'Live at the Marquee' conjures an image of a smoke-filled London dungeon, but we'd found ourselves in the heart of rural England, in the unlikely setting of a sportsman's BBQ.
'We never thought that we'd end up in Stockport Rugby Club,' said Gary, 'but it's pretty nice ...'
'Nice' is perhaps not the first word that comes to my mind today in describing Saturday's event, though I must stress from the outset that the Band played superbly well and our small band of Procol promenaders enjoyed great intimacy from the front-of-stage dance floor. I'll run through the set shortly, but first explore the way the event was set up to make it difficult for the Band to have a triumphal success before 1,100 potential converts.
The whole Stockport Marquee enterprise is ambitious and possesses a reasonable pedigree of success (Paul Jones, The Animals, and Elkie Brooks have evidently all done well in previous years) and the tent was superbly set out and equipped. The hospitality was kind and thoughtful – some locals were intrigued that anyone should travel a long way to see Procol Harum, and were keen to learn more about the band, whom most basically knew only for that one monster hit in the summer of love – as the MC put it. Incidentally he also uttered the immortal line which will go down in the annals of the band, namely, 'the fabulous Procol Harum will be on after the raffle'.
In a nutshell, Procol Harum's music is wholly unsuited to accompany a thousand people's post-drink and dinner conversation. It is also impossible to receive more than a polite reception from revellers who have been dancing like dervishes to excellent R'n'B and Motown support acts all night and possibly view serious music after 11pm as being something to tolerate rather than truly enjoy. Procol Harum is for the concert hall, or for a club setting when the band is truly headlining – not just going on last, after everyone is tired!
I suggest the ideal number of support acts for a Procol Harum gig is either one, or better still, none at all. Here we had two very good acts, R'n'B band Nine Below Zero and funky Motown diva Ruby Turner who each played hour-long sets that went down a storm. It was then pretty difficult for the audience to assimilate the serious stuff (Procol) later.
Anyway enough of the gripes. I was tired too. Despite the rather polite reception (not in any way hostile, I must stress – these were really friendly folk) and the lateness of the hour, our heroes played really well.
They started with the showcase Bringing Home the Bacon and followed with Pandora's Box. Gary asked for more vocal volume prior to Homburg and it was now clear there was a residual husky edge to his voice, but not one that detracted from his performance. Typewriter Torment was louder and punchier than on CD, then we moved on to one of the 'octet of war songs in two parts' the superb Fires (Which Burnt Brightly). Gary wondered when the last 'bus was leaving, then reckoned a happy song was what was required – cue She Wandered through The Garden Fence – great to hear this live and loud! We then went on to the first highlight of the evening – A Salty Dog, with Geoff's complete mastery of the guitar wringing out emotion in the second verse and aiding the 'orchestration' of the third. I can't quite get used to Mark's slightly later drum entry at the start, compared with BJ's, but he did punctuate the last verse superbly well, after the gun was fired. Gary hit the high spots effortlessly – maybe I shouldn't have been worried about the throat after all!
We then went native (after what had gone earlier) with an excellent Seem to have the Blues (Most all of the Time) which has really grown on me, after seemingly having been a discarded relic of the repertoire.
We then arrived at the true double whammy for Procol Harum fans – performances of the new song An Old English Dream and Matthew Fisher's Separation, previously heard orchestrated on his second solo album.
After a piano start, An Old English Dream told of '10,000 souls, some live in mansions, some live in holes'. It worked really well, with the whole band producing what sounds almost the finished article. There was some dancing in the audience – the true sign of satisfaction – and this developed with closer fondness during Matthew's sublime Separation, which he played with pride and feeling and Geoff played a beautiful solo in the middle. Could one humbly suggest this pairing for a single release? Judging from the favourable reaction of the locals, why not go for slow-dancing instrumental immortality – this could be as big as Fleetwood Mac's Albatross. The organ melody is hauntingly beautiful but the guitar solo is the clincher. Truly fantastic!
A jolly Beyond the Pale, an immaculate Grand Hotel (with everyone wonderful), but for once not introduced by Gary – a sign of the midnight hour. The up-tempo As Strong as Samson got as few more dancers up for a bop then a record-perfect rendition of A Whiter Shade of Pale saw the greatest number of dancers on the floor, a few arms raised and waved, and (at last!) a big response from the audience.
Time to go (police interest, they said) – no encore, just a short word from Gary at the side of the stage introducing the Band again and the MC describing them as "the smartest band in the business", as he took his own personal photos of the ensemble.
So there you are. Procol played really well. A great set for the Palers, who had a very close encounter of a most wonderful kind. And pass marks at the end from the big audience in the Marquee.
We look forward now to a new album and a conventional tour, maybe world-wide, sometime in the not-too-distant future. And looking to the album after that – what about a further orchestral outing?
Oh I forgot! We are truly blessed at this moment in time. The Copenhagen DVD is superb!