Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at Ewhurst Park, Surrey

Charity gig on Saturday 14 June 2014 Tom Thatcher for BtP

Time: 5.00 pm. Date: 14 June 2104. Place: Hurtwood Polo Park, Ewhurst, courtesy of owner Kenney Jones. 
Occasion: Concert to raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer.
Crowd: small. Friends: Digby Elliott, Neil Pollard and others. Sound: The Clear Brothers, so very, very good.

First on, The Fabbagirls, aka Susie Web and Zoe Nicholas, two of the very best session singers in the business. After their superb vocals over a few Abba songs, they came back to sing BVs for almost every other performer.

Next, Sam Tanner, relative newcomer, sang a great Superstition with lovely piano, and also joined the house band (which deserves more than a mention) which was: Jim Cregan, guitar, on sparkling form: Nik Kershaw, guitar: Dave Bronze, bass: the exceptional Josh Phillips, Hammond and keys and arranger: Geoff Dunn/Kenney Jones, drums: Sam Tanner, piano, and Sam Blue, Susie and Zoe on about the best and most accurate BVs you could wish for: they all took lead vocals at some point too. A horn section played gamely and sadly were given no credit nor mention, despite a discord in the Kiki Dee song I've Got the Music in Me that I will treasure until I leave this planet. If I have missed anybody, I do apologise: Josh Phillips deserves a special mention for his invaluable contribution to the whole event.

Please excuse me if I get a little muddled in the running order (Running Order here for those who need to know)

Next up, we had a fun set from none other than Alvin Stardust, who did what he does: a professional set delivered with fun and skill. This was followed by Nik Kershaw, who was brilliant (what a guitarist), delivering his classics The Riddle and Wouldn't it be Good. And then Susie, Sam and Zoe sang the Kiki Dee classic I've Got the Music in Me," spellbinding. I saw Kiki sing this a few times as my best friend and son's Godfather, Mike Wedgwood, played in her band before he joined Caravan. The girls were just WONDERFUL! The next act was Mike Rutherford and vocalist Tim Howar. Tim: what a stunning, powerful, tuneful voice, a cross between Frankie Miller and Paul Carrack. Mike R. obviously enjoyed the day and looked happy and smiling. They were such fun and played some of the classics, including a crowd-pleasing We Can't Dance and Looking Back, a terrific song with powerful vocals from Tim.

Surprise of the whole night for me, though, was John Parr, who, with just acoustic guitar, played an extended version of Peter Green's Oh Well parts one and two and just blew the puzzled crowd away with his skilful, soulful and technically superb playing and singing. He then, of course, played St Elmo's Fire: the voice is still there, his guitar was great and the horns got the riff right - concert highlight. I used to follow Peter Green around in the sixties, and John Parr's Oh Well was the best version I have seen of this iconic song.

At this point one of our gang decided to request all the loud talkers and chatterers and their iPhone-gazing children to please keep quiet and not talk all over the performers. "It's fine to go back to school/ladies clubs/board rooms and say, "I saw the Who and Procol Harum on Saturday," but you haven't heard or seen anything, anything at all: although your conversation about your yacht's new keel is, indeed, far far more interesting than Jeff Beck's guitar playing and worth driving 130 miles to hear." After a certain amount of "Do you know who I am?" spluttering, they did indeed shut up relief! Only one more warning was needed after that.

Commentary was provided by Vic Reeves and one Dan Skinner. It's a fault of mine, I know, that I found both of them spectacularly unfunny, but at least they were there supporting the cause. Sadly, I am utterly immune to the no-doubt hilarious charms of these people.

After John Parr, an unannounced Judie Tzuke took the stage and played a blinder, just divine, backed by Susie, Zoe and her own beautiful daughters Bailey and Tallulah. As always, she won the crowd, half of whom had no idea who she is: but by the fourth note she won them over. There wasn't a dry eye after Stay with Me til Dawn, as a thousand former teenagers remembered falling in and out of love to this bittersweet anthem. Overheard comment of the day: "I say, Clive, wasn't that Julie Took famous for hanging about with the Rolling Stones?" In another incarnation, I played in a blues band which included Mike Paxman as the drummer (and a damn' good one too: straight timekeeper, like Mick Fleetwood). Mike teamed up with Judie when she was still Judie Myers, and with her, co-wrote and played guitar on six of the finest albums that this country has ever achieved. Mike sent my daughter I am the Phoenix, which I think is Jude's absolute high-point, when he remixed it, and it set my daughter Isobel Thatcher on the road to being a singer-songwriter as she now is. Judie's magical yearning voice is still there in spades. She's a one-off and she's an inspiration. Concert Highlight.

Next, on came John Lodge of the Moody Blues, who played a game set, which was improved when Sam Blue took the vocal lead. Great to see him up there, full of life and loving the event!

Now I have a vested interest in the next band. I have loved every album they have produced and have seen them play countless times. I rate Broken Barricades as an unrecognised masterpiece and when my university trio reformed last year after a forty-year hiatus, we played Simple Sister, Memorial Drive, and Still There'll be More from Home. I even took the family to see PH in Tallinn a couple of years ago.

