A Millennium Gift from Procol Harum
PROCOL HARUM with the New London Symphonia, Guildford, 17 September 2000
Quick impressions the day after the event ...
The choice of an outdoor festival ("The Web") at Guildford, on the weekend of a national petrol shortage, was perhaps not the best circumstances for Procol Harum's promised Millennium event. But on the weekend of the Battle of Britain anniversary, (if our many German friends pardon the mention of it) this was perhaps one of the band's finest hours.
The concert was well worth the three-year wait from Redhill amd the four-year hiatus since the last orchestral special at the Barbican - a concert so well received that it is astonishing that there hasn't been another since!
The international contingent of Palers was there in force, most telling of a great Saturday night in Guildford playing the songs, watching the videos and exchanging memories and memorabilia (including the fantastic new GAZZA CD of the Utrecht concert)
The highlight seems to have been the appearance of Dave Ball as guest guitarist in the scratch group - but I don't think Procol Harum will have to compete with a tribute band just yet!
The musicianship of the band at Guildford was particularly accomplished and inventive with Mick and Matthew showing us many subtle evolutions of the familiar classics. The orchestra sawed away with pace and enthusiasm and the choir contributed hugely to Holding On and the Latin introduction to A Salty Dog. The sound was crystal clear, fully extending down into the sound foundations laid by Matt Pegg, a very fine bass player indeed. Mark's drumming was spot on for time (as were the orchestra!) - the best compliment you can pay him is to say he's the nearest you can get to the great BJ.
Gary's voice was just marvellous in range, pitch and emotion. His patter is still charming - this time I remember a discourse on the mating habits of a pair of daddy-longlegs on his piano, and a disarming definition of syncopation as being what happens to your digestion with too much jazz! Incidentally at the sound-check he read out a lengthy, upbeat message from Keith Reid - could he possibly set this to music???
Highlights? I thought Grand Hotel never sounded better and Into the Flood is now one of the six best songs they have ever written. This orchestral and choral version should definitely be released forthwith as a single to massive acclaim. (prior to the album of the event?)
Unique moments for aficionados were a four verse AWSoP (but with the "cardboard verse" first) which had Frank Mead insinuating his soprano sax into the middle of the song. "Rhythm King" Frank later appeared to augment New Lamps for Old with alto sax.
Perhaps most unusual of all for Procol Harum was the appearance of two guitarists on stage together. I know they had a posse of bass players at Redhill, but is this a first for the band?
Mick Grabham played (brilliantly) for most of the evening with Big Geoff Whitehorn "guesting".
Geoff powered through Man with a Mission, gave a virtuoso performance on Cerdes (where I made out every word from Gary!) and then stretched out another definitive Walpurgis. They played three or four of the final numbers on stage together - not quite "trading licks", I have to say, with Mick coming through strong on Grand Finale, followed by, rather than accompanied by a flourish of fireworks.
The marriage of orchestra, choir and Procol Harum has now reached perfection, with potentially (one would have thought) great "cross-over" appeal to a mass audience.
While we await (with hopeful anticipation) a GAZZA release of the recording of the event to devotees all round the world, I pray for the realization of a long-held dream that Gary and Procol Harum will achieve widespread recognition for their unique and considerable body of work.
I reckon this could only be achieved only with a televised production with orchestra and choir - maybe the BBC Proms or Music Week would be the ideal forum to reach a new generation of music lovers . . . think of it - Procol Harum at the Royal Albert Hall (why not!!!)
Or maybe it should be back to Edmonton again?
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