Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home


Procol Harum: Harlequin Theatre, Redhill
19 July 1997

Roland Clare © 1997

Two-thirds of my life a Procoholic? It's true! So you might suppose that I'd know how to respond to a Procol Harum concert by now. Of course I join in with everyone else, cheering, shouting requests, singing along, playing involuntary solos on our spouses' enraptured thighs. Yet for me there's always too much to take in at once: focusing on one player, I miss another; tuning mentally to a new arrangement, suddenly I'm missing the words. I wish I could find the heart of my addiction to this unique entertainment, and give that my undivided attention.

It's the music I love, of course, though I'm just as fascinated by the words: I admire the craft and quality of both; I envy the versatility and power of the Procol players; I'm delighted by the band's individuality and understated humour; I'm bewildered by its breadth of style, longevity and commercial bad luck; I think I feel very protective of its extraordinary, dark legacy. Needless to say, like every true fan, I also applaud my own taste at having so assiduously followed something so good for so long!

From the Rainbow onwards I never missed a UK tour: and you could relax in those 70s concerts, confident that, if you spent the whole gig watching BJ only, you could catch up with the other players in the next town, or, failing that, next year. Yet each of my four 90s shows has been prey to a gnawing worry that the band will never perform again: so I found myself at Redhill wielding, not tape-machine or video-camera, but pen and paper, taking notes and stealing quotes, trying to relive every moment as it came. I wasn't planning to inflate that scribble afterwards, yet the brilliance of the occasion – every Harophile's dream – really seemed to require it. So here, not that anyone really needs reminding, is my souvenir of London.

Redhill's Warwick Quadrant is a characteristic small-town shopping-precinct, giving fashionable prominence to painted girders and designer space: oddly, the Harlequin Theatre is upstairs. It was 8.30 on July 19th, 1997: we were resuming our seats in the steeply-raked auditorium where Henry Scott-Irvine had earlier whetted our appetites for a couple of hours with a film show. Even on screen, despite the dodgy 'Beat Club' mix, Procol Harum had generated quite an atmosphere already: we had actually clapped the 'Edmonton' line-up after Shine on Brightly, In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence, Still There'll Be More, Pilgrim's Progress, Quite Rightly So, Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone), Power Failure, A Salty Dog, and (shortened) Simple Sister, and we'd smiled at the valedictory Teddy-bears' Picnic! After that we'd been duly absorbed by Henry's own film, It was Thirty Years Ago Today – a skilful Whiter Shade of Pale retrospective which I look forward to seeing again on television later this year.

So now there was an atmosphere of high expectation, all rumours about to be confirmed or shattered. The previous hour, munching our tomato and basil quiche, we'd all been gossiping about exactly which players would turn up, what they would play, and how it would all sound: and whether our fellow-revellers, fuelled by the bar, would insist on bellowing 'You're a genius, Gary!' throughout the show!

Suddenly the lights came up: and, as at the Barbican, it fell to the genial Douglas Adams to welcome us aboard. He recalled how the first single, whose birthday we had gathered to celebrate, 'sounded like a band from Detroit' ... and then one acquired the first album, on which Good Captain Clack '... did not'! Scarcely coherent with anticipation, he revealed that the band were to play something tonight that they'd never attempted live before: and then, with a joking reference to The Worm and the Tree, he left the stage to the Rear Admiral ... and whoever else might have returned from the thirty-year Procol Diaspora.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Chris Copping, bass;
Mick Grabham, guitar; Pete Solley, Korg synth

The band took the stage with their characteristic lack of ceremony: but despite an immediate burst of adulation, hasty mutterings of 'Who's that bloke?' went rippling along the rows. Not that anyone could mistake Gary Brooker, even sans naval tails; the beardless guitarist, still long of hair but slightly grey ... that must be Mick Grabham; the curly hair behind the Korg, to the right of the vacant Hammond, clearly distinguished Pete Solley; Graham Broad, striding in his shorts on to the drum-riser, was of course unchanged since his Procol début, but needed pointing out to anyone who missed the 'flying fish' tour: so only the bass-player presented any identification problem!

Just three notes of piano introduction and we recognised the opener as Broken Barricades; and as soon as the bass slid in beneath the vocal we recognised the man who was playing it: the most uninhibited player I've seen in any Procol line-up, pounding rhythmically with one leg while the other stayed rigid: Chris Copping, all the way from Australia, leaving only his hair behind.

The intricate imagery of this song is matched by the most elaborate music from the Broken Barricades album. Having a Middle 8 (or a Middle 16 if it's in triple, not compound time) makes it a real rarity in the Procol Harum catalogue: what a shame that its parent album remains such a rarity on CD! Tonight it was played just like the recording, a bespectacled Solley studiously reading his ostinato from a score; it's worth reminding those who didn't like his 'introduction' of synths on the Something Magic tour that they'd graced a Procol record as early as 1971.

Yet the main interest in that long synth playout was the great Barrie Wilson's drumming, surely one of his most illustrious passages on disc. At Shepherd's Bush Graham Broad told me that he'd been awarded the drum throne for eliciting 'the most BJ-like tingle' of all who had auditioned, but that he'd not actually been specially aware of his distinguished predecessor's playing. Tonight, however, film of BJ was fresh in our memory, and comparisons inevitable: all credit, then, to this new 'GB', for immediately demonstrating that he too was able to play decoratively, as well as powerfully, according to the demands of the music.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Chris Copping, bass;
Matthew Fisher, Hammond; Mick Grabham, guitar

We would quickly grow accustomed to the rapid appearance and disappearance of musicians between songs: a newcomer bounded on stage now, to his customary cheer of affection and admiration, and took up his rightful place behind the venerable B3. 'Hello Maff,' said Gary, 'Have you been there all the time?' 'No! I left for about twenty years!' came Fisher's reply, as he peered myopically at his set-list.

'We'll start this one with a nod ...' said Brooker; Fisher looked up a moment, and they were rocking into Kaleidoscope. In 1968, like Douglas Adams, I monopolised the family record-player with the first Procol album, my favourite Christmas present: I could not have foreseen how Kaleidoscope would still sound as fresh thirty years later, played with the same swagger, the same exciting organ work, the same eccentric conclusion. And tonight we were to be treated to material from every album bar Procol's Ninth; there can hardly be another band whose entire recorded catalogue (obscurities as well as hits) has stayed so lively in its repertoire, over so long a period.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Alan Cartwright, bass;
Chris Copping, Hammond; Mick Grabham, guitar + voice

As the versatile Copping migrated towards the Hammond, another new player, wearing red shoes and a bemused smile, ambled on to the stage: 'It's Alan Cartwright!' Gary Brooker explained, whereupon this old school-friend of BJ's, veteran of four albums, got the applause he deserved. 'We're making no excuses,' said Gary, 'but we don't like to peak too early.' (They had already peaked, for my money, with Kaleidoscope.) Cartwright, it seemed, had 'only got here at five to eight': but, though he strapped the bass tentatively round that somewhat expanded waist, nothing in his subsequent playing suggested that he had been running a bar these past twenty years, a stranger to live performance.

This was our fullest opportunity so far to get reacquainted with Mick Grabham's guitar: the distinctive fat sound, the instinctive way he carves a melodic solo from this very solid stack of chords, despite The Idol's piano-centric key. I forgot to note which guitar he was playing, but it was his Les Paul most of the evening; a Strat, patient on a penumbral stand, saw little active service. (My brother informs me that, of several basses on stage at the start, one was removed, unplayed, after the first number, and not seen again: odd if true!).

