Procol Harum at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, August 18, 1995
Gary Brooker, Piano and Voice
Matthew Fisher, Organ
Matthew Pegg, Bass
Geoff Whitehorn, Guitar
Graham Broad, Drums
Keith Reid, Lyrics
Imagine my surprise, nay my joy and delight, when I heard at the Cape Cod Procol Gig (28 July 1995) that my favourite band planned to play several dates the following month in England. Work as a historical geographer called for this Salty Dog not to sail but to fly, like a Stranger in Space, to the Conquistador region of southern Spain, where I gave some talks as part of a summer school held on the shores near Palos de la Frontera, from where Columbus headed out – A Rum Tale indeed.
After school ended, it was back across the Bay of Biscay, not the Spanish Main, for this Procol Pilgrim, who soon secured seats for the evening of Friday, August 18 at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, an audiophile's dream come true: Gary Brooker said after the gig that, acoustically, the hall was the best they'd played in for years, certainly the best of the tour. He told me that he and Matthew Fisher, after the sound system had been set up earlier in the day, played for hours in the afternoon, just the two of them, for the sheer joy of it. The band sounded terrific on the night – crisp, fresh, full, and exciting.
I made the trip from Glasgow to Nottingham with my brother Douglas, who hadn't heard Procol Harum live in concert since the Usher Hall in Edinburgh in 1973. It was well worth his wait. The setlist would make any Procoholic drool. From the thudded bass opening of Cerdes to the soothing airs of A Whiter Shade of Pale, start to finish, Procol Harum played superbly, in truth one of the most enjoyable concerts I remember since my initiation gig at Green's Playhouse in Glasgow in 1970. During Kaleidoscope, Matthew's graceful Hammond blasted mighty and fine. And Gary's voice and piano playing, Graham Broad's drumming, and Geoff Whitehorn's guitar work were all top-notch.
I call attention, however, to two items of information. First, during As Strong As Samson , Gary sang not "Black man and White man, and Arabs and Jews" but "Black man and White man, and Croats and Serbs." He altered the lyrics, so he told me, because for him they fit better the ethnic tension of the time.
We talked a bit about Keith Reid's words, how they've weathered very well. And second, the encore that followed A Whiter Shade of Pale saw not the majestic strains of Repent Walpurgis fill the air, as was originally intended; instead (and believe me when I say that my Tears Were Tears of Joy) we were treated to a moving rendition of New Lamps for Old, a perfect metaphor for the dazzling working band, with all its shifts of personnel, that is Procol Harum today. Not just alive and well, but better than ever!
After the gig, Eddie the Regal Roadie ushered Brother Douglas and myself backstage. Gary greeted us warmly, like a couple of Long Gone Geeks, offering us cool Boddington's Ale and inviting us to dine at a nearby Curry House with himself, Geoff, Graham, and the two Matthews. The fare was not that of a Grand Hotel but like the music beforehand, it brought home the bacon. We spent some three hours carousing: too many glasses and not enough time. There was lots of laughter and easy conversation. Having sat next to Gary at close dining quarters, I can now attest to the fact that he likes his curry almost as hot as the lyrics of Luskus Delph.