Procol magnifique! Full House – Kings and Aces – at the Casino de Paris
Wednesday 2 July 2014 • text and photos by Charlie Allison for BtP
This report has been a while in coming, and is briefer than it might have been since both it and the scribbled concert notes from which it was first assembled were left on a train heading for La Rochelle.
Elspeth and I travelled to France to see friends in La Rochelle and the Dordogne, and to revisit Paris after 35 years; but the main driver for this was the chance to see Procol Harum again in 2014. We passed up the chance to go to the birthday bash in Freising and the orchestral event in Ottawa (where we certainly would have been heading had it been announced first!) and arrived good and early in Paris two days before the concert. We enjoyed a superb birthday lunch at Alain Ducasse’s Jules Verne restaurant on the Eiffel Tower, sailed on the Seine, visited the three main churches (Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and La Chapelle) and spent a wonderful afternoon at the Musée D’Orsay looking at the impressionist masterworks. We were now ready for the profound experience and artistry of Procol Harum!
We dined at a cafe opposite the venue, where we were delighted to meet John Grayson, publisher and impresario from the Shine On and Redhill reunion days of 1997. Then there was Scottish mayhem as John and Gordon breezed in on a day trip from Mull, resplendent in unique Procol Paris teeshirts they had designed – I was delighted to be given one and Geoff Whitehorn was to don his for the encore at the gig later. Anyway these lads had arrived at 4pm and were out of Paris at 7am the following day – what devotion!
The Casino proved to be very Procol Harum, some Art Nouveau crystal chandeliers and red plushness ...... belle époque I think they call it here. We were certainly hoping Grand Hotel would be on the setlist tonight.
The first person we saw on arrival was Chris Cooke, who said they had had an exceptionally bad day. We did not know what he meant, but it was rumoured there had been no soundcheck before the gig. (The sound turned out to be loud, clear and sublime – well done sound man Geoff Curtis!) A crowd of maybe 1,000 (difficult to know how many upstairs) turned up, who were so keen to see the band that they were clapping slowly and rhythmically as the lateness extended to the half-hour mark.
And on they came, Gary in a grey suit, both Geoffs in their trademark tee-shirted rock attire, Josh a red-shirted artist look (appropriately for Paris, like one of the students in Les Misérables) and Matt somewhat checked (“he’s a lumberjack and he’s OK”), though now – on enlarging the photos – I see his shirt appears to feature myriad Beatle faces.
They started with a minute-long instrumental, just as like Union Chapel all those years ago. It was a case of guessing what was coming next. I correctly surmised it was Kaleidoscope, as the last few bars were becoming similar to the Isle of Wight intro. The hall reverberated in the power of the band and everyone was playing at the top of their game (OK, I will not lapse into any World Cup metaphors here!). Huge applause showed the audience were fully tuned in to enjoying themselves tonight.
Homburg followed, before Gary apologised for the only Brooker solo number, Missing Person. To be honest it’s a puzzle why this rather lightweight song has been chosen from Gary’s repertoire of great ones – its very slight and poppy and does the band no favours at all. It is a great relief then to hear the raucous Simple Sister, with everyone at full belt, before being treated to a stately Grand Hotel, just perfect in this Paris salon.
Gary had been doing many of the introductions tonight in French, a language he is entirely comfortable in, to the point of getting a lot of chuckles for some of his asides. However this also means less for me to note down and report on, as I don’t speak any of the local lingo!
Wall Street Blues has improved with live playing, and allows all the band to shine; An Old English Dream then follows from the same Well’s on Fire album. The first half finishes with A Salty Dog which is impeccable, with Gary easily hitting that high note, as ever. Half time – tumultuous applause and a chance for a break.
We resume with a classic – Whaling Stories – again all the band are on top form to create a complex soundscape which few others can muster. Pandora’s Box, with its new jazzy second half, follows and then Gary introduces the concept of the “human jukebox”. Cries for Kansas are (as ever) ignored (maybe they will only do this Band-inspired piece of Americana in Kansas itself?) but we do get two-thirds of Good Captain Clack before we hear the band-showcasing Bringing Home the Bacon. My night was complete with a moving Barnyard Story (which Gary had introduced by asking how happy everyone was, saying this would put an end to that!). I still think the first-line lyric is banal and could be rewritten to create a masterpiece end-of-life song.
Shine on Brightly had more of a guitar wail rather than staccato, and a good solo from Josh Phillips, then it was Nothing but the Truth (cries of “Is it on Tommy?” from the Mull boys!) then we had the marvellous jauntiness of A Rum Tale before finishing with a rousing, full-pace Conquistador.
For the encore Geoff donned the Mull T-shirt and Gary gave us a tutorial on the importance of the falling bass line, citing and playing Albinoni (“the 17th century father of rock’n’roll maybe”), then taken on by the master JS Bach – a snatch of Air on the G String) before he said we move forward to 1967...... not for what we expect but a few bars of When a Man Loves a Woman, then No Woman, No Cry before the audience finally fall into their intense experience of A Whiter Shade of Pale.
The audience gives long and sincere applause and we drift out to the foyer, where I am delighted to find Ian Hockley is there, en route to both the Palers’ Band performance in Westbury, Long Island, and also his own organ recital at St Paul’s Cathedral in November.
It has been a great night, a generous set, fantastic sound .... a rejuvenation of our spirits and the perfect launch pad to our two-week French holiday in four parts, which included a marvellous church concert in St Emilion by the touring Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra, with a wonderful virtuoso performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto and some Bartok and Beethoven (the fifth symphony). Procol Harum, on the same night, were preparing for their orchestral Ottawa event and indeed their ten-day US tour, which by all reports was a great success.
Oh for some UK event … this year or next. Travel to Europe or North America does indeed broaden the mind, though somewhat shrinking the bank balance! Let’s meet up again in London, Manchester or Glasgow. There are so many groups appearing in the UK from all eras now – Procol must be one of the few not to tour at home – yet on the evidence of gigs elsewhere, so many would come just to experience A Whiter Shade of Pale, reliving powerful memories from their younger days. And what about another orchestral event, this time in the UK?
Procol dates in 2014 | More photographs from the same origin