We look back on a
year that has offered many chances to see Procol Harum members playing in other
ensembles, but not so many with them all on one stage.
Gary Brooker (read fans' messages commemorating his seventieth birthday) and friends thrilled crowds in Paris and Souillac (by no means all French fans!) with his band; the 'and Friends' were all Procolers (current or recent) with the exception of the wonderful Judy Blair, Hammond supremo. Geoff Whitehorn played many off-piste gigs (BtP saw him with the Denny Newman Band and also with his fine local band, The Strumbums – a multinational crowd enjoyed them in November in Kent) and was busy with Roger Chapman / Family (luckily Dave Colquhoun was available to cover Procol gigs that clashed with previously established engagements for Geoff). Matt Pegg played with Rick Wakeman and was reunited with Procol's Mark Brzezicki in Big Country. Josh Phillips played with the reunited Faces, and MD'd the Ewhurst Festival twice, as well as playing again with his earliest colleagues in Cross Section (iTunes evidence here ... organ solos on both tracks). And Geoff Dunn, as well as backing innumerable artists in the Ewhurst House band, has been as busy as ever in other funk-oriented projects.
Procol Harum themselves played a great set at Ewhurst, but they were absolutely tremendous at Winterbach (the audience thinned considerably for the headline act). Good to see soundman Geoff Curtis back in the saddle, and intriguing to witness a live performance of an upbeat Brooker song previously heard only in GB's barn. The band battled heroically against unexpected tropical-style rain at Bellinzona, where Chris Cooke with the poppy-coloured umbrella, sheltering The Commander from the tempest, was one of the key Procol images of the year. In December the Finnish press enjoyed the band, as did fans, although they were a man down ... and it is good to note that a new song came out of it, written by GB (words and music) in his new house, surely a promising omen for things to come.
BtP's Winterbach party – thanks to Paul and Marion, and Brendan and Kellie – was marvellous fun, with superb food and drink, and a little highly informal music feat. Gary Brooker on drums and vocal, Geoff Whitehorn on a prototype Elyra guitar (they were playing together, though one was in the garden and one in the house – InsideOutside as it were) with support from Jens (drums) and Roland (piano). Our host, Paul Koehrer, is also the man who designed, made and delivered a very pleasing custom lampshade for Gary Brooker, responding to what some had taken for an April Fool appeal at BtP.
The Palers’ Band wasn’t active in 2015 (though there’s a lot of interest in another session sometime), but Tito Davila and Gary Celebre did a superb job bringing together some stalwarts from their own band 'Broken Barricades' to play a day – billed as 'Liquorice Jam' – in a Brooklyn basement, with many additional Palers, eleven from the USA and two from Bristol, UK. Though we spent a lot of time laughing and having a great time, there were very serious moments as we played in memory of our late friend Dave Ball, who died on 1 April 2015.
It's safe to say that everyone misses Dave very much for his camaraderie and musicianship and encouragement (and filthy sense of fun). As his son Ashley Ball wrote, on reading the fans' tribute page, 'It is very touching and I have shared it with the whole family. Dad always spoke fondly of the Procol fans and would not miss a chance if he could help it to hang out with what he considered a community of good people who shared his love of music.'
the Pale' Facebook group has continued to attract members, as
has the ‘Fresh Fruit’
Procol Harum newsletter on its new platform (if you want the latest PH news straight to your
mailbox, it’s easy to sign up).
Procol completists were catered for this year with the
double-album releases (even with the wrong liner-notes on the Union
Chapel one) and with the Esoteric CD re-releases, another excavation of the early archive (again,
not without anomalies).
And the future? Maybe it’s a latent consequence of the high exposure of the BBC Dominion broadcast in 2014, but in the coming year Procol have an unusually high profile in the UK with Minehead and Maidstone already confirmed. So there’s much to look forward to and to keep our fingers crossed for.
Jens + Roland
from Norway and England
Procol dates in 2015