Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Rhythm Kings in Virginia, 5 August 2001

Scott Miller

Scott Miller sent this review to the Richard Thompson list, whence it is reproduced by kind permission

"This is the second night of our little trip among the colonies," the great Gary Brooker declared midway through Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings' show last night at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. The distinctive Stone face, in shades, looking much the same at 64, was planted in the middle of an 11-piece group, a roots rock big band, that romped and tore through songs by the likes of Louis Prima, JJ Cale, Dan Hicks, Louis Jordan and Ray Charles. They opened with Brooker singing Let the Good Times Roll.

There were three guitarists, two sax players, two keyboardists, drummer, bass and two Rhythm Queens, very attractive black singers Beverley Skeete and Janis Hoyte, who sang backup mostly but took the lead on occasion (Ms. Skeete for a spellbinding version, via Nina Simone, of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' I Put a Spell On You).

Veteran singers Georgie Fame and Gary Brooker faced each other on opposite sides of the stage over their keyboards, and traded vocals, with the occasional duet. Fame was a London club star of the 60s with the Blue Flames (Paul McCartney and Linda Eastman met at a gig of his); he gave a nod to his recent collaborator Van the Man with a verse of Moondance (a video I have of Van Morrison live in New York actually has Georgie Fame upstaging him in the charisma department).

Champion guitarists Albert Lee and Martin Taylor exchanged hot licks in fierce guitar duets. Albert Lee is an old-timer (he actually was playing in Hamburg when the Beatles were at the Star Club) who's worked with everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Emmylou Harris to the Everly Brothers to Joe Cocker. I knew him from the fine 1969 album Poet and the One Man Band, which also featured Jerry Donahue and Nicky Hopkins. Lee also sang lead on Tear It Up. Martin Taylor was new to me program notes quoted The Times as calling him "the finest British guitarist of his generation" (he's more on the jazz side, been performing 25 years).

One Stones song was performed, the jazzy Melody, from Black and Blue, which Wyman said that Jagger and Richards had co-written with Billy Preston (although the latter didn't get a songwriting credit, I noticed). Too bad the Kings didn't do In Another Land, the only Wyman song the Stones ever recorded, on their reviled Their Satanic Majesties Request (which I quite like). The song is rather psychedelic, though.

Before a touching rendition of Georgia On My Mind, accompanied only by Taylor, Georgie Fame told an amusing anecdote of meeting master songwriter Hoagy Carmichael in 1981, after Fame had recorded an album of his songs. They shared a bottle of Scotch and Carmichael told Fame, "Boy, you've done a fine job, but it doesn't matter what you sound like, because my songs will make you sound great." Georgie finished Georgia with brief excerpts of Marching Through Georgia and Dixie, thereby straddling both sides of the Civil War.

The evening's most moving number was an encore version by Gary Brooker, on keyboard supported only by Frank Mead on soprano (who has worked with Procol Harum), of A Whiter Shade of Pale, one of the most sublime songs in popular music. I wish Marcelo had been there.
Brooker's hair is now a paler shade of white, but his voice is still majestic.

After the show, when I finally reached him in the autograph queue, Brooker seemed a little startled when I told him I had last seen him on the same bill as Wyman, when Procol Harum opened for the Stones in December 1969 at the Lyceum in London, just after the Stones had returned from the debacle of Altamont. Both bands were at their performing peak that night.

The Rhythm Kings can shake, rattle and roll, and they all look like they're having a great time onstage. They ended Mystery Train with a train
whistle. Wyman actually knew Brooker before he hooked up with Mick'n'Keef, when Wyman was in the Cliftons and Brooker in the Paramounts, R&B bands in the late '50s. So this band is covering some of the repertoire they played way back when.

Details of the August East Coast/Midwest tour are at . The Kings are at Town Hall in New York on Friday night. This band should play Cropredy sometime. For Wyman, getting old is no drag (he's produced two volumes of autobiography about the Stones, a 400-page book on his "voyage through the blues," a book on his friend Marc Chagall, and a book centered on his Tudor home in Suffolk that combines archaeology and medieval English history).

Thanks, Scott!

Order the single Love Letters from Amazon UK

Order this CD from Amazon UK

Rhythm Kings: 1998 tour, 1999 tour, 2000 tour, 2001 tour. US 2001 tour dates

More Rhythm Kings information here

Wyman / Brooker interview excerpts here.

Bill Wyman talks to Record Collector about Gary Brooker

Rhythm Kings on record


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