Procol Harum

the Pale

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'They Got Rhythm!'

Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, 3 June 1999

Many thanks to Sam Cameron for this report from the Oldham gig:

It was with great relief that I observed the countenance of Gary Brooker, as he strode cheerfully on to the stage, to be free from the capital 'A' balanced neatly and symmetrically on his nose in the flyer for this concert. Only Bill Wyman himself had been spared these alphabetic intrusions. And thus he remained as he stolidly played through the evening perched almost always on a stool with a new looking bright red headless bass. He made no attempts to sing and his only remarks were bashful introductory ones assuring us that 'we' [that is the Rolling Stones] had never played here. I can't be entirely sure that Procol Harum or the Paramounts [perhaps when backing Sandie Shaw] have not done so. Oldham itself despite posters proclaiming that it was 'booming' in its 150th year has the ineluctable air of downtrodden outer Manchester (despite being a town in its own right with the name meaning 'place of the old promontory') with its boarded-up or near-moribund 1960s shop units. Being located in the UK's premier rain belt hardly helped dispel the gloom.

Still it had its whimsical compensations in the cheerfulness of the citizens, finding an old style scholarly second-hand bookshop open at 7 in the evening and pondering how one would fit the totally out of place roman archway which appeared to be for sale onto the roof of a Green Skoda. And practical compensations in being on the right side of the great metropolis thereby sparing the risk of being snared, via an injudicious wrong turn, in a labyrinth of prostitution and crack dealing. Leaving such mysteries of life behind as why curry-house Peshwari Nans increasingly involve coconut, arrival at 7.33 brought the surprise that Colin Hodgkinson's pyrotechnic bass and vocals solo spot was underway. His prowess was awesome but not so as to inspire any kind of record purchase: more in fact, to dig out the vinyl album circa 1973 he did with a drummer and sax player in the guise of Back Door.

So back to the main bill of fare. After a brief gap which gave one time to read the promotional flyer from Bill Wyman's book and CD tribute to the wonderful artist Marc Chagall [is it the frequent traumatic airborne depictions of wedding scenes which attract him I wonder?] the band strolled on unceremoniously. The CD includes an orchestral suite co-authored with Mike Batt so little chance of any Brooker involvement there I should think. Tonight Gary was on the right of the stage, behind a Roland 600, with Georgie Fame on surely the oldest Hammond on tour in the world on the left. Only Bill himself wore brightly coloured clothing with Brooker, Fame and the backing singers in sombre black / grey [with one female exception as to sombreness] and the others in unremarkable casual wear.

The ambience was strongly anti-dancing. On stage, the string playing and voice only participants spent the vast bulk of their time on high stools which looked disturbingly like they had escaped from a dental institution. Towels were provided on the back of these although no one actually threatened to break sweat. In the hall itself there were no aisles as such to dance in as the seating was pushed in to the gaps and the atmosphere was rendered somewhat soulless by the absence of any drinking even outside the arena.

The high ceiling and variety of acoustic enhancements thereon boded well for the sound. Unfortunately it remained uniformly muddy throughout with the Fame and Brooker keyboards usually being inaudible except for their solo moments. All appeared to be enjoying themselves although comradely bonding glances seemed absent, except between Broad and Brooker in the early stages and some hamming it up between Fame and the guitarists. Broad was excellent throughout and seeing him kindled one's hopes to one day see again Brooker in his natural setting. Being on Fame's doorstep as it were it seemed only natural that he should handle most of the introducing and anecdoting duties: and so he did with Brooker playing a supporting role in this regard. The set list was virtually the same as Tunbridge Wells with the exception of Motivatin' Mama [Motorvatin'?] and Mel Torme's I'm Coming Home dedicated to the, present-in-the-audience, landlady of Georgie Fame who saved him from starvation on his first visit to London. I can not be sure if the Wyman co-composition played was the same as in Tunbridge Wells as I can not discern its title from my scribbles. The format, solo duties and stage antics also seemed fairly similar to those captured in Roland's report. On his rock and roll vocalisations Gary sounded a little a hoarse. The shining moment was of course his own composition Heartbreaker, which was rapturously received by the 95% capacity crowd.

Three quarters of the way back, on the left hand side, a female voice seemed to take with great excitement to this number but there were no other signs to be seen, from the sartorial presentation of the punters, that there were any other than I who had come primarily to see the man on the right of the stage. Starting off with a tinkling passage somewhat like the post choral Holding On, the music reached peaks of emotional grandeur we have come to expect although not quite matched by the sketchy lyrics. One can't help wondering if this is not in fact a new Brooker composition and if he has forever bade goodbye to the tortuous world of Reid as news from that quarter in recent years has hardly been encouraging. On the Hammond, Georgie Fame put in a sterling performance that would melt the heart even of the most die-hard sole-provenance Fisherite. His donning of spectacles, and the intense concentration he focused on the right hand side of his keyboard, made me wonder if he had been briefed by some Brooker written score.

There were no other ocular moments from Fame except for one brief passage [in I'm Coming Home] where he absent-mindedly put on his specs to sing a verse which he clearly was not reading. Commenting further on the keyboard players was rendered impossible by the limited field of vision, making it impossible to see their hands, of being in the fourth row of seats. The Brooker introduction to this song had the characteristic strangeness which we have come to know and love.

He began with a breakdown of his recent dietary and residential habits which seemed like it might never end and the distracted air of a man that might never play another song ever again. Then he said "I wrote this song. Sometimes you write a song about an experience you never had. I've never had my heart broken in this way- at least not by a woman - it turned out to be a bloke." And off we went in to the marvellous odyssey of Heartbreaker which in all fairness seemed to be the only genuine occasion when the participants were not mainly coasting.

Other news for Procolites to be gleaned from Brooker patter were his introduction to I'll be Satisfied claiming that this would be on the third CD from the Wyman ensemble.

No other traces of Procol Harum tonight as Brooker eschewed any intrusions into the set texts of the songs being performed. His keyboard playing was mostly of the Jerry Lee Lewis piano ilk although that must have been him, edging out of the aural gloom, on a vibes setting on his Roland during the rendition of I'm Coming Home.

Sum total of rock-and-roll debauchery for the night: one fag apiece on stage for Wyman and Fame and no alcohol drinking I think although a small bottle of Budweiser may have been lurking on stage. And so back home through a merciful lull in the rain and thunder, and only a comparatively mild fog in the region of Saddleworth Moor the legendary murder site, to that room in the house where Mabel is forever ensconced on the kitchen table and the Gates of Cerdes remain resolutely impervious to WD40.

Rhythm Kings 1999 tour

More Brooker / Rhythm Kings information here

More Procol writings from Sam Cameron

Rhytm Kings 2000 tour

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