Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at Hengelo, NL

Setlist 24 September 2017

Brooker, Dunn, Pegg, Phillips, Whitehorn
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I Told on You
Bags of interesting drum work and crazy fills

Pandoraís Box
Again, exciting drumming which, coupled with GW's miraculous sustain, the ferocity of the syncopated link into the playout, and GB's unexpected glissando, makes this a really memorable performance. Josh's Hammond cadenza ranges unexpectedly up and down the gamut, but  with his usual lightning dexterity.

Band introductions including '... Geoff Whitehorn on lead guitar ... well, we've only got one, unless I get mine out ...'

Man with a Mission
Watching from the stage-right wings, one sees that GB's song-book is unconventional: the lyrics are not written out in full, but he extrapolates them from a series of aides-memoire handwritten in gold pen on black pages. Also in this number a good view of Geoff Whitehorn manipulating, or pedipulating, the wah-wah pedal with his red-shod right foot. The left foot is shod likewise in a matching red.

GB explains that 'we had a bit of a long 'bus ride' getting to what he calls 'Heligoland'. In fact the bus took 90 minutes to get to the venue from the edge of town, because it is high and the many bridges are low; eventually the police were able to supply a viable route to the Poppodium ('Poppadom' as GW later called it).

Canít Say That
The number starts with a jam ( the same sort of approach is used in the 2017 Kaleidoscope); but with an oriental flavour whose relevance to the words, and indeed the ensuing throbbing rumpus, is not entirely clear.  GB uses the stage piano's pitch-bend facility; GW threatens to detune a string.' 'Gary sings 'Please don't let me down'.  Fabulous ensemble playing ... the closest Procol get to Deep Purple territory, and in many ways the most viscerally exciting part of the current show. Matt Pegg's bassline is sensational, and so are the surprise variations he throws in, which draw amazed smiles from other members of the band

Sunday Morning
'You can get Novum by download or 'steaming',' said GB. From the opening notes of Sunday Morning the applause suggested that a large sector of the sold-out, tightly-packed audience already knew this piece, perhaps having 'steamed' it. 'We sang this on the way here,' said GB, mentioning the long journey overnight from Denmark, through Germany ... and concluding, appositely enough, with 'Long live William of Orange.'

Josh had been offered the new Hammond XK5 for this gig, but declined because the layout is different (four sets of drawbars, for example) and he didn't want to be thinking about such matters while playing. The combination of Montage strings and plaintive Hammonding does a lot for this number. Fascinating to watch how Geoff Dunn contributes to the slow-burning build-up ... from felt-malleted cymbals, through whispering Boys' Brigade snare rolls, to light occasional tom-tommery, to sidestick on the snare, to some heavier ride work, a round of tom-toms played with felt, the first use of the crash, then all-out rock flammin
g in the finale.

GB promises, as on other nights, '... something old, something new, something sacred and something blue ...' then leads band and audience into 'Hooray and up she rises' (each 'up' emphasised by a skyward piano glissando) and much cackling 'Aaaaarrr' from the players. Then the mood turns serious ...

Whaling Stories
GW's evident relish for the heavy menace of that upward scale (in which connection Linda from BtP had encouraged Josh to investigate the so-called Shepard Scale or Shepard Tone ... Google it, and be rather amazed!)  Geoff also gets to the mic to supply the sinister sibilance that follows 'shrieking steam'. It's easier for the rest of the band to follow GB tonight, as there's not room on stage for the faux grand (it repines backstage like an outsize hermit-crab shell whose occupant has escaped to another life as a knitting machine). The song is fantastic.

Up on onstage it's extremely hot and airless. Gary suggests the venue should 'turn the air-conditioning down to Boiling in the second half'. Someone shouts out 'Open the doors' and GB replies, 'No, the whole town will be in here for free.' It felt as though the whole town was in there. Gary gets involved in some banter with a bloke in a Rolling Stones tee-shirt ... 'lucky to get a ticket!' he says. GW starts a Stones riff but GB talks about Businessmen ... 'They steal, they rob: our enemies, the bank managers.'

Business Man
The song has an even more Caribbean feel in verse three. 'It was always implied,' GW told me. But now it's stated, rather than hinted. Maybe the Caribbean is the destination of choice for businessmen who've made their killing.

