Paling Well in Wuppertal
April 2013 • George Lovell for BtP • Pt II
Friday at Live Club Barmen
Bright and early (well, some more so than others) we were back at Rainer’s studio to pack up gear and shift it over to Live Club Barmen, located not far away under the Stadtbibliothek, a branch of the state library. Drummer Andrè’s “Elektro” van, and Roland’s unadorned equivalent, did most of the heavy lifting. Outside the Stadtbibliothek the statue of a stern, adipose Bismark looked in the other direction from which our gear was offloaded. Inside, below the main library, a performance space had been created. Judging by the photographs of raving, tattooed punks that adorned the Stadtbibliotek’s walls, Bismark had turned his back on even more motley crews than the Palers.
|The said vans||Runar||One-Eye|
Unlike Procol Harum’s the night before, ours was not a rehearsal in the full-dressed sense of the term, but a good few numbers were run through to iron out kinks and get the sound as right as possible. First, though, the performance space had to be enhanced by adding to the stage another row of rostra along the front, thus making more room for personnel and instruments. A huge “Echoes in the Night” banner, with the same arty logo as our commemorative tee-shirts, was hung backstage centre. Long Tall Dave set up a display of his wares nearby, which included artwork, CDs, and a digitally accessible autobiography of a colourful life thus far, with many more hues certain to come. A BtP merchandise stand was also put in place, featuring a wide array of memorabilia, among them Henry Scott-Irvine’s biography of the band we would hear again a few hours hence, Procol Harum: The Ghosts of a Whiter Shade of Pale (London: Omnibus Press, 2012). I left before the rehearsal was over, in order to meet friends from Cologne coming to Wuppertal to hear Procol Harum play live for the very first time. It would be my thirty-fifth concert outing, forty-three years since my initiation at Green’s Playhouse in Glasgow in October 1970.
|Rainer, our rehearsal host||Stewart||Bloke with tuba|
Lofty Peak Thirty-Five (Wuppertal Historische
Stadthalle, 5 April 2013)
As I had given my friends from Cologne the two concert tickets that I had purchased, it was the King of the Keyboards, Don Milione, who came to my rescue with one for the seat next to him, four rows from the front of the stage, looking directly at where Gary Brooker would sit, play, and sing. Shortly after eight o’clock out walked Tony Cragg, an ex-pat Liverpudlian who is a notable presence on the art scene, in this part of Germany in particular. His remarks as 'Schirmherr' – artistic patron – clarified those of Gary’s the night before; the latter had last been in Wuppertal not when the Schwebebahn was built but in 1966, touring with The Paramounts before returning to England and reinventing them as Procol Harum. Schirmherr Cragg had appreciative words for Michael Ackermann, identifying him as a prime mover in making the 'Rock Meets Classic' event happen. Michael stood up from his perch at the back of the choir and bowed to deserved applause. Reference was also made to certain fans, ones who had been in Wuppertal since the week began, which drew cheers from assembled Palers. The loudest cheers, however, were reserved for the arrival on stage of Procol Harum, whose music would again be a joint project of band, orchestra, and choir.
|Our correspondent||Schirmherr Tony Cragg aus Liverpool||Chorister Michael Ackermann in the spotlight|
The sombre Homburg, its opening lines sung to piano accompaniment only, but to maximum effect, started things off, followed by a snappy Shine on Brightly. A magnificent Grand Hotel, with Gary lamenting the luxuries of past such accommodation compared with those of a more parlous present, showcased a dynamic piano-violin duet and soaring guitar work by Geoff Whitehorn. Hearing Toujours l’Amour made me think of someone I had not been in touch with since an excursion to Spain decades ago, but contact has now been re-established; no revolver has been purchased, nor Pandora’s Box opened up, just a sense of loss finally being reversed. Crowd reaction to Symphathy for the Hard of Hearing was sustained, as it was also for Something Magic. A reference to those now departed, 'all watching what we do,' led into a hypnotic rendering of A Salty Dog, which always takes me back to Germany and the summer of 1969, my coming of age. I recognised the Latin chants of the choir from previous renditions, but not some deft orchestration perhaps struck with this concert in mind. Next came, if not the show stopper, at least an enactment that could be considered close to it.
