Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum: 'Class and Good Fortune'

Saturday 9 March 2013 • Charlie Allison for BtP

Procol Harum with the Danish Radio Entertainment Orchestra at the Falkoner Centre, Frederiksberg, Copenhagen

The Danes have recently been recognised as the happiest race on Earth. No wonder – they have brilliant design, great food, a beautiful capital city and they also have the class and good fortune again to host a winter season of Procol Harum orchestral concerts. It was a bitingly chill evening, with strong winds outside, as we gathered in the Falkonerhalle for the second concert – I was told by both Jens and Mogens at breakfast that I had missed a great set and performance the previous night. I had seen the band in and around the hotel from our arrival on Thursday, but had been keeping my distance, partly out of respect and partly for the shame of missing the opening night. We are going to both concerts in Wuppertal, but last night we dined out on Neuhavn, with the expectation that the setlist would be the same both evenings.

The hall was virtually full and the stage was plainly set, unlike the Grand Hotel theme in 2011. It was sails from ships, lit in pinks, blues and purple. Again we had a wee preamble with the orchestra under maestro David Firman warming up to a rousing rendition of Riverdance.

David Firman came down to greet Gary coming on the left side alone, then the band trooped in on the opposite side. No dinner suits, top hats or dickie bows this time. Gary looked very smart in a sharp grey suit with his treble-clef lapel brooch.

Homburg was a familiar, ethereal opening in the Ledreborg arrangement. The reaction was cheering and prolonged applause – obviously Procol is held in high regard in this city, indeed country.

Shine on Brightly worked well with the orchestra and Gary remarked how half the audience was under forty and half over sixty. It used to be steak and chips in Copenhagen, now burgers and hot dogs: not like the days of the Grand Hotel. The Nordic beauty who led the orchestra played a good few extra flourishes in the gypsy solo before Geoff overpowered her with a rapier to the heart ... musically speaking! A rousing, noisy Simple Sister established the orchestra as being on the same side as the band and capable (as Gary told us) of rocking out when they had to.

Kaleidoscope started as if it were to be a band-only interlude, then (amazingly) the orchestra joined in for a first orchestration of this 1967 relic from the repertoire. Whaling Stories was loud and majestic, representing (according to the Commander) the violent history of Vikings in England! Something Magic was more tranquil, and checked that we were all paying attention when Gary missed a trill in the last verse ... which was noticed by Geoff Whitehorn with a quizzical glance.

A Salty Dog, prefaced by remarks regarding absent friends and specifically BJ Wilson, had the nautical introduction, then the Latin, then an immaculate rendition, after which you could have heard a pin drop. Until the rapturous and prolonged applause – time to go off for a beer!

The second half opened with A Whiter Shade of Pale – the verdant version with the organ making its entrance in verse two. Gary was now in a light jacket and was singing with noticeably effortless aplomb – a relief for all who thought the rigours of the South African summer had taken their toll. Toujours l’Amour was a tour de force with of course two guitar solos from the (as-ever) charismatic Mr Whitehorn – biting through all the big sounds from the orchestra.

Broken Barricades never sounded as good in tempo or pitch, then Gary got into discussions regarding playing in Iceland and having meals of roast puffin, before gently mocking a visiting Texan. The universality of mankind was celebrated in a great rendition of Fires (Which Birnt Brightly) with both Geoff Dunn and the choir performing heroically. Into the Flood has become a great orchestral piece and is one of the few occasions that a symphony orchestra is given clapped encouragement.

We had heard that In Held ’Twas in I was going to be performed, and both band and orchestra rose to the challenge of this masterpiece. Matt Pegg affected a somewhat luvvie accent in place of Keith Reid, and then the whole band steamed through In the Autumn of my Madness and Look to your Soul after an earth-shattering thunder effect.

I was welling up by now and Grand Finale was just sublime. All the band and orchestra note perfect and full of emotion too.