The Idol had good reason to sound authentic, with an eighty-percent original line-up – but that was no guarantee that the musicians would gel with such assurance and (to judge from their faces) delight. Could the whole concert possibly maintain this standard, I wondered, as screaming guitar brought the song to a close.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Alan Cartwright, bass;
Chris Copping, Hammond; Mick Grabham, guitar + voice

'Alan chose this one,' said Gary, sashaying himself into the proper feel before launching into this enigmatic closer from the Grand Hotel album: what makes Grabham's relaxed, countrified guitar seem such an apt accompaniment to the agonised paradox of 'a pinch to ease the pain'? And how are we to square the chorus's doo-wop simplicity with the magnificent contrivance of the playout?

90s concert-goers will have heard Brooker introduce certain songs by amusing, but specious groupings: Fires (Which Burnt Brightly) was 'number one of our trilogy of war songs, of which there are only two', and The Truth Won't Fade Away was similarly 'part of our truth trilogy'. Tonight we were to hear a good chunk of the 'dog' trilogy; but only one specimen from the band's 'box' sequence.

But it was the right specimen: unlike its sister Pandora, Robert's Box gains tremendously in performance. The verses here were languidly yearning, the finale as grand as it was loud; all that one missed from the record was the God only Knows-like French horn line, which various people in seats near me inserted vocally for themselves.

The recorded arrangement's Beach-Boy echoes nicely complement its post-Beatles title, but the most intriguing reference in Robert's Box is a forward one: to the descending figure that opens Nothing but the Truth, surely the greatest single Harum single that never sold, and one of the favourite Brooker/Reid belters that we were sadly not to hear at Redhill.

Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, voice; Chris Copping, Korg synth;
Matthew Fisher, Hammond; Mick Grabham, guitar; Pete Solley, piano

Gary Brooker decamped to the centre-stage mic to deliver A Dream in Ev'ry Home Sinatra-style, much as he had done with (You Can't) Turn Back the Page at the Barbican. This song went smoothly, the unheralded Dave Bronze solidly recreating his recorded bass part; Pete Solley took a nicely flamboyant solo at the acoustic piano, and Chris Copping, apparently happy whatever he played, comped out the electric piano part on the Korg; only the backing vocal, desultorily attempted by the audience, didn't come up to scratch. The main vocal was beautifully sung, as in every number we'd heard so far: Gary Brooker's 'jewel' voice truly seems to shine from strength to strength.

Much as I enjoyed this song live for the first time, there are other tracks from The Prodigal Stranger – perhaps less AOR, less radio-friendly – that I'd rather have heard, most notably, of course, Holding On. In his introduction Douglas Adams rightly numbered Holding On at the very summit of the Brooker/Reid oeuvre: in fact he threatened 'to hold the band down by the windpipe' if they didn't play it. I trust no lasting damage resulted.

This was the first time that I recall seeing more than five musicians playing together at a non-orchestral Procol gig, and it was equally unusual to see someone other than Brooker at the piano – though I remember seeing him cede the piano-stool once to Chris Copping so that, as 'Gary Gold', he could play guitar on Monsieur R Monde, artlessly counting his puzzled way up the fretboard so as to be sure of starting on the proper chord!

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Matthew Fisher, Hammond;
Mick Grabham, guitar + voice; Matt Pegg, bass

I fancy I heard a slightly 'foreign' chord at the very start of this number, actually: but it made a mighty recovery; Grabham was on ripping form and Broad was suitably thunderous (he wisely didn't attempt to counterfeit BJ's idiosyncratic little break before the third verse); his playing was strongly underpinned by the fourth bassist of the evening, Matt Pegg.

It's easy to see why this most raucous Salty Dog cut has been a perennial stage favourite, with its distinctive arching melody and its slogging chords, which, unlike many Procol songs, take a fair time to gather momentum, eventually releasing harmonic tension as they escape from the home chord, and from root position, into the curiously cheese-flavoured chorus.

In the foyer there was quite a heated discussion about the words of this refrain: 'not a humble pilgrim' versus 'but a humble pilgrim'? Luckily Gary was on hand to arbitrate (the former reading is correct): but there must be thousands of fans who long for a Reid-authorised text for those early albums, whose production does not always let the words come through clearly. I bought the lead-sheets for the first two albums: but I soon realized that Essex Music's 'official' guess (example: 'for want of iron, with no mop, it's hard at times, it's awful wrong') was seldom any better than mine!

Whenever Procol play there are jokey questions about the meanings of the songs: tonight, for instance, Douglas Adams fantasised about the discovery of a tribe in Papua New Guinea so primitive that they had never heard A Whiter Shade of Pale ... 'but now they have, and they love it, and they want to know what the line about the sixteen vestal virgins is all about'.

'What does any of it mean, really?' asked Gary at Shepherd's Bush. These songs can only be reduced by attempts to define what they 'mean': in Wordsworth's line, 'We murder to dissect'. Surely their extraordinary longevity – the fact that neither fans nor (apparently) band get tired of them – owes a tremendous amount to the denseness, unpredictability, and crafty word-play of Reid's writing. Whatever meaning his songs have is created in the mind of the listener each time they're heard: each occasion offers new frames of reference, new shades of interest. Someone in the bar was even joking that this song has gradually come to refer to Pat Keating, Kansas's one-man Harum archive (who incidentally supplied Pete Solley with memory-jogging tapes to help him through the set).

And so it was that later, when Gary reflected between numbers that it had been painful for him to watch the 'Beat Club' footage of the band, with its constant reminders of 'one who I am with no more', I felt that, for all its 29-year familiarity, I had never properly heard that line from Glimpses of Nirvana before.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Matthew Fisher, Hammond;
Mick Grabham, guitar + voice; Matt Pegg, bass

'First waltz of the evening,' announced Brooker (so Barricades must be in compound time!) as he led his cohorts through the lovely melody and famously-obscure crabwise chord-progression of A Rum Tale. The title may be one more self-referential pun (Ha-Rum Tale?), but ever since 'I called out for another drink', the Procol world has been aswill with alcohol: 'the sot ... sips his creme de menthe'; 'be with me when I need a drink'; 'rum was served' ; 'too many women and not enough wine'; 'we drink fine wine'; 'just one more glass' 'Cock Robin ... calls out for his favourite drink'; '... a little too much wine last night'; fans will doubtless be able to come up with many other references to 'a drunkard's crazy thirst'.

Last time I heard A Rum Tale played, at Cheltenham, it seemed to be an (uncommonly whimsical) overlap of two recurrent motifs from the Grand Hotel album, over-indulgence and love-gone-wrong. But tonight, with a memorial bouquet of flowers footing BJ's drum-riser, I heard it as the ballad of someone who, unable to find a seat on the gravy train, gets whisked off by the whisky train instead. It's public indifference, as much as fuddled fancy, that impels this exiled voice to 'live only on rum'; 'if no-one will pay me', he'll hope to be taken up by God. Either way he's 'not coming home'.

It would be fatuous, for all sorts of obvious reasons, to suggest that this is what the song is 'about' – but this is how its fertile tangle of associations struck me at Redhill. Perhaps it really is 'the perfect crime' to 'turn the water into wine'.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Chris Copping, Hammond;
Mick Grabham, guitar + voice; Matt Pegg, bass

'This one can only end in tears,' announced Gary Brooker, before the band launched into 'probably the most horrible' number they ever recorded. Horrible or not, this song was high on my wish-list: it has a sound-world all of its own in the Brooker/Reid catalogue and it was a huge delight to hear it played again. Keith Reid had declared, on video, that 99% of Procol Harum songs started life with his verbal contribution: I wonder if this remarkable number is part of the missing one percent?

