I know the last Procol concert is always the best but if I never see Procol Harum again I'll go to the great jukebox in the sky a happy man. Last night was a special concert in so many ways.
I had approached this gig with a little apprehension. The first one of the tour ... it was bound to be a bit rough and ready. Also no Matthew Fisher. Night-time's panic was indeed swept away with a mesmeric display of dazzling music. The odd wobble and bum note could not disguise the fact we were in for a very fun evening.
After we the faithful had all hobbled in the boys (ahem!) took the stage and launched in to a pounding and confident VIP Room. When the band went into The Idol it was becoming obvious they were going to make an effort to make this a very different gig to the Union Chapel. A gentle 'Is it on Tommy?' from the crowd greeted Pandora's Box when the wrong setting on Gary's keyboard played the first three notes!
Then a gem. I first saw Procol at the Festival Hall in 1973 and I can say I've never heard Luskus Delph played live. Finger-licking fun.
Wall Street Blues and a well-received Homburg followed. Then a very beautiful song filled the air. What on earth is this? It wasn't until Gary sang the words Victims of the Fury that I recognised the title. Although I've never heard it played. I agreed with Charlie Allison (another one of the usual suspects) during half-time that it meandered a bit around the 'chorus' but then again we're not used to it. When Gary Brooker sings the title you immediately think of those poor people in Aceh.
A gutsy Old English Dream followed: a very powerful live number. Our great country is indeed broken and torn but my God our swords are still blunt and sharp enough. Conquistador brought us all to our feet, walking sticks tossed aside.
It seemed short but there was no part where the attention drifted. It was tight and very professional. Where I was sitting (row I) the sound was very good, only occasionally not gelling.
Round Two kicked off with a blistering Shadow Boxed. Very modern, but very Procol Harum.
I had already made up my mind what to shout for if Gary asked for requests. I resisted the temptation to ask for The Worm and Tree in case I got slung out. Having said that I think we would have got the first few bars of it! Gary Brooker had appeared for the second half in a change of clothes: resembling a mad French painter, complete with beret, he was greeted with a lone 'Bonjour' from the rough seats! It set the scene for the song I would have requested ... Toujours L'Amour, the only offering from the Grand Hotel album and a real belter. I hadn't heard this live since the Palladium in 75. An immaculate Blink of An Eye, dedicated to the victims of the tsunami, slowed things down before a monumental rendition of Simple Sister. A massive cheer. Everybody shone in this: it's a real group number – some pounding bass from Matt and excellent drumming from Mark. Geoff's guitar ripped through the air with the greatest of ease.
I had no reservations about Josh after the first few notes of the evening. Just as the band seem to avoid Power Failure out of respect for BJ Wilson, Josh didn't pretend to be Matthew Fisher. Very individual, very confident and very much in tune with the rest of the band. And he moved! Or was it to stop the leather trousers sticking! Gary is blessed with an extremely classy group of musicians.
More rabbits were tossed out of the hat: Something Following Me. The first one Gary and Keith ever wrote and again the first time I'd heard it performed. Beyond the Pale for Jens, Roland and all the flag wavers. BJ wasn't forgotten either: an awesome A Salty Dog filled the hall.
During the interval I'd said to Charlie that I'd heard the band rehearsing parts of In Held 'Twas In I. He replied that Keith Reid was here. Was it too much to dream for ... Inky Reid reciting the poetry in In Held 'Twas In I? Well I'll go to the foot of our beanstalk. He was there on stage. Thirty-three years I've followed this band and there he was: we had the full In Held 'Twas In I. Absolutely stunning. This did it for me.
A well-deserved demand for an encore and they were straight in to A Whiter Shade of Pale, only two verses but let's not get greedy. We're in Nirvana here boys! It pops up occasionally (Ooh Missus!) a piece of fun for all the group: Alpha and a frantic Kaleidoscope. After A Salty Dog, In Held and A Whiter Shade you'd think Procol Harum would have given everything. But such is the genius of Gary Brooker that they seemed to be getting into their stride. He was amazing tonight. Still at the helm, still commanding the stage. Just Grand but a bloooze man ... a Wizard Man. Ready for the off with one of my favourites from Exotic Birds, New Lamps for Old. A packed house fully appreciated a great evening.
Wouldn't change a single word or a single note.
I wish Keith had joined the line-up for a bow but perhaps he didn't want to overshadow the band. I'm just very thankful I was in the presence of the man who wrote one of the most famous lyrics in music history. And after all these years I can still run to King's Cross Station without the aid of an oxygen tent. On the train at 10.15 and home in Cambridge at 11.20 ... but I have cheated by taking Monday off work!
Catch Procol Harum on their 2005 tour if you can. Roll over Beethoven and tell Robbie Williams (who?) the news.
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