Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale 

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The Salty Dog in Hamburg

Mirek Plodzik at 'Fabrik' on 24 March 2003


After Denmark, Norway, England and Netherlands, Germany ended promoting their tour of the new Procol Harumís album The Wellís on Fire. On this March warm evening the dim hall of Fabrik (an old factory converted to a well-known music club) was slowly filling up with bustling audience. They started at a bar, sipping their lager and waiting for the music.

Considering this was Monday, and promotion of the new studio album of the legendary British rock group was not done with a flourish, the number of people gathered there was quite significant. They could purchase a new album, tee-shirts and other merchandise. Quarter to 9 p.m. you already could feel excitement about the upcoming event among the audience.

No wonder, though, that when twenty minutes later five gentlemen finally got on the stage, the crowd welcomed them with ovation. Gary Brooker wearing a black beret on his head, sat down behind his Roland RD600 digital piano, and without saying anything, struck the keys. Instead of traditional 'Good evening ...' we heard "If Iím gonna die, wanna die in the VIP room ...", beginning of dynamic blues The VIP Room from the new album.

From the very first seconds of the gig it was obvious that it would be successful. Procol Harum, revived 1991, have now reached the height of their form. This is the merit of steady line-up of the group, the longest in its history where earlier such excellent guitarists as Robin Trower, Mick Grabham, Dave Ball or phenomenal drummer BJ Wilson used to play. Their todayís replacement (except for organist, Matthew Fisher (and poet Keith Reid who nowadays does not show on the stage though), who is second musician to Gary Brooker from Procolís original line-up) are not only as good as old musicians but also add freshness and young feeling to the sound of the band. One would perhaps also add power, but I have to give my honours to indestructible voice of the leader Gary Brooker instead.

Letís come back to the gig. After a song premiŤre, next classic ones are coming up: Pandoraís Box and later their greatest hits Grand Hotel, Homburg, As Strong as Samson, mixed with new songs from the last album. They played eleven out of thritenn songs live from the new album!

And all of them were perfectly harmonized with old Procol classics. Needless to say sound of the new album The Wellsí on Fire is close to its roots and still slightly symphonic.

Some of the new tunes such as Fellow Travellesr or the highly-applauded instrumental Weisselklenzenacht (The Signature) could well have been created twenty or more years ago. Moody, nostalgic rock ballads such as An Old English Dream or The Blink of an Eye sung by Gary Brooker with his piercing voice gained a well deserved applause.

I like this new Procol Harum. Not only because it was a great fun on the stage between the songs, but first of all because the band sounds both freshly and keeps the old style which it protects as a precious treasure. This caring has also a creative force, thatís why apart from the classic, monumental sound of Hammond combined with piano, one can hear a sharp blues, American-type rhythmíníblues, heavy rock and pop lightness, modern rhythm section ... and even rap. What happened in the second part was that all of a sudden Gary Brooker introduced a special guest, Eminem! And then he took out a gadget, an electronic speaking device, similar to that used for M&M sweets advertising. A small man kept repeating something (even throwing on the stage an M&M wrapper), something that eventually emerged into first phrase of So Far Behind, another old tune found in the archives. It was a strange feeling to listen to this typical Procol song, with sobbing Hammond and hiccupping guitar, along with those quasi-rapping vibrations. Was it a sample of symphonic rap? Procol Harum are renowned as symphonic rock masters, so why not "civilize" rap? It was to me an original, good piece, I dare to say, perhaps the greatest hit of the recent album.

A Robe of Silk, another old song, sounded a bit Beatles-like when played live. They also played two other, less-known tunes from old times: Robertís Box (1973) and The Piperís Tune (1975), which gave another example of the magnificent, nostalgic Procol sound. There was a cabaret song changed to symphonic pathos and beautiful, sobbing guitar solo, then a real wall of sound, Scottish bagpipes and voice full of pain. At the end the band took us on a mysterious ocean voyage (A Salty Dog) played after a vigorous Conquistador.

The encore was served in a Buddha meditation format. There was a first part of old suite In Held 'Twas in I, called Glimpses of Nirvana, with typical oriental sound. It soon appeared to be just an intro to a new, magic song called This World is Rich, which then turned to their most famous A Whiter Shade of Pale. Gary Brooker sang it with his full voice in a thick fog of tobacco smoke, despite his following-day engagement at London's Royal Albert Hall with Eric Clapton. However, it only sharpened his voice and I can assure you from a well-informed source that he sang then finely as well!

Translated into English by Maciej Gajda (thanks, Mac!)


Procol Harum concerts in 2003: index page

 


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