|Geoff and his monitor||Simple Sister dancers||Matt on the bass|
'A French girl has offered,' Gary often sings, as he did in Toujours l’Amour that very evening, not 'to give me a chance' but 'to teach me to dance'. Judging by her name in the program, one 'Simple Sister' who performed to that tune, Benédicte Billiet, might herself be French. She certainly knows how to dance, as does her partner, Jo Ann Endicott. Band members Geoff Whitehorn and Matt Pegg gave the blonde bombshells a wide berth as they twirled across the stage to the beat of Simple Sister, interpreting the song along with four other dancers, three male, one female. Josh Phillips, I noticed, took leave of his Hammond and disappeared from the scene entirely. Only Gary at the piano, and Geoff Dunn protected by his battery of drums, stood their ground. When the gyrations ceased, bouquets of flowers were presented, which band members tossed into the audience. The interval was upon us, surely a relief for those who had most exerted themselves.
Calm was called for, and duly delivered in the guise of A Whiter Shade of Pale. As with A Salty Dog, lush orchestration I had never heard before preceded Gary skipping a light fandango and turning cartwheels across the floor, for who knows how many thousands of times. A standing ovation ensued. Before the Stadthalle could hum any harder Broken Barricades rang out, then Fires (Which Burnt Brightly), prompting Don to wonder aloud 'How does he think up all this?' Gary himself offered a hint.
“Bach,” he volunteered. “And that Well-Tempered Clavier of his.” He fingered a few notes to demonstrate what he meant, then went directly Into the Flood (which 'we don’t get to play often') before turning his attention to a suite of his own. “You were probably all on acid,” were his words of introduction to In Held 'Twas in I, which I had heard Procol Harum play live on three occasions, and not on acid – the first at the Rainbow Theatre in London in 1972, the second and third in Edmonton in 2010. Gary’s narration of the pilgrim who sought an audience with the Dalai Lama gave way to Matt’s reflection that it all works out, then off we went to have tea at the circus. As the mournful opening of The Autumn of My Madness was played, the gentleman sitting to my right leaned over to his left and whispered, "This is my favourite song.” One of mine soon followed, Look to Your Soul, with Gary’s voice nailing the high register of that soul note both times. Grand Finale did not in fact end the concert; Conquistador did, Josh, Matt, and drummer Geoff in tremendous form. Never can I recall such prolonged clapping and cheering not resulting in another encore, but it was not to be. When I heard Frank Sinatra start to croon My Way over the Stadthalle PA system, I knew it was over.
Well, not quite. Right on the premises, the Ritzy Rossini restaurant awaited us, allowing Palers and other invitees – Procol Harum themselves our guests of honour – more hours of camaraderie over drinks and fine buffet fare. With a spare ticket that I had, I was pleased to invite a friend of Frans Steensma, rock bibliographer, collector, and writer, to join us. Like Frans, Jan-Maarten de Winter made for congenial company, as did Gordon and John, who joined me in what Geoff Whitehorn, when he spotted us and sauntered over, immediately dubbed 'Jock corner'. Charlie’s presence, albeit fleetingly, cemented the designation. I had a nice conversation with Geoff’s wife, Annie, and a brief exchange with Gary’s wife, Françoise (Franky).
“What a shock it must have been for you,” I said, not wishing stir up the incident in South Africa but to acknowledge its gravity. Franky responded prudently by saying, “It was good to get him back, George.”
The party, like the chandelier, was still in full swing when I left for the Hotel Arcadia, a two-minute walk away. Given the need to shine on brightly the next day, a beckoning bed made a lot of sense.
