With A Great Help from My Friends
7th June 1997, Jones Beach Theatre, Long Island, New York
Polish / English translation by Mac Gajda
On someone who grew up with the rock music of the 60s and 70s, names like Jack Bruce, Gary Brooker, Peter Frampton, Simon Kirke, Dave Mason and ... Ringo Starr, work as effectively as the flypaper on a fly. So when I found out that the Beatles' famous drummer Ringo Starr, together with a group of the greatest stars of the rock music (who in fact are also his friends), is organising a, lasting over a month, tour around the United States, I decided to go to the last of their gigs, in Jones Beach, Long Island.
Rebuilt in 1991–92, the Jones Beach Theatre – overlooking the Atlantic – has lost its moat which used to separate the stage from the audience, but thanks to careful restoration the number of seats has been successfully increased. More than eight thousand of the fans of good rock music arrived on this memorable, chilly but fine evening of 7th June this year (one of the spectators, whom I spotted later after the concert was Procol Harum's 'Poet Laureate', Keith Reid). Amongst many of the national flags wafted in the slight breeze above the stage I discovered ... the white-red Polish one. For first half an hour a young guitarist from Brooklyn was entertaining us, and then – at about nine o'clock – the presenter announced Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band!
The audience welcomed the musicians by standing up and applauding for a long, long time. I was surprised at the absence of Dave Mason, and I still don't know what was the reason for that. The last one to come out on stage was Ringo and of course he was greeted with loudest cheering of all. The concert began quietly with rhythm & blues accent. But when I tried to squeeze myself through the crowd towards the front of the stage the group had began to play very vigorously and forcefully The Devil Came from Kansas, one of Procol Harum's songs. However, with equal vigour I was received by a furious security guard (and it was he that seemed to me the true devil incarnated at that moment), well, I have survived, thank God!
Already after the first piece one could see and hear that the band, which consisted after all of huge personalities, formed a good team, and that playing together gave them obviously great pleasure. Brooker's voice – indestructible, Frampton's guitar sharp and tuneful at the same time, Jack Bruce – virtuosity. And it was those three guys who dominated the whole concert, and the songs from their fantastic, old records are the ones which certainly bring the most vivid memories of that evening. Not trying to offend the famous Beatle one has to honestly admit, that he was to play with greater professionals and artists than himself, although they might be less popular.
And there was very much to listen to: Conquistador, another Procol Harum's piece, was played with no less kick than the famous concerts of this band in the seventies. A Salty Dog was sang and played solo by Gary Brooker! For the first time I hear such a instrumentally modest version of this song, but it was simply amazing! And it was this piece which has been mostly mentioned by the present rock lovers, after the concert. The last Procol's number is naturally A Whiter Shade of Pale! The things they did with it! Brooker, who usually plays the piano in this song, has given up his place to another artist, Mark Riviera, and played himself keyboards. Mark, who I didn't mention before, played the drums and in AWSoP had the chance to take the place of the author of this great hit. Fortunately Gary Brooker didn't offer anyone the microphone and sang A Whiter Shade of Pale with his usual sore and slightly hoarse voice.
Ringo showed off with an extended version of Yellow Submarine and many other songs from the between of pop and rock'n'roll. Quite often he took the role of the presenter and helped out his friends in the choirs, but mostly he tended to leave the stage to give his friends a chance to play properly. Songs of the legendary super group of the late sixties, The Cream, had immensely warmed up the audience. I Feel Free, Sunshine of Your Love and White Room! One won't find higher standard of music than this. In Sunshine ...we could admire beautiful Frampton's solos on the guitar and Brooker's on the organ. All the musicians enjoyed themselves and they played superbly. In such moments one really starts to believe in the sense of existence and worships the day one was brought into this world. In the astonishing White Room Jack Bruce – the author of this number – gave a short performance on the bass, so good that many of young musicians can only dream of! I don't know whether I've ever heard a better bassist than he. This never worn out Scot – along with Starr and Brooker – was the most cheerful person on the stage.
Peter Frampton also presented several of his songs from his great past, which were received with huge applause from the audience. We had such a fantastic time listening to the rhythms of Show Me the Way, Baby I Love Your Way or Do You Feel Like I Do, that we didn't notice the increasing chill from Atlantic. This already balding guitarist gave the impression of being able to play everything, as if it didn't matter to him whether it's hard blues style of The Cream, Bad Company and Free or the symphonic rock of Procol Harum.
Simon Kirke, the number one drummer of this concert, led his friends into two excellent songs, the first one Bad Company's Shooting Star, and the second All Right Now – symbol of the group Free! In this song there was literally everything that I associate with good rock, blues or hard rock of the 70s. After this super hit the audience stood up to applause the musicians.
And then for the 'dessert' the musicians offered us a joined performance of With A Little Help From My Friends! The musicians were leaving the stage among indescribable tumult and screams of the audience, and Franky Brooker (the wife of Procol Harum's leader) offered a bunch of flowers to the famous Beatle.
Thanks to Mirek Plodzik for submitting this piece by his brother Pawel; Mirek adds: 'Tylko Rock is the best rock magazine in Poland and their journalists make interviews with the bigger rockmans in the World. In my opinion Mac translates very precisely ... it isn't so good as every original English paper, nevertheless I hope you'll be enjoying during reading it.
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