Procol Harum at Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall
10 May 2017 • Phil Skerratt for BtP
There have been comments from some Facebookers who felt “underwhelmed” by the new album Novum. If you feel that way, you need to get yourself to a date on this tour because these songs are superb, played live. Some rock, some hit the emotions hard, but they are all worthy.
The present incarnation of the band now have an album to call their own and these songs will fit comfortably into any set in years to come.
Gary was almost apologetic when introducing songs from the new album – of which there were eight – but it was heart-warming to hear a ripple of applause for the introduction to Sunday Morning. There was some stunning free-forming to Can’t Say That – I was watching Matt Pegg’s bass during that one and heck, he was good. He and Geoff Dunn make a superb back line.
The Liverpudlian lady who shouted “Luv yer Gary” was rewarded with Last Chance Motel; and the concert-opener, I Told on You, showed the drive of the band. It’s worth noting that Business Man got its first live airing, and that Neighbour is pure fun.
The opening organ chord of Image of the Beast suggested we were getting Quite Rightly So (it’s a bit of a Procol Trick: I have sometimes thought Shine on Brightly was going to be Piggy Pig Pig) but that was as tight a rendition as you could wish for.
The first set included the favourites Homburg (“So you know who we are,” said Gary), Pandora’s Box with the wonderfully staccato run in to the final organ solo, and we were also treated to As Strong as Samson, played as it appeared on the album.
The set also included Still There’ll be More. I’m not sure if I do read tea leaves or not. Prior to the concert, I posted on the Fiftieth Anniversary Facebook page that this would be an appropriate song for Liverpool – it was by way of being a dreadful pun [‘You’ll cry out for Mersey] – but it got played. As far as I can remember, the last time I heard them play this one was at Milton Keynes in 2003.
I don’t think I’ve heard Cerdes (Outside the Gates of) since 1969 and this featured beautiful (as always) guitar-work from Geoff Whitehorn. His solos add to the song, not dominate it, and there are lots of fine fills throughout. For the start of the second set, he picked up a Les Paul … made my night. It’s so much part of the original sound of the band.
The addition of a keyboard at right angles to the Hammond provided an extra dimension. When strings were needed (principally on A Salty Dog, Sunday Morning and Grand Hotel) the Yamaha Montage was used to great effect. Josh Phillips is a really accomplished musician: he knows just how much to put in and when to hold back. It gives the band a slightly different feel these days and A Salty Dog and Grand Hotel could have been studio takes had it not been for the slight stumble over the words to the opening verse of Grand Hotel – sorry Gary, but we all have these sight issues at our age!
If you want highlights of the night, then there are lots to choose from, but we could start with Gary Brooker’s voice. 48 years on from the release of A Salty Dog, he still hits it perfectly and in one breath at the climax (stunningly good); and again in Sunday Morning where the very last note must be a nightmare to get right – yet he did.
An Old English Dream and Conquistador were every bit as good as always (nice to see the boys in the band doing their vocal bit) and there was a lovely mention for the wonderful BJ Wilson before The Only One.
We were given a brief lesson on descending chords, featuring Air on a G String, When a Man Loves a Woman and then a little audience participation on No Woman No Cry (Procol can play reggae too) before they finished with A Whiter Shade of Pale with one of the extra verses slipped in the middle.
Tell you what, there is a lot of fun in the band these days. You can tell they enjoy what they do and this comes across to the audience. It and they are good to see. If you haven’t got a ticket to the tour, get one: and if you haven’t bought Novum yet, do.
Procol dates in 2017