It has been quite a year.
Why makes us say that? Procol Harum played fourteen concerts (and a good handful of songs at Josh Phillips's fantastic Prostate Cancer research fundraiser in the summer). It may not match up to 39 shows in 2012, but it’s great that the band continues touring and drawing an fervent audience of new and old fans as it approaches its half-century.
A new double compilation – Inside/Outside – brought the band’s music (studio and live) to a wider audience, and Procol also released an excellent-sounding live album – … Some Long Road … – in their ongoing download-only series.
The Procol Facebook group, started as a spin-off by the BtP team, is thriving under its new stewardship, and we’ve started a 'Beyond the Pale' Facebook group for those who want a leaner, news-oriented forum in addition. Our provision of the ‘Fresh Fruit’ Procol Harum newsletter is significantly upgraded, following migration to a new platform. Do note that we didn’t migrate the membership list: if you want the latest PH news straight to your mailbox, it’s easy to sign up afresh.
But what really made 2014 such a remarkable year for so many fans is the experiences had at the live concerts they were able to attend: Procol Harum has never been better. The songs still sound fresh, fresher and more powerful than ever before. The band is tighter (how is that even possible?) and can still surprise with new intros, endings and other variations of the classic tunes. Gary Brooker once said, “Every night I try to do better than last night, try to improve what I am doing. The day I cannot do that any more – that’s the day I’ll stop doing this.” This year proved once again that he can still do it: his voice is still there, in fact, many will agree that it keeps getting better and better.
Quite a year
For ‘Beyond the Pale’ it has been a busy time. Though we’re updating the website only weekly now, after so many years of daily bulletins, we reckon that in terms of arranging gatherings for fellow-enthusiasts 2014 probably set a new record. Gary Brooker had released to fans – via BtP’s eBay auctions – some interesting Procol memorabilia, including some instruments formerly belonging to BJ Wilson: our half of the proceeds went into enabling and enriching some great parties.
It started in Freising, in Southern Germany: Gary Brooker’s 69th birthday was the day of Procol Harum's concert there. What an opportunity to celebrate with a great birthday party! After much careful planning with the excellent Paul Köhrer, our man on the ground, we were able to bring together sixty fans from many countries – and Procol Harum musicians and crew – in Germany’s oldest brewery to commemorate our musical hero on the night before his birthday. A huge crystal-encrusted bottle of champagne made its way from Rome; Gary had a surprise meeting with his long-time associate, the conductor Eberhard Schoener, our secret guest; we had speeches, rhymes, and singing: a great time was had by all.
The summer brought nine concerts in the USA, and with that came the opportunity to bring a Palers' Convention – our eighth major undertaking of this nature – to America’s east coast for the first time. It was quite 'interesting', planning this and the Freising party at the same time, but it was an opportunity not to be missed. So many wonderful friendships had started in 2003, at our US Convention (in Los Angeles), we knew that In Held in NY would be a hit too. As always we had tremendous help with ideas and practical arrangements from local friends, in this case led by Tito Davila and Bert Saraco.
Since this was our first time on the East Coast, we knew we would have to draw some new fans to fill the Convention venue. We thought we might get fifty, but we set an upper limit at a hundred. Ticket sales immediately took us up to 101, and Procol Harum and crew added to the crowd when they joined the party after their concert. So the room was really humming harder than could have been foreseen.
12 July saw us gathered at our rented, lavishly-catered space in Westbury Long Island (which we were sharing with a very large funeral in the adjoining suite). As well as Unsteady Freddie’s unforgettable talk, Jack Vees and his bass-solo Walpurgis, and the off-the-cuff played-by-ear Procol karaoke, we had two bands for the afternoon and evening parties. There was the Palers' Band (if you can call it one band, with its constantly-changing personnel – this time twenty people, spanning fifty years from oldest to youngest) who had rehearsed for a few days in Brooklyn – thanks, Gary Celebre and family! And there was the polished and stylish Procol Harum tribute band, ‘Broken Barricades’. Gary Brooker sang two songs, one a world première, with the Palers’ Band, and everyone had a great time mingling and chatting with friends old and new.
And before the USA tour ended, Chris Cooke (Procol Harum's ever-busy
manager) informed us that the long-planned
concert – which we'd been planning to announce at the Freising party
– was at last confirmed. For contractual reasons, we still had to
wait some long months before we could announce the gig, and
its BBC radio broadcast. But when we got the all-clear, Chris's
thoughtful planning made it possible for the fans visiting BtP to
buy their best choice of seats before the general public could make
their bookings. When booking did go public, the show sold out with
On 23 November a good crowd went to hear Paler organist Ian Hockley give a prestigious recital in St Paul’s Cathedral, after which thirty or so stayed on for a French meal together. The next night’s concert, at The Dominion Theatre, was an enormous success for Procol Harum, and for Gary Brooker, who made a typically individual master of ceremonies. A super-enthusiastic audience greeted the band, The BBC Concert Orchestra, the Crouch End Festival Chorus and Maestro David Firman. The 2,000-capacity theatre was filled to the last seat, and when we all called out for ‘more’ during A Whiter Shade of Pale the custom had even more power on the particular day, as a tribute to Geoff Whitehorn who had been taken ill during rehearsal, and was very frustratingly hospitalised. His sudden replacement, Dave Colquhoun, did a really impressive job – our pre-show nerves were completely needless – though of course Geoff was missed the whole night. Geoff Curtis, Procol’s sound man, was also off sick: we wish him well too.
The concert was recorded in full by BBC Radio 2 and broadcast in December. The band’s homeland at last had the chance to realise what great music their unhailed heroes have been touring so long through so much of Europe and elsewhere in the world. The broadcast really showed what a great-sounding, versatile band Procol Harum is, and how strong their material is. A great Grand Finale for the year.
This concert gave the Palers a third opportunity to get together – and almost 150 friends from all over the world met (some for the first time) before and after the concert at the very crowded Tottenham Pub just across the street from the Dominion Theatre. A great time – and much liquid refreshment – was had, and it was so nice to see Diane Rolph and John Grayson, whose Redhill Party in 1997 remains the template for all such occasions. This was the third BtP event for the year, with a conspicuous contingent of hardy travellers who’d been at all of them. It was a relatively easy gathering to arrange, compared to all the logistical travails that go into Paler events in foreign continues. But whatever the venue, it’s always a great pleasure to be in the position to bring fans of this fine music together. Long may it continue.
Quite a year and – as we keep an eye on the gig-list – here’s to the next one!
Now ... good luck with those Christmas Quizzes ... time to size up the prizes and get to grips with the clues
Jens + Roland
from Norway and England
Procol dates in 2015