Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at London's Royal Festival Hall, 3 March 2017

Reviewed by Paul Sexton, online

Procol Harum gave a momentous and unexpectedly heroic performance last night (3 March) at London's Royal Festival Hall, where frontman and co-founder Gary Brooker returned for the second half with a bandaged head and an injured hand after a fall during the interval.

Procol Harum backstage at the Royal Festival Hall with orchestra leader Guy Protheroe (second right)

Fifty years after the release of their first album, and ofrty years to the week since the group were on what proved to be the final tour of their first incarnation, Procol will release their thriteeth studio album, Novum, on 21 April on Eagle Rock. The current line-up, who have played together since the 1990s, were playing the London show in advance of a seven-date UK tour in May. An extensive European itinerary follows.

The one-off Festival Hall date was mouth-watering for the group's fans in that they were accompanied by a large orchestra and choir, conducted [should read 'led'] by Guy Protheroe. Across nearly two hours of music, notwithstanding the enforced delay to the second half, the performance was a huge crowd-pleaser, featuring any number of Procol classics amid three tracks from the new album.

They opened with Shine on Brightly, the title track of their sophomore album from 1968, before reaching back even further to their second hit from the year before, Homburg, recast with a quite brilliant orchestral arrangement. Grand Hotel and A Salty Dog were as rousing as ever, and the first half also included the pleasant surprise of a version of Symphathy for the The Hard of Hearing, originally from Brooker's 1982 solo album Lead Me To The Water.

After the audience had waited patiently for the restart, their return with a patched-up Brooker drew a standing ovation. For his obvious injuries, and the palpable concern at side of stage of the group's manager, he shrugged off his troubles with his trademark matter-of-fact manner.

His vocals, too, were undiminished, from the new I Told on You and Sunday Morning to staples such as Whaling Stories and the song that first announced Procol's great aptitude for orchestral collaborations, Conquistador. They closed, of course, with A Whiter Shade of Pale, before receiving a hero's farewell.

We wish Gary a swift recuperation before the band take to the road again in May.

Procol dates in 2017

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