Procol Harum

the Pale

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Serenade and Sarabande
Strawberries & Cream at the Castle

Review by Charles Allison

A brief report to give you a flavour of this event for which I had a hectic rush down and back from Scotland. Your correspondent has been rather challenged by serious illness – a tumour of the larynx – and is grateful to the radiotherapy staff at Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital for rearranging the Friday appointment to 9am, so I could fly down south for the gig. They will be duly rewarded by having some PH music to listen to (or watch?) Like many, they only knew about AWSoP 'What else did they do?'

Lulworth Castle was a great venue, though somewhat remotely down the leafy byways of rural Dorset. At one point we crossed a road which sometimes closes for tanks to use it as a firing range – the only sonic salvos we would hear tonight would be from the concert stage. Later, in introducing An Old English Dream, Gary said Lulworth was how all England used to be, before it was sadly concreted over.

The castle was smallish (as castles go) but well rounded, perfectly formed and well maintained – a perfect backdrop for the 3,500 who attended this outdoor picnic concert on a gently sloping grassy amphitheatre. There was Olde English beer on offer, as well as Devon strawberry cream teas; much champagne was drunk by the great and the good of local society – all-in-all an extremely civilised way to spend a warm sunny evening.

Naturally the regular Palers were able to blend in with the crowd – Roland our learned professor of Procol, One-Eye as American ambassador, representing the new world. I also spoke to Alick Leslie, Big John Grayson the merchandise man and Michel who had been over from Guernsey on a rock tour that had taken in The Eagles and Billy Joel

The first support act were two local bluesy guys – one a cool cove in big shades who sang and played a mean slide guitar and his chum on guitar and acoustic bass, who looked a bit like Hamish from the Average White Band (who toured with McCartney for a year or three)

We were then treated to a loud and exuberant hour by Ben Waters Big Band, Dorset’s answer to Jools Holland. They were obviously well-known to the local crowd and got 500-600 up dancing right away, to some rock and roll and R&B standards. Ben is a boogie pianist with a frantic style – a bit of young Elton John and some Jerry Lee Lewis. He had a great rhythm section and three fantastic brass guys. At one point Ben offered fifty quid for the top ass-shaker in the crowd and dispatched the three great horns down into the crowd (still playing) to mingle and select the best. There was one delighted winner – a seven year old girl.

Ben Waters reappeared to introduce Procol Harum – “five virtuoso musicians and all nice guys” and we were off with the usual Bringing Home the Bacon – the only topical reference Gary shouting ‘Not France!’ (obviously supporting Italy in the World Cup final on Sunday). One shouldn’t dwell on clothes – they all looked smart – but Geoff distinguished himself by wearing the tee shirt of his other band – the Palers!

Pandora's Box followed – some interesting cowbell near the end – then Gary remarked you wouldn’t want to die on holiday at Lulworth, better somewhere special like the VIP Room!

He wanted to play as many highlights as possible and we moved into Shine on Brightly where unfortunately we heard Geoff’s Morse code note being doubled on organ by Josh, sometimes obscuring the usual biting guitar. I much prefer the chunky chords played on the original recording (da, da, da, da) – heard best on the left channel at the end of the organ break, just after the stereo swap leaves the left channel empty, just prior to Gary’s vocal coming in there.

All through I thought the sound was excellent, Gary’s singing strong and well-enunciated and all band members playing their parts to give a good show for both the aficionados and the masses (there were even a hundred up dancing!) To my hearing the tempo of many songs was slightly slower than I have heard at some gigs, and all the better for it.

Next Homburg, with an effective variation by Geoff, playing a tick-tock motif in the verse – the town clock in the market square . . .

The first of two great treats followed with one dusted down from the archive: Something Magic with “every chord except D flat minor – a serious omission by the composer,” as Gary ironically remarked. It held together well and was suitably stately for the occasion.

“Some simple rock & roll” next – Simple Sister, with Geoff fantastic as usual in ‘free form’ and on ‘ballsbreaking balalaika’. Gary was seen air-guitaring at one point – a first?

An Old English Dream and Beyond the Pale followed, with their images of Britannic paradise lost and a Valhalla with northern lightshow. One Eye on the Past, just familiar to me and no more, was a stormer and should be recorded for the Band’s 40th Anniversary Odds & Sods collection.

Then my highlight of the evening – an unexpected, extended working of Something Following Me, with solos for Geoff, Gary and Josh – this was truly superb and worth coming for on its own – the band at its very best.

Next a lively Memorial Drive, before a neat new Hispanic introduction to the customary rousing Conquistador. The proximity to Lulworth Cove lent further authenticity to the seagulls at the start of A Salty Dog, where Mark excelled himself with the drum fills in the third verse.

A faux departure and return and some wedding anniversary announcements from Gary, then AWSoP, as per the record, with the now-customary trilled ending. The front of stage had an interesting collage of images – slow dancing, hands waving, a couple of lighters and a couple of young girls with flashing pink bunny ears!

A raucous jam of Little Queenie followed with Gary inviting Ben Waters to join him on piano, each taking it in turn to play left and right hand.

The set finished after just over two hours. It took another hour to clear the car park, but who cares – it was a great concert.

Now we move on to Denmark for the orchestral and Palers' event in August. Maybe we could also prepare for a big Procol push in 2007, the 40th Anniversary of AWSoP – a new CD, DVD and world tour isn’t too much to ask? Hell, these guys are younger than the Stones!

At least please Gary please come up to Scotland, the epicentre of British rock this weekend. 150,000, including my teenage daughters, are attending T in the Park to hear (amongst all the young acts) The Who, the only band I’ve ever seen who were indeed (in the mid 70s) even better than Procol Harum live. Their recorded output was a bit patchier though!

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