Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol Harum in the USA, 1968 and 1974

Gil Henry writes to BtP, March 2006, and again in December 2017

In 1974 I was working for Howard Stein Productions with Herbie Robinson in Texas, and in the south. You actually have some reviews of the shows that we did with Procol Harum that year in the Houston Music Hall. For me this was the dream of my life to actually be working with Procol Harum providing the Stage Production and assisting with the box office. Herbie was a great guy and taught me a lot about the 'Rockbiz' .

While we were setting up at the Houston Music Hall I got to talk to all of the band members and I asked Gary if he remembered where he was on New Year's 1968. He shot right back to me “Cocoa Beach”. And yes, that is where the band was staying, but the actual show was in Merritt Island at a converted skating rink. The show got started a little later in the evening and I cannot remember who the warm-up band was. When Procol Harum came on it was crazy: there was a crowd of about 2,500 people packed into this little rink and the stage was a dismal excuse for a performance platform. I look back on it now and think to myself “if only I was the Production Manager for that show” I would have done the boys honor.

They deserved much better, but they were content to just be there and play for the good folks in Cocoa Beach, Florida. And the show was amazing. Cocoa Beachers have had their share of great concerts: the early Yardbirds played when Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were in it together; the Who played there that same year. It was a great time in history and Cocoa Beach was a great place, we launched missiles there.

So the people who went to Rock concerts knew who was good and were used to seeing great shows. That night the band was David Knights on bass, Mathew Fisher on the organ, Robin Trower on guitar, Gary Brooker on piano, and BJ Wilson on drums. To this day I felt that that line-up was the best Procol Harum line-up ever. They played all of the hits and many songs that weren’t so well-known except to the Procol Harum fanatic.

I was very much into Procol Harum at the time and thought that they were better than the Beatles. The concert went on and Gary wore his stars and stripes hat that reflected the American Flag. He played magically, as did Mathew Fisher. The sounds produced by Trower's guitar was mesmerizing: the crowd was speechless. When a song was over it was like dead silent: you could hear a pin drop, and then a thundrous roar of applause vibrated throughout the old skating rink. The people were dumbfounded by the sound that they heard that night.  One reason for that was that they never really thought that a band could sound so good in that old skating rink, but they did and it was pure harmony. All of the instruments melded together and created that early Procol Harum sound that was so unique.

When it was time for the band to finish, the crowd would have no part in letting them leave just yet, so they came back out on stage and finished with AWSoP and Repent Walpurgis. It was truly a magical show. I can still see the looks on the faces of people that I grew up with that were totally awestruck by what they had just experienced. To this day everyone I talk to remembers that show as the best rock show they ever saw. And I’m one of them.

I spent many years in the Rockbiz and have seen many shows including the 1974 tour that Procol Harum did. None of them captivated me and held me the way that the 1968 New Year's Eve show did. I still go back to Cocoa Beach and see friends and they are all in favor of seeing Procol Harum again. It was the best show that we ever saw.

I came home from Woodstock in 1969: I was helping Bill Hanley with the sound, just a grunt roadie looking for my next gig, but I was making good money for a 19 year-old kid, so when I walked into our house I saw it … sitting on the kitchen table was my draft notice. Off I went to Fort Benning Georgia for eight weeks of fun in the sun. I missed the Atlanta Pop in 1970, but I was working at the one in 1969. So I missed Procol Harum then, and when I got out I wanted to see them again but couldn’t put it together until I hooked up with Herbie Robinson in 1974 and we did the Houston show and the Dallas show and a few others on that tour.

It was great to actually meet the band and Keith, but it was sans Robin Trower. It was OK, though, because Robin toured earlier that year and – guess what – I got to do three of those shows as well. I now live in Denver, Colorado and love the American west, I still play guitar and jam with my friends, and all of us agree that we would fly to Europe to Procol Harum if we could. Some of us can and probably will.

I thought that Gary did very well at the Concert for George. I loved Old Brown Shoe; I thought it was one of the best of all of the songs played at the concert. The two that touched me though were Isn’t it a Pity and Photograph. Well I won’t bore you to tears so I’ll let you go for now ... 

Eleven-plus years later, Gil sends us an interesting postscript:
The band that played before Procol Harum came on stage was a band called 'The Fantastic Group', the 'Group' as we called them. They comprised Kenny Cohen on bass, Steve Bland on Hammond Organ, Ronny Cable on guitar and Jimmy Rudolph on drums. Steve Bland (deceased) was a Procol Harum fan as well, and as a tribute the band played a rousing version of Repent Walpurgis.  Kenny Cohen tells me that backstage, Procol Harum got a big kick out of this. To be able to do that at that time was remarkable because the album had just come out earlier that year and most people hadn’t really listened to Repemt, as A Whiter Shade of Pale was getting all the airtime. Procol Harum played Repent during their Encore Set as well.

Thanks, Gil 

More Procol concerts at BtP
Tour 1974 /Tour 1968

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