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the Pale

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No Stiletto Shoes and Friends

Chiddingfold Club, Surrey: 17 December 2004

"After all, we are the Human Jukebox ..."

No Stiletto Shoes: Gary Brooker, voice, piano and percussion; Andy Fairweather Low, guitar and voice; Henry Spinetti, drums; Dave Bronze, bass and voice; Frank Mead, saxes, harmonica and tambourine.

Remarkable guests too, as specified in the commentary below ...


1 Let's Work Together This was a more-than appropriate opening for this exceedingly hard-working band, who took the stage at 9.05 and were still playing at a quarter past midnight! It was a delight to see them all on stage again (Henry back in the drum seat after last year's equally-welcome drum-residency from Graham Broad). The versatile Frank Mead was featured on harmonica, and the joint was already jumping!
2 Rock House The band was already gelling very well on this Ray Charles instrumental in G, whose bassline is so reminiscent of the left-hand motif in Blueberry Hill. There were solos from Frank Mead and Andy Fairweather Low and a hallmark of the evening very exciting bass work from Dave Bronze. Judging by the look on Gary's face, however, a planned ending didn't quite happen: we'd already heard the customary apologies and disclaimers ... 'Some songs we don't know the beginnings, some songs we don't know the ends', etc., etc. This song ended with Andy addressing the audience, "Thank you very much for your indulgence."
3 Sea of Heartbreak "A bit early for a change of guitar: I didn't realise it was so complicated!" Thus Gary covered Andy's migration to acoustic guitar for this attractive and effective rendering, complete with Bronzie's "bom bom bom" vocal bass line. The atmosphere had warmed up so quickly that we already had a lot of crowd participation in the chorus.
4 Come Together This Lennon classic was a title apparently plucked from the air by Gary: it certainly wasn't on a set list the band was following. Despite the brilliant start, riding on Bronzie's McCartney cloning, it broke down completely when the crowd, with overwhelming volume, prematurely went to the chorus after verse one and half the band followed them. Gary shouted out, "Let's scrap it!" but the crowd would not permit that, so the song was then splendidly played in full, with Gary and Andy duetting on lead vocal, reading the inscrutable words from a faded manila folder (entitled, in Cockney Rhyming slang, 'Dicky Birds'). Andy exchanged his normal soloing style, which typically involves clumps of notes plucked with thumb and several fingers, for a single line reminiscent of the Beatle original; Frank Mead played soprano on this one.
5 The Weight It was a great pleasure and surprise to hear this number, which suggested that there might just be something in the frequent comparisons that journalists offer between Procol and The Band. This was one of few numbers in the show that really rode on the piano: in fact this song got a bit band-heavy as it progressed, which was perhaps a shame. It was good to hear Gary putting in those characteristic octave runs that herald the choruses, in which Dave and Andy supplied the harmony voices; Frank Mead played tenor. Andy completed the performance by thanking "Gary Brooker good to have someone who knows where he's going".
6 Lay My Burden Down / Will The Circle Be Unbroken / What a Friend We Have in Jesus There was a change of style for this trinity of songs with a spiritual flavour, held together by lead vocalist Andy. Gary stood back from his piano to enjoy a drink at the outset. Henry's brushwork contributed to the country feel and the alto of Frank Mead was prominent in the third episode, which was instrumental (with some slight disagreement about the chords!). It ended with a reversion to Lay My Burden Down, and wound up with an extended plagal cadence, F to F minor to C.
7 Brother Doctor Sister Nurse This was a stonking performance of this great song written by fellow Southender, Mickey Jupp. Frank played harmonica and Bronzie delivered some very tasteful end-of-verse fills. It would be great to hear more Jupp from this ensemble! After this song, Gary gave the band a few moments' leisure while he addressed the crowd with faux caution: "Is everyone as they used to say 'feeling all right'? Alles gut? Va bene?" to which the multilingual crowd responded in unanimous affirmation.
8 If Paradise is Half as Nice This Amen Corner favourite was preceded by a lengthy guitar intro from Andy (he was back on his Strat after only one number on the acoustic, which wasn't seen again until the following evening). At the end of this preface, Andy brandished the guitar neck over the piano keys and laughingly declared to Gary, "Didn't fall over at all," which banter was characteristic of the warm relationship between these two musicians. A great deal of the singing on this song was done by the audience again. Frank played tenor. Andy wound up by declaring, "Halfway through that song I suddenly felt very old." He didn't seem old, however, and he was in very good voice all evening.
