Procol Harum really are in a very enviable position; they’ve been around at least seven years (a long time for a rock band) and have tasted large scale success only a few times in that long career, but haven’t split up, compromised or become bitter about their status.
At Saturday night in Brighton, Procol Harum came across as a warm band with nothing to prove and with no excessive ambition; they’re growing old gracefully, if you like, and accepting it all.
In the past couple of months I’ve been to three Procol Harum gigs. Each time they have varied their set and, according to their publicist, they never play the same set twice.
The first time I saw them, at Croydon, their music was cold and a little inaccessible for me. At Reading they almost stole the show. On Saturday they had a warmth and a looseness – without any loss to the music, in fact the reverse can be said – which was missing from the previous gigs.
They really seemed to be into what they were doing and actually included a bona fide piece of rock’n’roll for an encore – a Berryied-up version of a Thirties [sic] jazz-tune Old Black Joe.
And the audience loved it, getting up there right at the front of the stage – hardly the sort of reception one expects Procol Harum to receive.
Polite, cordial applause would have been easier to explain.
Procol Harum, especially the affluent white-suited Gary Brooker, are just that sort of band; but here was a reaction that bordered on hysteria.
Opening with Bringing Home The Bacon and including their 'Greatest Hits' Conquistador, Salty Dog and leaving the crowd predictably with Whiter Shade of Pale, which never fails to get a crowd excited (some of the audience must have been too young to remember its initial impact), Procol never appear anxious or out of control.
BJ Wilson was his usual outstanding self throughout the set, and played with greater emphasis on cymbal-work than is customary for him. Sometimes you think his expansive flourishes just aren’t going to fit the time, but they always do. A great drummer and there’ll be lots more who say so, just like there’ve been many who’ve said it before.
Mick Grabham’s guitar technique was particularly fine in Cedes [sic] from the first Harum album, on which Robin Trower played so well.
Perhaps their best number, however, was the lazy As Strong As Samson which was just so mellow. The only number which doesn’t quite make it musically is The Beatles’ Eight Days A Week. It just doesn’t have the buoyancy of the original, even if there is a lot of fun in the way Procol play it.
One new number The Poet was included and, like most of their material, it was finely constructed. A grower. Lyrically it seemed to take the pee outa songwriters, and it’s good that the group can laugh at themselves.
Procol Harum now have as much going for them as they ever had; if not more. Go and see them; you’ll find yourselves coming out a lot more satisfied than from those gigs of a great many other rock bands.
More Procol Harum concerts