Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at Vejle, Denmark

Review  • January 2011

Captions: the reviewer skipped happily homeward, tooting his [Procol] vuvuzela through the evening streets / Hans Otto Bisgaard conducted the audience in We'll Meet Again / Gary Brooker has become older; but his unique voice is still intact)

Aristocratic evening in a minor key

Gary Brooker's songs clearly sound best in evening dress. A ravishing collaboration with the Radiounderholdningsorkesteret

Gary Brooker has a lucky love-relationship with dark and secretive minor chords. As a composer he is a rare specimen, a musician who manages to make pop songs of eternal quality, clothed with the weight of classical music, and advanced structures. After a little over two and a half hours in company with him and 66 other musicians and singers in Vejle Musikkteater tonight, it is clear that all his songs, intentionally or not, must have been written for the resources only a large orchestra can deliver.

Because the cooperation between him, his four fellow musicians in Procol Harum and DR's Radiounderholdningsorkester and DR's Vokalensemble seems without fault, and happy.

It became an evening with a Belle Époque flavour, crystal chandeliers, great costumes and candelabras. The detail extended to a cyclorama bearing the picture that graced the band's Grand Hotel album from 1973, a bordered carpet on the stage floor and discreet lighting redolent of one of the aristocratic hotels in capitals such as London, Paris or Berlin.


It also meant that we got to hear many songs from that very Grand Hotel. And that is, from the point of view of a fan who's been on board right from the start in 1967, not Procol Harum's best album. We had to wait to enjoy the oldest pearls until far into the second half of the show. First and foremost, of course, the song that came out on 8 June 1967 – a week after Sgt Pepper – and stayed at the top of the British hit charts for six weeks in a row.

And – while it may owe something to the Kapellmeister of Leipzig (Johan Sebastian Bach) it is still no wonder that this piece remains the most-played song in England in 75 years.

A heavy progressing organ, a majestic slow march rhythm,  and words whose faintest gist remains universally impenetrable, though it still sounds deep into the soul, a lyric you remember for decades after hearing it only once.

For me, Procol Harum might just have played only A Whiter Shade of Pale and the maritime epic A Salty Dog – this would have been enough to justify the whole evening. In particular the grandiose arrangement in the latter is nothing less than impressive.

Other highlights were the title song from the band's second album Shine on Brightly, and the single Homburg, follow-up to Procol's breakthrough song.

Gary Brooker is the only member remaining from the original line-up, and he is not getting younger over the years. Luckily his unique voice is fully intact – in spite of a cold. It is one of those voices you could recognise even in the headwind from a powerful hurricane.


Procol Harum were in their heyday instrumental in establishing progressive, symphonic rock, a genre with built-in contradictions which finally collapsed in a welter of virtuosity. But with a unique lyricist in Keith Reid,  Procol Harum did well over at least four unique albums. Reid only wrote, was never on stage: but his collaboration with Brooker was a serendipity of the highest order.

And tonight's concert proved that their best songs are of timeless value.

The tour to four Danish cities is dubbed 'New year's Concert', and that's how it began tonight, with the hearty Hans Otto Bisgaard and with an inspiring start delivered by the orchestra and vocal ensemble alone. With Bach's Air arranged for choir, the Toreador's March from Carmen, with Vera Lynn's We'll Meet Again and a medley of sea shanties from the Last Night of the Proms, we were well warmed up for the main course.

It amounts to two sold-out concerts in Vejle this year – the second is tonight – and the orchestra, under their conductor David Firman, will come back next year. They are welcome. This reviewer skipped happily homeward, tooting his [Procol] vuvuzela through the evening streets.

trans. Jens / Pia / Roland

Procol dates in 2011

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