Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Gary Brooker and Friends

'The Last Fling' : Guildford Civic Hall, 4 January 2004

Gary Brooker
(voice and piano)
Andy Fairweather-Lowe
(guitar and voice)
Henry Spinetti
Dave Bronze
(bass, voice)
Frank Mead
(winds, percussion)

This was a marvellous concert, commemorating the closing down of a theatre that has hosted its share of important artists down the years since it opened in the 60s. We took our places at about 7.10 and didn't budge from the spot until the last note of music had rung out, about 12.35 am. A long time to be standing in one place, but richly worth it! The opening set came from Judie Tzuke, then Kenney Jones and his gang came on for an hour of macho rock classics, featuring songs by The Who, The Faces, Rod Stewart, Bad Company and many others. A longer report on this may well follow ... suffice it to say, if this had been the only entertainment it would have been worth the price of the ticket and the two hours' drive. But it was not the only entertainment! At 10.12 a familiar band took the stage: No Stiletto Shoes, though not, tonight, billed as such. This was Gary Brooker and Friends and, as MC 'Whispering' Bob Harris implied, the name implied volumes about the Brooker address-book! Here's a skeletal summary of what we heard:



Featuring the inimitable No Stiletto Shoes (Frank Mead, tenor). It was interesting to start with an instrumental. Gary didn't actually sing a tremendous amount this evening ... you'll see why ...


Let's Work Together

A rousing song we'd heard at other Shoes gigs in the last few weeks. (Frank Mead, harmonica)


Lead me to the Water

First of Gary's solo album tunes, with Beverly Skeete, familiar from Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, on harmony vocal. The Kings played this one, in a similar reggae arrangement. Tonight Frank Mead played alto, and it was also nice to hear Bronzie's bass creating the 'correct' chord inversions, this time! His playing throughout the evening was fantastic ... at many times it was all reminiscent of the Concert for George (a recommended DVD, incidentally) ... which featured so many of the same musicians.


Say You Don't Mind

Colin Blunstone's hit from 1972, sung by ... Colin Blunstone in fine falsetto voice! He looked striking in a sharp black suit, though a curiosity of the lighting made it look as though he was wearing grey latex gloves!


Time of the Season

The great Zombies song, again with Colin Blunstone on vocal. Beverly Skeete harmony vocal, Gary 'echo' vocal and a great organ solo (he had the Roland VK7 set up on top of his RD 600) (Frank Mead, soprano solo)


She's Not There

Another fine Zombies song, again with Colin Blunstone on vocal. Gary sang backup and contributed electric-piano sounds. (Frank Mead, tambourine)


If Paradise is Half as Nice

There had been a lot of singing-along already, but here the crowd really cut loose. Gary sang harmony, Frank Mead played tenor. Andy took the lead of course, after a free, bluesy guitar introduction. The was a nice comedy moment with a false chord on the piano ... but the whole evening, despite onstage protestations to the contrary, was musically very tight and sounded thoroughly rehearsed.


Pretty Flamingo

On came another special guest, Paul Jones. Many who came on stage deplored the imminent closure of the hall: but Jones said he could not feel sad: 'I've seen the backstage toilets.' Andy played a resonator guitar for this song, Frank Mead the flute. Jones played some very nifty harmonica, and looked so young one suspected it was really his son!


Work Song

Paul Jones sang this chain gang lament in fine blues voice and sharp grey suit, and played some more excellent harp. It was a far cry from his Manfred Mann poppery. Frank Mead played alto.


Help Me

The classic song by Junior Wells (from the Buddy Guy repertoire) featured Jones on voice and harmonica, with Frank Mead on tenor. Another organ break from Gary, playing the piano at the same time. The band had now hit an excellent groove. It was marvellous to hear Henry Spinetti with the Shoes: he had mentioned to us at Cropredy (where he'd been a fellow punter in the crowd) that he was not going to be able to play Gary's Christmas shows (see here and here) as he was on the road with Roger Chapman at that time. To have heard Graham Broad and Henry was an excellent treat.


