After playing five songs last year in Kenney Jones’s first fund-raising event for prostate cancer, this year Procol Harum were afforded a slightly longer spot in a 'star-studded line-up' which showcased the leading lights of UB40, Squeeze, Level 42, The Average White Band and others. Each artiste performed a couple of songs (three at most) with the 'house band', which included Josh Phillips, and Geoff Dunn, so there was more than enough Procol Harum musicianship to listen to during the day.
This Rock’n’Horsepower event has quickly become a popular family outing in
leafy, affluent Surrey. The organisers provide a kids’ fairground, superior
merchandise stalls and catering, an array of vintage and contemporary
high-performance cars, as well as a friendly polo match. Polo is as
quintessentially English as tea and crumpet, but please don’t ask me what was
going on – they just galloped en masse from one end to the other (rather
distant) end, and seemed very proper and polite in their challenges – polo is no
football or ice-hockey sport! Polo seems to be a gentlemanly game played by
gentlemen ... and no doubt on occasion by ladies ... and with plenty of Pimms on
I have assembled photo collages to give a flavour of the event 'in the field', also some of the other performers and part of the small Paler contingent, including Roland and Linda, Jens, Heidi, and Peter Christian. I also met up with John Grayson, Michel Birrel and Peter Cohen, but not with my camera clicking!
Many who had performed in the rather wet 2014 event returned on this brighter, warmer day. Sadly absent was Alvin Stardust, who had succumbed to prostate cancer during the year since the last show. But his memory was warmly remembered, as his wife Julie opened the evening with great emotion. What a great singer! She reminded us, in a moving not mawkish way, how important this prostate cancer cause was to 'Alv' who, despite knowing he had had limited time, was determined to sing last summer. Julie was first of many to exhort men in the arena to 'go and get checked'.
I thoroughly enjoyed all of the event. Every artist without exception sang their songs with gusto and all were very appreciative of the quality of the house band, which included Dave Bronze, Nick Kershaw and Jim Cregan, as well as the tireless Geoff Dunn and MD Josh Phillips (who revealed all this was achieved with just two days of rehearsal!)
I particularly enjoyed the humour of Andy Fairweather Low (Bend Me, Shape Me being some sort of ‘Care of the Elderly experience!’) and Steve Harley (who like Procol was keen to show he’d written not just one f***in’ song!). In fact Steve offered to literally ‘come up and see’ one wealthy benefactor in the audience who paid £8,000 for his guitar, together with concert tickets and the offer of a personal gig in his own home! Procol went on at about 8.25pm and gave us 35 minutes of their wonderful music. Gary, something of a ‘local hero’ in these parts, had obviously celebrated his recent seventieth birthday with a snappy new haircut and showed his singing and piano skills have diminished not one jot in the 50+ years he has been performing. A hatted Matt Pegg came on fresh, but two other Procols had been playing pretty well non-stop all day and Geoff Whitehorn had made a guest appearance ‘duelling’ alongside John Parr.
Procol opened with an energetic Bringing Home the Bacon, with customary cameos for each of the band, followed by a personal favourite Roberts Box (‘Doctor, Doctor..... just a pinch to ease the pain’ being a sentiment I spent nearly forty years practising!) Gary introduced this Hawaiian melody as ‘just right for a sunny day’ and we heard a particularly good Hammond solo from Josh, before the finale’s brilliant chord sequence, building to Geoff’s biting guitar solo.
(In passing ... I was greeted earlier by Geoffrey and his wife Annie in a mock Scottish voice, and we had a brief discussion about the rise of the nationalists north of the border ... and indeed as panellists on the BBC’s Question Time. I did not lose the opportunity to suggest that a Procol trip to the land of fine fishing and whisky might be long overdue – well the last time was in 1977!)
