Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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Procol Harum at Atlanta

Alan Richards in 'Zygote' Vol 1 No 6, 1970


'Zygote' motif

Thanks to Doug Callowhill for sending in this alarming document. Sadly, he reports, time has winnowed away the first of its four pages: we plunge, therefore, straight into the backstage confusion of the Atlanta Festival where Procol Harum are waiting to go onstage.                 Anyone able to send us page one?

... on the group, and it also afforded a topic of conversation.

Smiles were a refreshing sight as the rainstorm terminated its downpour. The hot summer night was cooled now, but only to about 90 degrees. The air was still supersaturated with moisture. My clothes were still getting drenched from the invisible rain. The mugginess, the stickiness, the underwear climbing up my ass, added to my annoyance. And there would be still more aggravation for Procol Harum as they had to wait for John Sebastian and BB King to play their sets. The group dispersed backstage. Robin and Barry wanted to meet Leslie West. Gary was quite content relaxing and drinking a beer. Chris continued roaming aimlessly.

Sebastian finished his set after about one hour, boosting the morale of the audience with his friendly disposition with songs he wrote 'with my cousin in the bathroom'. Then BB became the center of attraction. Procol Harum in the meantime assembled on the side of the bandstand anticipating playing. Robin sat and admired BB's style. 'It's gonna be hard to follow an act like that,' he feared.

Backstage was another motley situation for the group. Robin creeped [sic] into the corner and practiced [sic] some runs after listening to three numbers by the blues master. And Keith, who is considered very much a part of the band, just stood around expressionless, taking in and judging the entire extravaganza.

Keith, persistingly pessimistic

I was standing backstage-left, very much exasperated, a combination of the heat, the delay (it was now 1:30 in the morning), the lack of organization, and in general, the massive disorder of pushing and screaming and loading and unloading equipment. I was very much interested in Keith's reaction to this timeless insanity. He was quietly surveying everything that occurred. And there was this fearful look in his eye of persisting pessimism. I got the impression he was viewing this festival with the same distaste that he has for the world, as found in his poetry for the Home album. I began to remember the lyrics, and I was startled to see how apropos those words were to this situation. How fatalistic were his thoughts: 'About to die, the crowds applaud you / Afraid to die, they'll resurrect you.' Maybe those were his feelings for the group that night.

The instruments were being wired as BB finished his set, receiving a mediocre reaction. Mick, Procol's equipment man, was having difficulty with the organ and the Leslie speaker. The rain had leaked inside and they were getting a lot of static. I continued to spy on Keith,. who appeared to be in deep contemplation, oblivious to the winds that surged the bandstand. The warm air was now a biting, flagellating whip piercing my bones and reminding all arthritis victims of their plight. The rain threatened again. The fog was becoming denser, and the pushing and shoving increased. Lightning and thunder, and the announcement that there was a fear of violence at the gate if the concert wasn't made into a free one endangered the continuation of the show ('Darkness struck with molten fury ...'). Mother nature soon relented to Robin's pleas, 'don't rain, please, don't rain,' and the proprietor of the concert did the same to the demands at the gate the concert became free.

Still there was no movement, laughter or grief expressed by Keith. He stood staring into the sea of unseen faces with the wind blowing his small frame ('God's aloft the winds are raging / God's along [sic] the winds are cold ...'). Then, in the midst of his thoughts, a stagehand walked over to Keith and interrupted him.

'Who are you with?' he asked. The southern drawl was a foreign confusement [sic] for the Londoner. Keith showed him his orange badge that said 'Performer.' He answered the query, and the stage-hand left him alone. Turning to me, the stagehand asked me the same question.

'Who are you with?' I told him I was with Procol Harum.

'Where's your badge?' he demanded with equal conviction and intonation.

At that moment Procol Harum's touring manager, Barry, interjected and told him I was with the group. The stagehand stopped harassing me. I was lucky.

I kept my eye on that Southern trouble-shooter and watched him proceed to the fellow on my left. Again the same question.

'Where's your badge?' The reply was slowed by a few drinks, and the somewhat drunken answer was, 'I don't have one.'