A rapturous reception prompted a spirited Conquistador, and another prolonged standing ovation brought Gary and David back for a further bow.

A great night to be there, a great night to be a Procol fan. All the band were on top form. My only criticism was that in our seats, near the front of house, I didn’t always hear the full dynamic of the orchestra.

Met all the band in the bar afterwards: Gary told me of the drunken Scot who just wanted to hear AWSoP … then wanted just to hear it again!

It was good to meet up with old Danish, and Norwegian friends, and Peter Cohen from London.

Roll on Wuppertal!

Morning afterword
The morning after this doesn't read so wonderful ... it was 2am and we had had too many Tuborgs. I forgot to mention Josh at all and how well he and the whole band played. It was a cavernous stage with a whole platform at the front for Procol. Gary looked ten years younger on stage and indeed was very chipper in the bar afterwards. Let's see how good he is at breakfast this morning! Anyway a great deal of laughter and optimism for the future. For me there was great emotion hearing the masterwork ... It's such a wonderfully-constructed piece and deserves its place in rock history legend. As I said I found it very emotional listening, taking me back to the old vinyl which seemed to diminish its dynamic range as you got to the centre of the record!

It's been raining this morning but we have a full day here, to go for some Smörgåsbord at a restaurant near Friedrickberg park, recommended by a Dane on the metro as we came in from the airport (Hansens Gamle Familiehave
– herring and akvavit and many more Danish delights)

Hope to meet up again in Wuppertal next month ... but maybe with a few less lagers?

(Fat chance of that!).

A further footnote on returning to warmer climes in Scotland (it's only -5C here tonight, but feels tropical compared with Copenhagen's Siberian chill)

As a discussion point, I would say this was almost the perfect orchestral set ...  perhaps they could squeeze in just one more song – one which has a brilliant orchestration (to "fully showcase their music with an orchestra").   I refer to the sublime Gustav Holstian Strangers in Space.   Actually one in each half – Barnyard Story is brilliant too.

Kaleidoscope was pretty basic basic ... it took me by surprise when the orchestra started up as I though it was a traditional rest-time for them (as in previous events). In my humble view it needs a new orchestral prelude rather than a band only ... now ..... what style of atmosphere should one strive for (remembering the band's own new introduction is somewhat convoluted ?

And the talk in the bar was of which track(s) should still receive the orchestral treatment.  I see An Old English Dream gets a mention online but I would go for A Rum Tale ... a showcase for the pianist but some rumbustuous accompaniment further into the song.  And it's one of the toppermost PH tracks of all time.  It should get the full treatment as a further bow to the maestro Commander in Chief.

But In Held has now proved to be the Tommy, the Quadrophenia, the Sgt Pepper of Procol Harum ... and must be performed at all future outings.  It has not just become contemporary again, it has grown further into the absolute masterpiece of their work ... and of the whole she-bang of Rock Music.

Thanks, Charlie

Peter Cohen adds,

'Very difficult to add a lot to Charlie's excellent review.

Had to get to Copenhagen as seeing the schedule for 2013, after Wuppertal next month, there is currently not a lot happening. Unfortunately unable to make Wuppertal.

Seeing 'In Held' Live with full orchestra for the first time was worth the price of admission alone. And it was very pleasing to see how appreciative the Danish audience were.

It is so sad one now has to travel abroad to see this great band in all its pomp. What has it done (or indeed not done!) to deserve being shunned by both the British music media and public alike?

Great to see Gary looking so much better after his South African misadventure. Charlie couldn't resist asking him afterwards if he was ever going to play in Scotland again. This gave rise to Gary's story about the Scotsman at a Glasgow concert in the Old Testament shouting he wanted AWSoP played – after every song.

And when it was eventually played, Gary turned to him and asked 'Are you happy now?' – to which he replied 'Naw, play it again'!'

Thanks, Peter


Procol dates in 2013 | Live performances of In Held 'Twas in I

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