Procol Harum with horn section ... snapshots on this page by RC from BtP

On came Procol Harum, as usual playing songs from their vast repertoire that half the crowd hadn't heard of. Commander Brooker was in superb voice, with the excellent support help of Messrs Pegg, Whitehorn, Dunn and Phillips. Gary announced that they didn't really have any songs about horses, a nod to Kenney Jones's Polo Park, but said "We do have a song that starts with "Wild horsemen ride across the Green...." and went into Pandora's Box, which included a great solo from Josh Phillips. The Commander then pointed out that many of their songs still had a current meaning and off they cantered into Wall Street Blues. This gave Geoff Whitehorn a chance to stretch out on his lovely little PRS (Mr Whitehorn, you are something else) and he demonstrated once again just what a cracking, thoughtful and skilful player he is. This may have been the finest song the band played, with superb bass from Matt Pegg and some great fills from Geoff Dunn on the top kit. It also included a trombone solo which was interesting.

The Commander then remembered that he DOES have another song that mentions horses which is, of course, Conquistador!" The trumpeter had a good crack at playing the parts that Gary wrote for the Concert Live From Edmonton all those years ago. The two keyboards blended so well on this and Gary sang this classic Procol number with panache and accuracy. A give-away guitar seagull from GW, after a quip from Gary about the audience's yachts, meant, of course, that A Salty Dog was on the way. This magnificent song, with its extraordinary and magical words, is one of the finest songs ever produced by any band anywhere, ever. The whole band played it superbly and thoughtfully, about a quarter of a beat slower than usual, and again it wrung the audience dry. My children call this song "the Brooker test": can Gary get that vocal slide note from "Since we made land" to "A salty dog?" Well, he certainly did, and I was just blown away by the whole process, not least by GW's excellent fills and Geoff Dunn's brilliant playing. BJ Wilson is perhaps the most impossible act to follow, but nobody was complaining about GD's accurate and precision performance.

After this dignified and beautifully played show, with Brooker speaking thoughtfully about the effects of cancer, there was only One Song that they could possibly play. A heartfelt cheer went up when the opening lines of A Whiter Shade of Pale started and Josh played a different Hammond pattern in the intro. It brought the house down, with an extra-long version giving soloing space to Gary, Josh and Geoff W, with the rhythm section from heaven in full control. Perhaps the most commonly-heard comment from the crowd was, "I didn't realise they were THAT good" or "Did they record anything else after AWSoP?" The general consensus was that they were in total control, played very well and turned a few heads with their quiet professionalism: and let's not forget Keith Reid, without whose hypnotic and sometimes chilling words many of these songs may not have happened. Concert highlight.

A rousing medley of Small Faces songs saw the vocals handled by Sam Blue and Mollie Marriott, Susie and Zoe, who were excellent throughout and handled some pretty difficult stuff with ease and excellence: musicians of the highest order.

Stevie Marriott's daughter Mollie then took on a number: my God, what a voice, perfectly on the note, no over-emoting or warbling, just an excellent, excellent singer seek her out because she has her Old Man's voice, his sense of humour and is very lovely with those same high cheekbones. There's some stuff on You Tube which is worth a couple of hours of anybody's time: she's brilliant. Concert highlight and more would have been good!

Next on came a smiling Mick Hucknall who seemed to be in a great mood, singing a powerhouse version of the Faces' Stay With Me. He then introduced "the world's greatest living guitarist" and on strode St Jeff of Beck. They played Hendrix's Little Wing, and then Jeff did A Day in the Life with the house band excelling, followed by a fun and great version of Wild Thing. Nothing is quite the same when Jeff's on stage: it never is, never has been. At the O2 double-header with Eric Clapton and JB a few years back, EC said "When we were starting out, Jeff was twenty years ahead of us all. We're all nearly seventy, and he's STILL twenty years ahead of us!"

Roger Daltrey gave a moving talk about prostate cancer before The Who played and then they went into a very creditable Can't Explain and The Kids are Alright, with the girls' harmonies' superb as always. Pinball Wizard was very good until the end when Townsend just said, "I think that's enough of all that stuff don't you?" and spoke some words to Josh Phillips, about what, who knows?

Why Should I Care? from Quadrophenia was rousing, but Pete seemed a little out of sorts, using a lot of guitar pyrodynamics that I don't usually associate with him. But let it be said, The Who influenced perhaps four generation of musicians and many have never achieved the quality of songwriting on The Who's first album, never mind such masterpieces as Who's Next. Just to see the guys on stage is, in truth, an honour, a real honour. Daltrey and Jones played and sang brilliantly and the house band excelled, as always.

The whole cast came on at the end to perform It's only Rock and Roll, but no Brooker, Daltrey nor Beck. Townsend introduced the song. It was shambolic fun and remarkably good too!

The team post-mortem gave special honours to Procol Harum, Judie Tzuke, John Parr, Beck, Mollie Marriott, Mike and Tim, Mick Hucknall and, oh admit it, everybody. The house band were all fantastic Jim Cregan once again showing his complete mastery and the BVs were out of this world. For me, though, The Harums won the day by a photo finish!!

We had three Glastonburies rolled into one day: this was a spellbinding event, full of top-flight players. File under "This will never happen again."

Procol dates in 2014 | Setlist from this event

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