Procol Harum : Lost at Sea?
Dave Fudger in Sounds, 9 March 1977
Procol Harum : Hammersmith
For Procol's fans this concert was a big success, they got lotsa old favourites and guaranteed winners: - Conquistador, Grand Hotel, Bringing Home The Bacon, A Salty Dog; they got hit singles, Pandora's Box, Wizard Man (the current one) and even a disinterred (and at points dreary and messy) Whiter Shade Of Pale as the final encore.
Oh yes, the Proc's fans also got three encores including some chaotic and embarrassing off the cuff nostalgic R&B sorties featuring ... dual, though hardly complimentary, guitar work of Mick (good licks) Grabham and Gary (stick to keyboards) Brooker. Even after acknowledging the light-hearted spirit in which these old tunes were resurrected, only blindly devoted followers (or the deaf) could have failed to have been a bit shaken by the amateurish versions of Not Fade Away and Willy And The Hand Jive.
Anyway, back to the good things that the fans got. They also got a chance to see Procol's new boy, Pete Solley, who is a valuable find particularly on some new that the fans got - i.e. some new material. The execution and impact of the songs from the band's new album, Something Magic, was in pleasing contrast to the rather mechanical rendering of their old stuff and served to subtly emphasise the album's title.
Particular highlights were an immaculate version of Strangers in Space (enhanced by Solley's organ and synthesizer work as well as some illustrative back projection) and the Mick Grabham composition Mark of the Claw (again with appropriate visuals). To my mind Grabham is much more the master of his instrument than that other (one time) Procol Harum guitarist famous for his long misty solos. Where Mr Trower's fuzz and phase roll him to oblivion Mr G is a genius of taste and understatement. His modest range of effects stretches his playing to easily foil and mesh with two keyboard players' efforts.
The lengthy The Worm and the Tree - side two of Something Magic - was performed in full; live performance and intelligent presentation (but see Mick Grabham here: 'at Hammersmith ... there was slide-show behind us to illustrate it, and it was diabolical') lifted the dull passages from the record to a more enjoyable level, it still ain't my cup of tea though. Chris Copping, now on bass, and the mighty BJ Wilson (on drums) fell victim to sound problems - Copping was virtually inaudible and BJ's sound was a bit flat. Wilson's solo in The Unquiet Zone was stifled in an unhelpful mid-range muffle, with only the cow bell audible to identify his style.
The fans, they got a lot; me, I got impatient at first, then I got bored, then, afterwards I was by turns angry and disappointed. For a band with such a repertoire to draw on and such a consistent (spot the cliche) track record of hot live performance one is left wondering "wha' happen?". Maybe them ten long years since A Whiter Shade of Bach have started to take their toll.