Procol Harum

the Pale

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The Symphonic Harum

Antonio Costa Barbe

A translation of the full text of two pieces which appeared,
cut down, in Corriere di Novara, 19 February 1996

Review of The Long Goodbye

Towards the end of September 1995 an American import of the CD The Long Goodbye fell into my hands. This orchestral tribute to Procol Harum, mentioned in Buscadero [an Italian rock magazine] as due to come out towards the end of February, was in fact delayed in terms of its manufacturing schedule by at least seven months. For a devotee like me both of the band and of its perpetual leader Gary Brooker, seven months can seem like an eternity. Well ... on second thoughts, when one has a family with two little girls and a legal practice, the Procol Harum myth can be compared to the dreams of one's youth, and to the inexorable fire of desire, buried in a little recess of one's mind, still glowing away under the ashes. However, a fan who has any self-respect is always ready to run down the batteries of his CD player, putting everything aside (Conquistador, your CD-player stands in need of company [there was a pun on 'conquistarsi' here, but it won't translate] ) for an hour's uninterrupted listening to exhumed delights.

At first sight 'The Long Goodbye' may seem to be the sequel to the more famous Live in Edmonton which was recorded in late 1971 with the Canadian orchestra: a deservedly famous recording which raised Procol's worldwide stock somewhat at that time. Then suddenly the differences emerge. This latest orchestral tribute to the band, a record conceived for a symphony orchestra (principally the LSO), reinterprets a dozen or so of the band's more or less famous pieces. It's not a question therefore of listening to the Procol sound fleshed out by the orchestral ensemble, as was the case in the past: as in all tributes that one respects, several guests make an appearance. We hear the voice of Gary Brooker in seven of the pieces, and Tom Jones takes on Simple Sister, the Chameleon Arts Chorus get stuck into Strangers in Space, while the tenor, Jerry Hadley, pulls an impeccable Grand Hotel out of the bag; and the famous flautist James Galway weaves arabesques through the notes of Pandora's Box. It's a project fraught with risks, hurling this record into the realms of symphonic rather than rock music.

Barbican Centre, Silk Street London EC2
Procol Harum with London Symphony Orchestra (directed by Nicholas Dodd)
and Chameleon Arts Chorus.

Procol Harum or Gary Brooker: who is back?

This concert, at which the Barbican Hall creaked with a mixture of ages between twenty and sixty-five, achieved a boundlessly enthusiastic success. Everyone's performances were excellent and Gary Brooker shone brightly in the vocal department. The orchestra was directed with terrific panache by the young Maestro Nicholas Dodd, and it joined in with lively and surprising arrangements of songs, both melodic and rocking, spawned over almost thirty working years by the minds of dynamic duo, Gary Brooker and Keith Reid (words).

None of the record's guest artists, however, took part in the present concert. Certainly in the absence of this breath of fresh air it was hard to see what the group's future plans might be. Without a doubt last February 8th Procol Harum deservedly added an enormous Oscar to their career: almost two-and-a-half hours of music, with three loudly-demanded encores by their deeply affectionate devotees.

Backstage I should have met Kellogs, whom I'd persuaded by fax to allow me a brief interview with Maestro Gary; but it just wasn't possible: Brooker immediately went out into the Barbican lobby, sitting at a table before which an hour and a half's queue of audience, friends and relatives filed past to express their congratulations and get autographs. But I was able to exchange a few words with conductor Dodd ('...the songs of Procol Harum are very nice and easy to play with the orchestra!') and with an extremely forthcoming Matthew Fisher, recruited back into the ranks of the band, bringing his faithful and ever-formidable Hammond touch. I was almost forgetting: on drums was sitting good old Henry Spinetti; on bass was young Matt Pegg, son of bass-player Dave, from Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull); and on guitar was Geoff Whitehorn, late of Bad Company.

Difficult to say what this new line-up has in store for us in the future: it's clearly an expression of what Gary Brooker wants to do. A brief non-orchestral Scandinavian tour lies in store, and in July 1996 the group should be here with us in Italy. But everything needs finalising (Editor's note: it didn't happen). If this were to happen, there could be a few surprises in the pipeline during the Italian tour: we have concert halls and orchestras and people who write. Being a musician with deep-seated passion, I know orchestra-conductors and I could arrange a meeting for a new Italian PH orchestral happening!

Procoholics stay tuned!

[Translated by RC with a lot of help
from Ian Wisloch and Martin Clare: thanks!]

About the author in his own words

'The lawyer prefers the rock'

Antonio Costa Barbe, 43 years old, has lots of hobbies and grows and cares many activities. A one single secret for succeeding in managing so many engagements: the reading of oriental zen philosophy. Speaking of his latest work, let's mention a collection of eight songs titled Come Fregoli: his dream is of having these songs sung by some famous voice of the national scene. In 1970 -- 1974 Antonio is part of the group 'I Fuochi Fatui' ('Will o' The Wisp'). 1975 is the year of a representation of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, (ACB played Jesus), which was brought on the scenes again fifteen years later, with the group 'La Goccia', Email  Up to here the show-side, ACB also cares the broadcast Il Pezzo Mancante (The Missing Piece) in Radio Azzurra and he is a reviewer in national Italian Musica & Dischi magazine.

More pages about the Barbican concert

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