9 Home Loving "I'd like to play one of mine, but it's not as famous as Andy's," said Gary, proceeding to counter the contradictory howls of 'Tish' and so forth with "It's a fact!". Admittedly Home Loving is not as famous as it ought to be, yet it went down very well with this crowd. Gary had patched in an additional string pad either from the RD 600 itself or from his Kurzweil module, so the keyboard sound was close to what we hear on the original recording. So was the rest of the ensemble, which is perhaps not surprising if we remember that the number originated with the Clapton band indeed it was recorded for the Clapton album that RSO rejected which featured. at one time, all of The Shoes except Frank, and lay dormant until it saw the light on lead me to the Water and of course as a 45 rpm single. As the number started Frank winked knowingly to various Procoholics crammed against the stage, and in the interval revealed that he'd first heard the number only the day before: "Gary's written so many songs after all." The reedsman specially loved the minor verses and their transition into the happier major choruses. Another player who clearly relished this piece was Henry, who let rip with some elegant large-scale fills: this spacious style of Brooker music really suits his drumming very well. Hearing this choice Brooker solo item reminded me of all the talk on The Beanstalk about the lack of Shoes live recordings, and BtP's promise to ask The Commander if an official CD of this side of his work might ever come out on the Gazza label.
10 Can't Judge a Book (By Looking at the Cover) Gary started this Bo Diddley number on wooden maracas, quickly discarding them in favour of another, plastic pair. He stood at the piano to sing it, illustrating the words by pointing to particular husbands, wives, sisters, and brothers in the audience. There was a great walking bass line from Bronzie in this song, and a brief one-handed piano solo into which Gary managed to inveigle God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Henry's final drum flourish had a lot of BJ about it. At this point, the band had been playing for exactly an hour and we all broke for drinks and the raffle many excellent prizes: your correspondent came away with Big Mama Thornton and Lightning Hopkins on a couple of CDs, and a bottle of some fizzy fluid as yet unsampled and a chance to say hello to stage manager Ron Manigley and soundman Graham Ewins, veterans of many Procol campaigns.
11 Ruby Baby Gary now introduced the evening's very special guests, The Drifters. This should have been no surprise, given that the stage when we came in, post-soundcheck, had been equipped with a row of four vocal mics, which were removed before The Shoes started to play, and the fact that Mark Lundquist, who promotes The Drifters, had been in the artists' bar in the interval. Granted the four singers on the stage were not the original Drifters, indeed none of them can have been born in 1953 when the original quartet started up under Clyde McPhatter, but they were at pains to assure us that they were the legitimate inheritors of that name, having learned a lot from Johnny Moore, who sang on and off with the band until his death in 1998. They certainly sounded good and entertained us all with the appropriate soul revue mannerisms. This first number was delivered a capella, with Patrick Allan taking the lead.
12 Save The Last Dance For Me The Shoes returned to the stage for this and the next five numbers, taking very much a backing role: the faces of Brooker and Bronze, in particular, radiated absolute joy at hearing such vocal performances. For this number Rohan Turney,  the youngest Drifter, took the lead, never staying still long enough to let us read the lengthy text tattooed on his right upper arm! He couldn't resist commenting that the audience looked mature enough to remember '1958, when this song came out' ([sic]: surely it was 1960?), and indeed the audience sang along with great fervour. Frank Mead played alto.
13 Stand By Me Frank changed to soprano for a great screaming solo on this song, for which the lead vocal was handled by The Drifters bass voice, Vic Bynoe, sweating with copious authenticity from beneath his Afro. Despite their long pedigree, The Drifters succeeded in sounding very contemporary.
14 Under the Boardwalk It struck me that 1964's Under The Boardwalk was a highly unusual song, starting with verses in a major key but shifting to a minor modality for the choruses exactly the opposite of Brooker's harmonic scheme in Home Loving in fact. This number was also enjoyed in the audience as much as it evidently was on stage: Patrick Allan took the lead.
15 If You Don't Know Me By Now All four Drifters shared vocal duties on this number, which apparently hadn't been planned but was perhaps all the more exciting for that. Frank played alto.
16 My Girl Similarly unexpected as indeed it had been when I heard Procol Harum play it at the Fillmore in 2003 was this Temptations classic, on which The Drifters again shared the vocal. Frank again took a nice alto break and Gary (now without the hat that he'd been wearing in the first half) was clearly having a marvellous time. After this, as he told us, The Drifters 'got back in their motor' and the stage was quickly reset (thanks to Procol roadie Johnny) for The Shoes to resume.
17 Mary Ann During Mary Ann I attempted to make a note of the kit that the band were using: Henry at his Sonor kit with Zildjian cymbals; Bronzie playing a Fender 4-string though Gallien Krueger amplification; Andy's Strat going through a Fender amp that was pretty loud for those of us in the front who were not getting the official house mix; and Gary surrounded by his favourite Cerwin Vega floor monitors; though he was very close, Frank's saxes were still too far away for the makers' names to be spotted. In the song itself, Gary took the first major piano solo of the evening, and Andy played some almost-conventional lead guitar.
18 I Hear You Knocking This song, by fellow Welshman Dave Edmunds, was sung as a request by Andy: this earned the evening's charities 250 from some generous music fan. Gary impishly suggested they play it twice to make 500: and that's when he said "we are the human jukebox, after all". The piece was played in suitably Rockpilesque fashion, with Frank contributing a characteristically impassioned tenor solo.
19 Blueberry Hill Gary always starts this song without speaking, letting the rising arpeggios alert the band to what's coming. As he sang, the purple necklace he'd been wearing all evening swung about, catching the lights.
