Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum in Bamberg, Germany

Gottfried Pelnasch in Fränkischer Tag : November 2003

Peter Kuppers in Maastricht kindly sends BtP this review of Procol Harum in Bamberg (from the local newspaper) and its English translation.

"Since I'm neither German, nor English I had to translate it from German into Dutch and from Dutch into English. So some of the German subtleties may have gone out en some English mistakes may have crept in. But since Geoff Whitehorn translated Abbey Road into Via Abbus in lieu of Via Abbatia, who am I ...?

I saw Procol twice in 2003. The first time in Cologne, in March. Very cosy, lots of atmosphere and an organ player who tried to strangle a technician during the opening seconds of Grand Hotel, because one of the keyboards didn't give him the feed back he wanted to hear.

Each November we (three friends) spend some days in Bamberg to enjoy the beauty of the city and its surrounding landscape, make long walks and drink the wonderful beers from the small Franconian breweries. Imagine my surprise when I read Procol's tour schedule 2003 at 'Beyond The Pale'. November 24, Bamberg (Konzerthalle). So off we went. Two Procoholics and an innocent bystander. Would he enjoy the show as well or did he prefer an evening of drinking beer alone? Everybody who loves Procol Harum knows the answer. The group made another convert. Within two weeks he bought some Procol CDs and ordered Live In Utrecht 1992 from 'Shine On'.

Of course the sound quality in Bamberg was better than in Cologne. There is some difference between a concert hall and a canteen. The band started a bit weaker, though, an on-and-off quality during the first four numbers. But since Andreas Havlik [see here] shouted A Kreezmas Kemmulh in perfect Anglo-German the show took off and left us in higher spirits until the last note of the second encore and much of the time thereafter. It's a pity the show only lasted two hours. I could have stayed another two weeks.


British cultband Procol Harum brings fans in ecstasy during Konzerthalle show

The legendary classic rock from the sixties saw its resurrection – although in leaner form – in Bamberg last monday evening. But the cultband Procol Harum, greyed in honour, also proved with some brand new songs that good rock music will survive all trendy fashions.

The band couldn’t have chosen a better place for its Bamberg show. Procol Harum’s classically schooled musicians made themselves conspicuous on the [Bamberger] Symphoniker’s home ground. And many a person in his or her plushy seat, otherwise honouring Beethoven, Mozart and musicians in white tie and tails, this day jubilated a handful of men with long hair turned to grey, whose powerful sound would be unthinkable unplugged.

Even today it still seems plausible that Procol Harum put many young fans on the track of ‘real’ classical music. Although the songs on their new CD The Well’s On Fire – which appeared 26 years after their last regular album and 12 years after a reunion album of lesser quality – don’t have that much in common any more with the voluminous arrangements of earlier days, the men around singer, piano player and leader Gary Brooker (born 1945) demonstrated in the classy Joseph-Keilberth-Saal their unattainable position when it comes to rhythm & blues drenched in classical music.

Dark yet lighthearted melancholy, rich harmonies and lots of banter, garnished with strange lyric poetry in words and notes. What may seem pseudo-intellectual in reality leaves all mainstream fastfood songs way behind. And with success. Procol Harum have given more than sixty concerts in the USA, Japan and Europe this year. Alas the concert hall in Bamberg was only half filled.

And there it is again, the characteristic music with its lavish organ sound, the attractive voice, the perfectly balanced piano. The two charismatic dinosaurs Brooker (voice, digital piano) and Matthew Fisher (organ) are being supported by the newly [sic] arrived Geoff Whitehorn (guitar), Matthew Pegg (bass) and Mark Brzezicki (drums). The five play in excellent harmony and play into each other’s hands, not without a certain amount of humour. In between a whitehaired Brooker first jokes with his public and, as a real gentleman, enthuses over ‘romantisch Bamberg’ and the ‘wonderful Geschäften here’ and then again will grope for the keys and raise his singer’s voice which has passed the years in surprisingly good condition, even on the high notes.

Pure joy which affects all, makes a good figure even without swanky string arrangements and yet seamlessly attaches itself to the sound patterns of earlier days. Of course not everything is nostalgia, although we do have to get used to the new songs now and again. But probably only a minority of the fans (who on average have become as grey as their idols) has come for them. Just like before the unattainable blockbusters steal the show.

So the best at the end. They kept us waiting for a long time, but just before closing time, after more than one and a half hours without a pause, they let them in: at first the hymn which is surrounded by (the crying of) sea gulls and tells us about this old sailor (A Salty Dog), immediately thereafter the heroic Conquistador. And, at exactly 22.29 hours, as second-to-last encore, their Opus Magnum from 1967, where everybody had been longing for – A Whiter Shade of Pale. The fans were delighted and got proof once again of what they already knew. Procol Harum cannot be surpassed, even if they’re not as refreshing anymore as when they started. 

Have a look at other set-lists

Procol Harum concerts in 2003: index page

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