It was way back during the Eastern Tour that Procol's manager, Chris Cooke, mentioned this year-end event to me. I had no clue what the Union Chapel could be or look like. But as soon as tickets were available for purchase over the internet, I made my buy.
When it became evident that I had an opportunity to attend Gary's charity events as well, I set about making arrangements to fill in the week in between with some travel plans. I was a little reticent after the long journey to Japan, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to close out 2003's already fantastic memories with one last hurrah.
As the date to leave LA came closer, Jill McMahon (who had never been abroad) got very excited about this journey. She and I flew over and back on the same carrier. Once in England, we made our way to the Palers' basecamp, the Jury's Inn in Islington, a Northern suburb of London. At check-in and after, I kept missing a connection with Don Milione who was in from New York. So later on, Jill joined me for drinks with my cousin Claire and her fiancée, Ben, in Leicester Square. We made our way after a Chinese meal back to the hotel and hoped to see more Palers. That didn't occur until the next day, when Ken Stasion, Don, and Jens showed up.
We took some time talking. I went to an Internet café, and then met them shortly afterwards for some lunch and brew at a local pub. As the afternoon wore on, we made our way back to the hotel in anticipation of Roland and Linda's arrival. As the Clares arrived and quickly prepared to leave for Union Chapel, there was no time to get there with the rest of our group, so I advised Don to take Jill, Ken, and Dave Knight and anyone else and get over to the Union Chapel.
As we arrived, we saw Matt Pegg and Tammy. After we entered the rear of the chapel and went to the dressing room, Geoff said Hello and Matthew offered us a glass of wine. Gary entered and we had the thrill of seeing his MBE medal for the first time. After a few photos, we made our way out to the soundcheck. Coming into view inside the chapel were Sue Reid and Unsteady Freddie. Hugs and welcomes all-around.
Another great moment was meeting Betty Fisher, Matthew's mum. She amazed me by indicating that she goes to BtP very frequently, and thanked me for the Tour Diaries. She mentioned that they were helpful in following Matthew while he was on the road.
As Chris Cooke asked a few of us to stake seats up front due to the numerous cameramen shooting the forthcoming Procol DVD, we lucked into front row seats. He didn't want others bothered by the constant movement to record the show, yet we never felt the obstruction. I went outside and grabbed Jill, Don, Ken, and Dave and brought them in so we had Palers sitting where there might be obstructions.
As I came back from the soundboard and a quick visit with Graham Ewins, Franky Brooker and I had a brief conversation, and then a 'hello' with Diane. As we waited for the show to begin, John Lock and I had a lengthy conversation. Also, I had a chance to meet Palers Mike Masterton and Mike Norman.
The soundcheck was loose and intoxicating when rehearsals of portions of In Held ensued, leading us to believe the piece would be played. Unfortunately, it didn't happen, owing to time constraints.
This night I enjoyed watching moments of joy by the participants and gaining a greater appreciation of the musicianship without paying attention to making notes for the tour diaries. Of course, the turning moment of the evening came during the first set when Quite Rightly So took the audience out of its seats to a rousing standing ovation.
During the first intermission, I had discussions with a group who wondered who Geoff was as they praised him. I was asked for, and obliged with, a rundown of every Procol guitarist. Then I had a discussion with a young lady named Leslie whose husband had come from South Africa. He had never seen Procol, his favorite band, owing to Apartheid, and had tears streaming as he heard Homburg. I assured her that more tears of joy would come during the second half.
I had another conversation with a lady with a very heavy Scottish accent (I believe, since I'm no expert here), who was seeing the band for her first time. Afterwards, I spoke with a member of the camera crew who told me of their plight of bringing two HD cameras from Belgium earlier in the day. With what has been a standing problem, evidently, of blockades in France, the journeyman wisely rerouted himself on to a ferry or those cameras wouldn't have arrived on time.
Without commenting this time, I will wait patiently with everyone else for the DVD so that we can all enjoy and converse about the show.
As the gig concluded and we went to the Indian restaurant when BtP had arranged the end-of-tour meal, we needed cover as the rains came. Everyone came into the curry-joint a bit tattered, but still ready to enjoy the final moments of a tour schedule such as Procol hadn't accomplished in a couple of decades.
After the band settled in and we all began to digest our food and drink, Jens and Roland gave comments of thanks to the band and fans. Gary then went on for a few minutes thanking everyone, including Jens, Roland, BtP, Unsteady Freddie, dubbing Peter Christian as 'Del-Boy', the contingents of people who followed them through Europe, and me, "Al 'One-Eye'," for traveling with them through Japan.
Each member of the band took a turn and expressed a keen desire to keep going as long as Gary wanted it to go.
As we returned to the hotel, I finalized my evening with Gary H and Keith B (who had generously driven Larry and me from Lewisham/Catford earlier in the year to Milton Keynes), Sam Cameron, Dave Knight, and Jens with a discussion of many other bands and whether they had any value.
The next day it was off to Lisbon for two nights and three in Barcelona, prior to my return to Bristol the following Friday to prepare for the final two of three charity shows of No Stiletto Shoes – in Surrey and Essex – which will come as a separate report.
And I would like to thank Gary and the band for the many inclusions of Quite Rightly So [One-Eye's featured song on Lost in the Looking-Glass] when it wasn't scheduled for play. Cheers!
--sh, the ferromanual one