Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Hallé

Charlie Allison reports for BtP

Procol Harum with the Hallé Orchestra and Choir; Conductor, Nicholas Dodd
Bridgewater Hall, Manchester Sunday 17 June 2001

Not really a review as such (it was a great night). No, just a few jottings made during the show, recalled the morning after – which might give you the feel of the evening if you weren't there . . .

A large and modern hall, well filled. Orchestra in white DJs, and smiling. Procol Harum in usual layout and wearing dark colours – Gary has A Salty Dog shirt with 'polished rhinestones'. Conductor Nicholas Dodd looks a man of some stature. Off we go.

Homburg: an early chance to judge that the orchestra and choir sounded sublime and looked enthused. As the band starts up (quietly), noted the sound balance was excellent and Gary's voice as wonderful as ever. Ecstatically received.

Simple Sister: change to a somewhat darker, louder mood – thumping drumbeats and the gowned choir chanting 'Sister!' from high above the stage, looking for all the world like a graduation party. Geoff Whitehorn's guitar now up to full volume. Great!

Grand Hotel: here Gary started to introduce the War Trilogy in Two Parts, before being prompted by N Dodd that he'd jumped down the list. He quickly reverted to tales of touring to chandeliered venues in Czechoslovakia and Sheffield. In the middle bit, the gypsy violin was beautifully expressed by Leader Lyn Fletcher, playing to a viola counterpoint. A lady on a conventional grand joined Gary to give a richer piano sound, before Geoff powered through all the brass and woodwinds at the climax. Five star Hotel.

Holding On: 'Celebrating the Gulf War of 1891'. A wonderful tour-de-force by the Band, choir and orchestra with lots of percussive moments. Noticing how well the energetic Nicholas Dodd is bringing all the elements into the mix. Gary at his best too. A classic.

Conquistador: tried to forgive Gary's jocular remark that a Scotsman is just a Welshman with his brains bashed out (a fellow Scot from Glasgow did his best to prove him right in the second half and was 'yellow-carded'). Quieter interpretation in the verses allowed us to hear subtleties of orchestration. Geoff again great and Matthew came in with verve too.

Strangers in Space: noted in the programme that the Hallé had recently played 'Pluto', an extra movement of the Planets. I wonder how it compared with this Milky Way of sound patterns, employing delicate contributions from all the band. Mark was particularly light on cymbals and Matt Pegg played some noticeably inventive figures. Absolute hush at the end, then rapturously received. Highlight of the night so far.

Man with A Mission: the peace was soon shattered by this deafening racket! (a song you might gather I've yet to find fondness for!). Geoff's guitar at the start is possibly the best bit, though the song got the full big band treatment and finished with a sudden loud choral whoop. Everyone else seemed to like it . . .

Repent Walpurgis: Gary introduced everybody prior to Matthew's 'gothic classic'. Tonight was perhaps unique – was this the first time that no-one clapped before the end? Geoff played some twiddly bits before each of Mark's fills to show strangers that we hadn't completed. Mind you Gary had earlier instructed us earlier not to clap until the Conductor had stopped moving!

Thundrous applause (again). End of first half ('time for a cup of tea')

Ghost Train, which opened the second half, is a great opportunity for an jolly array of novelty sounds across the orchestra, as well as giving Gary a platform for his splendid vocal (some thought verse and chorus were transposed, but I never noticed.) Clever locomotive ending.

Pandora's Box: 'A nice, easy Latin American song' saw the Band and Orchestra locked in syncopation and an animated performance from Nicholas Dodd, dancing on the podium. Geoff shared his 'breakthrough' solo with the brass section to good effect.

Fires (Which Burnt Brightly): 'The second of a trilogy of war songs, now in four parts. Earlier we had the later one, now later we have the earlier one' (did you follow that?) Gary also confessed that this was the era when 60s psychodelia went wrong, as he started to grow his own food and go on the beer! Fires was another high spot of the concert, with the larger choir and orchestra possibly enhancing the Grand Hotel original. The bugle call in the second verse was a nice surprise and the trumpeter followed up with a couple of good 'cracked' notes. Matthew jazzed in brilliantly where we expected the orchestra to carry the melody. Another call by Nicholas Dodd for the Hallé to take a bow – they looked to be getting to like all this adulation!

Butterfly Boys: this also sounded well with the big chorus and Geoff's solos had plenty power.

A Salty Dog: Gary explained the customary dedication to BJ Wilson (Mark led the applause by tapping his sticks together) but also included Douglas Adams, who had been 'a great friend at every corner' for the Band. This rendition was absolute perfection and very moving to listen to in that context. Geoff Whitehorn has consistently enhanced the mood of ASD and continued to impart an aching quality to an already brilliant song, even in the midst of a splendid orchestral and choral arrangement. Gary also sang it wonderfully, with clarity and emotion. Huge ovation.

Into the Flood: the fast song arranged for Edmonton II, 'the centenary of the 1891 Show'. A 'cellist who had played at Edmonton was introduced – Gary said he had been there to sweep-up!

This was a tighter arrangement, minus the whirling strings 'bringing it back' after the 'Into the Flood' moment in the middle – just drumbeats and away it went again.

AWSOP: Gary hoped all the audience by now knew that the Band have more than this one hit! No orchestra introduction – straight into the original band only sound – a supreme Matthew moment. The Hallé joined in the second (Mermaid) verse and Gary amazingly muffed the words slightly in the third (Vestal virgins). Full-out finish. End of show. Band and conductor took centre-stage synchronised bow.

Grand Finale: Encore time, and oh boy did they make us (and the orchestra) wait for it. Momentary false start by Matthew (wrong preset) but the full majesty of this epic tune well developed by the band, orchestra and choir. One of my personal favourites at Guildford, and now here.

I'll Be Satisfied: Gary introduced this as a piece of Mendelssohn, and was a fun finish. A very lengthy unrequited call for an encore followed, before the orchestra left the stage.

Time to adjourn to the Jury's Inn for a light refreshment, prior to the long journey North.

I look forward already to the next time, where-ever and when-ever that might be.

London, Guildford, Manchester … I've noticed that Procol Harum do seem to be on a Northwards progression towards the land of good fishing and fine whisky.

Or maybe they will 'Tour the US!' which one American visitor loudly pleaded for last night.

Readers of 'Beyond the Pale' will be among the first to know.

Meanwhile we give thanks to Gary and the others for keeping this music alive. It was a wonderful evening.

Procol Harum concert in Manchester: index page

European Tour 2001: index page

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