Two Fools in Love

Gary sang this as a duet with Beverly, and very nice it sounded too, with the authentic electric piano sound from Gary's solo album. He seemed very pleased with the song and the reception it got. (Frank Mead, tenor). After this song Beverly went off, and Andy immediately announced her as singing the next song. There was an amusing contretemps as he flung the set list aside, asking 'Isn't this written in stone?' Gary said, 'You never followed a list in your life ...' and assured the (capacity) crowd, 'He can't read anyway.' However the impasse was broken as Gary announced Eric Clapton (with the usual soubriquet of simply 'EC') ... to a very howl of delight from the audience ... whereafter Ms Skeete duly returned for the next piece.


Never Loved a Man

This fine Aretha song featured Beverly Skeete on vocal, Paul Jones on mouth-harp, and Eric Clapton on guitar. Gary had vouchsafed the identities of all the other special guests by telephone, but not Eric .. yet we had had our suspicions, having recognised his guitar technician earlier, whom we'd seen at the Shoes / Clapton gig at Chiddingfold a few days before. (Frank Mead, harmonica). Ms Skeete emoted to a terrific degree!


Mustang Sally

Beverly Skeete, voice; Frank Mead, alto, Eric Clapton, rhythm: in fact, Clapton remained on stage for the rest of the evening, unlike all the other guests, who came and went. As at the recent Shoes gig, EC became part of the fixed line-up. 'Fabbo,' is my only note on this song, except 'Very smelly crowd' ... because down the front we were getting highly compressed and it was very hot!


I put a spell on you

Beverly's melismatic vocal (she has a Mariah Carey-like range) did indeed rival Nina Simone on this reading of the song, which featured Frank Mead on alto ... EC also took a nice solo.


Wonderful Tonight

Eric Clapton took two great solos on this song, the first item for a while with a cool tempo. (Frank Mead, soprano)


Stagger Lee

Gary introduced 'From Plaistow, Mr Alvin Stardust'. We'd seen Stardust with the Shoes before and thought him pretty good; tonight he was absolutely terrific and this was one of the standout numbers of the show. Gary played a great piano solo. Everyone on stage seemed to be enjoying it hugely: it goes without saying that the same effect was felt in the smelly audience. (Frank Mead, tenor). We noticed that Gary was having periodic conferences, as he played, with Johnny and Ron, sound henchmen familiar to Procol fans. It turned out that two redundant vocal mics, sited right in front of his piano, needed shifting upstage,


Johnny B Goode

Another Alvin Stardust vocal, once the key had been informally established! (Frank Mead, alto). Ron Manigley was observed to heave a monitor wedge upstage while the music went on. GB also broke off playing to re-resite the associated mic stands, after the other adjustments had apparently been completed: clearly he was MD in a very hands-on fashion. Meanwhile Andy and Bronzie took care of the backing vocals ... as they did on several other numbers, not specifically recorded in my notebook. The press of the aromatic crowd made such writing increasingly difficult.


My Girl

Gary took the lead in this song, as featured by Procol Harum on some gigs in 2003. Beverly and (later) Paul joined in at the recently-fettled backing microphones (Frank Mead, alto)


When I need you

Gary now introduced Leo Sayer, who hasn't changed much since we first saw him on Top of the Pops, and sounded very much the same too. He worked the crowd very engagingly, endearing himself by insisting that 'Mr Guild and Mr Ford' should build the people another hall when this one had been decommissioned. Gary played some organ and sang the harmony part on this hit song, as did Beverly at times, and Frank played a nice tenor solo. The pungent crowd loved it. 'Shame it's not like this every Sunday night,' said Gary.


