Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at the Isle of Wight, 11 June 2006

Scott Williams reports online 11 June 2006

Here's a great review by someone who evidently didn't know the band, but was won over by their playing at the IoW Festival; reproduced from (can't work out how to ask the author's permission ... if he'd like to get in touch, we'll hope to be granted it retrospectively)

Introduced as an influential band who made an impact on many bands over their forty-year history. I have to confess to only knowing their famous tune and anticipate another rock dinosaur performance.

Now this might not be all the original line up surely? Cos they’ve got drive and fire and are well rockin! They open with a pacy roll of drums and then a fast chopped bass beat, then a riff or guitar and a flourish of an organ and lastly a piano played by founder Gary Brooker who also provides the vocals. This is real R&B – not that music appropriating the title involving videos of girls in gold bikinis this is real rhythm and blues.

It’s old school rock with jazzy guitar solos by Geoff Whitehorn and everything! The basslines and chops by Matt Pegg who looks much too youthful to be a founder member. Josh Phillips on the Yamaha keyboard is producing those sounds which you always hear in the back of seventies bands but not much these days.

I have to confess I didn’t have a clue what they were playing song wise and it seemed only those in the crowd older by some years, a few dads who’d brought the grandkids seem to know the words which seem to talk of flying carpets, Pegasus and Cock Robin (Pandora’s Box) and it despite the lyrics from another age the music is as good as the last time they played Isle of Wight Festival 36 years ago! Gary says that the crowd then and the crowd today don’t seem to be much different. His voice is very strong and he seems very relaxed and forthcoming to talk to us. I do like a band who waffle.

The next song is dedicated to the hospitality area and about wanting to die in the VIP Room, having visited hospitality I have no idea what the fascination is as extolled in this blues laden track. They are warming up now and sound like a classic band of talented musicians trained in the art of complex blues and rock. Kaleidoscope is a tremendous example of punching rock beats, and complex rhythms from all of them and as Gary says at the end it may sound great to us but it’s three minutes of hell for them, as fingers fly over keys and fretboards, drumsticks blur over fast fills and it’s impressive. These guys are really, really on form, tight and packing serious beef. Clearly they are elder statesman showing off their skills at a stretch rather than taking bigger strides as they get older.

An Old English Dream – is a strange song, it’s one of their newer ones I’ve since found out penned only three years ago and is about the failings of the American dream surely. It lacks much of the sixties imagery of their older songs and has a complex sound not too dissimilar to prog rock, but it’s not meandering or spaced but incredibly tight and reminiscent of Rush live.

Next up was a song about a boy with one eye in the middle of his forehead and Gary tells us will strike a chord with anyone who has a disability and they burst into Alpha and then we set sail for the sea with Salty Dog a seafaring shanty and very apt for us all on an island. Bizarrely I realise I know this song as it appears at the end of a Jethro Tull album I have on tape. It sounds rather Pink Floyd-like musically but with Gary Brooker’s own distinct vocal. It sounds like a huge anthem to rhythm and blues and reminds me of a myriad of bands from Nice to Ten Years After and really rocked up with all of the band in full flow. Tremendous made even better by a mast full of flags sailing up the river beside the stage!

They finish with their huge hit Whiter Shade of Pale stoner rock favourite that it is and it’s a huge Isle of Wight singalong (louder incidentally than either of the chart acts either side of them) and even at the back near the Cornish Pasty VW van they’re holding hands aloft and singing their hearts out. What a vibe, there’s many an old rocker grinning behind their sunglasses on the Isle of Wight this afternoon. If only they were flavour of the month, copy editors throughout music papers would be producing the headline “Wight-er shade of pale!”

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