20 Woolly Bully Purple was the colour, too, for Kristian Bediiako, who was the next guest to take the stage. A Ghanaian, presently residing in Haslemere, he has been a long-term Procol fan who came to Gary's attention via Suzanne, who tends the Brooker gardens. Attired in a purple knitted hat and an equally purple jogging suit, he delivered I think it is fair to say some purple passages of frenetic guitar. He also used what little space the tiny stage afforded to imitate the Chuck Berry duck-walk and cultivated a warm rapport with the ladies in the audience.
21 We Shall Not be Moved On this song Kristian's Strat was higher in the mix, but he took a less prominent role. Gary was seen to smile enthusiastically, signalling his enjoyment of Kristian's enjoyment. but the rather processed guitar sound was still not coming through particularly clearly for the audience.
22 Hey Joe Bizarrely for a guitarist, Kristian didn't immediately pick up what the next song was: he mouthed to Dave Bronze, 'What's this one?' and Bronzie's reply appeared to be something along the lines of 'Don't you know?' However once the song got going, Kristian got soloing, and the effect was pretty good, with Andy taking a back seat and reinforcing Noel Redding's irresistible climbing bass part in a very powerful way. At this point, however, it seemed to me that the sound levels had really crept up; I noticed Frank putting some earplugs in and I rather wished I'd had some as well!  
23 All I Have to Do is Dream This piece started very delicately with Gary at the piano, and remained very delicate, sung just by Andy and Gary sitting on the one piano stool, Andy with his arm around the pianist's shoulders. The audience supplied the 'dream dream dream's, and Bronzie slightly punctured the sentimental sweetness of the ending by supplying a cartoonlike snoring noise on mic; otherwise, the rest of the Shoes had say this number out. 'In case you're wondering,' said Andy, 'he's a very, very likeable man.' Gary then explained how grateful he was to Andy and Henry who come to these gigs all the way from Wales, whereas he lives just down the road. Frank and Dave come from Southend way, of course, so they will be on their home turf later in the mini-tour.  
24 Rainy Day Women Nos 12 and 35 This song was a real surprise, sending the memory back to Procol Harum playing It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, with Frankie Miller on vocal, at the closing Rainbow concert in 1975. In the event, the Chiddingfold audience did a great deal of the singing, and we also sang the horn parts, which reinforced Frank's soprano sax. Gary delivery of the words owed a fair bit to Zimmerman's original, but he was reading them from a script, whereas the audience apparently knew most of them, in the right order, without such a aide-memoire. During this number we became aware of a tall, slim, figure in the wings: Paul Jones. But commonsense suggested that 11.45, was far too late for another celebrity guest to join the party.  
25 Blackjack "Thank you and good night," declared the Commander, who was not aware of the new arrival. A brief conference, however, with Andy and Dave resulted in a sudden extra number: with Frank Mead on alto, the band launched into Blackjack, throwing commonsense to the winds. The impossibly youthful-looking Jones excelled on harmonica, wringing beams of admiration from Frank, himself no mean harpist. Gary took all the vocal with great passion: and his piano playing, too, became more forthright as the evening wound to a close.  
26 Bright Lights Big City Except it didn't wind to a close. Without apparent planning the band stormed into this Shoes favourite, Frank swiftly swapping to tenor, and Paul Jones swapping to the stage right microphone, having had problems with amplification on the previous number. Andy turned up loud for his final solo; Gary stood at the piano and clapped, and the song ended exactly at midnight. "The Commander, Gary Brooker!" proclaimed Dave Bronze in a tone habitually signalling The End.  
27 Let the Good Times Roll But Jones had got into his stride (he'd already played a Blues Band gig at Chichester which had ended a few hours before) so the band launched into this number with which they sometimes open their set, and it proved to have all the energy of an opening number. Frank played tenor, Paul and Gary shared the vocal (with the result that one verse got sung twice) and the Jones harmonica solo explored the right-hand end so exhaustively and inventively that we might almost have been listening to birdsong. It was fantastic.  
28 My Babe (Willie Dixon) The last number of the evening was another triple medley, signifying the band's reluctance to go home. For the first part, Frank played the tambourine with Jones on harmonica; Gary singing and once more wearing the hat that he had sported before the interval. Frank switched to tenor and managed to quote Jingle Bells in his solo ...  
28a Spoonful  ... from which emerged Spoonful. Bronzie forsook his bass for a while and howled wowing noises into the harmonica mic. Frank soloed on tenor again ...  
28c Smokestack Lightning  ... until Smokestack Lightning emerged briefly and morphed back into My Babe again. And it was with that primitive and stirring number that this first gig of The Shoes mini-tour concluded: no A Whiter Shade of Pale, nor would it have been appropriate to have lowered the energy levels even for such a hallowed classic. An audience of several hundred fans, from all over Surrey and all over the world, went home with happy music ringing in their ears. Mine were still ringing the following day ...  

Thanks to Jill for the typing, from RC's dictation the following day

More about this Shoes tour

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