However the Wedge came about, it's a fantastic marriage of uneasy words and music: what other band would dare juxtapose that antiphonal vocal arrangement, that bittersweet plateau of a chorus, and that chromatic see-saw melody, hammered out on simultaneous slow piano, bass and guitar – a kind of Gothic bebop bassline, filtered through infected treacle? Mixed metaphor or not, I wanted it to go on forever: and if the song did end in tears, they were surely tears of joy.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Chris Copping, bass;
Mick Grabham, guitar; Pete Solley, Korg synth / Hammond

In Henry Scott-Irvine's film Gary and Matthew had reminisced about the 'absolutely splendid' lightshows that used to accompany their 60s gigs. Though the lighting designers had set out to illustrate the music – Fisher pointed out that the opposite was true for cinema pianists in pre-talkie days – it was really a case of two independent performances happening simultaneously, said Brooker.

At Redhill the lighting was more functional, but for Strangers in Space (also on my wish-list!) Brooker asked for a deep blue light: effective, though not quite as eerie as the pictorial backdrop that accompanied this song on tour in 1977. You could listen with eyes shut, however, and let this sparse and soulful music create its own unearthly atmosphere. I thought Pete Solley's spacey effects, loaded into the rented Korg 01W/FD from a floppy he'd prepared earlier, seemed less elaborate and dominating than twenty years ago: but the Hammond lines – he alternated between the instruments, without falling between the two stools – were subtle and inventive, confirming him as a worthy, albeit short-lived, occupant of the PH organ chair.

In fact this number also showcased some nice soloing from Mick Grabham and Chris Copping, the latter clearly relishing every moment of blue limelight. But here, perhaps more than anywhere else, we felt the lack of BJ Wilson, and the flexible way he would shape and drive a number: perhaps this was why I felt that this particular song didn't quite have the poignant aura and intensity that an ideal performance would achieve.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Chris Copping, bass + voice;
Matthew Fisher, Hammond; Mick Grabham, guitar + voice

Piggy Pig Pig, on the other hand, was a triumphant knockout, and I have to say, with due respect to all the available players, that this was my absolute favourite line-up of the night. As with the earlier Kaleidoscope, they did more than justice to this terrific song, with its staccato rhythms and its torrential blood and pus. Everyone was rocking flat-out, forging a titanic sound that was worlds away from the number's first, somewhat fey outing as revealed in the video Shine On were selling in the foyer (worth buying to see Keith Reid playing the organ!). The rumpus subsided for a moment's crisp piano: then the fury resumed until the sudden, perfect cut-off (no need here for a Brooker hand-signal) which suggested an arrangement honed by nightly touring, not hastily assembled for a one-off concert.

Graham Broad was talking anxiously before the show, while we punters queued for our supper. 'We played through more than a hundred numbers in rehearsal,' he told me, 'but none of them more than once!' I don't know exactly how many songs there are in the Procol repertoire but they must have played nearly everything! And if Chris Copping 'flew in on Thursday and hasn't stopped talking', as Gary Brooker told us, the rehearsal must have been treated as a glorious reunion by the musicians rather than as a stint of arduous preparation.

It was undoubtedly disappointing that the gig wasn't recorded. Following the success of Within our House I thought that Gary might again 'arrange a mobile recorder in case the unique evening turned out to be worth saving': but he evidently considered that a formal taping might erode the party atmosphere: and, having seen how much the band were enjoying themselves, one wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, voice + piano;
Chris Copping, acoustic guitar; Mick Grabham, guitar; Pete Solley, violin

In any case there will surely be no shortage of unofficial recordings. Gary even joked, 'Got the tape running, Hermann?' while the band regrouped; and the people I saw clutching at their breast-pockets in the interval, complaining about flat batteries, can't all have been worrying about their pacemakers.

'I think this one is a Brooker/Reid,' said Gary, as the band swept into this surprising rarity from the Something Magic tour. Die-hards in the audience whooped with delight: fans only of the famous singles, however, lured to Redhill by his last-minute spot on local television, may have been taken aback by the bluegrass fiddle eruption! I was, too, since I'd heard from Pete Solley that he hadn't picked up his violin in twenty years.

I can't say I could hear Chris Copping's guitar, though: what a shame he had not brought his beloved banjo from down under! I understand that the only gear flown in for the show was Pete Solley's fiddle-bow, bought long ago at Hill Brothers in London, which he says is 'worth more than all the keyboards put together.' He played an electric violin borrowed from Fairport Convention which, lacking a conventional chin-rest, threatened to slip away from him as he played: yet the song stomped along in exciting style, Mick Grabham's guitar-break slipping in with utter precision: it could have been 1977 again, had Gary still been doing his Dylan vocal impression.

I always imagined that this hoedown had been written as a vehicle for violin, when the 'Hackney boy' (as Brooker introduced him in 1977) joined the band. Not so, Solley told me (in pink jacket, puffing his cigar, he sounds a real 'Florida boy' now): it was a number Brooker and Reid had been kicking about for a while, uncertain how to treat it. It's intriguing to wonder just how many other songs they wrote have yet to find their proper outlet in this lucky way!

Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, voice + piano;
Matthew Fisher, Hammond; Mick Grabham, guitar; Matt Pegg, upright bass

I watched in surprise as Matt Pegg brought out a double-bass and plugged in next door to Dave Bronze. Procol sets are built around contrast: what number could we expect to hear now? Suddenly, unexpectedly, with typical Brooker understatement – 'I think this one was in the charts thirty years ago,' – the most famous song of all was under way.

There were wonderful indications of the scale of this hit in the fascinating foyer exhibition, presented by Dutch rock journalist, Frans Steensma: it depicted the extraordinary variety of AWSoP sleeves down the years – official, bootleg, accurate, misspelt, with variant pictures, coloured vinyl: seven-inch, twelve-inch, maxi-singles, Japanese pressings, Angolan ... and this was a mere fragment of Frans's Procol archive, a collection greatly reinforced, I believe, by the generosity of Whaler-in-Chief, Michael Ackermann.

Fans of the 'missing' verses were disappointed to hear Gary launch straight into 'she said there is no reason' after the first chorus, but the song didn't wind up after this: in fact, it gathered momentum – and the two bassists began to diverge as well – until we were favoured with the 'mermaid' verse and then (first time in my experience) the 'cardboard' one as well! It was glorious to hear the meisterwerk at such length, but – regarding the 'cardboard' stanza – I must admit there are better words around.

Of Matthew Fisher's spine-tingling organ line, of course, there's really nothing left to say. He keeps closer to the original architecture of the part than Chris Copping used to, his ornamentation sparer, tauter, and consequently more telling. I guess this owes as much to Matthew's exquisite pop-sensibility as to a chain of academic influence (through Guildhall tutor Nicholas Danby) reaching back to the baroque masters he so much enjoys; though some might not agree.

In a BBC Radio Merseyside interview (1992) Fisher declared: 'I can name you any number of records that have had a hundred times more care taken over them ... [where] the arrangement is interesting and different things come in on different verses ... AWSoP was very much like, "OK, one two three four, all together ..."; not an awful lot of thought went into it ... nevertheless: it's a great record.' Equally Brooker, speaking on Radio 4's 'Kaleidoscope' just before the Barbican gig, opined that the reasons for its success would have to remain a mystery.

Perhaps in deference to its serendipitous origins, the band have developed the arrangement very little over its first thirty years; but the extra bottom provided by two basses made this an extraordinarily powerful performance for all its great familiarity. One enjoyable new facet was the way six full beats are now devoted to 'and so it' before each chorus, allowing the fullest scope for Fisher's two-manual glissando (it's worth recalling how this double-handed sweep was a big part of the effect that caught our ears back in 1967). And this monster version left no time for the piano coda which has emerged in the 90s – it ended simply in a colossal roar of applause, as the audience rose to their feet, and the beaming band retired for the interval.