Saturday Afternoon at Live Club Barmen
The goal, Jens had stated repeatedly, was to get everything shipshape by Friday evening, so as to leave Saturday morning free and have the Palers’ Convention commence at 2pm without any last-minute angst and tinkering. Mission accomplished. Like that multilingual business friend, after breakfast I packed my bag, paid my hotel expenses, and steeled myself for the long day, night, and following morning that lay ahead. I took the Schwebebahn out to Alter Markt, orienting two wandering Italians, Beth, and Antonio Costa Barbé, to the location of Live Club Barmen. Before I went there myself, I visited the birthplace of Friedrich Engels, his family home now part of a Museum of Work and Industry. The axiom of his that stays with me is the dialectical 'Nothing is eternal but eternally changing,' which applies not only to how history (and the tale) unfolds but also, historically, to the membership of Procol Harum, musical mutations spanning four and a half decades, the current constitution now of some six years’ standing.
Live Club Barmen was thronged by the time the music started, You’d Better Wait alerting those in attendance that it would be well worth their while staying the course, all five sets, thirty-four scheduled songs. Paler palsy meant that Roland’s allocation of who was to play and sing on what songs had to be improvised. Luiz’s Latin American roots made him the perfect candidate for the singing of Conquistador, with Dave Ball’s guitar prowess reminding us of his Live in Edmonton glory. After that came Without a Doubt, the performance of which showcased, as did Conquistador, the talents of no fewer than fifteen Palers, with brass arrangements wrought by Kari Warhuus. Then it was my turn to be lead vocal, backed by Andrè on drums, Gary S on bass, Justin on lead guitar, Don on organ, and Roland on piano, eye-contact with him giving me the signal when to come in and tell of Lime Street Blues. I gave the flip side of A Whiter Shade of Pale my best shot, remembering (without peeking at Luiz’s compendium of lyrics) the lines of all four verses save the very last one; somehow I managed to repeat “Mr. Judge he said with a long mean frown, ‘Orphan or not you’re going down’” instead of singing “Mr Judge – I could see that he was a schnide – he says, ‘The only kind of blonde you are’s a peroxide’” I blame the snafu on being spooked by the 'Simple Sisters' the night before, though I must admit noticing that Gary Brooker himself was off to one side, taking it all in, gave me a jolt. Roland’s declaration at the end – “This is live entertainment, folks!” – was a much appreciated disclaimer. Venus Exploding, music composed by Matt Noble to the words of Keith Reid, and Lead Me to the Water, music and words by Gary Brooker, witnessed Allen and Jens respectively perform as lead vocalist, and completed the first set.
With Hans felled, the perils of Skating on Thin Ice were voiced by Antonio and Ian. The septet known as the Palers’ Sinfonietta played their understandably blue hearts out on I Realise, after which Elizabeth laid down her flute to sing Too Much Between Us, again transporting me back to the summer of 1969 and the North Sea shores of Schleswig Holstein. Three more numbers (Mr Blue Day, Hear What You’re Saying, and So Far Behind) ended a rousing second set and took us to the half-way mark.
You could grab a bite to eat from the buffet and sit with your plate on your lap in the performance space so as not to miss out on anything happening on stage. That’s how I listened to Henry Scott-Irvine talk about his book and read extracts from it, mostly nostalgic vignettes about the recently deceased John 'Kellogs' Kalinowski (1946–2013). Kellogs’s association with Procol Harum started with him being The Paramounts roadie, paid (depending on which of the author’s two sources you believe) either four quid or four Mars bars a week, “and as much Coca Cola as you could drink!” I bought a copy of Henry’s book, and asked him to sign it, which he graciously did. I signed several copies of The Waiter Brought a Tray too, a memoir of my outings to hear Procol Harum play live in concert between the years 1970 and 2007. Long Tall Dave then regaled us with stories and song, recalling hilariously his interview for the guitar job he landed, unbeknownst to him, with Procol Harum on the eve of its Edmonton limelight.
