Procol Harum at Green's Playhouse, Glasgow, October 2, 1970
It could, of course, be simply a whim of memory, one of its many sleights of hand. I was, after all, a dreamy nineteen-year-old only quarter-way through university, so I am writing about the event three decades later. Where is Caprice, and that bugle of hers, to blow away the cobwebs?
I knew all their albums, four at that stage in the band's history, completely by heart, but this was the first time I was to hear Procol Harum live in concert, the sole occasion I was to hear them play with Robin Trower on lead guitar. There have been exhilarating episodes since, but that first night in Green's Playhouse, one of Glasgow's former cinema landmarks, was among the best, if not the best of all my Procol Harum outings.
How could I ever forget it? The cry of Trower's guitar, after Gary Brooker's beat-giving "One, two, three, four," rang out like the toll of a celestial bell, filling Green's Playhouse with those circling, swirling, all-encompassing riffs of his. Every time I hear Shine On Brightly I remember those opening notes as if they were played yesterday. It was mesmerizing, spellbinding, and sent me into a trance. The sound of Trower's guitar is safely filed, along with other aural treasures, in an archive only my memory can access. The moment will be with me forever.
The gig was part of a three-band Chrysalis deal. Tir-Na-Nog started things off. If I recall correctly, a line in one of the Irish duo's songs ran: "I stood in Piccadilly and I thought I heard the sea." Procol Harum came next, then Jethro Tull. Looking back, I realize I much preferred Tir-Na-Nog to Jethro Tull because, for me, they preceded not followed the main event. To be honest, I've never been a big fan of Jethro Tull – they peaked early with the track Look Into the Sun for my money – but that inaugural October night it seemed that neither was most of the audience.
Most people, unlike me, had come to hear Jethro Tull. In retrospect, though, their act was eclipsed by the set served up by Procol Harum. I think it was the R and B/Rock Medley that did it, especially Great Balls of Fire. Brooker just let it rip and the house went wild, a natural Glaswegian condition. Even though A Whiter Shade of Pale restored a fitting, but fleeting, serenity to the evening, by the time Jethro Tull appeared the crowd were still Shakin' All Over as well as calling out for more. There was simply nothing Ian Anderson and crew could conjure up to stop the punters thinking back to Procol Harum, or should I say (given the band's configuration that night) The Paramounts?
My own choice? I've always loved Homburg, often enjoying how it comes over more than A Whiter Shade of Pale. And Nothing That I Didn't Know fills me with aching sadness yet a palpable sense of redemption: "Did you hear what happened ...? I couldn't believe it, but it's true .... I wish that I could have died instead." Death affirms life, no matter how we reach Home. That magnificent fourth album, which I would listen to hour after hour in the solitude of my room, is still the one that comforts me most. Not mournful darkness, but liberating light, is its message for me. I heard the sea not listening to a song by Tir-Na-Nog but during Whaling Stories and A Salty Dog. There was no need for the Playhouse bouncers to "close the door" or "bar the gate," for I wouldn't have left the premises for the gifts of all three kings. And those insinuating, trademark drum rolls of BJ Wilson, after Brooker's call of "Across the straits," swelling to the surface, drawn from an ocean of talent we thought could never dry up.
It was all bright jewels and glittering sounds. Trower's guitar playing and Brooker's penchant for boogie, however, are what suffuse my memory of Procol Harum at Green's Playhouse in dear old Glasgow town. Not, mercifully, the autumn of my madness, but that of blissful initiation.