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the Pale

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A Whiter Shade of Winter in New York (December 2016)

Bert and Carina Saraco, for BtP
Photographs (c) Express Image Photography

Winter came to New York in force, with frigid temperatures stinging exposed skin and whipping winds biting through coats and blowing off hats. Winter also arrived inside the Gothic caverns of The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine as well, but in this case it was in the form of Paul Winter, of the Paul Winter Consort. Some four and a-half decades earlier, Paul Winter met Gary Brooker when his band played the Fillmore East along with Procol Harum and Teagarden and Van Winkle. Winter and Brooker respected the uniqueness of each other’s music but it took their meeting at a memorial for the late Sir George Martin (who served as producer for each of the two artists) to birth the idea of finally working together – an idea that became reality at Winter’s 37th Annual Winter Solstice Celebration at the Cathedral of Saint John The Divine in New York City. The first of four performances took place on Thursday night, 15 December, to be followed by a second show on Friday night, and two more on Saturday – a matinee and a final evening performance.

On opening night, The Lovely Carina took notes and I took a camera. Three-quarters of the huge, imposing cathedral interior had seating that faced a flat, open stage with instruments set up on scaffolding on either end, and open space in the center where choreography, props, and featured performers would eventually take the spotlight. Looking beyond the stage you could see another section of seats, where roughly a quarter of the remaining audience would be viewing the show from the other side. The show was a multicultural celebration of the season, featuring colorful dancers, a giant earth-globe, a sculptural Solstice Tree, and other surprises, but the reason you’re reading this is because Gary Brooker was the special guest performer…

Gary was featured four separate times (performing five songs) through the night and also participated in several other moments as a member of the collected troupe.  

A Salty Dog – a keyboard (donated for the run by Don Milione, from The Palers' Band) is brought out on to the darkened stage and as the spotlight finds Gary we hear the sound of whale or dolphin songs instead of the usual seagulls (to my ears, anyway). The song was performed powerfully, with Gary in great vocal form. Synth strings, ’cello, and upright bass create a stunning, intimate, yet orchestral setting. Jamey Haddad plays appropriately BJ Wilson-inspired drum parts. Paul Winter’s soprano sax provides key melodies recalling the original arrangement. A wonderful moment.

An Old English Dream – a surprising choice, but performed very well, with some nice touches (a military cadence from the drummer at the words, “Ten thousand soldiers that marched to and fro” and the inclusion of an instrumental break in the middle that turns out to have been Elgar's Nimrod from the Enigma Variations).

In My Life – yes, you read correctly. Remembering another December day in New York 1980, Gary performed a stirring solo version of John Lennon’s poignant song, rendering the vocal melody in more of a blues format, accompanying himself on piano, joined by ’cello, drums, and Winter’s sax restating the melody in the middle. To the surprise and delight of the audience, Gary incorporated the familiar opening bars of Strawberry Fields into the end phrase of the song.

Conquistador – a lively version, accompanied by colorfully-garbed dancers surrounding Gary. Paul Winter took the solos as well as the fanfare normally reserved for the trumpet. According to The Lovely Carina, who was seated on the ‘far’ side of the stage, Gary skipped off the platform along with the dancers!

A Whiter Shade of Pale – starting with the synth strings, ’cello and upright bass effectively mimicking the more recent version of the orchestral score, and Paul Winter adding the prominent melody on soprano sax, this was about as perfect a performance of the song as I’ve ever heard. The organ lines were masterfully played by Paul Sullivan, and Jamey Haddad once again provided BJ-inspired drums. Of course, the audience reaction was enthusiastic and prolonged.

Gary participated in two or three other moments, mostly adding his voice behind some of the big, staged numbers along with gospel singer Theresa Thomason and other ‘cast members'. More prominently, Gary was featured on Silent Night and Auld Lang Syne.

Gary typically lightened the mood of the otherwise stately evening with his usual humorous patter, not forgetting to offer proper tribute those ‘who look on from above.” Looking healthy and fit along with Franky, Gary didn’t directly answer my question about any forthcoming Procol Harum stops in the US when we saw him briefly after the show, but both Brookers said to be ready for some “surprises”….

Thanks, Bert and TLC


Procol dates in 2016 | More about these shows

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