In fact, it was Procol Harum all the time, playing for more than two and a half hours with an interval of 20 minutes after just over an hour. What went on backstage during the interval I don't know, but someone injected this tired-looking band with some adrenalin that saved Sunday evening from turning into a total disaster.
I won't dwell too long on the first half, but it must be said that rarely have I seen a band of their prowess stagger and reel in such lugubrious fashion. Their first three numbers were a joke and any minute I expected this dismal dirge to come to a full stop. It appeared the band were nervous, but this is no excuse: after all, Procol have been around long enough to laugh at stage-fright.
Several things were wrong. The mix was atrocious, pulling down Gary Brooker's vocals and effectively losing all the bass. To compensate for this Mick Grabham's guitar and BJ Wilson's drums were fiercely overloud. The result was downright awful and they must have been as aware of the problem as much as the audience.
But the second half ... well, Don Revie or someone of similar standing must have had a few stern words backstage. They came back refreshed and confident and, apart from the occasional howler like the over-long version of Strauss' Blue Danube won back a lot of their lost respect. The mix was altered, bass could be heard and occasionally they even managed a smile or two.
In such a long show the band had an opportunity to delve right through their catalogue, as well as including material from their new album Procol's Ninth. The highlight of the evening was Grand Hotel with its lengthened middle solo [sic] that veered through the bossa nova and clicked into the theme from Sunday Night at the London Palladium. This number, early in the second half, was the turning point in the whole show and it became apparent that the audience, a large percentage of whom were tourists, were there only to listen to the group's older material. A Salty Dog went down a bomb, deservedly so.
The final 20 minutes were a positive riot, with the band abandoning their somewhat severe style and getting stuck into a roaring bluesy rock version of Paul Robeson's classic American anthem Poor Old Joe [sic]. As a second encore they banged their way through Eight Days A Week in joyous fashion only to have the curtains prematurely close as they began the introduction to the best-known Procol song of them all, Whiter Shade of Pale.
For an agonising two minutes, the band plodded on through the intro while the curtains remained closed and the audience whistled at what appeared to be the Palladium management's reluctance to allow the band to play after 11pm. Eventually the curtains opened and one of the best singles of the Sixties was finally played out to everyone's delight.
Viv Stanshall compered the show and joined in on a hesitant but enthusiastic tambourine whenever convenient. It was a welcome sign that Procol are not taking themselves quite so seriously these days.
New Musical Express on this gig: search for 'Joan Bakewell'
|Setlist for this mighty show||Richard Solley on this gig|