Occasionally Procol Harum still surfaces in my consciousness or popular culture – I recently found your excellent site and would like to submit this recollection of a Procol concert in NY City, 1967 – I believe it was Procol's first visit here?
Procol Harum in New York City, 1967
I was 18 in 1967; my future ex-wife and I, living at home with our respective parents in a New York suburb, were working, and so had plenty of money to make it into the city most weekends and see the latest bands.
The latest bands, 1967–1973 (when we, now married, moved into Manhattan), were rather good. If you think of a successful band from those years, save the Beatles, the Stones or Dylan, we probably saw them.
One of the standout concerts we saw was Procol Harum in 1967, not least because of the murder, and our meeting Robin Trower and Barrie Wilson.
We were to visit a party near New York University (where my sister was a graduate student) and were on the New York Central railroad Hudson River Line to "the city," when the train stopped at a station and didn't move.
Soon a conductor rushed through the car and called to another at the other end, "He's dead!" The passengers were advised to get down in our seats, as someone was apparently shooting at the train.
A conductor at a stop near the city had climbed down on to the steps of the platform and took a bullet right through the heart. (It was later found to have been a single stray shot.)
After an hour's delay we made it to the party with a good story, but were looking forward to the concert that evening down on Second Avenue (where the Village Theatre, later to become Fillmore East, and the Anderson Theatre were).
Across the street from the theatre we stopped in the famous record store Village Oldies and saw a little knot of people at the counter.
They were gathered around two people, or blokes, who we heard were Robin and Barrie of Procol Harum, who were playing later across the street.
One (this was before I could recognize them, as only their first record was out, which had no band-pictures on it) had some photographers' proofs that he said were being considered for the next album-cover. They included a dressmakers' dummy and a seedy standup piano, the dummy in various poses next to and on top of the piano.
Someone asked about the bit on the first album cover, "To be listened to in the spirit in which it was made," and one of the musicians held his thumb and index finger to his lips and made a sucking sound. (If there are any inaccuracies in my recollections, I would have to say the same.)
Later, inside the theatre, the audience was settled and the musicians onstage. Now I knew who was who, as we knew the personnel of the band. I remember Robin standing straight and rocking back on his heels with the beat. (I drank him in especially, being a guitarist myself.)
His Les Paul was turned up so loud that when he took his hands from the strings they would immediately feed back, so when he wasn't playing he held them. He cupped his left hand when he sustained the bass strings, like in Repent Walpurgis" as if he were using more than one finger to hold them down. His palm didn't seem to touch the guitar's neck, either, during these great dark throbbing-vibrato sustains.
I thought he must use heavy strings, and was shocked in later years when he went solo and began playing in the much looser style that we had associated with Hendrix. Not that we didn't love his later style; he is one of the greats! (And another, like Clapton, to switch from Les Paul to Stratocaster.)
The bass intro to Gates of Cerdes received the most applause; that and Repent seemed to be audience favorites (and mine – but there were no weak cuts on the first album).
Whiter Shade of Pale was conspicuous by its absence in the set, but no matter. The sound was loud, stately and powerful, and the performance top-notch. (We approached some of these concerts skeptically, as the first time we saw the Byrds, for instance, they had a terrible performance –-though I must say all the later times we saw the Byrds they were fantastic.)
The Procol concert was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, though I stopped buying new albums back with Grand Hotel. I did come to like that very much, however, and am now gradually filling in my Procol collection on CD, along with my JS Bach collection – thanks, Procol! I recently found the Procol BBC sessions CD, probably through these pages, and I'm there again, listening to this fantastic music.