'Then get off,' commanded the Dixieland guardian ('Watch the book, the page is turning / how the tale unfolds ...').

'No, ' slurred the intruder.

The stagehand began to push him, and a scuffle broke out. That guy was a strong lad, and the drinks didn't seem to affect his strength. I'm sure he would have devoured that brawny stagehand. About five other guards came to their comrade's rescue and tried to subdue their prey. The only way they saw fit to settle the incident was by pushing the guy down the loading ramp at the back of the stage. But 1le dragged all the stagehands down with him, knocking down two girls who were standing there innocently. It would have made a perfect 7-10 spare down the bowling alley.

Everyone fell into the mud, and-the guy broke loose. He drew his Bowie knife waiting impatiently in its case hanging from his belt. The attackers stopped. Everyone stopped. No-one believed it. Eyes filled with fear, disbelief on everyone's face. The festival, an emulator of Woodstock, was having its whole purpose and message murdered by that knife.

While everyone stood in amazement, someone sneaked behind the guy in perfect Indian style, and wrestled him in a bear hug. The other heroes now charged forward and forced the knife from his hand. But the damage was already done.

One stagehand in a gesture of glory and confidence, triumphantly raised his hands in the air as if he were Winston Churchill, and gave the Woodstock Nation answer to everything the peace signal. But there was no peace. The mood was set and no peace signal was going to massage anyone's memory into forgetting the incident. 'Peace, Peace, it's okay, it's okay,' he tried to reassure us. But everyone knew that was a fruitless attempt at assuaging the tension. It was pathetically sad.

And just as that stagehand was assuring everyone of the return to safety and calm, Gary Brooker led Procol Harum through their first number, singing Keith's promises: 'I'll blacken your Christmas / and piss on your door / You'll cry out for mercy / but still there'll be more. Still there'll be more.' I looked at Keith; he never changed the expression or lack or expression that graced his face before. The look in his eyes was almost one of expectance, almost 'I told you so.' I turned around to check out what was happening where they 'threw the Christian to the lions' and saw a dispersing crowd. I took it for granted that they were leading the prisoner from the festival grounds. The bare-chested guard was still playing Gabriel, assuring everyone they were saved from the impending disaster his hands giving now a double peace sign.

Procol Harum began their set in the midst of that bladed incident. The audience was not aware of the fight, and had no reason to be unresponsive to the group but they were. The people on the bandstand were still in shock but they cheered the performance on keeping one eye on the group, and one eye on the back of the stage.

The weather conditions after the rainstorm were a resisting force to the group's sound. The wind was still raging, adding to the already poor acoustic system. The wind was dissipating the sound, and it was hard for the group to feel as a unit. But they were not playing as four individuals without a cause. The group lived up to the performance on their record, giving the most powerful showing I had ever seen.

Four Procols rocking out

In the past when they played a set, they were truly great. But it was as though you were listening to the record. There was no movement, no vitality. It was as sterile as a wake. They could create an intense atmosphere and capture their audience, but they were not spontaneous, nor did they leave you with the feeling of freedom in their music. 'One of the main reasons we decided to separate with Matthew and David was because of this restraining feeling,' said Robin. 'David couldn't improvise, couldn't jam. All he could play was what he had practiced [sic]. We wanted to get into something more powerful than what we were doing. Chris had been a friend of mine from when I was younger and we asked him to join us. He has the ability that was lacking in David. And he's a fine bass player.' 'He's not a great organ player,' Gary continued. 'Certainly not as good as Matthew. But he has a real good feel for music, and what he does, he does really well.'

At 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning, Procol Harum was playing their damnedest after enduring so many obstacles, and so many physically draining woes. As I said, the crowd was not an appreciative crowd, and that didn't help the group's morale. But Gary, BJ, Robin and Chris rocked, yes rocked, through a repertoire of songs on their album and through some more demanded pieces from A Salty Dog. 'Whisky Train, Still There'll Be More, The Devil Came from Kansas, Juicy John Pink, and A Salty Dog, were strong renditions. Robin and Gary now performed as a team, much as Gary and Matthew once functioned. The guitar and the piano were a strong combination and both of these musicians played leads, motifs, and solos that compensated for the loss of the all-engulfing Fisher organ.

