!

Thanks, Dave!

Dave Ball's page at BtP  

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