A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Shepherd's Bush
George Beck, whose genius is known to many Procol Harum fans, sends this concert memoir to BtP:
1 - IN
Now five long moons and two leap year dunes have passed since our ship made land. It is five years to the very day that Monsieur G. Brooker created for me personally the most memorable musical milestone of the last millennium.
With the encouragement of my good friend and fellow shipmate, that wizard man fisher of the net, Doctor Sousa Sam, I shall attempt to bear witness with my own hand, to some of the events leading up to and surrounding that magnificent midsummer's dream. I am also extremely grateful to Sousa Sam for the spreading of this Sailor's Log 'round the horn.
I am somewhat isolated up here in a Seaman's Mission not too far from Kircaldy where the seagulls fly inland about sixteen vestal virgin miles from the coast. It is a land where the Piper is now trying hard to call the tune as I rise above his horrendous screech and tune in with a few tweet tweets.
I had absolutely no awareness of any concert reunions back in the early nineties. Since the sad demise of our dearest R Monde, whose University of Strathclyde funeral I had personally attended as a young student in 1977, my PH activities had been limited. One was the putting together of two home-made cassette compilations for running with my walkman and for a long gone Greek holiday with MacGregor back in 1983. The next was the seeking out of the Symphonic Procol Harum and Prodigal Stranger CDs in the nineties. Both had been joint ventures undertaken along with this friend and fellow seadog previously mentioned called Mac, who was originally from the same Seaman's Mission. He had been the Watcher Of The Skies who had alerted the existence of the nineties CDs to me. Then I took on the telephone harassment of the record companies. Mac and I were also appreciators of Thomas Hardy, that captivating writer whose tragic novels were much influenced by the work of our own Mr Reid?! Our appreciation strangely enough actually took us, in the summer of 1993, on a Wessex Hardy Trail holiday around Casterbridge, totally unaware of the rekindling of the fires which once burnt brightly, and that Something Magic had been reborn.
The title, "Hauntingly Harum", of the second of the DIY cassettes, may in retrospect have provided an almost prophetic glimpse of the slightly supernatural and blatantly bizarre event which lead to MacGregor's discovery of the Shepherd's Bush.
2 - HELD
It was 1995 and MacGregor had moved from Leicester to London to work for the Civil Service in the Somerset House building I think. He left to go for some lunch one jolly day late in the month of May. While strolling along a very busy main road in central London something slightly strange just briefly caught his eye. There was a sandwich board man on the opposite side of the road. Guess what flashed from his board directly into MacGregor's watcher of all eye? It wasn't teatime at the circus, it was the heralding of a future event at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. Procol Harum live in concert!?!? By the time a few blinks and rubs of the MacGregor eye had expired, and the hands of the town clock in the square had resumed their previously perpetual motion, the Sandwich had moved on. Mac had to leg it. Through hot wires of human obstacles he skipped and broke through barricades of recently-frozen traffic, determined to get level once more. There it was again! A second glimpse of impending Nirvana! Yes it was nineteen NINETY five! His eyes had not been playing tricks.
"Imagine my surprise
when Mac dealt the news at my home on the phone
Of a tale as rum, as reading one's
What surprised me almost as much, in fact it bloody well astounded me, was the declining of the offer of concert tickets that I made to a loyal, select, chosen and privileged few. Yes my beloved wife, Lady Tracey of Athlone who, along with our two baby daughters Aisling and Melanie, accompanied my pilgrimage progress all the way to London town. Also faithful Sir Mark of Essex, fellow Knight of West Ham, and his dearest Swedish Princess, Duchess Jeanette née Carlsson, at whose Stratford castle we resided, all turned down the most innovative and evocative musical opportunity of a lifetime.
3 - TWAS
Lunchtime at Holland Park on Saturday the Twelfth of August, year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety five. MacGregor, Sir Mark and myself had chosen a pub in this location on perchance of an encounter with that congenial, straightforward and friendly minstrel fellow, Mister Van the Man Morrison. Mac had read an article somewhere where someone had encountered Van in a clam bar in Holland Park. But he saw them coming through the door as he lifted up his fork. Well stranger things in London town had, after all, been known to happen. Who knows, maybe the man had a plan to join our dream at merry midsummer's Mecca. My excitement was mounting. How high would be the crescendo?