Copping 'driving the group'

But there was more to the group's performance than Brooker and Trower's dominating proficiency. Copping was driving the group with his bass patterns in a way that could never have been done by Knights. Robin was right about Chris' helping to create a more spontaneous feel in their music. It was apparent to everyone surrounding me. The people on the bandstand were all jumping and feeling the group more than I had ever witnessed at a Procol Harum concert. And there was this one Negro fellow, who must have still had some coke caught in his nasal membranes, who feigned playing along with the group on his imaginary piano, guitar, bass and drums. He was going absolutely nuts, mouthing and singing the guitar riffs, the bass pick-ups, and the drum syncopations. He was cringing his face with each note played. In the middle of the beautiful song about Jenny Drove, he walked over to Chris while he was playing the organ, and said 'Oh, beautiful man, beautiful, beautiful, BEAUTIFUL.' Chris looked up in almost cross-eyed questioning, looking across to BJ. But BJ was too busy enjoying the freedom he has finally earned the freedom to give the music a direction, instead of just filling in with walking drum beats. The Negro fellow walked away, and kept a watchful eye on BJ And understandably so.

BJ 'using his freedom'

Wilson is one of the most underrated drummers in the music world. He has finally been manumitted from years of restrictions as the Procol Harum drummer. He is now free to play more authoritatively, incorporating more rhythmical diversification and pronounced drumming. And Barry was using his freedom to create an excitement. During one number the winds kicked up fiercely and began to blow down his left cymbal. The same Negro-fellow, who was playing the imaginary instruments and who looked like an India-rubber man, saw the impending danger and reacted, with true devotion. He took a hop, skip and a jump, pushed me out of the way, and dove maybe twelve feet to catch the cymbal at the base before it overturned. Looking up at BJ who had the same inquisitive look that Chris had when this guy walked over and talked to him, he was urging him on now towards greater heights. And atop the bandstand there were fleeting moments of the Woodstock Nation.

Procol Harum gave a good concert. It would have been better had they been playing under the right conditions. The Atlanta bandstand was a poor, if not terrible place, for a group to perform. When a group has to withstand all the exhausting effects of travelling, 105 degree temperature, nerve-racking problems, and then to be expected to perform under horrendous conditions, it's a miracle that they can be a unified group. Procol Harum walked off disgusted. BJ was really disgruntled, and Robin acted totally fed-up with the matter their performance being a climax to an already-aggravating day. The group got mediocre applause, and they were asked to play another song. I'm sure none of them wanted to, because no one reacted towards the first request. They just kept walking. When asked again, they responded and took the stage reluctantly. They played through A Whiter Shade of Pale. This was the only song I was disappointed with. This was where Matthew Fisher excelled, but he wasn't here to play his prelude Copping just didn't have the same feel for the song. Robin had said that they don't like to do any of the [sic] Matthew's songs, and it's understandable. They now have a different purpose when they're on stage.

Chris at the organ

A Whiter Shade of Pale resolved and they received more applause than they did before, but hardly worthy of their music. They walked off disgusted. Atlanta had been unkind to Procol Harum. Atlanta had prostituted one of the most musical groups of our contemporary culture. She had drained one of the most thought-provoking groups today. The group was too down to even talk, or force a smile. We would soon be leaving Atlanta and I personally was glad.

As we were walking out from the backstage area to the parking lot, the long day was finally going to end. Back to the motel, catch three hours sleep. And fly back to New York. As we walked out, the group was still silent and dejected. Suddenly some kids went running by us, yelling and screaming in pursuit of something. Nobody paid much attention to them. A few minutes later, the group's touring manager caught up to us, 'They took care of him.'

'They took care of who?' was the response.

'They got that guy who was on stage before.'

'What'd they do to him?' we asked.

'Yeah, they really took care of him. He drew his knife again. The only way they could stop him was by slamming him in the teeth with a 2 by 4. They knocked out some of his teeth and he was a bloody mess. They really took care of him.

Atlanta was a bad place. I'd never go back no more.


Sounds like a disaster ... but from the audience point of view it was very different


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