Gary reckoned very few of his songs had been covered, but recently Yusuf (or Cat Stevens) had surprisingly recorded The Devil Came from Kansas, and GB pondered the reason why he had chosen this song. I have heard the new cover version, but it’s not a patch on this robustly LOUD rendition ‘by the original artists.’ I have always thought this was one of the nearest sounds to The Band, not the stuff on the first album as Paul Williams suggested on the SOB sleeve notes. Gary, like many others, then took time out to muse on this important illness, but quickly side-tracked into a plea for blood donors, as we are evidently running short. Amusingly he asked an audience member what group he was – maybe something rare like ‘Orangutan Negative?’ [a slightly different rendering of this anecdote is here]. This was evidently an appropriate time to mention those looking down on us, as we were treated to a faultless rendition of A Salty Dog. Gary hit the high note with ease (but there was a moment’s pause between the words 'salty' and 'dog', as if for extra drama?). The band were perfect, just perfect – the gull effects seemed to be a combination of Josh and Geoff, the guitar figures in verses two and three just blend in so perfectly, and Geoff Dunn has not only duplicated BJ’s drum entry but has contributed some very fine rolls of his own for further emphasis. The firing of the gun was pretty loud too!
An entirely new slow, stately, hard-edged prelude introduced Conquistador, where the band was expertly augmented by a lively brass section – though it’s the band which drives this great song along. Conquistador is every bit as core-DNA to Procol Harum as the preceding classic, and of course AWSoP, which followed to close this six-song set. This must be the Nth variation of the classic, with a minimal start-up, the organ coming in pretty well right away, a great piano solo after the first verse with a short guitar solo following immediately, before the second verse. Gary encouraged some community singing and there were lots of hands in the air, as you might imagine, and Procol definitely got the most prolonged ovation of the night as they took their bows. The Procol regulars did indeed call out for 'more', but in the context of the occasion, we knew that this six-song half hour was all we were going to get. But a tasty morsel this was, nonetheless. A pukka chukka, to use the polo terminology!
And five minutes later both Josh and Geoff Dunn were back on stage, backing Mollie Marriot! The evening’s finale was a great fiftieth-anniversary Small Faces set, preceded movingly by Kenney Jones presenting a Hall of Fame medal to Ronnie Lane’s family, who were accompanied by the MacLagan and Marriot girls. Mollie Marriot then came back on the stage as one of a number of singers now performing familiar and unfamiliar songs from the Small Faces' repertoire – with Kenney Jones on the drums.
My friend David and I left after three songs (sorry, we missed the finale – so I don’t know if any of Procol were involved), as we had to drive 240 miles up to Yorkshire to our offspring Liz and Chris who are getting married in a month’s time. Dave had not heard Procol Harum live before and was duly impressed (so that sorted what was playing in the car on the journey North!). And just as I am writing this the youngsters have revealed the secret that they are walking into the church ‘to your favourite song’. I am for once speechless. We will walk very reverentially, just so I can hear as much of it as possible! This is the version they heard evidently!
Rock’n’Horsepower was a great day’s entertainment, with all the artistes top-drawer and giving their services generously and full of enjoyment. We were all happy ... none of us felt ‘short-changed’ with Procol’s half hour ... we were at an excellent event with a great deal of professional, seamless organisation on show, both on stage and in the park. And all the music we heard was brilliant.
But I did have one thought after the event, which I hope is not unworthy, and which I wish to share with you here. I think is ironic that while many of these star acts can still fill halls on tours, (and great that they can, for they are each and every one great people), Procol have not ventured forth in the UK for many years past, feeling it has not the widespread ‘fan base’ of many of these other acts. Could this be perhaps rectified in the run-up to the 2017 anniversary, perhaps promoting an issue of some new music? A fond ‘I hope so!’ For now ... some of the Palers will be meeting up later this month in Germany and Switzerland, or going to the ‘Gary and Friends’ gigs in France in July. I wish them, and the band, a happy summer’s touring.
Oh yes finally – Happy Birthday to the Commander! Sadly his naval jacket (currently on eBay) is too small for me to bid for!
Procol dates in 2015 | Setlist from this show