Beyond the Pale
Procol at Bridgwater Hall, Manchester
I was a little too young to catch Procol first time around, but I finally realised my long-cherished dream last Sunday at The Bridgewater Hall. Dedicated to such luminaries as Sir John Barbarolli (listen to his Mahler symphonic cycle – no other conductor comes near in my book), this was a fitting venue for our heroes. It exuded class, for a classy band. I was not disappointed.
Back in ’73 I was a fan of Argent, The Beatles, Badfinger (brilliant power-pop band, tragically ill-starred – they backed Ringo on It Don’t Come Easy – you bet, not getting worthy re-appraisal) Spooky Tooth (our English teacher pulled down and blinds and played Ceremony, that curious cocktail of hard rock, avant-garde electronics set to the Catholic mass; strong stuff, but probably genuinely ahead of its time) and, of course, Procol Harum.
Apart from those two certain songs (I might also add Conquistador), my first serious listen was Grand Hotel. It was revelatory to read the excellent essay in The Bridgewater programme – Grand Hotel was a precursor of Roxy Music. Let no one say Procol didn’t have their finger on the pulse of the times; anyone who said they were locked in ’67 was seriously mistaken. Grand Hotel is indeed divinely decadent.
I spoke to two lads from Belfast, brothers [the O’Prey brothers (Ed)] both sporting rather natty custom-made Salty Dog T-shirts. I told them we’d recently passed through Belfast en-route to Sligo (exquisite place by the way). "Great to see Fisher, isn’t it," one of them said to me in the saltiest Belfast accent. Yes indeed.
A superbly chosen selection of songs, which I’m sure will be chronicled elsewhere. A Salty Dog never loses its numinous, mystical quality however many times you hear it. The mark of a genuinely great song. And thanks, Gary, for dedicating it to BJ and Douglas Adams. A nice touch I felt.
The arrangement of Ghost Train was also an unexpected surprise. This song was now filled out, with a more confident and sophisticated musical arrangement. Rather chilling and spooky, too (Spooky Two? Classic album for ’69!). Definitely a song that lends itself to a live rendition.
Another aspect of this concert was the reasonable cost of the tickets, programmes (thirty bob – normal classical concert price. Makes a change from those over-priced efforts containing little of real substance), and T-shirts. When you consider the prices charged by a certain cynical and financially rapacious well-known American band recently over here, one realises how well-served we are as fans of Procol Harum. Perhaps that other band should consider changing its name to ‘The Vultures’ (on tour for the last pickings). What with the cheapest tickets at £40, and baseball tops at £60. Didn’t this band also say they’d only tour again if hell freezes over? Blimey, they’ll soon have done more comeback tours than Status Quo! The power of the dollar! Sorry, I went a bit off-track here, but it illustrates the difference.
I had only one slight misgiving about Procol’s concert – we couldn’t always pick up what Gary was saying to the audience. Those droll and understated Brookerisms are always a nice feature of a Procol Harum concert, and it is a shame we couldn’t hear him a little more clearly. He was probably wondering why the audience seemed a little subdued between songs, poor chap.
That apart, it didn’t detract from an epic concert, which sounded and looked excellent. The choir, with the ladies in emerald green, looked great from where Geraldine and I sat. I thought of the Edmonton album cover, but this was for real, my boy!
For me, being a fan of Procol Harum meant ploughing a lone furrow in the past, and it was nice to finally meet what had been for me an elusive creature – a fan of Procol Harum. They struck me as a genuinely nice breed. Oh yes, and Hi John Grayson, it was good to finally meet you, albeit briefly.
Any chance of a future live CD of this tour? Hope so. But most of all, more live performances. I was itching for more at the end – always a good sign, isn’t it?