Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at Milan, Italy

Setlist • 6 October 2017

Brooker, Dunn, Pegg, Phillips, Whitehorn
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I Told on You
Late start to the concert ... for circumstances far too tedious to outline even briefly, the band had sound checked without a Hammond (though the Montage had provided some pretty good ersatz sounds, giving Josh quite a few patch-change headaches on the wing (if you'll pardon that anatomically preposterous wording)), and went ahead with a last-minute borrowed B3 in fine condition, the first time they've been heard thus for quite a while. Very interesting contrast in places with the habitual XK3; the B3 is by no means an overall winner, but it scores highly for the penetration of its percussion in the ensemble. The illustrious Geoff Dunn continues to experiment with phrase lengths and fill-positions, which helps make for riveting listening on the seventeenth show of the tour

Pandora's Box
Applause as soon as the first notes sounded, from an audience that clearly loved the band and its music. Double organ cadenza from the player GB then introduced as 'Josh Phyllis'

Man with a Mission
The venue decided to light this with egregiously strafing shafts of jazzy brilliance that did (to these eyes) nothing to enhance what was (to these ears) a very exciting performance.

Thomas Wylie attending to a cymbal issue with the kit (this would not normally be his remit, but the crew are one man down). GB looks at him working and says, 'No autographs'.

GB gives a plug for the merch in 'The Procol Shop'. CDs run dry in the interval, as a result. 'Buy a lucky badge and win a night out with me,' Gary jested.  He also mentioned 'The Soviet Souvenir Programme'. Russian is one of the languages it doesn't contain, in fact.

Can't Say That
The bassline continues to delight, as did the superb guitar solo from the Man in the Red Shoes: new heights of invention and ingenuity. The way this fascinating song falls into two rhythmic parts corresponds closely to the formula of the original recording of Broken Barricades, in which a new groove developed in the ostinato playout, beyond the fade-point chosen for the final release ... and to the two-part Unquiet Zone that we'll be hearing live on Disc 5 of the eight-disc Still There'll be More  boxed set, due out in early 2018, but playing now as I type these notes, speeding eastward across what I suppose must be the Piedmont in Paul Koehrer's newly-appointed T4, with snow-clad lofty peaks to the left and bright Italian sunshine all around. Tough work, I know, but somebody has to do it, etc usw..

Sunday Morning
Gary solicits title-translations from the crowd (about 850 people) and pronounces 'Domenica mattina' with élan and éclat. 'I speak it like a native,' he explains. The reason ... he ate some pasta and now has Italian inside him. In fact a lot of his Italian turns out to be Spanish. And some, like 'Welcome backio', is what he later explains as 'Esperanto'.

Whereas the XK3 is incisive, tonight's B3 is warm and insinuating in tone, particularly suiting this excellent song, which goes down extremely well with this audience.

As Strong as Samson
Fabulous drumming, and nice counter-melodies on the guitar; after a five-song high (the more extraordinary given the stresses and annoyances of the pre-organ period) the band slightly took their foot of the 'gas' here; so it was up to standard, whereas the foregoing had exceeded any reasonable expectation.

Business Man
A bit of hassle for The Commander, who started the song with a glass of water on the piano (not the faux grand) and needed to stop playing to remove it. He used the gap to play some air guitar instead.

A Salty Dog
Early applause, not for the unmistakable chords, but for 'All hands on deck.' Hard to understand how this song can keep getting better and better. It's so elastic in timing and dynamics. Backstage GB was marvelling that it continues to develop. Perhaps it's down to the growing invention of the indispensible Mr Dunn, whose strong fills were very prominent, and who also played with great delicacy. .

This song dedicated to the late Tom Petty, and played also for a girl, or pearl, in the audience who'd come all the way from 'Turku? Torquay? Ah, Turkey!' Her father is a big PH fan, but he wasn't there. The merch team was pleased to be have been able to use a few words of memorial Turkish while explaining the numbers on the back of the lucky badges to this person.

Fires (Which Burnt Brightly)
Part two starts with Josh in 'Novum' tee-shirt, garnered from the Procol stall in the foyer, not from the knock-off merchants outside the venue, selling crudely pirated versions of Julia-Brown's finely-wrought design, blurry and over-inked, all detail swamped, and dates on the reverse pirated directly from 'Beyond the Pale'. (How can we tell? We have our methods). The band appeared amusingly delighted, in one sense,  by this ludicrous piracy. 'We've finally made it,' exclaimed the Commander. But be warned, Italian fans, these shirts are a puny travesty of the authentic souvenir article: compare pictures on this page

Fires ... one of several songs that were clapped from the opening notes. Intriguing to observe Gary's fingering of the Bach figuration, how he shifts his whole hand up and accents the high F with 2 or 3, not relying on 5 to accomplish the task. Interesting also, at the rather listless soundcheck, to hear some Bach coming from the piano (the prelude on whose chords Learn to Fly is based) and a fair chunk of Albinoni.