This break gave us the chance to seek out, and warmly thank, Diane Rolph and John Grayson, and through them anyone else instrumental in conceiving and convening the whole Procol Party. Thanks to their dedication and hard slog (not to speak of Diane's background in arts management, and John's in lentil management!) the whole event looked impeccably and intelligently organised, stylish and civilised without being overpowering: it gave an impression of effortlessness which I am sure must have been entirely deceptive.

The prime location, free parking, and wholesome food made the Redhill experience much more than just a concert or fan-club convention: it bore all the hallmarks of an integrated corporate presentation, with its polo-shirts, lapel-pins, balloons, baseball-caps, video-jackets ... not to mention acres of cake ... all presented in the same stylish typefaces, principally in the Deram colours of the record whose birthday we were celebrating.

Such attention to detail presents the other fan-club organisations – Whaling Stories, and The Homburg Society – with a hard act to follow: though it will be glorious if they take up the idea of putting together musical reunions of this sort. Diane did have the advantage of already knowing the Harlequin Theatre and staff – in fact her daughter Annabel was 'manning' the box-office on April 1st, that mad multilingual morning when the world's Procoholics all rang in at 10 am prompt for their tickets (85 calls it took me to get through!). Two more of her offspring were operating follow-spots on the night; there were Grayson kin issuing our conference-style identity tags at the reception desk; and John's wife, Christine Ayre, had done all the day's graphic design. I hope all these helpers managed to enjoy the music as well.

The tags smacked slightly of overkill, but they did allow the faithful to recognise each other's names and personalities from published fan-letters, articles, and Internet postings. Only a few had been subverted: 'Monsieur Armand' was the alias of one Homburg Society member, his address apparently 'Memorial Drive, Outside the Gates of Cerdes'!

These Homburg Society folk looked very striking in their Keith Reid tee-shirts: it was hardly the weather for overlong overcoats. We were spilling out of the crowded foyer into a lovely summer evening, doubtless a welcome relief to the many pilgrims from overseas ... and a different kind of warmth pervaded the whole gathering as enthusiasts of every generation and nationality mingled in a generous spirit of excitement and mutual interest.

There's not so much sea between us: in this company you were no freak if you still had three sealed copies of each album in reserve, if you had just spent a hundred pounds on merchandise, if you already had 'six hundred Procol Harum items at home' as one ardent fan informed me. It was good to nod to faces familiar from previous gigs, to see Kellogs, Franky Brooker, or Sue Reid (Keith's sister) mingling in the throng; and to be able to thank Henry Scott-Irvine, whom many had sought out, for his part in the success of the evening.

Before the second set began, Diane Rolph and John Grayson took the stage to present Gary Brooker with two gold discs from David Platz, commemorating A Whiter Shade of Pale's monster sales. To perform to every owner of this record Procol Harum would have to play Redhill nightly for fifty-seven years! By this time another twenty million AWSoPs would have been shifted, leaving its publishers well-and-truly storing the silver and hoarding the gold, even if its creators still had counting-houses full of lead.

These awards were unceremoniously stowed by the piano-stool, since Gary's priority was to thank everyone who had made such a wonderful evening possible; especially, of course, Diane, who, as he put it, organises things much better than the people who actually get paid to do it.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Alan Cartwright, bass;
Matthew Fisher, Hammond; Mick Grabham, guitar

The band eased gently back into gear with the 'Trouser Song'. To my ears, this second single was a world away from the first (though the lyric of one does fit the other's music – try it!). Homburg's words seemed more anxious and parochial, its verse-melody and bassline were markedly more static, and the contour of its chorus climbed where the AWSoP refrain descended; its guitar was distinctly audible, and crunching piano had overtaken the organ in the mix. Yet in a way it's not surprising that 1967's pundits dubbed it 'son of Pale': the two records were indeed similar in their difference from anything else that was around – the imitators were yet to catch up – and they shared that unmistakable voice.

Tonight Gary Brooker had regrouped his words slightly – 'both themselves and also any fool' taken in a single breath – partly to enhance the sense, perhaps, and partly because he is tending anyway to start phrases dramatically later and later. The offbeat vocal entry has always been a characteristic bluesman's signature: incidentally, it's easier to pitch the note once the chord has sounded.

Low-key ensemble-playing allowed Matthew Fisher's organ counterpoint, progressively ornamented, to shine through each chorus. Alan Cartwright took his bassline carefully, by the book: gone was the semitone climb through the chorus that Matt Pegg favoured on the 1995 tour, gone the few reconsidered notes Nicholas Dodd supplied for Dave Bronze on the Symphonic recording. I can't honestly say I missed the humbug of his sumptuous prelude from that version either: the original Homburg is really one of few Procol Harum records we haven't heard bettered 'in real life'.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Matthew Fisher, Hammond;
Mick Grabham, guitar; Matt Pegg, bass

It would be interesting to know how the personnel for particular numbers was arrived at: one might have expected to hear Chris Copping's organ and Alan Cartwright's bass Bringing Home the Bacon, from the line-up that originated this storming number. But that's no complaint: everything sounded fantastic, particularly the superb work from the rhythm-section here: the only two players of the evening who have not featured on any official band recordings, they perfectly negotiated the rhythmical surprises of the opening, and the sudden silences that underscore Reid's vibrant invective.

Gary Brooker hurtled his dangerous way through this minefield of clustered consonants and never-quite-repeating references to the bloated 'milk-fed baby dumpling.' While the word 'baby' is much used in popular music, it seldom refers to an infant: Keith Reid doesn't use it entirely literally either – neither here nor in Playmate of the Mouth! There was in fact a charming, literal baby among the 480 fans, whose development will certainly have benefited from the evening's music. The Hand that Rocks the Cradle might have provided a more benign lullaby but, whether deliberately or not, no music by offstage collaborators or past members had been selected for tonight: no Trower, no Matt Noble, and no Chris Thompson (of Manfred Mann fame), Cradle's co-author.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Matthew Fisher, Hammond;
Mick Grabham, guitar; Matt Pegg, bass

This belting Bacon line-up stayed on stage for Cerdes, whose much looser construction allowed everyone (notably Matt Pegg) the chance for some more exploratory playing. This was the first number I ever heard Geoff Whitehorn perform with the band (tonight this most ardent late-Procoler was touring the States, sad that he couldn't be in two places at once) and I well remember the delight of hearing how seamlessly his guitar-work, rather more showy than his Procol ancestors', wove itself into the Harum sound. Yet hearing Mick Grabham play it now – fewer notes, more bluesy bends – we were reminded how the band's material seems able to absorb, and its audience to warm to, a real variety of approaches to soloing. Robin Trower's, on the record, was quite different again: so highly-structured, in fact, that it scarcely seemed improvised at all.

This song and A Christmas Camel strike me now as the most closely-related numbers on that first album, in terms of word-flavour, sound and structure: but the comparison was not so obvious back in the days when one had to extricate the LP from the auto-changer and flip it over between the two tracks. Compact discs are undoubtedly a thousand times more convenient: yet they deny us that physical involvement with the records, that hot smell under the Dansette lid, that terror of scratching one's treasures. They have also deprived us of the original sense in which Cerdes seemed a powerful 'first-act closer', and the Camel opening (however reminiscent of Ballad of a Thin Man!) an arresting start of something new.

