Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum 'On the Blue'

1015 February 2019 report from the UK's Peter Cohen

For the first time ever Procol Harum found themselves performing at sea. They were on 'The Mariner of the Seas', one of several groups participating in a 'Rock' Cruise. Many people might first of thought that this could be a cruise hosted by academics discussing the finer points of geology but that could not be further from the truth.

The Mariner of the Seas set sail from Miami on 10 February, bound for Nassau in the Bahamas and Labadee on the island of Haiti/Dominican Republic. On board were the likes of Justin Hayward from The Moody Blues, Al Stewart, Rick Derringer, Todd Rundgren, The Zombies, The Strawbs, Wishbone Ash, Alan Parsons, Poco and, of course, Procol Harum. Incidentally, Poco stated they had to learn  A Whiter Shade of Pale as they were often asked to play it. I wonder why!

The cruise lasted five days and Procol had to wait until the evening of Day 4 for the first of their two sets. That day, everyone who had decided to disembark at Labadee had returned. Procol were allocated the Pool Stage, outside under the stars, for their eleven-song set beginning at 7.30pm with the boat having begun its return journey to Miami.

There was an air of expectancy as the band limbered up and we were not to know until later that Josh needed all his performance expertise and versatility due to the lower part of his keyboard having been inexplicably left off the boat at Miami Docks four days earlier.

The second set was also at sea, the following afternoon at 2.15pm, this time inside in Studio B. A most unusual time, I should hazard, for a Procol concert.

Both sets lasted approximately seventy minutes (Pool Stage eleven songs, Studio B ten songs) with only Conquistador, A Salty Dog and A Whiter Shade of Pale played both days. Every seat was filled for both concerts, the standing area in Studio B was packed and the atmosphere around the outdoor Pool Stage was electric as the band got into their stride.

On the Pool Stage, I Told on You started proceedings, followed by Shine on Brightly, Pandora's Box and You Can't Say That. Robert's Box was a welcome inclusion in the set and this was followed by The Devil Came from Kansas, Simple Sister and Neighbour. Gary said Rod Argent of The Zombies had specially requested A Salty Dog and, with Justin Hayward declining to play Go Now, Gary's mini version was the Moody fans' only opportunity to hear that hit. It began the lead in to a two-verse AWSoP with the more regular Percy Sledge and Bob Marley afterwards.

Studio B, the following day, began with Bringing Home the Bacon, included Businessman and a rousing version of The Only One from Novum, as well as the classics Outside The Gates Of Cerdes, Grand Hotel and Homburg. The popular Hey Bartender led into Whisky Train with a virtuoso drum solo from Geoff before, very unusually, a three-verse AWSoP with 'If music be the food of love' in the middle, rarely included since Redhill 1997 to my knowledge.

Gary said he had never seen so many people of different shapes and sizes on board, perhaps reflected by the dazzling array of Procol tee-shirts being worn. This rare opportunity for fans, not only of Procol, but of other bands too, to hear the unique entertainment provided by Gary, Josh, Matt and the two Geoffs may never be repeated, but for those present it was a real privilege to hear two very different sets within 24 hours, showcasing to the largely-American audience why Procol Harum are one of the greatest rock bands in the world and should be recognised as such by being included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

2019 index | On the Blue | Setlist(s) from the cruise

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