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

Gary Brooker with Judy Blair and band • 21 August 2010

Paul Holland, in France, for BtP

Gary Brooker and Judy Blair (the organist) played a concert at l'Abbaye Nouvelle near Gourdon, France, on 21 August. Paul Holland, an American now settled in France, sends this report and illustrations:



21 August, 2010

A midsummer night's dream. It’s happening again. Another magical evening with Judy Blair and Gary Brooker. The excitement outside the centuries-old Abbaye Nouvelle, just outside of Gourdon, was palpable. The last Brooker/Blair collaboration in Cahors this past winter set a very high standard and with the prospect of having such international talent here, in the rural French countryside, tonight’s event was certainly an extraordinarily rare treat.


Judy Blair was not only the distinguished musical talent sharing the Cahors stage that winter's night with Gary Brooker, but also the person that was the driving force in organizing that memorable event. Tonight, this concert shares the same high level of enthusiasm and with a giant like Gary Brooker on the bill, it doesn’t get much better. Judy has taken the stage all over America and Europe for the last forty years in a solo act as well as with other outstanding musicians, including a memorable night when she was invited on stage to perform a number with Gary Brooker and Eric Clapton. Tonight, we have another sold-out show and a huge throng of very excited concert goers.


In the moments before the concert it was difficult to get a word in with the Commander because we were frequently (although happily) being interrupted by autograph seekers! To start off the performance, we had Judy Blair effortlessly delivering several of her lively original compositions ... then, like Robert De Niro in the film Raging Bull, appears Gary Brooker ... following a husky smiling young man: Gary’s head down, both hands on the shoulders of his brawny guide. The crowd starts to applaud and he takes the stage delighted with himself at the clever entrance. A great start.


Then, things got under weigh with a bang ...first up (not on the setlist) Let The Good Times Roll  got everyone rocking right from the first note. Then, moving smoothly into the first Procol number of the evening, Homburg. The enchanting sounds of that classic Procol Harum song in this setting was perfect. A very enthusiastic applause led directly into a warm greeting to the crowd by Gary. Next up, Parchman Farm, because as Gary told the audience, “I once listened to a jazz recording,” quickly followed by two rocking classics: Rock me Baby and Unchain my Heart. Judy Blair took over the vocals on the next one: Going to Chicago. Great song, well done.

With Gary back at the microphone came the 1959 hit by Fats Domino, I Want to Walk You Home followed by another Fats Domino smash hit, Blueberry Hill. Although I never got to see Fats do these two great songs live, I wonder if it really could be better than Gary’s soulful renditions. His appreciation for Fats is evident in his passionate delivery. I Got a Woman was skipped on the setlist and a select few knew what was coming next as Gary made his dedication to “those above that can not be here tonight” The classic, A Salty Dog. As I scanned the audience during this piece, you could tell the people that had probably never heard it before. A few women touched their hands to their lips and shook their heads in total awe of the magnificent sounds they were hearing. Everyone was simply entranced. The Judy Blair Quartet was even better on the Procol numbers than at the last concert, in Cahors. It’s obvious they’d been doing their homework. Excellent drum work by Christian (Ton Ton) Salut on A Salty Dog ... he got it all nearly perfectly.


With the huge applause still hanging in the air we all started to rock to Rock and Roll Music.  Now, people were singing along and the usually rather sedate French abandoned tradition and let loose in a rousing accompaniment to one of modern music’s most iconic gems, all accented in French naturally! Then came the moment that everyone was anticipating. The song that nearly everyone on the planet has known and loved for over forty years. Gary speaking to the audience again telling them this time that he has “not only listened to jazz but Bach as well!” ... with a perfect segue into some rather dramatic and then slowly-softening Bach passages right to that unmistakable opening C chord from both keyboards.


What a majestic, beautiful sound in this hallowed Abbaye. Tears formed in many eyes, and in that time and space, transfixed, hundreds of people singing softly along got what they had come for. Beautiful work on the Hammond indeed and Gary was more active than usual on the piano.  A thundrous applause and standing ovation, along with a large bouquet of flowers for Judy.


As the band started to leave the stage it became apparent that it couldn’t end there! Literally. There was no back stage entrance, so the band, if they really wanted to leave at that point, couldn’t. The fans were in the aisle! So, after a long and very appreciative ovation they reversed and did the final number of the evening. With Gary standing at the piano for most of the song, they belted out Shake Rattle and Roll. And roll they did, with all of the band giving a very enthusiastic effort.


What a show! So many nice comments were heard leaving the hall. “I didn’t know he could do all that other stuff that well!”


Well, yes he can ... and, we hope, for a long time to come. Now we just have to figure out a way to lure him back again.

I’ll work on it.

Thanks, Paul

Gary Brooker's page at 'Beyond the Pale' | Non-Procol Brooker concerts | More pictures

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