Richard Solly sees Procol Harum at Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes is only an hour's drive from Cambridge so we elected to go there rather than to Lewisham. A very nice hall, bar etc, John doing brisk business at the Merchandising stand . . . though no copies of the new CD. They had to be ordered: great start that was! Gary quipped that EU rules stated that you can't sell a CD within five miles of a live show.
All of a sudden people appeared, some young, some old, some reborn, some on the verge of Nirvana.
The hall was intimate with a great view. Anne asked why so many of the audience were standing. The response was some might not be able to get up again! But seriously the place was packed. The boys were enthusiastically received. We launched straight in to The VIP Room: wow, what a start. The sound was excellent. Mark and Matt's rhythm method (as it were) is immensely powerful. Very quiet in themselves, but they really give these songs wings. Talking of Pegasus, quickly in to Pandora's Box. This got big applause, followed by A Robe of Silk. After hearing 15 seconds of it at Redhill it's nice to hear this lost classic brought out. It could have fitted on the first album. Great number.
The arrival of The Devil Came From Kansas baffled me. It didn't seem to have been planned. This theory is given credence by the fact that Grand Hotel was missing. Gary was on excellent form. When Geoff changed guitars he said, 'How do you know what's coming next?' Perhaps Devil was a tease.
The first big cheer was for Homburg, played brilliantly. The band are really hot: the touring has tightened things up. They play really well, very little hand-in-the-air-alright-you-can-all-stop-now. They seem to know instinctively what each of them is doing.
Social comment came with a (pardon the pun) sterling performance of Wall Street Blues. The excellent Robert's Box followed. Most of us know the story of the Beatles' Dr Robert giving out his 'Yellow Submarines' but Gary said they all used to go to him for plasters, Vick, aspirins etc. Yeah right! I love Robert's Box. Matthew's classic 'Wetkleenexnight' even ends with a flourish reminiscent of it.
The truly lovely Fellow Travellers came next: it was good to see the new stuff as well received as the old. The first half ended with the powerful rework of As Strong As Samson. Gary Brooker is right: Keith, who Gary claimed has only been to one gig in the last seven years, was writing such relevant words in 1974 and they are still depressingly the same today as we march inexorably towards war! Gary did quip the reason there was such a gap between the The Prodigal Stranger and The Well's On Fire was that he was waiting for the words from Keith! It was worth the wait.
The first half shot by. A couple of wobbles here and there ... one unfortunately in Robert's Box when the words came out a bit weird in the middle ... too many plasters probably!
Part 2 started with the intro to Beethoven's Fifth: I'm sure Gary does this to wind Geoff up. A word about the great Mr Whitehorn. His playing was fabulous but when he changed to the Fender the sound didn't seem to be loud enough. Shadow Boxed thundered in. This is becoming a real favourite of mine.
I've always thought the Piper's Tune was a bit of a lost opportunity: some wonderful Reidisms but I always felt it needed bagpipes. I haven't heard this song live for years and tonight it blew me away. Beginning with an ear-splitting crescendo it was hammed up in a sinister way by Mr McBrooker. It wasn't dedicated to Charlie Allison, but should have been.
Like Lewisham we had the M&M 'so far ... so far behind ... so far ... so far behind' A scratch mix single. I don't know, but I just love this song. I don't know the words to the new album sufficiently well to comment but it seemed to me that Gary Brooker was singing with great confidence and gusto.
September 11 was remembered with the poignant Blink of An Eye and drew large applause. The Palers were awarded a powerful rendition of Beyond the Pale, its new ending gathering speed and finishing with an Hoi!!
When the whole band went in to The Lambeth Walk we all wanted more. Only a snippet before An English Dream. We once had a country!!! reverberating round the hall. Incisive stuff.
The band were really enjoying themselves, with a lot of banter between Gary and Geoff. But now it was the turn of Matthew Fisher who brought the house down with his 'follow up to the 1967 classic Repent Walpurgis' namely ... er hang on ... Weisselklenzenacht. What a show stopper this is. The shy Mr Fisher enjoying the limelight and some very loud cheering. All this and more? Well yes and no. Still There'll Be More actually. We don't hear this often enough and it really got a very noisy reception. Powerful song this one.
The show was brought to a big climax with a rip-roaring version of Conquistador which was loved by everyone, and an atmospheric A Salty Dog. Then they were off.
The very enthusiastic crowd gave Procol a well-deserved standing ovation. We were rewarded with The Emperor's New Clothes, a ballad that's turning in to a real classic for me, and A Whiter Shade of Pale. Shame it was only the two-verse version but I'm greedy.
The new CD was generously showcased and it will be interesting over the months to see which ones remain concert favourites.
A fabulous show. The band are out there having FUN. They are still relevant today and long may it continue. See them if you can: they won't disappoint you.