'Remembering Gary Brooker' Monday 4 December 2023 Guildford UK
Text by Charlie Allison for BtP photographs by Jim McCarthy
The Final Farewell (and a fine
I arrived late at the party, flying down on the day of the concert, so missed BtP's Sunday reunion gathering at Gary's favourite Guildford pub. There was a fair number of familiar faces in the bar of the Harbour Hotel from the four corners of the Procol commonwealth, many decked out in historic concert shirts. Notable among them were fellow Scots 'The intrepid Mullets' and George Lovell from Canada signing copies of his books (perhaps considering a final volume of his personal journey through Procoldom?) and our Norwegian joint-webmaster Jens, in serious conversation with Josh Phillips. Absent tonight was Roland Clare, thanks to musical director commitments back in Bristol a sold-out run as band-leader for Dead Dog in A Suitcase [Ed.] but I soon found that he had made substantial contributions to our excellent event programme (and will no doubt work hard to tidy up my somewhat random thoughts here, as he's been doing for the past 25 years!).
We learned the show was to be a celebration of Gary's life and not solely to be filled with Procol Harum songs, but ALL the music Gary wrote, played or enjoyed during his long career more akin to the many concerts he organised locally for charity. We certainly heard a variety of Gary's songs playing in the theatre before the show started: I particularly remember Fresh Fruit and Neighbour, which gave a happy feel to what could have been a solemn occasion. We were also given the news that Eric Clapton was ill and unfortunately going to miss the show but, as the lights dimmed, the full house in the auditorium heard Eric's sincere words of apology and welcome, as he reported on missing Gary dreadfully. Eric had spent time with him in his final days and told us Gary had been a tremendous inspiration to him, a dear friend 'The Commander liked me, I loved him'. Eric regretted he could not be there with us tonight, but he would be with us in spirit.
Geoff (flying the flag) and Graham, Procolers both
Our host Alex Dyke introduced musical director Andy Fairweather Low, who brought on Franky Brooker to thank all who had made this show possible, especially Gary's musician friends playing tonight, and all of us who were there to remember Gary. 'He was a wonderful husband my best friend with a great voice. We all miss him and his sense of humour. I hope tonight will make him proud thanking him for his love of music and the time he gave to charity, raising money for many good causes cancer research and Parkinsons to name just two. So let's skip the light .... and shine on! C'mon!' (earning huge cheers and applause as she went off).
Andy Fairweather Low then joked about people 'not liking him in the Tremeloes' before relating how 'Gary liked him and I bloody loved him' and that 'they would start at the beginning with the music Gary was involved with, music he loved and then some of the great songs of Procol Harum'. The initial assembly of the house band was ready and Andy began with a rousing rendition of the Paramounts' Poison Ivy. Next we were introduced the flamboyant 'local Jerry Lee' Mike Sanchez, 'the Big Town Playboy himself', for an energetic High School Confidential with Frank Mead and Nick Pentelow on saxes, then I'm Ready (to Rock n Roll). What an entertainer this white-jacketed guy was with the most expressive eyes I've ever seen!
Dave and Frank ... mainstays of No Stiletto Shoes, of course
John Illsley, bass player from Dire Straits, thanked Gary for A Whiter Shade of Pale recalling how (as a 21 year-old) he'd asked a girl up to dance to the song .... then had his first snog! John gave us a great rendition of Sultans of Swing, with a gruffer vocal than Mark Knopfler, but no less impressive. A young guitarist (whose name I didn't catch and does not appear to be in the programme) played all the Knopfler notes to perfection! We then enjoyed a second Dire Straits favourite Money for Nothing. Nicky Lambourn, best known as singer for Never the Bride (who had appeared at the British Rock Symphony charity show) came on 'to do this for Gary' indeed the first rendition of one his songs, a rousing rendition of No More Fear of Flying with two drummers (Graham Broad and Henry Spinetti) joining never-off-stage bass player Dave Bronze, as well as Geoff Whitehorn on guitar and backing vocals. All of them were really cooking!
Geoff, Andy, Olivia, Dave, Henry ... Two Fools in Love
Welsh singer Olivia Keast then sang a duet of Two Fools in Love with Andy. This was Gary's 'romantic duet during the Procol downtime' and included a lovely sax solo from Nick Pentelow. Olivia is a lucky lass she has a very pure soulful voice and they sang it perfectly, though perhaps their age gap made it look more like a family connection rather than a romance! After a couple of video tributes from musician friends of Gary's (more about these later), young pianist/singer Sam Tanner ('not Santana!') was then introduced to give us Gary's Let me In. I noted down that Sam had a security pass marked AAA: he was certainly an AAA talented musician and singer!
Bristol's own Nikki Lambourn in full tonsil
Nikki then returned for a rousing Wall Street Blues another song well suited to her powerful, expressive voice during which Sam Tanner gave us a piano solo Gary would have been proud of. Again I thought that Nikki could do a lot worse than recording an album of Gary's songs! Andy Fairweather Low then gave us his Michael Bublé style (his words!) Wide Eyed and Legless, with some lovely sax soloing, to take us back effortlessly to that hot summer of 1976 (I remember it well we got married that July!). Then a special treat to close the first half: the eagerly-anticipated arrival of Paul Carrack to do his big hit How Long? Paul was not at his keyboard tonight, just standing at the mike to do his superb vocals. One often wonders about him being a successor singer to Gary and we speculated about him returning in the second half to do one of Gary's big songs, maybe AWSoP?
