Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol's Finest Gig?

Mark Plummer, 'Melody Maker', 21 July 1973

Textures filled the air, sounds from eras past and present merged into a tapestry so rich in tonal quality that the brain raced trying to take all in, and in the process, missed so much.

Procol Harum were at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon on Sunday night and I just wish a mobile recording unit had been on hand to preserve the event on black plastic, for it was without doubt the most perfect performance I have heard from the group. No grandiose illusions with orchestra and choir, no chintzy theatrics, just five musicians on stage playing with a tightness I've rarely beard from any band.

Everything about Procol Harum at Fairfield Hall was perfect and when they closed the show after three encores with A Whiter Shade of Pale the roof could have collapsed with the cheering and applause that burst out in the auditorium.

They were on stage a good two hours, playing material stretching right back into their past up to songs from Grand Hotel, their last and most consistent album.

Procol have now found a happy medium for their music. In the past they've tried orchestras and it worked, but live they are far stronger without having to worry about musicians who are not aware of Gary Brooker's music. With orchestras there has always been a hesitant feel to the music.

More than any other group Procol Harum, throughout all their personnel changes, have married the finer points of European baroque with more orthodox American rock patterns. For me their music is akin to Art Deco, a mixture of styles that would find its architectural equivalent in the Hoover building on the North Circular. To work it has to rise above the level of pure kitsch. Procol do rise above such vulgar levels, while retaining some of its essence.

BJ Wilson's drumming which never fails to stun me is now surpassing any of his previous work, and together with bass player Alan Cartwright the two are a powerhouse rhythm section. Brooker, never the world's finest vocalist, uses his voice in a distinctive narrative manner, and his piano as a flowing lyrical instrument. Chris Copping is the group's character. He has the knack of pulling an audience into their act and becomes a focal point.

But Mick Grabham still seems to be struggling. He's a fine guitarist, but somehow he doesn't seem strong enough to take over from Dave Ball, who brought his own character into the band after he replaced Robin Trower. Grabham wasn't pleased with the way he played either, so it could have been an unfortunate set for him.

It's taken Procol a long time to find the professionalism they now have, and the energy the band exude is enough to convince me the best is yet to come.

Setlist for this gig

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