Procol Harum, 14 December 2001, Sala Kongresowa, Warsaw.
Many sceptics maintained the concert could have failed. They said it two months before the concert, they did not change their opinion a month before, even a week before.
I do not want to admit but because of the killing ticket prices, £ 28 – 44, I felt uncertain. I even asked one of the organizers why Procol Harum is as expensive as Joe Cocker and Mark Knopfler: he answered without hesitation "Procol Harum is an exceptional band, if one wants to see them one must pay; if not – it is a pity". I liked that explanation a lot: I was impressed by absolute way the organizers thought, but the pragmatic thinking disturbed me in taking part in concert’s promotion and in waiting for the concert. It was possible to see Jethro Tull for £ 20 – 25 at the same stage a year ago! Jethro recorded a new album and played for the first time in Poland. Although tickets were so expensive the house was complete. The band Yes played a concert with symphony orchestra at the end of November, the ticket cost £ 40 and the house wasn’t complete. I could imagine half-empty Sala Kongresowa at Procol Harum’s concert (the same as on Rick Wakeman). Another sceptic’s argument was the fact that Procol Harum hadn’t recorded any record for years. Lots of journalists asked me "Is Brooker’s band planning any new record?" or "Is the band going to play new compositions?" One of them even put the title on the photo: "Concert is announcing a new record for the year 2002"!
That was a truth that the concert could have failed. Unfortunately recession started and unemployment reached in Poland the level comparable to Ireland before reforms in the 80s. "Who is going to pay £ 44 per a ticket for a band which hasn’t recorded anything for the last tem years? – one made comments; look the different thing is Waters from Floyd who is coming for the first time to Poland next year"
Slowly, slowly ...
December was coming and became louder about Procol Harum concert. It was impossible one could not see yellow posters all over the city. They were everywhere on walls, poles, fences, fighting bravely with snow and frost. More and more announcements started to appear on newspapers, radio and TV. 'Program 3' in Polish Radio recalled an interview with Brooker which took place in Sopot in July. Extracts from the new interview from December appeared in some newspapers. One could hear fragments of the concert in Utrecht (1992) and obviously A Whiter Shade of Pale. No one could have made an excuse for not being informed well enough.
Despite all of this, my nerves were in the horrible condition for few days before Procol Harum arrival; my wife cheered me up by saying – "You will see the concert will be a great success". It was so good that Mac, one of authors of the undertaking, seemed to be calm, because we were so nervous in Warsaw. Out of spite SAS plane with the best band on board was late. Mac and his son Jasiek, and me, were waiting in stress almost an hour, checking time every few minutes (the concert was planned to begin at 20.30 but the rehearsal and whole preparation should have been made before).
Finally, they appeared tired in glass open door after fifty minutes. Gary Brooker with gray Hemingway’s beard, in winter Russian soldier hat, looked a bit drowsy. Nonchalance in treating his instrument which, he always being with even during the sleep, was surprising. Here - he was without the scarf knowing that throat is an delicate instrument particularly during freezing cold winter in Warsaw. Tall Mark was a bit laid back, Matt and Geoft were not any cloud nine mood. Even Matthew who keeps walking his own ways adjusted to the rest of the musicians. "Why are you dressed like me ? - Gary asked Mac pointing out his navy woollen overcoat. I saw that he was OK.
It took ten minutes to pack everything to vans and taxies but drivers got nerves. One of them talked to his colleagues in Warsaw slang "Help them, look they are green (reach)." There was a long distance to the center ahead of us. Drivers not realizing who they were carrying were sure that was important concert.
There was a traffic jam so typical just for the Christmas time. At the front of Holiday Inn which is next to Sala Kongresowa we were at 18.35. When musicians and technicians disappeared in lifts one of the drivers asked: "What is the band?" "Procol Harum" - I answered. I was sure that name did not mean anything to him. What?! – it astonished him extremely. I repeated and left him in the front of the hotel in the middle of covered-with-snow lawn. He could not come round long after hearing such news. He obviously knew the band but he did not recognize Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher. After seeing yellow posters around the city he came up to the conclusion, that he drove foreign band for the concert to Sala Kongresowa. The rest of the musicians he didn’t simply know. He hadn’t even been at the concert in 1976, but he knew and liked the band. He went straight to the hall and started to ask Mac about everything with excitement. "Have you got tickets?" I asked after a while. No, I haven’t – he answered sadly. But finally he got them because I met him after an hour in Kongresowa! I hadn’t seen such delighted person for a long time. After a concert hundreds of happy people told me, there were lots of us.
The band played Bringing Home the Bacon and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentelmen at the rehearsal Gary joked a lot and conducted perfectly. It was nearly 20.30, there wasn’t time for anything but just changes on the scene were made.
Frozen people were let in late. They were slowly and constantly filling corridors, drinking beer and buying souvenirs. Luckily no one was in hurry. John Grayson and Jasiek Gajda, like in Sopot, were in charge of stall. I knew some of funs who bought the cheapest tickets in order to buy records: Broken Barricades and One More Time. Anyway everything: CD, hats, T-shirts, was best selling that day. We have plenty of Procol Harum fans in Poland. They aren’t just known from TV: artists, journalists and politicians (the Prime Minister came, under discreet protection) but also many unknown common people.
The concert only just started at 20.50.
Mac made the speech firstly. It was going to be a long speech as he reminded old concerts and the fact that a quarter of a century ago the band played in Kongresowa first time. The rest of the musicians joked about Mac talking for half on hour. However Mac decided to cut a long story short and said two magic words "Procol Harum" so Gary had to leave toilet in hurry.
