Thanks to Bert Saraco for sending this memoir to BtP (you can hear the concert here)
Rummaging through my memories, I came across an old cassette marked 'PH Live – May '77 – Hofstra' ... hmmm. Yes, I remembered the night. It all came flooding back ...
Procol Harum's performance at the Hofstra Playhouse, in May of 1977 was to be broadcast on a local FM radio station. Little did any of us know that night that this was not only a night that would commemorate ten years of great music (complete with a huge 'birthday' cake brought out on stage) but that it would be one of the last times that this band would play together before a decades-long retirement.
My wife, Carina, and I arrived early and were able to get into the backstage area: we eventually noticed that there was an open door leading to a basement room that seemed to be trafficked by the various band members. Although the mood onstage during the performance seemed to be unusually subdued (I suppose that the band was keenly aware that this was to be one of the very last shows that they would be doing – perhaps tensions were high and spirits were low) the members of the band during sound-check were amiable and warm towards us. Gary was very generous with his time and quite accessible to two star-struck fans!
The sound-check was quite a surprise – Whisky Train featuring Pete Solley carrying the main riff on electric fiddle! A real gem, if only anyone had a quality recording of it! Reviewing the muffled, poor-quality audience-recording that I had found, I noticed that the broadcast had, in fact, gone out edited. Here is the complete set list:
Fanfare / Bringing Home the Bacon
Strangers In Space (an outstanding performance!)
Grand Hotel (featuring Brazil as the middle section)
Pandora's Box (featuring a very funky organ break from Solley!)
The Unquiet Zone (an incredible drum solo from BJ!)
A Salty Dog (stunning!)
Mark of the Claw (impressive!)
A Whiter Shade of Pale
This is basically the way the show went out over the air. Here is what the radio audience didn't hear:
This Old Dog
Shopping For Clothes (?)
Nothing But The Truth
Here, Gary asks for 'the louder shout' to choose between Homburg and Shade of Pale. The crowd reacts, Gary pauses to determine the louder applause, and plays the intro to ...The Devil Came From Kansas – but, then goes right into the last song of the evening ... A Whiter Shade of Pale!
There was a hint of sadness in the air. Not many smiles from the stage after the last notes. The final chords of AWSoP once again produced an energy; especially between Gary and BJ, as they each seemed almost ready to launch off of their respective stools as that piano / drum duel that we'd seen so often charged the very atmosphere with drama and power. It was another face-off ... and once again, they both won.
And so did we.
Bert sent in this interesting codicil a few days later:
A Whiter Shade of Pale was actually the last song of the evening, at the end of the encore. When the show went out over the air, evidently it was tape delayed and edited to delete This Old Dog, Shopping for Clothes, and Nothing But the Truth and gave the impression that AWSOP directly followed Mark of the Claw. Of course that means that somewhere someone just might have a broadcast-quality master that contains the whole show! I keep hoping for a grand compilation of live classic performances like these! Who knows what lurks in the vaults of radio stations around the world?!
By the way, we saw the band again at the Academy of Music in NYC within days of the Hofstra show and it was a wonderful performance with band-members actually in very high spirits! Unless I'm wrong, this was the last show - certainly the last in the States. The thrill that I'll always remember from that night was making eye-contact with Gary at another informal 'ten-year' party backstage: Gary held up his piece of cake from across the room and said, "Hi, Bert!"
I didn't know that living legends did things like that!