You could never accuse Procol Harum of over-exposing themselves to the British public. This long overdue tour marks a welcome attempt on their part to re-establish themselves in the nation's collective consciousness. There is also, surprise, surprise, a new LP to be aired and and new member to be introduced.
Let's take the new material first, which took up a good half of the set. To be frank, I wasn't all that impressed with it – but it was, after all, a first hearing, and new Procol material always takes time to settle; witness the vastly underrated Exotic Birds And Fruit. But they continue to tread their own distinctive path with a bit more solidity than the rather flimsy Procol's Ninth.
The rest of the set came from their treasure chest of oldies
– Conquistador, Beyond The Pale, Grand
Hotel (complete with Palm Court section), Pandora's
Box, Unquiet Zone (including Barrie Wilson's
multi-rhythmed drum solo) and Salty Dog. The encores
were firstly the new single Wizard Man, and a
hoedown, This Old Dog, and secondly a string of
rock'n'roll oldies as the audience refused to let them go: Roll
Over Beethoven, Long Tall Sally, Jailhouse
Rock and Oh Black Joe. And you thought Procol
Harum were pedestrian ...
The only possible way to stop was to dust off A Whiter Shade Of Pale again. But here's one for the Believe It Or Not Department: Gary Brooker actually got the words wrong after the number of times he must have sung that song!
Now for the new member – on keyboards, Pete Solley, a name that will bring a smile to those who remember that ace original Terry Reid trio. This man is an astute acquisition. He slotted right in, and his excellent synthesiser work is a fine foil to Brooker and Mick Grabham. Talking of Grabham, he must be the most underrated guitarist this side of the Zambesi – and probably the other side as well.' Definitely one of the most powerful but tasteful axemen on the boards.
I have certainly heard them play better, but at no stage could they be said to be poor, and it was vastly enjoyable. The band evidently enjoyed it too – they played for two and a quarter hours.
It's unfortunate that Procol Harum's lack of appearances has let them become saddled with a grandiose Grand Hotel type image, but this tour should rectify all that. Their music demands some effort and attention from the audience – commodities in short supply it seems – and they are not the easiest band to get into.
Mike Heron's new band Heron supported, and I've heard far worse headlining bands. This is about as far removed as you could imagine from the Incredible String Band – real mainstream rock but imaginatively so, and heavily scored for the electric guitar and synthesiser. The potential is tremendous.
Fans remember this gig ... or try to!