As Gary introduces the Stage Crow to the audience, Geoff W offers it a swig of beer. 'Two weeks with us, and he's on the bottle,' Gary explains.

A Salty Dog
The song's dedicated to 'people who pass away. Didn't someone go today?' 'They're dropping like flies,' says Geoff. 'Was it Trump?' asks the Commander, hopefully. Great laugh from the audience. A Salty Dog is as immaculate as ever ...

At the merch stall in the interval: 'I don't like old bands. Their material sounds chewed-over. But not these guys. They play like young men. Brilliant musicians.'

Fires (Which Burnt Brightly)
No Matilde, so all the vocal parts are generated by 'Montague'  ... superb drum work from GD and a thoroughly elegant performance overall

Last Chance Motel

'We have something for everyone in Procol Harum. Something for pirates, something for the LGBT community, and something for ... cowboys.'
When alluding to the 'silver screen' GB always gestures at the black Procol backdrop. The harmony vocals, especially the transitions from 'ooh' to 'wah', are convincingly Nashvillian. The song goes down well, but one senses that audiences are uncertain about its status: there's a fine line where parody shades into ... well, non-parody, Where is Procol's performance situated exactly?

This is from 1967 ... sixty years ago'. GB deals graciously enough with a heckler in whose mind such arithmetical niceties are worth interrupting a show for. Strange to think that I didn't hear this song in concert until November 1974, when the transposed ending came as a considerable surprise; and the modified last-chorus rising bassline ... I didn't properly notice that, live,  until July 1997.

Shine on Brightly
Terrific dynamic rise and fall of this song. Such a strong impression this song made, live off the radio, on 25 February 1968; little did I imagine I'd be listening to it in the wings 49 years later ... and that it would still sound so vividly exciting and mysterious

GB characterises this as a descendant of other Procol comic songs, and sings a bit of Good Captain Clack and of Mabel. A bonkers heckler shouts 'Where's the Leslie box?' GW says he thought Mabel was a Chas'n'Dave number. 'That's where they got it from,' says Gary. This excellent little song, so much cut-down from its original studio conception, now requires an 'Oy' from the audience, though not quite as forcefully as Beyond the Pale does. 'What self-indulgent rubbish,' comes a comment ... from the stage!

Grand Hotel
Gary in his habitual paean to the good old days of touring alludes to the times when Procol had 'orchestras in our bedrooms ... at least, the first violinist and the harpist'. GW's BV variant of the night is 'Hotel Cambridge'. The piano work is less adventurous than last night's, but the song still goes down extremely well ... ending, again, with some 'Je ne regrette rien'.

It's definitely Conkeestador tonight. I reflect that some imagery from the previous song seems to be leaking in ... from this unusual listening position I'm hearing 'I "casino" maze to unwind'. Also notable is that fact that watching last night from Stage Left I could see mostly musicians' backs; tonight, from Stage Right, it's very clear indeed how vigilantly the band are facing towards the piano to pick up GB's facial and digital cues. Phenomenal technique and energy of Geoff Dunn. Every night as he comes forward for his bow, a heart-shaped patch of dark moisture is apparent on his tee-shirt. 'It's my inner self coming out when I play,' he quips later.

The Only One
'We have three songs in B.' (cf Memorial Drive and Poor Mohammed). 'You've never heard this one before but I bet you'll still be singing it in twenty years' time'. Big applause! And I'm singing it now, so that's a promising start.

A Whiter Shade of Pale
To end this leg of the tour GB thanks the whole crew by name, and Roland and Linda at the Procol stall, and as he introduces AWSoP the organ-heckler shouts 'With the Leslie!. Josh points out where the Leslie is. Matt adds, 'We can't get far enough away from the bloody thing!'. Needless to say the song sounds superb and the ovation is protracted.

17 songs altogether: 1 From Procol Harum 1 from Shine on Brightly
1 From A Salty Dog 1 From Home   from Broken Barricades
2 From Grand Hotel   From Exotic Birds and Fruit 1 from Procol's Ninth
  From Something Magic 1 From The Prodigal Stranger   from The Well's on Fire
7 From Novum 2 non-album tracks    


Procol dates in 2017 | Booking

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