I phoned the Bush at about mid-afternoon on that sunny midsummer's day, just to check that a band called Procol Harum were actually scheduled to play there that night, on pretext of checking the time on stage.
Mac and I arrived at the Bush just as the support were finishing.
THOSE HAUNTING INTRO BARS OF ANCIENT CERDES BASS HERALDED OUR HARUM LIVE ON STAGE"
Now I could tell how high it would be. The urge to respond made me strong as Samson. The tiny tribute ponytail Lady Tracey had failed to remove, was giving me amazing strength! Soon I was dancing in the dark around the pillars. Down the dark alleys of my memory, like a sailor I crept. The echoes of the Bush shook around me. Then collapsed and crumbled like my kitchen ceilings, as in awe and honour I was forced to scream,
"GARY, YOU'RE A GENIUS GARY
GARY, YOU'RE A GENIUS GARY".
"Like a man who had a finger
Like a man who could be heard
Reassuring Captain Brooker
Still a genius after all these years."
There he was, the guv'nor.
"He's got his sailor's jacket on," remarked a fair Anglo-Saxon maid, situated somewhere near Hermann. Could she hear that Gary was a genius? Was I coming over loud and clear?
"And so are you," at one point came the impromptu reply. Just before The Cradle it was. From good Sir Geoffrey Of Whitehorn, now loyal knight of the Harum hive.
I continued the wildness in the summer of my madness. Straight through the forest, tearing down the trees. But when could I piss? I couldn't, no, not on the door! When Van was raving live, it would always be when he was cleaning windows. But Procol Harum? I decided on A Whiter Shade of "Ale" as it happens. Didn't want to go much beyond that albatross anyway!
Time warp at Shepherd's Bush. Was this really not a lucky man's dream?
"On and on as in the past a sound familiar
Could it be the one and same?
As Admiral Brooker and a crew of ratings
Sailed along in this dream game
Bringing home their too hard to be forgotten cargo
Of mysterious tender juicy steaks"
4 - IN
the vicarage at Highgate West Hill where MacGregor was then hiding from the natives and also the rum. Would it ever to him one day be served. Luxury, lad, compared with t'Seaman's Mission. Garden the size of island, with trees for Sir Isaac Brooker to be photographed under.
"Daybreak had dawned with signs of gladness
But the atmosphere was still a trifle unreal
But something magic must have happened
As all cobwebs from my ears had blown"
I could remember the customary Lamb Vindaloo and celebratory wine consumed after the Bush had burnt out. Did you remember to apologise to the caretaker, Gary? I was, however, experiencing some difficulties in my attempt to shovel complete glimpse into the memory ditch of what each steak had been. Could it be possible that for Mac and I, the night before, had only been a shared reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream? I wished well that I could persuade the Laughing Gods to rewind the reel! I should of course have written the name of each steak down the instant it was sent up from the galley to prevent this nasty Seaman's mess.
Over the next and last few days of my mission, I left a trail of little tour venue leaflets around London. You know the ones with the Prodigal Stranger umbrella motif, that I had picked up at the Bush?
"Many of these with Father Chris himself were planted
so that on Sunday mornings as he regularly ranted
they could, in his congregation, like tiny seeds be sown
and giant Gabriel Oak's from little acorns be grown."
One however, to my great expense, wandered through the Vicarage's garden fence and came back north to the Sailor's Mission with me. It was however, as you will find out in "I" which will be the fifth and final part of this simple story, destined to take this SeaMan on a second mission to bring relief from all this suffering. Many thanks, Doctor Brooker, for the pinches which you later prescribed to ease the pain!
Tune in later, same tweet tweets ... Sousa Sam www.//: etc. Shall the crowd clap furiously and call out towards the Piper for more?
George Beck teaches chemistry at Bannerman High School,
Glasgow where Ross Taylor [provider of valuable assistance