So it started!The band was welcomed by the storm of applause which repeated in almost full filled Sala Kongresowa every few minutes (there were 2.5 thousand people). The band sounded prodigiously for those lucky men who heard them first time and also for those who had heard them earlier. The band recovered immediately and one could see them feeling better. How it could be better if Bringing Home the Bacon sounded wonderfully. When second composition Pandora’s Box started, (the audience recognized it after third note) I had a presentiment that the repertoire was different than in Sopot or Wroclaw.
And it happened ! It was the most wonderful Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone), Fires (Which Burnt Brightly) and TV Ceasar. Grand Hotel closed the first part fantastically.
They started fiercely after the break. Memorial Drive – hard rock sound warmed up the Warsaw’s audience, despite the fact that it wasn’t band's hit, Robin Trower’s composition was liked by everyone. Sensation! The second part was more "energetic" then the first one. However little mistakes happened – wrong chord in Dream In Every Home – the whole composition sounded wonderfully and exceptionally, even fabulously so the biggest malcontents must have come to the conclusion, that apart from organizers - company "Nordica" – Santa Claus took part in it. Lots of people maintained that acoustic system was really good. For example one of English fans who came to Warsaw – musician Ian Hockley – said that the sound was better then on Yes group in London. But not only acoustic system was perfect that evening. Lights played beautifully, a big telebim in the corner of the stage made the performance easier to watch for people who stayed far from the stage but also for that ones near. It was simply impossible to resist the temptation to watch musicians closely.
If you look at the photo on that Gary is sitting at his piano, please, tell me, on what is he looking carefully?
I suspect you can not answer me well.
There is one tale concerning it. Well, just before the Warsaw gig the promoter got consternation we had no any towel (!). There was no time to buy some towels. Tragedy!
But fortunately I had two towels in my bag (which I take with myself if I leave home for longer time). In this way I saved the concert.
So don't wonder that Gary, from time to time, was looking on my towel with much grateful.
If we add to that extraordinary repertoire (Nothing But the Truth, Wizard Man, New Lamps for Old, As Strong as Samson or Beyond the Pale that was dedicated to the internet page www.procolharum.com, sensationally played A Solty Dog or unforgivable [unforgettable?] Repent Walpurgis) – it wasn’t surprising that the whole audience was applauding them standing for the last ten minutes. I thought that nothing was going to beat Repent Walpurgis played at the same stage in 1992 when the audience had been applauding them in song’s rhythm for the whole length of it. I counted four climaxes at the end of that instrumental composition at that time. There were funny and serious moments, thanks to Gary Brooker who suggested being friends with Sala Kongresowa. Later on the band tried to play Chopin, played English Christmas carol, Gary mentioned Mark Brzezicki’s Polish roots, make jokes of Polish vodka, tried to pronounce original Polish city names (Wroclaw, Lodz) and admitted his Polish was weak, and then he forgot the first chord of TV Ceasar he explained that he knew the song but "sometimes it was like to forget your own wife". The rest of the musicians were enjoying time drinking Polish bear Zywiec from time to time. A Salty Dog was preceded by affected Brooker’s comment who dedicate it to everyone who was looking at us from above.
The concert looked like this in summary. It was unique in its kind. Its uniqueness consisted of the fact that if the most famous song A Whiter Shade of Pale were missed the audience would have forgiven such tactlessness. But after a storm of applause when the musicians disappeared from the stage time for encores came. The champagne was served "Cheers" – shouted Gary and the last part of the concert was started – the apogee of that wonderful music feast. Then most of the people left their places and come to the stage where there was so crowded from the beginning. It got really hot not because of Learn to Fly, the effect was deepened by mentioned A Whiter Shade of Pale. Lighters and candles were lighted, people were rocking in hit’s rhythm and were listening to the beautiful Procol Harum’s voice. One more time the audience was charmed by the voice, by the vitality and charyzma of the vocalist. Another encore (Conquistador) was planned but someone from the service switched the light off (just give me his name!). It was a pity.
The hall became deserted around 11.30 pm. I looked with satisfaction at people’s faces. There wasn’t any unhappy, indolent, sluggish face. Procol Harum once again won Polish audience’s hearts, didn’t let them down, played with new energy. Lots of people said that was worth to pay so much for the ticket. I met a friend of mine who I studied with. He was typical sceptic. I took a risk and asked: "How was the concert?" "Great" – the answer was quick and straightforward. One of the Polish fans, Tad Niedzielski (he was with us in Guildford), came to me from nowhere. I don’t have to mention that he came from USA just for the concert and he was leaving as happy as a baby.
There was a time for interviews and autographs later on. I remember one of funny episode when I couldn't get rid of two importunate middle – aged fans begging for a Gary Brooker’s autograph. I took a risk and asked Commander to satisfy their request. When Gary was signing his records for them in a dressing-room one of them kneeled down and kissed his coat-tail with reverences. Gary was surprised.
I hope "Trojka" ("3 Program of Polish Radio") which recorded whole concert will broadcast it shortly and we can listen this unique concert one more time.
And on Saturday ? Next day we drove the band to the airport. One of SAS’s passengers with One More Time record came to Gary and asked for autograph. Of course he was present at the concert yesterday. He was at all Procol Harum’s concerts in Poland! There is a chance we will see the band for fifth time on the Vistula, Geoff promised to record a new album and to come back . I don' t know if it happens and if they record twelfth album but I have a strange feeling I will see them in 2002 once again.
(I have written this article just after the concert, so I could not know that Procol would be have a new 2002 tour).
Translated by Edyta Nadzieja