Half time to the bar for a glass of wine. Huge queues, so less chat than we would have expected, but delighted to speak with Geoff and Josh's wives who told us the band had enjoyed four days of rehearsal and tonight were alcohol-free, unlike us in the audience! (I expect they'd get in some catch-up later!) Andy Fairweather Low restarted the show with a fine, nostalgic rendition of his 1969 hit If Paradise is Half as Nice, though it did have an aborted beginning as Andy reckoned it could re-start a bit better.
Sam Tanner, not Santana
Without warning we then moved to an epic quartet of Procol Harum songs. With two Procol people on stage we heard the familiar intro to Pandora's Box from Josh and lots of guitar colouring throughout from Geoff. The song was well sung and played by pianist Sam Tanner (but not sounding a bit like Gary). We had a superb flute solo, then Josh flammedboyant in the extended playout. Huge applause here, as we'd just heard a big Procol song! Paul Carrack told us it was a great honour to appear and to sing one of the great Procol songs, Homburg. The intro was beefed up by good lower-end guitar from Geoff (then a different tick-tock from usual) and Paul's soulful interpretation (with vocal back up from Andy and Geoff) emphasised what a great song Homburg is in its own right.
Conquistador, sung at the piano by Sam Tanner, bowled along at great pace with a stepwise then whinier-than-usual solo from Geoff then a great solo from Josh .... and some saxes along the way too! The crowd loved this. Roger Taylor was the next big name, who said he'd loved Procol since its inception. He was here to sing a record he had bought in 1969 A Salty Dog 'I was entranced by it. Gary sang it at my fiftieth birthday party in Cornwall,' he said. 'I can't sing it like him ... but I can try.' Geoff added great colour to the song (as ever) and the combined drumming of Henry and Graham has rarely been bettered (except that one day in the studio with BJ!).
Very tasty guitar solo
Paul Carrack and Mike Rutherford appeared together for their Mike and the Mechanics songs Living Years and Over my Shoulder and again the whole house band were giving their max, especially a Frank Mead sax solo at the end. Gary's Lead me to the Water was to have been sung by Eric Clapton had he been there so appropriate because of their mutual interest in fishing. Instead Andy Fairweather Low and Sam Tanner (and Geoff, backing up) were at the microphones, though I for one had mental images of Gary and Eric out at the river somewhere. Very tasty Whitehorn guitar solo BTW.
Andy (after a false start) played a bluesy number which I believe is called Gin House it started quietly then developed, including a great guitar solo which Eric would have approved of. With everyone up on stage now we sensed Blueberry Hill was to be the closing number, though we anticipated that one more very famous song would follow as an encore. The whole company indeed took a bow at that point.
The whole company
A Whiter Shade of Pale did indeed follow but not as expected earlier there had been some debate about who would be the chosen vocalist tonight, but in the event the live house band accompanied the very best choice of singer possible Gary Brooker! He was up on the screen, so full of life and shown in a well-assembled selection of moving moments with Procol across many eras, cleverly-synchronised with that wonderful vocal (we thought from sometime in his final ten years). It was a momentous and moving end to a tremendous evening in which the house band looked more committed than almost any group of musicians I've ever seen. The audience responded with rapturous applause and then went off content with this tribute to our great Commander, all vowing to never forget, or stop listening to, his music.
There was good news that the concert was being professionally videoed by multiple on- and offstage cameras and will be made available in aid of charity sometime in the near future ... so everyone can potentially see it. Further, the concert programme forecast a new Procol/Brooker sixty-two year diary book by Frans Steensma, appearing sometime early in 2024 so there's lots for us all to look forward to!
I must add that during the evening we saw a number of moving minute-long video contributions from famous musical friends of Gary Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Tom Jones and Nick Mason as well as someone who had dealt with Gary as a manager; and also charity contributions from both the Royal Marsden and from India (post tsunami), both of whom has received funds from Gary's good works. Paul remembered meeting Linda at the Bag of Nails then heading off to a Procol gig at The Speakeasy he heard A Whiter Shade of Pale by 'Gary and the Gang' and had never heard anything like it before. 'Love you Man!'
Ringo was sorry he couldn't be there and recalled times when he was a near neighbour of Gary and Frankie's in Surrey and also the times when Gary played in his All Starr Band. Nick Mason acknowledged that A Whiter Shade of Pale meant no one creating anything ever like it again! He thought Gary's O2 event for the Royal Marsden showed how much he was admired and loved and felt it was a privilege to be asked to appear. Tom Jones thought Gary was a great musician and someone who did lots for charities he hoped that we all had a good night, and was sorry not to be there.
Elton John always liked Gary and Procol Harum, because he was a pianist leading a band! He thought A Whiter Shade of Pale was amazing ... in fact Elton's contribution served to introduce AWSoP, the finale of this Final Farewell, a fine celebration.
Best wishes to all, Charlie Allison
Thanks Charlie, thanks Jim
Please note that the pictures on this page were taken and submitted with
Franky Brooker's permission, which is NOT extended to persons