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the Pale

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Brooker/Winter in New York (December 2016)

Pam Miller Chwedyk, for BtP
Photograph (c) Express Image Photography

Here’s a brief report from the opposite end of Gary Brooker’s Winter Solstice Concerts extravaganza: the final performance on Saturday night, 17 December.

No photos, unfortunately, but I’m attaching a scan of the concert program [BtP will shew this in a future upload]. Note that on the penultimate page, it says that Paul Winter also does an annual Summer Solstice concert in the cathedral in June … at 4:30 am! Luckily, he didn’t ask Gary to participate in that one! Not exactly rock musician hours ...

For this Chicago-based Procol fan, attending the annual Winter Solstice Concert celebration has always been something of an old American dream. For years, I used to listen to the concert rebroadcast on public radio and wish that I could be there witnessing the spectacular raising of the gigantic Sun Gong to the top of that towering Gothic edifice. I had never gotten around to actually going there, though. So when I learned that the beloved Commander of our Grand Old Band would be part of this year’s show, that was it. This is bucket-list stuff! (By the way, I was totally unprepared for how LOUD that gong is!)

After spending the earlier part of the weekend checking out New York’s extraordinarily dazzling Xmas lights (another bucket list item), I hopped the subway up to 110th Street and soon found myself sitting right in front of the one and only Unsteady Freddie, who told me he had already seen the previous three shows. When I asked, ‘How was it?’ he replied: ‘Gary never disappoints.’ And, of course, he was right. (Though I do confess to one small disappointment – I had really hoped that GB would perform Within Our House. The song would have been perfect for the setting and the occasion.)

The setlist on Saturday night was the same as other correspondents have previously reported – except that this time, Gary ended his incredibly moving version of In My Life with a bit of Hey Jude instead of Strawberry Fields. When Paul Winter prefaced it by announcing that GB was going to do ‘a tribute to his friend John Lennon’, my first thought was that he was going to sing Imagine. Perhaps one day we’ll get to hear that as well [see here!]

Although the Winter Consort’s elaborate multimedia, multicultural extravaganza would have been spectacular even without Gary, he was definitely the exquisitely delicious icing on the cake (think white chocolate ganache). The Cathedral of St John the Divine’s legendary acoustics and echo made his voice sound even more thrilling than it usually does. What struck me the most, though, was not just (as always) what an accomplished singer and pianist Gary is, but how utterly charming he is on stage. My impression from talking pre-show with some of my other seatmates was that many members of the sizable audience were either unfamiliar with him or knew him only in the very limited context of A Whiter Shade of Pale. So it was such a joy to hear Gary absolutely charm the socks off of that audience with his warm and funny between-song comments. For example, he got a huge, appreciative laugh for introducing An Old English Dream with a joke about how the pagans would one day come back to Stonehenge, build a dome on top of it and call it Trump Tower.

Although some other correspondents have called Old English Dream a surprising choice, my experience was that the song resonated very deeply with this particular American audience. Some non-US Palers may not be fully aware that there are many, many Americans who do NOT support Donald Trump, did not vote for him, and are now horrified and saddened by the prospect of what his presidency will bring. Many of us now feel that we too ‘once had a country and thought it so fair ... but now our great country is broken and torn / all of its promise and liberties worn’. By including this song, Gary hit precisely the right note – the one we all needed to hear.

One final observation: The Commander looked like he was thoroughly enjoying the entire proceedings, even when he was dancing around the percussion-festooned Solstice Tree of Sounds singing Auld Lang Syne with the rest of the ensemble (as Bert Saraco’s photo most eloquently illustrates). In fact, GB had obviously established very warm bonds with all of his collaborators. At the end of the show, I could clearly see Gary exchanging hugs with Paul Winter, fellow-vocalist Theresa Thomason, and the other musicians and dancers. What a wonderful, generous and inspiring human being he continues to be – exactly the kind of hero we need to, in Paul Winter’s words, ‘allow our hearts to embrace the optimism that the light will overcome the dark’.

Thanks, Pam


Procol dates in 2016 | More about these shows

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