Procol's concert at the Finlandia, Talo concert hall was made up of fifty-minute and one-hour sets with a thirty-minute interval.
I thought that the sound was great and complimented the two engineers at the end, yet numerous Ticketmaster reviews complained regarding this aspect. Maybe I was just fortunate ?
At 71, Gary's voice is genuinely as good as ever, still hitting all of the high notes immaculately. I can only think of Roger Daltrey matching such longevity (discuss !).
As is common, Shine on Brightly opened the evening, followed by An Old English Dream; but the first highlight was the very warmly-received Fires where Josh succeeded in recreating the choir/Christiane Legrand vocals exceptionally well – a new embellishment (at least to me).
The briefest of excerpts from Symphathy for the Hard of Hearing preceded Holding On and paid tribute to the Remembrance Day that was in it. Homburg came next and was also very popular, then Skip Softly was perfectly performed, again enhanced to album standard by Josh's contributions. He continued his excellence on Grand Hotel which was, possibly, the most-applauded song from the first set. In between these two, Wizard Man seemed to be played at a slower tempo than usual, but lost nothing for that.
The Truth won't Fade Away and Man with a Mission sandwiched Whaling Stories at the start of the second set. The latter went down a storm as the audience seemed to appreciate the effort made and quality produced.
There's no doubt that Pandora's Box is particularly popular in Finland, possibly aided by Pepe Willberg's faithful-to-the-original cover version (modified to Hermes by him). Applause rang out from the first bars and the superb rendition was greeted with huge acclaim. Gary replaced 'Persian' with 'chocolate' during Pandora's Box, following the version in Keith Reid's My Own Choice anthology.
Whisk(e)y Train featured Geoff Dunn's solo which, importantly, was of an appropriate length/not overdone. He really does generate tremendous power and is top, top quality. Gary introduced Suomi – his homage to the Finns – with great sincerity and acknowledgment of his fondness for both the country and its people. The gesture and song seemed to be very much appreciated by the locals.
A Salty Dog brought the main show to an end. It is so beautiful and poignant and was sung as brilliantly as always. Totally moving, it was suitably responded to by the crowd.
Coming out together to a great reception, the band seemed (justifiably) very content and, after the requisite pause, came back to finish with AWSoP and, so, send everyone home very happy into the minus-nine degree night. It may have been freezing outside but the atmosphere in the auditorium was as warm as one could wish for. A lovely evening thanks to a band of five consistently superb musicians who should really be treasured – and none more so than their wonderful leader.
OK. Although I am as great a fan as can be, I would be dishonest if I did not make some minor criticism on the basis that it would be impossible for any show by any artist(s) to be truly perfect.
The choice of songs is, of course, subjective but (imho) playing three songs from The Prodigal Stranger is too many. In fairness, The Truth won't Fade Away and Man with a Mission sounded fine but I just don't get Gary's passion for Holding On. He did seem to acknowledge this during the first set when he said that they would play something that the audience might know now, prior to starting Homburg.
Dropping two of the above three (and maybe Old English Dream) and replacing them with any number of alternatives from the huge repertoire would be ideal, eg The Idol, Samson, I Know If I'd Been Wiser/Grand Finale or even the more contemporary Sister Mary or Shadow Boxed (which had them bopping in the aisles at St John's Smith Square): but there you go!
Geoff W struggled with some harmonies on Grand Hotel and Josh's 'trumpets' still fail to convince on the first set-closing Conquistador (though they are improving !)
Other than that, it's great to see so many dates being announced already to mark next year's 50th anniversary. I'm particularly looking forward to London.
My life would contain a large void without having Procol Harum in it. For that, I am eternally grateful and to Gary in particular – a great human being.
Pat Reid (back in London !)