Gary Brooker illustrated the first verse of the present lyric for us by flashing, not, sadly, a flugelhorn, but a glimpse of his customised Salty Dog 'Hero' tee-shirt, glittering with rhinestones, fresh on for this second set. In the foyer, before and after the show, he had been sporting a hand-drawn tee-shirt depicting many former Procols, a present from North America's Homburg Society members.

He also took the opportunity of advising the audience's word-completists – those who have been struggling to decipher this most unguessable lyric – that Phallus Phil and Sousa Sam's verse-two companion is not 'Pete' (as my Essex lead-sheet claims!) but 'Peep'. What we are to make of this revelation I am not certain. The name seems no more baffling than the character himself: insisting on terra-cotta cups, from which to 'sip' his crème de menthe, he must be the most refined and fastidious sot that ever lived.

Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Matthew Fisher, Roland synth + Hammond;
Mick Grabham, guitar; Matt Pegg, upright bass; Pete Solley, Korg synth

In the 'Beat Club' film Gary Brooker called Power Failure a song about 'rushing around with a group on tour'; so when he now announced that the band would play 'our rock and roll tour song' I was hoping to hear 'speech reduced by poor relations' and 'tossed and crossed and screwed in transit' – rock words don't come any richer with mischievous ambiguity. But the seven players had in fact assembled to play the mighty Grand Hotel, with its majestic evocation of a very different on-the-road lifestyle. In all probability, I would guess, the band spent no more time on 'serenade and sarabande' than they did actually 'falling over burning chairs'.

When the Symphonic record came out Gary Brooker claimed that this song was now 'lost to rock music' and that he would never be able to sing it again. In fact at the Barbican (in rehearsal more than in the event) his voice was adopting some of the operatic inflections and super-consonants that Jerry Hadley brought to this number. But tonight Brooker was himself again, doing the song as much justice as we've ever heard. The enhanced line-up allowed the band to present the Milliways section in its full quasi-Viennese glory, with none of the Humphrey Bogart tangoing or other melodic stowaways with which they have sometimes sent it up. Bowed double-bass deepened the orchestration, and the twenty-two mandolins were impersonated by a subtle blend of synth samples and Mick Grabham's authentic tremolando. There was constant interest from every player in the ensemble, as well as the restraint which prevents grandiosity slipping into bombast.

All that I missed from the song's Barbican incarnation was the plangent solo violin – Pete Solley wisely didn't rise to this challenge – and the richness of a full-sized concert Steinway. Not that Shine On had stinted in this respect: they had hired a proper grand, sounding better than the Kurzweil / 'Rhodesia' piano the band resorts to for touring, and looking better than the dummy case it was coffined in at Shepherd's Bush. So Gary sounded great, playing his intricate, cascading piano-part in marvellously nimble fashion: though not one of rock's crossover virtuosi, he remains perpetually accurate and inventive, whatever the pressure of the occasion.

A ROBE OF SILK (a few bars only)
Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Matthew Fisher, Hammond

Throughout this concert – this party – there was an unusual, and amusing, rapport between stage and audience. Only in the company of the faithful could Gary expect to be understood, explaining how coincidence had not been unkind to the band, when he referred to 'our little cat turning out to mean "beyond these things"'. At times he really was the 'pleasingly facetious master of ceremonies' that The Guardian dubbed him, asking if anyone had the cricket score, commenting that Solley's transAtlantic flight had left his arms tired, or comparing some fan's pilgrimage across the globe with his own trek 'from the other end of Surrey!'

On the 1995 tour he said the band would play any requests submitted in writing, accompanied by the chords: tonight he had teased us that we could leave suggestions in a box somewhere in the foyer. Now some optimist near the front called out for In Held 'Twas in I, only to be fobbed off with the claim that Procol Harum didn't play anything longer than three minutes! Yet the request he played instead was barely longer than three seconds: a tantalising snatch of the 1967 Shine on Brightly outtake, A Robe of Silk (Matthew Fisher instantly chiming in on Hammond), which was sadly allowed to fade away despite bellowing insistence that they play it all.

This set me wondering whether Gazza records, with its recent experience of making and distributing Within Our House, couldn't manage to put together a short-run CD of lost Procol Harum songs. Whatever their origin ... DATs from the sound-desk, home demos, abandoned mixes, solo voice and piano ... devoted fans would snap them up. Never mind the imaginary tracks invented for Shine On by Gene Davidson: this dream album (I'd call it Diaspora, by the way) would include A Robe of Silk, Into the Flood, I Realize, Last Train to Niagara, MacGregor, So Far Behind, Stoke Poges, This Old Dog, Well I ... and the legendary Alpha, which John Grayson tells me he heard in the States – 'a damn good song'.

Perhaps Shine On's current video venture, promoting Robin Copping's (mysteriously-titled?) The Procol Harum, will pave the way for further musical merchandising. And with Jens Anders Ravnaas getting more than a hundred daily visitors to his ever-expanding website, advertising such a CD would be no worry: we'll be queuing for it, trunk to tail.

Graham Broad, drums; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Matthew Fisher, Hammond;
Mick Grabham, guitar; Matt Pegg, bass
(now confirmed!)

Like Homburg and Whaling Stories, this song has given its name to a fan-club, and it holds an equally important place in fans' affections. Many of us in 1968 must have felt that its opening attack would have made it a more striking third single than the gently-dawning Quite Rightly So.

Sadly the evening's sound-balance, which up to now had shone so brightly, fell apart as this great number started. Mick Grabham's piggy-pig-pig rhythm at the top of the neck threatened to overpower the rest of the band – his guitar had been gradually mixed higher during the evening, in response to intermittent shouts from the audience, but now there were gesticulations in the wings to the opposite effect – and a just balance was never quite recaptured for the rest of the song. I was particularly sorry not to have been able to hear Matthew Fisher's organ-part properly, as well as seeing how uninhibitedly he was playing it. To my mind Shine on Brightly features the finest Fisher on record, not just the elegant solo, but the verse-by-verse development of his rising motif in the background.

It also boasts one of the most perfectly-constructed bass-lines on the early albums: I'd love to know if these parts were Dave Knights's invention, or if the distinctive chord-inversions were intrinsic to Gary Brooker's conception of the song. The arrangement might, of course, have been suggested by anyone in rehearsal: Matthew Fisher plays the bass himself, and his solo-albums are similarly inversion-conscious. Perhaps this is a trait of proper organists: I've heard JS Bach described (by Jack Bruce, in a 1969 TV special) as 'king of the bass-players'!

I was so intent on watching Mick Grabham doubling this bass line on guitar that I didn't note who was playing the actual bass. I'm sure it was Mr Pegg: he was certainly on stage for a lot of the evening – to the undoubted delight of a contingent of female fans! (To pursue this politically-inadmissible theme: most of the Shine On mailing list is male, but Procol Harum music certainly attracts good numbers of women devotees. Some presumably agree with Douglas Adams's sister that 'Gary is gorgeous'; and Brooker managed both to acknowledge and to dismiss the charms of his rival pin-up by asking, 'Who's this nice young man?' when Pegg first took the stage; then he obliged Matt to turn round and show off his pony-tail, an accessory the Commander no longer sports. 'I remember that,' he said ruefully, adding, 'Who needs it, eh?', then answering his own question by muttering something about Chris Copping.

As Matthew Fisher was signing records for fans after the show (he drew a large crowd, as did his mother, who was heard to enquire, 'How come he's so poor, if he's so famous?') he commented that he much preferred the British Shine on Brightly sleeve-design, which so carefully illustrates the extravagant imagery of the title song, to the American version, which just strikes him as 'a photograph someone had hanging around'. Perhaps when Jens has perfected his interactive website we can organise a fans' poll about Procol album-covers: no doubt the great ones are great: but how did Home get released? And does anyone feel that the artwork for The Prodigal Stranger is properly in tune with the music? Perhaps, in addition, some trivia-completist will be able to confirm my suspicion that the George Underwood who painted the preferred Shine on Brightly cover is the same person whose schoolboy scrap with David (Bowie) Jones left that star's eyes with one pupil so much larger than the other.

Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, voice + piano;
Matthew Fisher, Hammond; Mick Grabham, guitar; Pete Solley, Korg synth

Some of us, having stayed back to help clear the theatre, were offered stage set-lists by kindly technical staff: these revealed that New Lamps for Old was supposed to have come next, though the schedule was marked 'subject to change'. 'The eye of the needle, the loss of the thread' is a line I'd have enjoyed hearing again, but the jaded flavour of its setting might have sapped energy from the concert at this point.

Which was certainly not the case when Conquistador started up instead, a post-Edmonton arrangement, with trumpets synthesised on the Korg, but very much the 1967 Jimmy Smith over-handed chording in the Hammond solo. Gary Brooker's vocal performance was again quite marvellous here, and the drumming was outstanding, crisply accentuating the syncopated chord-changes. This was another number that raised a tremendous ovation.

Now Brooker left the stage to fetch a telegram, asking Dave Bronze to entertain us, which he declined. Instead Mick Grabham obliged: it's a long while since I heard his gentle Northern tones on stage, reciting a poem that ended, 'But when the moon shines on your tits! Cor, Jesus Christ almighty!' Twenty years on, his offering again had a comic religious theme, concerning St Peter's admission-policy at the pearly gates.

The telegram, from Keith Reid in New York, had been on the piano all the time. Determined to make light of the disappointing non-appearance of his writing partner (without whom, as Matthew Fisher has said, 'there would be no Procol Harum'), Gary explained that Reid was embroiled in builder-trouble. He might have gone on to claim that his kitchen ceiling had collapsed and crumbled without warning, but in fact the tale was even more grotesque: poor Keith had 'put his foot in a bucket of molten lead' (in 'The Procol Harum' video Reid suggests that he and Brooker go together 'like Laurel and Hardy'!). Luckily his slapstick misfortune did not prevent him sending greetings to the celebrants and saluting the band, not forgetting 'those lost in action'.

He sent a curious poem as well, part of which went something like, 'When you look back, there's blood on those tracks; if you read between the lines, who knows what you might find.' Whether this acknowledges his early Dylan influence, or merely warns us not to deceive ourselves with interpretations, its retrospective tone emitted a chill whiff of finality: but Brooker, resolutely unsentimental, shrugged it aside with, 'We might set that to music some day' – the evening's sole hint of any future Procol activity.

Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Matthew Fisher, Roland synth;
Mick Grabham, guitar; Matt Pegg, upright bass; Pete Solley, Korg synth

Even back in the laconic days of 'tuning in with a few tweet-tweets' A Salty Dog enjoyed epochal status in the Harum canon. Now its customary dedication to 'absent friends, and ones who watch us from above' has elevated it even above that, and tonight's performance was one of myth-making intensity. In fact the 'tweet-tweets' have been dispensed with, presumably from choice rather than technical necessity, since the bosun's whistle still shrills out on cue from the sampler.

Sadly there were some fans at Redhill who, unaware of the band's 90s history, had turned up still expecting to hear BJ Wilson play. Procol enthusiasts have learned to put up with vestigial coverage by the media: but fans from cultures more effusive than the British seem surprised that nobody in the band appears to have gone on record with a full paean to BJ's talents. Since Brooker and Reid have penned a number of elegies – Nothing that I didn't Know, Song for a Dreamer, For Liquorice John – why did the last album contain no tribute more specific than (You can't) Turn Back the Page?

And it's understandable to think this way, if you haven't been present at a post-BJ performance of A Salty Dog, the song which apparently moved the drummer so much. The passion in Brooker's voice, as he sings this music to the memory of someone he still can't even name on stage, utterly eclipses any faltering verbal tribute that he might offer. We who valued BJ solely as a musical hero can't reasonably expect to hear our loss articulated by men who also mourn him as a lifetime's friend.

I loved the contribution Mick Grabham's guitar made to this song in the 70s: but when the organ covered missing string parts it often lent the arrangement a rather cheesy aura, perhaps through poor Leslie amplification, or bland registration. Tonight, however, the synthesisers – some fans' bêtes noires – were tastefully and unobtrusively deployed: very believable orchestral strings (and Kellogs's 'bosonic trilling') emanated from Matthew's Akai sampler, MIDI triggered from the old Roland keyboard perched on the Hammond. A nice touch of authenticity came from Matt Pegg, however, whose bowed bass slipped in the string fills while Gary was busy burning the mast.

And how fantastic to hear that voice riding up from 'we made land' into the title-phrase, without apparent strain, yet somehow leaving us in no doubt that we're listening to a hard-won climax. The 'Beat Club' video had also featured A Salty Dog, after which Gary declared that he 'nearly had a stroke' on that high note. I wonder if his present superb breath-control can be traced back to a routine of gardening in clean country air, the very life he seemed to despair of back in the days of SS Blues?

This song was a highlight at the Barbican, where Henry Spinetti made a noble job of it under Maestro Dodd's baton. Tonight Graham Broad, liberated both by the lack of orchestra and by not having known the part's creator, was able to smack out those heart-stopping fills with more rubato, more looseness: if BJ does look down, I cannot see how he can be displeased with the 'young man from Ascot'. It would be magnificent to see Graham on the road with the band again, and I understand nothing would please him better: but he believes he will not be quitting his life of drum sessions, production and fill-in keyboards until Brooker and Reid have some new material to showcase.

Of course this is what all the band's fans would devoutly love to see, and I hope Gary Brooker is not discouraged from composing more Procol material by the apparent impossibility of equalling 'rock's finest hour', as Melody Maker christened A Salty Dog. After all, it must once have seemed impossible to top AWSoP; yet this superb Salty Dog left the audience in no doubt that he had succeeded.

In fact the running-order listed both A Salty Dog and A Whiter Shade of Pale twice, interchangeably. Looking back I'm convinced this uncertainty was resolved to good advantage, letting the rousing Pale marathon conclude the first set: A Salty Dog at that point might have sent us too reflectively into the interval; withholding A Whiter Shade of Pale until now would have swamped what was to come. Though it doesn't make much sense to try comparing the merits of two such classics, I think it was the sound of the original AWSoP that people really fell in love with: whereas for my money A Salty Dog is superior in its harmonic freshness and emotional drama, which made it an unbeatable preparation for the last great surprise of the night ...


Short of unveiling a new album and tour schedule, Brooker, Fisher and co. could not conceivably have devised a better going-away present for tonight's audience than the first-ever non-orchestral airing of this five-part 'Magnum Harum'. This was the hitherto-unperformed secret item Douglas Adams had been bursting to reveal: it was considerably over three minutes long, and it contained some of the most spellbinding playing most fans can remember.

As a piece of writing, of course, it has attracted its critics: even the band are not all comfortable with its 'hippie-trippy flower-power' moments. But is this 'dated', or is it just 'of its time'? I think 'dated' is the ill-advised 'sock it to me' with which Wish me Well paid its respect to Aretha Franklin: 'of its time' – of its wonderful time – is the sonorous 'Om' with which the whole audience set the atmosphere for this epic ride into the interior of Procol Harum's soul.

