Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at Stratford, Ontario

Pat Sykes in Beacon Herald, 7 July 1969


Robin Trower of Procol Harum says the rock group usually gets standing ovations after a performance.

That was no idle boast. The audience at Sunday's Bach / Rock concert at the Festival Theatre rose in spontaneous cheering applause at the end of the first set.

A quiet, somewhat shy group of young men on stage as well as off, this did not prevent them from wowing their fans. And indeed, the audience was comprised primarily of Procol Harum devotees.

As they went into the first bar of A Salty Dog, people in the audience began swaying in their seats, tapping their hands and feet, and jerking their heads with the rhythm.

One might wonder at the idea of combining a concert of JS Bach music with one of rock, but the haunting melody of A Salty Dog was very reminiscent of the second movement of Bach's Concerto in C Minor for Violin and Oboe, played earlier in the program by the Festival Orchestra.

The orchestra more than held its own in the program with its renditions of Bach's Overture from Suite No. 4 in D Major, and the Concerto. This despite the disrupting fussing of the solo oboist with his instrument during the Concerto.

The orchestra accompanied the Procol Harum (sic) during the second set, when the group played its own composition In Held 'Twas I [sic] – an 18-minute piece that has not been played in concert before.

'We've never before had the number of people required,' explained Matthew Fisher, the group's organist.

In addition to the five man Procol Harum, there was a 32 member chorus (which was originally to be 16 men and women), volunteers from the festival staff and cast.

It was this number In Held 'Twas I (that is not a misprint) [sic] which brought the house to its feet in cheers. The composition blended a delicate melody with a circus like tune, and moved easily into hard, blasting rock.

Very rare and ancient illustration! "Procol Harum in rehearsal [sic]. Although the name Procol Harum defies translation from its Latin origin, the group's music needed no translation to the fans who packed the Festival Theatre Sunday. 

Back left is the group's lyricist, Keith Reid; drummer, Barrie Wilson; front left, lead guitarist, Robin Trower; singer pianist Gary Brooker; bass guitarist, David Knights; organist, Matthew Fisher"

Procol Harum plays only its own music, most of it composed by singer-pianist Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid (Keith does not perform with the group: 'He's our cheerleader'.)

'We nearly always start with the words, then write the music' says Robin. 'The words are very important to us. In our songs, you can hear the words.'

Unfortunately, this was not always the case at Sunday's concert. It was a little disconcerting not to hear the words, but the music is so involving one tends to overlook this flaw.

One thing which was difficult to overlook was the length of time required to adjust the equipment between sets. At one point the audience waited 20 minutes after the intermission while more than a dozen microphones and amplifiers were adjusted on the cluttered stage. Later, one of the microphones broke down and there was another delay.

It was a joy to see the drummer, Barrie Wilson, who was a magician rather than the run-of-the-mill boom-de-boom-boom drummers seen in many rock groups.

The group first hit the top of the pop charts over a year ago when their A Whiter Shade Of Pale skyrocketed them to fame. It was their first recording and members of the group say it did more harm than good.

'Everyone kept saying that we could never do it again. Every song that we've done since they say wasn't as good as A Whiter Shade Of Pale,' says Matthew.

The group leaves Stratford to appear in Michigan, and then will go to New York for a concert in Central Park. They have toured the US and Europe many times, and say that that's the place they have their following. Although all are Londoners, they say they are not big in their homeland.

The boys range in age from 22 to 24, and all but David Knights and Matthew are married.

On stage each wears what he likes – Gary appeared in tails, un-matching pants and a collarless open neck shirt, while Robin seems to prefer leather fringed jackets.

Matthew says they don't spend a lot of time with each other offstage. Each does his own thing. But on stage, they do their collective thing – play their kind of music. And they do it superbly.

Thanks, Alan!

More about Procol Harum at Stratford, 1969 

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