Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol Harum at Islington, 2003

Richard Solly for BtP


What a superb way to celebrate the end of twenty years of commuting to London from Cambridge: in the presence of Procol Harum.

The setting was pure Procol. Like the slightly decayed Grand Hotel we were in the Union Chapel Hall. Grandeur with a hint of shabbiness. There is that weird dichotomy which makes this band so fascinating ... an R'n'B/classical band. The dichotomy here was that beer was served in a church. Angels mumble and I daresay the cold winds will blow us all down one day.

I sat with Charlie Allison and we swapped theories about the toys on stage. The Buddha was clearly a reference to Shine on Brightly. But the mouse? ... TV Ceasar? ... or was it a rat ... Monsieur R. Monde perhaps?

Squeezed between myself and the pew-end was Cheryl from Winchester, a very nice lady who remembers Procol from some distant time and was looking forward to a great evening. I had to apologise that she might get buffeted about a bit when the music takes control ... it's all so easy when you just look to your soul. She wasn't disappointed.

All of a sudden they were there, Gary proudly wearing his MBE. What a moment. This received a standing ovation and Quite Rightly So!

The understated Underture that harbinger of great menace slipped straight in to a perfectly executed Shine on Brightly. The band who have of course been touring were as tight as a duck's ... drum I think the expression is ... something like that anyway. Musically they were on top form. They were really enjoying themselves.

Geoff is such a showman, though never going too far with overblown solos. We leave that for lesser bands. He and Matt the Hat were great. I'm sure I saw him when I was on holiday in Switzerland last year ... or was it just the hat! Superb bass work that gelled with the guitar and drums so well. On the subject of drums, Mark may not be as flamboyant as BJ Wilson but Procol's songs are powered along into the 21st Century by his excellent work. I was very glad to hear a drum solo again, after so many years, during Whisky Train. And then there is Matthew Fisher: it was good that his work was showcased so well this evening: a first class performance. Finally the man himself, Gary Brooker: he enjoyed himself so much and delivered a blistering interpretation of the songs played. Clearly touched by the reception he received tonight, he played to the gallery as it were.

If you look through the setlist you can see a lot of it is the 'best of' plus The Well's On Fire. Perfect material for the DVD. It's a shame a song or two from The Prodigal Stranger weren't pulled out of the hat. It was an evening of 'Homburg and other hats' really. Gary donned his for this gem.

I thought the concert really took off with the four last songs of the first half: Quite Rightly So, Wizard Man, Simple Sister and the Wetkleenexnacht. Wizard Man was a real belter: we all stood and were pleased to get bums off pews. 'Tis a shame the original version is a bit tame on Something Magic. They stormed in to Simple Sister and the place was rocking. Maf's Signature concluded and was brilliant. We were all quite exhausted after that we were all in Heaven by then. Bonny Charlie Allison on top form bounded off for drinks ... they were welcome.

The second half was cram-packed with The Well's on Fire tracks. This was my only slight criticism of the evening. After a powerful Shadow Boxed and Beyond the Pale, Gary seemed to me to be having a bit of difficulty finding the lyrics in the 'Book of Orchids'. There were a few slip-ups but nothing too major. He praised the sterling work of Keith Reid in providing the lyrics but it would be so nice to see the man. Imagine the ovation with Gary Brooker and Keith Reid and the man who provided the organ for AWSoP, Matthew Fisher, on stage together. My other gripe is why has So Far Behind been left so far behind!

The Question was extended with long solos and this was the one where Geoff put in a few bits of Layla. Another highlight was one of my favourite new songs, Every Dog Will Have His Day: marvellous. Gary said Procol are a dog band so it was fitting we run afloat straight afterwards in to A Salty Dog with Donald the seagull.

A word about As Strong as Samson: updated fast and furious with I Can See Clearly Now in the middle, it was another highlight.

Thunderous applause after Conquistador. The band knew they could wring a lot of clapping out of us and boy did they make us wait. A lengthy encore it was too. Good Captain Clack was fun and a three-verse AWSoP for the DVD!

It was a brilliant evening as we all drifted off. Cheryl really enjoyed her evening and hopefully will be a convert to the website. I left Charlie and his wife and to round off the evening caught the last train to Cambridge ... which is nowhere near Niagara, leaving those songs as dark echoes in the night.

Fingers crossed for a cracking DVD ... I knew I should have had a haircut.

Richard Solly (coming back to earth slowly).


(thanks, Richard: picture by Alan Garmonsway)

Procol Harum concerts in 2003: index page


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