There were no advertisements, not a single poster appeared in town, yet the plush 3,000-seat Congress Hall in Warsaw was filled up with enthusiastic audience. Unlucky ones who couldn't get in were gathering in hundreds on the outside but even scalpers had run out of tickets a long time before.
The occasion was the concert by Procol Harum, the first Western rock group to play in Polish capital in more than five years. Apprehension was high on both sides since Poland is still regarded by most Westerners as a country where white bears are roaming on the streets and some officials here still look upon rock musicians as devil's ambassadors.
They shouldn't have worried. Procol Harum's cultured brand of rock was just what the promoters needed to convince the officials that Polish youth won't get corrupted.
Not that the band didn't try to. They performed all their classic numbers like Conquistador, Homburg, Shine On Brightly, Pandora's Box and Salty Dog as well as a good selection of album cuts including the Grand Hotel epic.
The folksy Souvenir From London and a humorous rework of Johann Strauss's Blue Danube drew particularly strong response – probably because they differentiated the most from the band's typical baroque sound.
Procol Harum's strongest point is the high level of musicianship, even if they employ some stage antics [sic] and an excellent lighting system.
The most impressive was the drumming of JB [sic] Wilson and I believe that he's the main contributor to the uniqueness of Procol's sound.
(Thanks, Mirek Plodzik)
More pictures here
Four days later I went to Lodz to catch Procol Harum's concert in the second biggest town in Poland. The huge Sports Hall was filled to its capacity. Afterwards I was told that over 10,000 tickets were sold and there must have been a few hundred more that got in by bribing ticket collectors.
Once again I could witness the high degree of the band's cohesion and the ability to reproduce their recorded sound even in adverse conditions. Procol Harum almost overcame the terrible acoustics of the giant concrete building and the sight of such a massive audience must have given them the additional stimulus.
The vibes were stronger, the band was even more together than in Warsaw. There was a noticeable improvement in the organist Chris Copping's playing, which in Warsaw nearly flopped (due to the over consumption of that Polish speciality called vodka, I suspect).
This time the band wisely dropped the Tchaikovsky bit [sic] from the Grand Hotel and added a couple of rockers that had the whole audience on the feet at the end. The obligatory encore in form of Whiter Shade of Pale closed the show.
Thank you Procol Harum and let's hope that the Polish audience won't have to wait another five years for the next Western band.
Procol's 1976 tour