Last Chance Motel
'Italians have a reputation for liking women, thank God ...'. GB tells how the man in the song 'loves his wife' but falls for the charms of another. I'm not quite sure where Pete Brown's libretto suggests that the narrator of the story is actually in a relationship before he encounters his best friend's wife, nor, indeed, why he hadn't encountered her before ... perhaps they're newlyweds? GB sang 'making whoopee' in lieu of the ominously mechanical 'doing truckstops'.

When GB announced 'a song from 1967, someone bellowed for the so-called 'Fortuna', and Gary duly played the opening of Repent Walpurgis on a full-organ voice from his piano. This throwback he dismissed quickly, 'We don't do that.'

went down exceedingly well, and the camera-police in the audience had a field day. Standing ovation. At the band intros, GW introduced GB simply (in Shining mode) with the words ' ... Here's Gary ...')

Shine on Brightly
The vocal mic was in its 'up' position, from the band intros, when the hammering intro to this song began. GB deftly whisked it down for his opening statement ... another sign of the crew's depletion. Great drums, great organ (the B3 percussion!) , great bass. GB sings a bit in Italian, 'il tuo diamante' etc. Great, after all this time, to be still hearing the plaintive payout exhortations to 'Shine on, shine on ....'

'Vicino' according to many hollered suggestions from the audience. GB explains the envy gradient, for the Italian audience, in terms of 'A Fiat 500 and a Lamborghini'. Inexplicably but delightfully the organ squirrels two phrenzied helpings of The Sailors' Hornpipe into the backing (maybe thanks to the same nautical impulse that resulted in a performance of All the Nice Girls Love a Candle at the soundcheck).  

Grand Hotel
All lovely and expressive, especially the Russian interlude. One or two harmless 'vocal remixes'. Instant applause at the start of the song/ And of course, 'These Italian girls always like to fight'.  

Solid audience clapping through the opening of this song. It seems I rarely make notes during Conquistador ... perhaps like others I'm carried away by a sense of inner history ... how this was the first track the confirmed that PH albums were going to be as Procolesque as the two singles had been ... in other words, that the gravity, mystery and poetry of the singles were not some aberration from a band whose main body of work would be disposable pap. The fragile smell of vinyl, the dry heat of the valves ('tubes'), the weight of the tone-arm, the whirling of the blue Regal Zonophone label  ...

Big ovation!

The Only One
More electric piano sound in the Yamaha mix tonight, and huge reverb on the vocal to start with. The dawning and development of this expansive ballad parallels that of Grand Hotel, whose London debut in 1972 felt ambitious yet inchoate ... and whose stately grandeur shows no present signs of peaking. Gary is experimenting with phrasing and expression as the PB lyric gradually settles like a sediment in the melodic and harmonic riverbed. Squealing guitar at the end, suggestive of newborn life. Very interesting.

A Whiter Shade of Pale
Gary Brooker made a great pantomime of checking the lateness of the hour, and feigning departure from the scene, tactics guaranteed to swell the already effusive baying for an encore (the Fortuna obsessive was at it again also). The B3 sounded great on this song ... so did the vocal, and the audience. Long notes at the start of the guitar solo, hyperfluent nimblage thereafter.

A fine end to a great concert, all the greater given the uncertainty and tension of the foregoing hours of logistic wrangling. Hurrah!


17 songs altogether: 1 From Procol Harum 1 from Shine on Brightly
1 From A Salty Dog   From Home   from Broken Barricades
2 From Grand Hotel 1 From Exotic Birds and Fruit 1 from Procol's Ninth
  From Something Magic 1 From The Prodigal Stranger   from The Well's on Fire
7 From Novum 2 non-album tracks

So nice to spend time with good Paler friends at this gig, before and after: Paul and Marion, Axel and Juliette, Stefano and Anna, Martin and Carmen, Stefano Carbone the arch puzzle-solver, Umberto and his retinue, and of course Andrea Ciccioriccio, our excellent long-time partner-in-merchandise. Fishbag shot below

GB with his new Bristol fish-bag, and Linda from BtP, its donor


Procol dates in 2017 | Booking

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