PROCOL HARUM WITH THE EDMONTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Jubilee Auditorium, Edmonton, Canada
The outstanding British rock group Procol Harum made a determined and worthy bid to unite the classical and rock music forms in a meticulously planned SRO concert here.
To say that the union was successful would be a terse understatement. Procol Harum managed to overcome the old problem of a rock group simply getting together a big back-up band. It was a case of a highly adept rock unit combining its talents with the massive resources of a 46-piece orchestra. 'Combined' is the operative word here. Procol's classically trained pianist, Gary Brooker, worked closely with Symphony conductor, Lawrence Leonard, in sorting out the arrangements for an assortment of the group's finest repertoire. The 24-piece choir, the Da Camera Singers, were led superbly by Ted Kardash.
Naturally enough, the songs which came off best were those with classical orientation – rock masterpieces such as Luskus Delph, A Salty Dog, In Held 'Twas In I and Whaling Stories. This is not to say that Procol's unique hard rockers – Simple Sister and Conquistador, to mention only two – suffered in the wider translation. Drummer Barrie Wilson was in dynamic form, ripping off chops that astonished even conductor Leonard, who leaned heavily on the Procol percussion section for timing. It was Wilson's finest hour. and quite possibly, the finest performance ever by Procol, now on its twelfth US tour.
The only time when the marriage briefly faltered was in the sections where the group used gradual tempo changes for dramatic effect. The difficulties of transitional tempo change in an orchestra were not, however, easy to discern by the layman. The two selections which came off best – and drew spontaneous standing ovations – were In Held 'Twas in I (in which group poet Keith Reid made only his second-ever onstage appearance) and A Salty Dog. The latter was aided by the fact that local rock station, CHED, has pulled it from an old Procol album and made it a huge hit.
The concert was recorded by Wally Heider on 16-track equipment brought in from Los Angeles. Producer Chris Thomas flew in from England to supervise the session, which seems bound to take its place as a landmark in the union of classical and rock. If all goes well, the album will be released by A&M next February. It is likely to provide a rare opportunity to hear what a really sensitive rock group can achieve in a border musical setting.
And, as one string player observed to Brooker as they walked off stage, 'It sure beats playing Beethoven every night.'
Many more pages devoted to the Edmonton concert | Ritchie Yorke gets a gold record for his involvement in this recording