Dave kicked off the third set singing and playing lead guitar on his own composition, GonnaDoThis, GonnaDoThat, which was followed by About to Die and Quite Rightly So. Antonio reigned supreme as The King of Hearts, after which he became McGreggor. A short break in the wake of Homeloving preceded the fourth set, launched by Saw the Fire. Wolfgang Lieke was a juggernaut of drumming all through Power Failure, then Fresh Fruit was served. This time I managed to sing all the words in the right order, with Long Tall Dave endorsing my praise of the food and dancing alongside me while mellow sounds hailed from Runar on harmonica and the Clare family on marimba, with juicy accompaniment from Don on piano, Ian on organ, Gary S on guitar, Luiz on bass, and Andrè on drums. Dave was Yours if You Want Me next. The afternoon show closed down, with all hands on deck, to A Whiter Shade of Pale. An awaiting 'bus got us to the Stadthalle in plenty of time for the evening concert.
Lofty Peak Thirty-Six (Wuppertal Historische
Stadthalle, 6 April 2013)
Don came up trumps again with another ticket, six rows farther back from where we were last night, but still with a commanding view of where the Commander would be. That master of audio surveillance, Hermann Braunschmidt, was seated to our left. The Clares were behind us, Frans behind them, and Charlie the Darling with a grin and a wave behind Frans.
Hermann paid me the compliment of saying how moved he was, when he read The Waiter Brought a Tray, about the evocation of “meine verlorene Liebe” from the summer of 1969. Marianne is no longer a lost love, but she could not be with us in Wuppertal that evening. Her spirit, however, as it always does, imbued A Salty Dog with palpable presence, a youthful yearning that never will pass, for it is lodged in the mode of memory. The German word 'Sehnsucht' captures the trace of a feeling like no other, in any language. When A Salty Dog was played that evening, Gary said it was “for those people we love.” Thank you, Mr Brooker. After Don had gifted me his spare ticket, I gave Marianne’s away to a total stranger, who would now gain entry to a sold-out venue, a damsel in distress no more.
|Geoff on drums||The Commander, out front||Josh in the jaws of his keyboards|
The repertoire and its order of presentation remained unchanged. There is, of course, always nuance. “Nothing is eternal” – that man Engels once more – “but eternally changing.” Und immer mit Procol Harum. Grand Hotel (my partner Maureen’s favourite) seemed even grander. Toujours l’Amour had more edge that night – but perhaps it was just me, or the chord that they knotted and that someone was now untying. Something Magic, Gary informed us, has 123 chords, allegedly “every one ever written,” and Bach sired twenty-one children: his organ, apparently, had no stops. The 'Simple Sisters' spooked me less, likely because I knew what to expect of them. An infelicitous 'Jock joke' about the tee-shirts that orchestra and choir played and sang in after the interval – yes, tee-shirts, no kidding – I reckoned Charlie would take a dim view of, and he did. Nobody’s perfect, my dear friend. What was though – “You remember 1968 when you weren’t even there” – was the exposition of In Held 'Twas in I, Gary yet again reaching those two high souls as he looked to them. Geoff’s guitar work on Grand Finale was unequivocally the best I have ever heard him perform.
Or so I believed until about four hours later.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning at Live Club
Back on the 'bus to Barman, but in the care of a driver who plainly did not understand our need to get there in the shortest of order. A pilot of meander, he took us on a route even more unlikely than that of the Schwebebahn, and aeons longer. We arrived, raring to go, and got right down to business.
Though breakfast was still a long way off – I actually never ate a proper one until after getting back to Spain – Bringing Home the Bacon whetted our appetites, The Cycle whipping up All This and More to such an extent that one gladly boarded the Ghost Train no matter its haunted destination. The Young Palers who fronted The Mark of the Claw energised Live Club Barmen to such a degree that there was (No More) Fear of Flying, even for those not remotely As Strong as Samson. Standing off stage behind Roland, who was most resourcefully playing on it, I turned as Franky Brooker squeezed in to my right. Axel and Juliette made more room for me on my left. Thomas – he of 'Is it on?' renown – and Karen Raa Olsen, minding the BtP shop, drew near.
|Chris alerting Roland||The New Pahene Ensemble Bringing Home the Bacon: Linda, Dave, Ian||Karen and Thomas Raa Olsen|
“Roland,” Franky piped up, “that’s us ready.” The din drowned her out, but a couple of louder calls eventually got his attention. Roland, having also been alerted by Chris Cooke, waved and shouted instructions. There was a flurry of movement, and up on stage went Franky’s much-loved husband.
