Procol Harum

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Procol Harum in Copenhagen

Return of the Prodigal Strangers: Niels-Erik Mortensen

Amager Bio, Copenhagen, 25 May 2001

An opening night is always something special. And as Procol Harum – wisely – had chosen to open their European Tour in Copenhagen, glimpses of Nirvana could be seen on Earth – or at least in the eyes of the Danish Procol supporters. Would the band give us some new lamps for old? Would they announce a new album being recorded? We ran ashore in the dire strait between great expectations and hard times.

This night at Amager Bio – another closed cinema in the South Copenhagen area – Procol Harum chose to play it safe. If this gig was the first result of just three days practising the noble art of brushing up the repertoire – as the word on the street was – no-one found out. Inside, a crowd of 1100 people had taken possession of the defunct picture house (cinema 1941-86, venue 1994-). In other words: a packed house and a triumph indeed for any band.

Commander Brooker himself was vocally at his very best. Over the years, his quasi-tenor has opposed the slings and arrows of fortune, and he was singing without any trace of wear and tear. However, the voice sounds bit drier than previously. From his hired piano Gary led the band through some of their Greatest Hits. 85 minutes later, standing ovations with no end in sight follow Procolers on their way to Norway. And something had really been going on for the mums and dads (and granddads/grandmums) of the audience. Brooker & Co opened the time-warp continuity, letting us – the more mature boys and girls – once again feel how it was like to approach these songs for the first time. And just the day before, the whole world had celebrated Dylan's 60th birthday – but his Forever Young could just as well come in handy as a true Procol anthem.

Not much was out of control. Gary had a few diificulties remembering the lyrics of Holding On, but who cares? The entire audience had learned all the songs by heart, singing along all the time – exept this one. Most fun on stage that night was had by Geoff Whitehorn, a guitarist of the highest rank with an appearance somewhere in-between Paddington the Bear and fellow guitarist Gary Moore. Then, there is Matthew Fisher, he's sitting over there, looking as there's too much sea between us. Competent as ever, one thinks that all those songs were recorded by him originally – and then one realizes that the organist on most of these songs was Chris Copping. Matt is in a constant dialogue with the guitar, melting the sound together. All the way, the rhythm section – Pegg and Brzezicki – gave the firm base of those everlasting songs. The prodigal strangers had returned.

Procol had chosen a repertoire from the ”golden years”, the earliest songs – AWSoP, Homburg, Repent Walpurgis, Conquistador – and those from the post-Barricades period, leaving out samples from three entire albums. A somewhat puzzling choice to avoid Shine On Brightly, Broken Barricades and Something Magic. They made the damage good by including the best from Grand Hotel, Exotic Birds… and Procol´s 9th – and, che bella sorpresa: by reviving the unreleased gem, So Far Behind. It simply doesn´t make sense that a superb composition like this with its telegraph-like opening (perhaps inspired by Brian Auger´s Indian Rope Man?) is unavailable for Procol-addicted CD-buyers. But is ”unreleased” the same as ”unrecorded”? What strange discoveries are still to be done in the Chrysalis vaults…

For some curious reason, the official yellow poster issued from HManagement presented our five Larger Then Life Heroes as: ”Gary Brooker, Matthew Fisher, Gary Whitehorn, Matt Brzezicki & Matt Pegg”. The HManagement obviously had acted on that conviction that only fellows named Gary or Matt would be accepted as band members. However, Geoff and Mark seemed to see the joke and started calling each other their ”new” names, the backstage rumour goes.

Afterwards, the Danish Procoholics had the opportunity to say hello to Gary, Franky and Geoff. ”I sent the boys home”, Gary explained while signing my copy of One More Time. We had a small gift for Gary and the band, a CD-re-issue of two LPs by the Danish band Ache, that was inspired by Vanilla Fudge, Deep Purple, The Nice and Procol. Among friends, Ache was simply known as 'the Danish Procol Harum'. We also gave Gary two Danish newspapers from the same day where the gig was lavishly mentioned (Politiken, Berlingske Tidende – can be read later on

Previously, we had introduced ourselves to Diane and John while buying the inevitable tour-tee-shirts (nice colour, chaps, blue as the sea). Nice to have met you all in the flesh. Best wishes to Gary on his Russian birthday!

(Photos will come eventually, and a longer TV-interview with me and several other male Procoholics recorded at the men´s room while doing what men usually do in a place like that will probably be shown later on the local Vesterbro Lokal-TV channel … likewise, we´ll be expecting a huge number of new fan club members.)

Procol Harum concerts in 2001: index page Index of Danish dates, 2001

Thanks, Jonas Söderström, for the banner!

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