Douglas Adams, recitation; Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, voice + piano;
Matthew Fisher, Hammond; Mick Grabham, guitar; Matt Pegg, upright bass; Pete Solley, Korg synth

From the outset, I didn't miss the orchestra; I have the Edmonton Symphony on disc and the Royal Philharmonic in memory; but here there were enough players (and sampled bells, choirs, sitars, and atom-bombs) to reproduce the rich overdubbed tapestry of the original recording, while still sounding, and looking, like a rock band.

Admittedly it's a rock band that devotes the first four-and-a-half minutes to the spoken word, a trick often criticised for spawning The Worm and the Tree, black sheep of the Procol family. But the declamatory vocal on that suite, like the central part of The Dead Man's Dream, is metrically written, and by my guess was originally intended to be set to a melody. Not so the opening of Glimpses of Nirvana, whose uncontrived form suits its confessional tone. Reid's writing is open enough to admit pretentiousness, but knowing enough to pre-empt criticism: and, just in case we still want to cringe with embarrassment, Brooker subverts the mystic punchline by giving the Dalai Lama a cod-Pakistani accent.

Then the band crashes in fast and frantic – the composer-credit does not tell us exactly who wrote what, but I think we're hearing Fisher in this sequence of harmonies – and soon we emerge into the tranquil of the sitar (later oboe) melody. The Korgified koto effects here were more of a novelty than a success, really; but most of my attention was on Gary Brooker. Much as I enjoyed all his piano-playing at Redhill, it was chiefly in the set-pieces (like this lovely Moonlight evocation) that he was exposed: it would have been nice to have heard some more of his excellent rocking improvisation as well.

Whoever devised the global title of this magnum opus presumably saw it as having five verbal sections: yet the local title, Glimpses of Nirvana, embraces both the 'In' and the 'Held' episodes. The metrical 'Held close ...' ushers in a very different mood, and requires a different voice from the 'beanstalk' saga: properly, the delicate voice of Keith Reid.

But now we were to find out why our Master of Ceremonies had been so excited, as Douglas Adams stalked onstage, into Reid's spotlight, and undertook his sigh and his recitation, with faultless timing on both. Many fans must dream of getting up to perform with the band: how many can claim to have followed in Keith Reid's footsteps? (Given the molten lead episode, mind you, how many would want to?). I grew familiar with the back of Adams's head at university, where they sat us in alphabetical order for exams: I never imagined I'd hear the front of it disgorging these hallowed lines. But his 'sitting in' has in fact followed a logical, alliterative progression: Python in the 70s, Pink Floyd in the 80s, Procol in the 90s!

'Nothing's better left unsaid ... only sometimes' is a classic instance of the contradiction that pervades Reid's writing, where ships 'run afloat', feelings are 'hard to remember, hard to forget' and divers will 'neither sink nor swim'. It seems a kind of cousin to the homiletic 'I have often been sorry for having spoken, but never for holding my tongue': checking the author of this, I found it was one St Arsenius, whose feast day is – needless to say – July 19th, Redhill Day.

Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Matthew Fisher, Hammond;
Mick Grabham, guitar + voice; Matt Pegg, upright bass; Pete Solley, Korg synth

The silly critics who saddled the band with their pompous 'classic-rock' tag can never have had ringside experience of a show like tonight's, which made use of everything from the blues to the ballroom, via hillbilly and the movies. (Interviewed in Henry Scott-Irvine's film, Gary Brooker remarked that the Stax sound was also an important influence, 'but it's difficult to see it in anything we've done'!)

Now Graham Broad's crisp snare rolls, and the witty triple-keyboard quotations from the Circus March, suggested that vaudeville was a vital ingredient in the Procol melting-pot as well, as the curtains opened on the most colourful corner of Keith Reid's inner world. It would no doubt please some listeners to discover that this song refers to the Rolling Stones' Rock & Roll Circus, and that 'King Jimi' was actually Hendrix who, as Gary Brooker reminded us on film, 'barged up' to jam with the band at the Speakeasy. But even if the chronology allowed such an interpretation, Reid has built in the gnomic disclaimer, 'some might not agree', which reminds me of Humpty Dumpty at his most provoking. Curiously enough, a fellow-punter was reading one of the Alice novels a row or so in front of me at one point in the proceedings.

This is a number which works extremely well live, when the crowd all know, without thinking, when to gasp, and can dub in their clapping on cue: at Redhill we became that bewildered Teatime audience at a show where the elephants – surprise! – 'never spoke'. The alienation that pervades the early albums never found more comic expression, except possibly on the 'Edmonton' album, with Brooker's nimbo-faecal Spoonerism!

Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, piano; Chris Copping, Hammond;
Matthew Fisher, voice + acoustic guitar; Mick Grabham, guitar; Matt Pegg, upright bass

One of the most interesting of all the 'Beat-Club' items was Pilgrim's Progress. Chris Copping succeeded in counterfeiting its composer's organ-part exactly, but Brooker – even if he wanted to – could scarcely sing like Fisher, the difference in their vocal timbres being so marked. (Oddly he did go on to become a fisher, but that's another story).

In the Autumn of My Madness, however, is the only Procol Harum song that has been officially recorded by both Brooker and Fisher, and it can't just have been 60s nostalgia that made me hope that Matthew would be singing it tonight. The two men's solo careers – they're the only two from the original band who have gone on to sing their own words – project markedly different personalities: and, without falling into the trap of believing that these are Gary and Matthew's actual personalities, it's legitimate to feel that the uncertain 'things which I believed in are no longer quite enough' comes more fittingly from the author of Hard to be Sure than of Mineral Man.

And suddenly Fisher – his hair still far from turning grey! – was strapping on the guitar he had brought in at the start of the second set, and moving centre-stage, under cover of synthesiser thunder, to sing his fine composition. Acoustic guitar has not been much featured in the Procol sound: I believe Matthew was its first exponent on record, and he plays it live with assurance. He has a less-practised voice than Gary's now but, as he reached up to strangle his friends with words, those passionate high notes certainly chilled many a spine: numerous illicit photographers commemorated the historic occasion.

When a band is neglected by the media its fans, starved of detail, may start to rely on their own speculation about feuds and factions between the musicians. As I've mentioned, solo albums have helped to polarise our perceptions of Brooker and Fisher; and Going For A Song suggests a rancorous schism between them until you hear Matthew explain that he wrote it as if from Gary's point of view! But Procoldom can surely do without the simplistic dualism that says 'Brooker's in charge on stage, he writes most of the music, and his singing dominates every album and concert ... "therefore" any other talent who comes into his sphere must feel exploited and unhappy.'

The Redhill audience knows what a confident figure Fisher cut at the organ that evening, and he looked just as buoyant and capable in the spotlight as singer-guitarist. As his vocal faded and the organ took over, he even took a troubadour's stroll round the stage, ending at the piano to exchange some merry words with the approving Brooker. Enough of this: 'I think I've made myself quite clear'.

It was a welcome return for Chris Copping, who had been so heavily and enjoyably featured in the first half. It was odd to hear him backing his predecessor on Hammond: here he did ample justice to that serpentine organ solo, progressing through every key before being swamped in the sonic madness. The klaxons that cut in were different from either record, but no less alarming, and the final assault on our sanity came from a sample of the original track. I have often wondered what song Gary Brooker was hollering in the midst of that chaos: thanks to Pat Keating for informing me that it's actually part of the chorus of Homburg, played backwards!

Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Chris Copping, Hammond;
Matthew Fisher, Korg synth; Mick Grabham, guitar; Matt Pegg, upright bass

The final three sections of In Held 'Twas in I have occasionally been performed in a band-only arrangement, and Grand Finale had a memorable solo rôle in winding up the Barbican concert. It's hard to judge whether the ravishing Look to Your Soul would also stand up on its own, because I really don't know where a performance of it would start. The Autumn is probably over before the onset of guitar-and-bass riffing, Procol's closest approximation to heavy metal, before those gigantic footsteps begin their hellish march (Matthew Fisher was over at the Korg by now, reinforcing the ugly bass interval – the so-called diabolus in musica – with two stabbing fingers). Then we get another glimpse of Nirvana, its sitar/oboe melody transformed by anguished guitar: and only after this is Look to Your Soul certainly under way. Perhaps a free-standing performance would diminish it too much: the piano chords that herald 'I know if I'd been wiser' may derive their peaceful aura chiefly by contrast with the superlative tumult that precedes them.

Pete Solley nipped back on stage to help Matthew Fisher with the Korg controls; soon we heard realistic harpsichord tracking the piano through the despairing and redemptive verses, and adding its glitter of scales (recycled from She Wandered through the Garden Fence, but to much more exciting effect) under the guitar outburst. Carried away by the majestic match of words and music here, I didn't scribble another note: the energy of the performance – whether it originates in the musicians themselves, or in their material, I couldn't say – had entirely swept aside any retentive wish to preserve it. But I still remember BJ at the Rainbow on this number: he started the magic fill that precedes 'the lesson lies in learning' a bar earlier than he does on record, and all around me the air was full of would-be octopuses in hot baths, flailing in ecstatic imitation of the inimitable.

Where are those air-drummers now, and the wannabe Brookers and Grabham clones? Couldn't they have formed a tribute band, forever touring carbon-copies of this beloved material under some feeble parallel name ('The Procul Harem' would be the obvious choice, I suppose; or 'Beyond the Pale', with its double reference to the band – 'beyond these things' – and their most famous composition). No: of course they couldn't!

Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, voice + piano;
Matthew Fisher, Hammond / Roland synth; Mick Grabham, guitar;
Matt Pegg, upright bass; Pete Solley, Korg synth

Though the first, second and third Procol albums seemed to offer an ever-expanding panoply of musical riches, there were obvious resonances among them, none clearer than the way Matthew Fisher is responsible for concluding each one.

The curiously oblique credit for Repent Walpurgis – 'for which Matthew Fisher may be held responsible' – may have deterred point-scoring reviewers from crowing that the band really didn't compose their own material, but brazenly stole from Bach and Tchaikovsky. By the following year critics had lost interest in 'classic-spotting', and nobody came forward on behalf of Joseph Haydn, who could well 'be held responsible' for the delicate minuet part of Grand Finale. Harmonically complex, and offering smaller scope for improvisation, this second instrumental has been much less-often played than the four-chord Walpurgis passacaglia.

Being a primarily vocal number, Pilgrim's Progress doesn't quite stand comparison, but it's interesting to note that its verses share the harmonic restlessness of Grand Finale, while its jubilant coda returns to the four-chord format of Walpurgis, and of Grand Finale's guitar-workout. (Matthew's ambitiously-designed instrumental Stoke Poges, which he has referred to as 'son of Walpurgis', is also 'classical' in structure, alternating major with minor sections, still moments with raucousness, and harmonic expansiveness with simple, cycling chord patterns; yet the version I have heard substitutes bitty structure and occasional 'prog-rock' clumsiness for the melodic strength of its predecessors. I'm sure Poges must have been powerful in the flesh, but if it was being 'road-tested' as a possible closer for the third album, its producer was probably wise to leave it off: it might have made a disappointing conclusion, not an elevating one, to the glories of A Salty Dog.)

Yet even after Fisher's departure Procol Harum didn't entirely forsake the tendency to conclude albums instrumentally: Robert's Box winds up with band and no singing, while the last hundred seconds of The Worm and the Tree come particularly close to retreading the Finale of the suite that begat it..

When Procol Harum first played In Held 'Twas in I with the orchestra at Stratford, Ontario, Gary Brooker reported being 'almost in tears' by the end, with the 'great choir and orchestra belting out'. Tonight's audience felt much the same, I would guess, as these heroic musicians, some reading from lengthy scores, negotiated the stately modulations towards their showdown with Mick Grabham. Matthew Fisher's second-verse piano-line, played from a MIDI patch, and the sampled choir and strings that ended the show, were sufficiently uplifting to mollify the most hardened synth-haters, and, as an ear-splitting chord concluded the last waltz of the evening, a grateful and transported audience found itself rising to its feet once again.

Graham Broad, drums; Dave Bronze, bass; Gary Brooker, voice + piano; Alan Cartwright, miming bass;
Chris Copping, rhythm guitar; Matthew Fisher, Hammond; Mick Grabham, guitar; Matt Pegg, upright bass;
Pete Solley, Korg synth; 480 Procol Harum fans, voices, tears of joy, etc

As the crowd called out for more I started scrolling mentally through any overlooked favourites – Salad Days, Toujours l'Amour, Perpetual Motion, Long Gone Geek – trying to imagine what might be suitable for an encore: no, it would be Repent Walpurgis or nothing. But the minutes passed ... we clapped furiously ... then desperately ... and it became clear that, if anything at all were to be played, the stage could scarcely be cleared by midnight: and Shine On would be bankrupted paying an extra day's Harlequin hire.

Yet no band could fail to acknowledge such an ovation! All the evening's hard-worked (and unpaid!) musicians eventually returned, uniting for one single-chorus reprise of the totemic AWSoP (it was the first time I'd seen a band with three bassists, though I believe Dizzy Gillespie has toured Switzerland with four!). The crowd began to sing along, with immeasurably more gusto than had been evident in A Dream in Ev'ry Home or Grand Hotel, but as soon as we'd started it was all over: Procol Harum took a final bow, flashbulbs glorified the scene ... and they had left the scene, triumphant.

Moments later, ordinary life took over again. A few faithful fans undertook the dreary task of scooping débris from the auditorium floor, racing to beat the midnight curfew. Within half an hour the musicians were chatting in the foyer, then in the hotel, but already they were individuals again, so many splinters of each separate band, shorn of their collective mystique. In a couple of days they'd be back at their sessions, their businesses, their gardens and their harmless number-crunching ... and so would we.

As the dispersing fans shook each other by the hand a single idea kept returning to our lips: such a fabulous evening must happen again. Next time, we were all thinking, Keith Reid will be able to make it; maybe Mark Brzezicki won't be obliged to play elsewhere, maybe Messrs Harrison, Knights, Phillips, Renwick, Royer, (Snow!), Spinetti, Stevenson, Trower, Wallace and Whitehorn (have I forgotten anyone except Bill Eyden?) will be able to join tonight's heroes on some German, American or Scandinavian stage for the thirty-first anniversary ... the thirty-fifth ... where will it stop? Perhaps, like MacGregor, 'after forty fighting years' they'll all say 'that's it for me!' ... but we'll still turn up to watch them on film!

Well I ... I sat me down to write a simple story, and ended up giving birth to a flood. I can't claim to have got everyone's remarks verbatim, though I've tried to repeat them in the spirit in which they were made. My own words may seem pretentious, but I hope no-one I've reported will cringe with embarrassment, and that nothing would have been better left unsaid.

After all this rambling on, am I any closer to defining what's really at the heart of our devotion to this old cat? Of course not. Let it remain ungraspable, hard to remember, hard to forget. But though Procol Harum may feel like prophets without honour in their own country – mere 'one hit wonders' – they must take heart from the Redhill experience: for their wondering admirers, it was simply one hit after another.

And so in closing let me thank Shine On, Henry, and the Redhill Nine, for giving us ... something magic. This spewing verbiage is one fan's attempt to pass it on.

Photo Christina Hermansson

A copiously-illustrated reprint of this article may be found in the Redhill Glossy Souvenir


Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home