Gary took up his position with a gracious bow. At the Stadthalle, my proximity to him on stage (courtesy of Don) had allowed me to observe that he placed before him on the piano, at eye-level, a book of lyrics (his Book of Orchids) penned in large letters. The one he brought with him to sing Hear What You’re Saying and Saw the Fire had even larger letters emblazoned in gold colouring. “Too vain to wear glasses,” I believe he said, or something of the sort. As in Rainer’s studio three days before, the music started and then off Gary went, appreciatively conducted by his “new Brazilian friend,” Luiz. What a moment, certainly for all those playing, but for all those listening too. Echoes in the Night there most emphatically were – again and again and again.
|Poul||Michael, Isolde and Gary||Jonas|
Allow me to reiterate: Wuppertal as the location of two Procol Harum "with orchestra" concerts, and a Palers' extravaganza to boot, was the brainchild of that man with a mission and a mane of hair, Michael Ackermann. Most would have shed their golden locks (Lord, have mercy) with endless worry, and incurred many a sleepless night, over the 2+ years consumed in planning and pulling it off. Fate decreed that Michael's birthday be ushered in at midnight. Fortune smiled. Michael's wife, Isolde, had circulated beforehand an album even larger than "The Book of Orchids," in which Michael's friends, members of choir and orchestra, Palers one and all, and Procol Harum themselves had penned their greetings and thoughts, several at considerable length. Gary Brooker was on stage alongside Isolde as she presented the album to Michael during the Palers' Band last set. As President of 'Whaling Stories', the international fan club devoted to the music of Gary Brooker, this must have been a dream come true for Michael, one we ecstatically shared.
A full-showing TV Ceasar and Rule Britannia were billed as the final act. They were played and sung as if they were, but even in their afterglow, from my berth at the back of the ensemble, listening to Roland tinkle My Way, I sensed that something else was in the offing. When Geoff Whitehorn took to the stage and plugged himself in, I wondered to myself, “might it be?” [clip here (thanks, Katie)]. And sure enough it was.
|Gary, Gary||Geoff: epitaph and epiphany||Ian, Roland, Gary, Gary|
Poul Achton had given Richard Williams deserved kudos for his percussive acumen earlier in the day. Now it was his turn. Poul’s drum thumped an authoritative beat: “O-n-e, t-w-o, t-h-r-e-e, f-o-u-r,” “O-n-e, t-w-o, t-h-r-e-e, f-o-u-r,” “O-n-e, t-w-o, t-h-r-e-e, f-o-u-r, FIVE, SIX,” then out came Repent Walpurgis. Old “Blue Eyes” was not to have the final thrust after all.
Roland at the piano kept his cool, Gary S on bass too. It was Jack on the Hammond organ, protesting “This has not been rehearsed!” who laid down the signature motif. Robin Trower’s guitar part on the eponymous album, and the one he performed on the BBC’s The Old Grey Whistle Test, as well as the version on The Long Goodbye: The Symphonic Music of Procol Harum, are all benchmarks. Geoff cut a swathe of his own, however, and just wouldn’t let up. Gravesend’s greatest guitarist was in his element. [clip here (thanks, Katie)]. Roland’s Bach interlude soothed things, but then the intensity swelled, allowing Poul to cap it gloriously and send the crowd into mayhem. What a way to end, inspired and unforeseen, both epitaph and epiphany.
It was near two o’clock in the morning, at which point the BtP team and helpers had to strike the stage and remove all the gear. Some of us had flights departing between five and six, and airports to get to. Leaves were hastily taken, farewells until the next time exchanged by hearty embrace. I left for Cologne with Ian Hockley, the fifty-minute taxi ride allowing us time to debrief and decompress. A warm glow lingered in the cold pre-dawn. It lingers still in the minds of all those privileged to have been there.
|Peter, Roland. Poul||Roland, Kari, Stewart, Peter: part of The Palers' Sinfonietta||Richard|
Click here for Part 1 |
Procol dates in 2013 |
Palers' Band setlist