A Winterīs Tale in Helsinki
November in Helsinki, and the capital of Finland covered in snow and cold weather. During the daytime the sun was shining and it was lovely to walk around the town and enjoy, and warm up with a bowl of hot bouillabaisse down at the old food market in the harbour.
Something else to look forward to was the Friday evening concert by Procol Harum at the wonderful Finlandia Concert Hall, situated on the Mannerheim Street, just a few minutes' walk away from the city centre.
A well-behaved crowd had filled up every single one of the 1,500 seats a few minutes before kick-off time, and finally the band strolled on stage and after a few seconds of tuning the familiar opening bars of Shine on Brightly filled the auditorium. An Old English Dream followed, always a favourite in my book.
With the Finlandia Hall built for concerts and big orchestras, the sound was clear, even if maybe a bit heavy on the drums and low on piano in the mix. Garyīs voice was strong and powerful as ever, or maybe even stronger than ever!
'If you didnīt see the name on the ticket, we are Procol Harum.' Gary introduced the band before announcing the first of a trilogy of war songs, and off they went with the familiar piano opening of Fires (Which Burnt Brightly). The also familiar backing vocals were added by Josh Phillips's keyboard.
Holding On followed, and then Homburg. What a start! Five classic Procol songs, all well performed, played and sung by that voice in command from Mr Brooker. But something was missing to take it to the next level. You know that magic ingredient that somehow takes it from a good performance to a great performance?
The band seemed strangely and safely locked into cruise control. Not even the usually-mighty Mr Whitehorn seemed, or more rightly sounded, to be firing on all cylinders.
Donīt get me wrong. It was still good, still very well played and sung. But where was that magic ingredient that makes Procol Harum one of the best live bands ever to take to a stage?
But then something suddenly happened. The band seemed to loosen up during Wizard Man, then Gary and Geoff Dunn thundered away the intro to Skip Softly ... and cruise control was unlocked and exchanged for pedal to the metal.
Fine versions of Grand Hotel and Conquistador closed the first set.
A 30-minute intermission followed, and after 29 minutes everyone was back in their seats. As I mentioned earlier, a very well-behaved crowd.
The Truth Wonīt Fade Away, the single (what an ancient word!) from the 1991 Prodigal Stranger album, opened up the second set, the band now tighter than the national Italian football team's defence line, and definitely firing on ALL cylinders. Whitehorn taking a step forward, and every second in close contact with The Commander-in-Chief.
Whaling Stories was the next one on the set list, and when God took his revenge on the loathing pirates in the story, the entire Finlandia Hall and Helsinki shook and rumbled, when Whitehorn barbed-wired himself into the solo, aided by the Hammond and the mighty thunder from the drumming of Geoff Dunn.
Man with a Mission, who is that if not Mr Geoff Whitehorn? The man looks so pleased when he gets to make all that noise on the intro of this fantastic song, also from Prodigal Stranger.
Pandora's Box takes us all the way down South America. Josh Phillips adding both Hammond and keyboards for some effects. At the end of the song both stringmen, Whitehorn and Pegg, take a step back, closer to the drum riser, so that Gary and Josh are free to enjoy a keyboard duel. And Josh gets plenty of space to show what a fine Hammond player he is, until the Commander-in-Chief asks, 'Done?' And then Josh replies by wrapping it all up with a Hammond crescendo.
Mickey Jupp intro of 'Hey bartender', and then it is off with Whisky Ttrain. After guitar solo, Whitehorn and Phillips call for a drum break, during which the band gathers around Dunnīs drum riser to watch him at close range hitting all those drums and things for a breathtaking solo. I don't really know what drum solos are good for: but if I ever want to hear one again, this is the one. Well, done Geoff!
A crowd-pleaser, but a good one, follows with Suomi. Then A Salty Dog, and when Dunn fires the gun everyone hides behind the seat in front of them.
After A Salty Dog the band gathers to take a bow, and then without leaving the stage gets back to business: as the crowd calls out for more as they finish with A Whiter Shade of Pale.
Thanks, Chris from Sweden