Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at Vejle, Denmark • 20 and 21 January 2011

My Two-Day Stay at Grand Hotel • Frans Steensma for BtP

‘Welcome to Grand Hotel’ the posters stated at all the entrance doors of the Vejle Musikteater. Rightfully so, because when you looked at the stage there was in the back a huge backdrop made of a blow up of the Grand Hotel cover. The seats were luxurious and in the interval ‘we drank fine wine’. And the sounds we were about to receive were ‘crystal clear’.

To make this all happen as planned, there was a soundcheck in the afternoon of 20 January at the Vejle Musikteater. Geoff Dunn and Josh Phillips were the first present. In the middle of a tour you wouldn’t expect them to do a thorough soundcheck, but as only top musicians do, the two of them were busy for more than half an hour, till their instruments sounded the way they wanted (helped by the technicians). Then Whitehorn, Pegg and GB strolled on stage. The following songs were played: Luskus Delph, Pandora’s Box, Bringing Home the Bacon (flowing over in) Magdalene My Regal Zonophone and Juicy John Pink. After Luskus Delph a (loose) member of the orchestra played (as a joke) the introduction to Pandora’s Box and immediately the band took the bait.

In the evening of the 20th the DR UnderholdningsOrkestret and the DR VokalEnsemblet opened the proceedings. Especially the a capella rendition of Bach’s Air by this Danish choir was outstanding. When the band entered the stage there was a loud roar of approval from the crowd. Fully in style with the Grand Hotel backdrop all five Procol members were dressed like in the Grand Hotel photo session (complete with top hats). So the opener had to be Grand Hotel, and it was. This version was highlighted by a nice solo from the first violinist of the orchestra flowing into Whitehorn’s mandolin-like solo. The way the choir sang ‘The nights we stay at Hotel Grande’ and ‘The nights we dine at Hotel Ritz’ really added another dimension to this classic. After welcoming the audience GB made excuses for a short sneeze. This cold would bother him all evening. 

Next Shine on Brightly. A subdued opening (compared to his usual high notes) by Geoff Whitehorn was followed by some nice playing by Josh Phillips. The tone of his new (portable) Hammond differed slightly from the old one. And a great ending with the choir belting out ‘Shine on’. As expected, also a large role for the choir in Fires (Which Burnt Brightly). Josh shone with a solo, followed by Gary’s piano solo. The balance in sound was just right. Then it was time for Whitehorn to shine on Toujours L’Amour. Crouched over his guitar he finished in great style. The rhythm section (Matt and Geoff Dunn) supported him superbly. Gary Brooker remembered the first time Procol played this Musikteater in 2003 [11 November]. Jokingly he referred to the great Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen and a big organ … followed by the only song on this evening’s setlist from the new millennium (but definitely one of the finest): The Emperor’s New Clothes. GB tried his best but was hampered by a sore throat, which limited his vocal capacity. Luckily the oboists in the orchestra saved the song with a splendid finish. ‘Probably about George Bush…’, was GB’s comment.

The instrumental intro to Homburg was one of the highlights of the evening and luckily GB’s voice recovered. The role of the brass section was impressive. Deservedly Homburg was received with the biggest round of applause so far. After mentioning the average age of the Procol members (old), GB joked: ‘But sometimes they play heavy metal’. Simple Sister, starring GW, got great support from the choir and the audience (clapping along). Josh (with no parts to play) in the meantime had left the stage, as he knew Simple Sister to be the last number before the break.

For the second half the black evening tails and top hats stayed in the dressing room, a great relief for GW, who had turned purple (because of the heat) in the last few songs of the first half. But more important: the break had done wonders for Gary’s voice. His vocals on Something Magic were as powerful as usual, and no more sneezes. Every note was played with ultimate precision by the orchestra, thanks to conductor David Firman: a wonderful start to the second half. Broken Barricades starred Matt Pegg, ‘the man with the shoes’ (his pointed glittering shoes suited the occasion), according to GB. Matt proved that his bass playing has as much star quality as his shoes… Next came the tour-de-force of this evening: Whaling Stories. The ultimate proof that Procol plus orchestra and choir really works. With hardly any stage lighting the dark mood of the song captured the audience. ‘SHALIMAR, the trumpets chorused’ never sounded more powerful. The applause was deafening. GB: ‘Most of the nasty stuff is over now!’ But not before ‘another sad one’ in minor key: Barnyard Story. As praised before (awesome, truly awesome) at BtP: the highlight of the evening. The combination of Whitehorn’s solo and the choir had to be heard to be believed. ‘Never thought we’d play this song 40 years later,’ GB commented.

With Butterfly Boys it was time to rock. On this rocker about Chris Wright and Terry Ellis (Chrysalis) Geoff Whitehorn really stretched out, again supported by the choir. The Latin version of A Salty Dog got a very long intro, till Geoff Dunn used the ‘BJ drum intro to end all drum intros’ to great effect. His playing all evening was highly decorative and always tasteful. Then it was time for an up-tempo song: Conquistador. Just the right song at the right place. The additional trumpet solo worked wonders. And the drummer in the orchestra used the timpani in the percussive ending to great effect. Finally we were presented with AWSoP in the Ledreborg version (2006). GB thanked everybody, especially conductor David Firman. The Danish public thanked the band with a small vuvuzela concert: fun is also part of a Procol concert… As an encore another up tempo song: Into the Flood, which lends itself perfectly for a choir to show their potential. A majestic end. 

Compared to the Ledreborg Concerts from August 2006 we had lost VIP Room, Nothing But the Truth and An Old English Dream, but we had gained Shine on Brightly, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Broken Barricades and last but not least: Barnyard Story.

The second night the setlist was slightly different: Symphathy for the Hard of Hearing (with a new lyrical twist) had replaced Whaling Stories. And Gary had fully recovered from the cold he had the previous night. And with another sold-out concert under their belt, GB and co (helped by the orchestra and choir) proved once again that the more they perform the better they get …

The next day it was a sad moment to say goodbye to the friendly city of Vejle. But seeing Procol two nights in a row and spending three days in the company of three ‘Procoholics’ and three true gentlemen (Hermann Braunschmidt, Paul Thelen and Thomas Raa Olsen) was a trip not to be missed. Looking forward to the next meeting. Shine on!

(Thanks, Frans) 

Procol dates in 2011 | Setlist for this show and the next | Other Procol writings by Frans Steensma

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