Long Tall Glasses

It was almost midnight and we wondered how much more music there could possibly be, but nobody onstage, where the air was clearer, seemed to be flagging at all! This hit song (written by Sayer with David Courtney) had a lot more guts live than I expected. The falsetto 'I can't dance' chorus was splendid, with Gary playing a piano solo, and Henry some nice breaks. The ending was suitably mad and Sayer concluded with 'I don't deserve these guys ...' (Frank Mead, alto)


Gin House

Before this next song Gary introduced his incredibly hard-working band, and Andy added 'The Commander' in acknowledgment of his leader. But Gary deflected this title, in further acknowledgment that Mr Clapton had just been made CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the Queen's New Year's Honours list. The musical mood changed now, for this highly intense Fairweather-Lowe classic. Clapton played a good slide solo, then took a terrific picked chorus as well. Andy broke a string which promoted a flurry of activity offstage before a second Strat was brought out for him.


Doo Wah Diddy

The sweating audience joined in with tremendous force as Paul Jones delivered this unexpected Manfred Mann revival. Gary played the lovely, trashy organ part: Frank Mead, who 'loves hitting things'' percussed. Andy played his National guitar again, and the backing vocals were courtesy of Skeete and Sayer. As Jones remarked (having shed his jacket and tie) 'I bet you didn't think you'd be singing this here tonight ... 'and then brought the house down by adding 'You didn't think you'd hear Eric Clapton playing it, either' or words to that effect! Needless to say, Gary capped it all by asserting that Eric was 'the one who asked for it!'


A Whiter Shade
of Pale

As well as the VK7 Hammond substitute sited on top of Gary's piano, another was now set up stage left, and a familiar figure, who had watched the whole show from the wings, was introduced by Gary: 'An old friend of mine, Pete Solley!' This was a two-verse version of the classic song, but with the minor key two-hand-trilling piano insert at the end. The personnel was Gary, Andy, Henry, Bronzie, Pete on organ (genially negotiating his way around the soprano of Frank Mead) and Eric Clapton: plenty of authentic Procol players in fact ... and to think that when Gary Brooker and Friends played here in 1998 we were all desperately hoping it would not be the last time the song would be heard onstage! Maybe the Palers' Petition, handed to Gary backstage at the end of the gig, really did some good?



Pete Solley stayed on stage for this fine version of the Claptonian classic, with Frank on tenor. It was long, funky, and very stirring indeed.


We'll Meet Again

Everyone was back onstage for this number, and every last member of the steaming audience sang along too. Frank played a delicate soprano solo. Then the song mutated from the Vera Lynn tempo into a rock'n'roll reprise: there must have been many lumps in local throats. It was not easy for the band to leave the stage on this sentimental occasion the last music to be heard before the theatre goes dark and after everyone had finally left the stage, Gary played another little bit on his piano. The band had been playing for about 2 hours, and it had all been fantastic entertainment. Thanks to GB's suggestion, buckets were shaken at the end of the show, soliciting our contributions for the Red Cross relief fund for victims of the earthquake at Bam.

Linda and I would have liked to go backstage and thank the Brookers for kindly fixing us up with tickets, but it was clear that there was going to be a huge party in the artists' quarters, and I had to be at work in a few hours' time, after something of a drive: so we had to be content with sending a suitable message via Geoff and Annie Whitehorn, who hailed us from the balcony as, with ringing ears, we made our way out into the relatively clean city air. Judie Tzuke, the Jones Gang (where Gary Grainger, on guitar, had been a revelation!) ... everyone on stage had given a tremendous show. It must be hoped that Guildford will not end up without a venue for live music ... specially music of this quality ... and that, when a new hall is completed, Gary Brooker and Friends will be the first choice of ensemble to inaugurate it. 

Have a look at Procol Harum setlists, or see the handwritten setlists for the gig above

Gary Brooker in non-Procol concert

Photographs of the Brooker band at this gig, and more, and more, and more

Musicians who kicked off the evening

More photos of the Brooker band at this gig, and more, and more, and more

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