Procol Harum

the Pale

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Happy Birthday Sweet Thirty

Mirek Plodzik reports the Redhill Party
in Poland's Tylko Rock No 2, February 1998

Polish / English translation by Mac Gajda

NOTE: the lines remark in a green colour were cutted out by editors.

A year ago when I went to Procol Harum's concert with the London Symphonic Orchestra, I was struck by bad luck: first the strike of a port workers in Calais and then the bureaucratic precision of custom officers were a cause of such delay that I arrived later for the concert. This year it could have been even worse. On the morning of 17th July, just two days before the concert, marking the 30th anniversary of the legend of rock of all times, I heard on the radio that border points at the Odra river would be closed. This due to the oncoming flood wave which would make my journey to England literally impossible. I almost fainted. Luckily, the destiny appeared to be on my side this time. Without any unexpected adventure I crossed the Channel, and even a British custom officer wished me enjoyable time! He said he remembered and liked Procol Harum...

With no further problems I arrived at Redhill which welcomed me with a ... drizzle.

After a short look around this pretty town I go to the Harlequin Theatre to pick up my ticket which I had booked in advance. A lady in the box office smiled at the sound of my name and said: it's too difficult to say. The following day – on Saturday – the weather becomes better. The sun is shining. In the Lakers Toby Hotel, where I am staying, one can already feel excitement. Fans, from all over the world, nervously moving around the place, talk eagerly with each other, the pressure is felt in every room. I offer a spare bed in my room to a panicking Italian fan who cannot find accommodation in Redhill.

Four o'clock in the afternoon – the performance. The theatre lobby, decorated with balloons and posters, becomes packed and noisy. The stall with T-shirts and records is impossible to get to. Everyone wants to buy a souvenir. More people are coming in. Amongst us is the famous musician Frankie Miller (unfortunately on the wheelchair) and the writer Douglas Adams – one of the inspirators of this event, and who, in one of his interviews is to have said about Brooker: people do not appreciate what a jewel it possesses. Some pretty women are around as well. That's really the 30 years anniversary Procol party!

I am surprised that some people recognise me. We are letter-friends but have a first chance here to meet each other. All of us have badges with our names, so we can read who is who. I offer them copies of Tylko Rock magazine with articles about Procol Harum: them appreciate it. Quick exchange of glances with Chris Copping, ex-organist and bassist of the band. He is talking to a teenager girl and has a same T-shirt as me. I hear that the musicians are extremely nervous. No wonder, they are going to play in front of five hundred of their greatest fans! Somebody shows me the mother of Matthew Fisher. We are watching video film about the band over next two ours and then having saviour snacks at the buffet. I particularly enjoy variety of salads. We are talking to a sister of Keith Reid, the band's poet, and Franky Brooker, the charming wife of Procol's leader. At half past eight I am sitting down on my seat in the second row, next to the sister of Keith Reid ...

First to start is the master of ceremony, Douglas Adams: after five minute of humorous speech he announces magic words: the great leader, musical director, gentleman Gary Brooker! The curtain goes up and musicians get on the stage accompanied by thunderous ovation and camera flashes. Gary Brooker, this time without his pony tail, dressed in a dark, loose suit and fair shirt. He has got a golden clef pinned in his lapel. Mick Grabham wearing jeans and dotted shirt drags his Gibson guitar. Then a drummer Graham Broad in sport dress shows up followed by two keyboard players: Chris Copping and Pete Solley. There is a grand piano on the left hand side of the stage, set of drums in the middle on a platform, Korg synthesiser with Hammond organ and another Roland synthesiser on the right. Four or maybe five guitars are staying supported by amplifiers, I can also see electric violin.

The great music starts! Broken Barricades is a prelude of the concert and sounds amazingly. Pete Solley is replaced by Matthew Fisher, the Procol's organist from their first line-up, and the band plays Kaleidoscope and The Idol. Both numbers prove the band is in a good shape, it plays sharp and dynamic music which is also quite melodic. Mick Grabham is squeezing his Gibson the highest pitches. Gary invites on the stage another veteran: the bassist Alan Cartwright and the band begins Robert's Box. The musicians will change during the entire show, once there will be five of them, another seven or even nine playing together. At the following number Dave Bronze is playing bass, Pete Solley sitting at the piano and the master standing at the mike in the middle of the stage. Relaxing Dream in Every Home makes us five minutes pass more pleasantly. If it would be Phil Collins' piece, no doubt it would be a hit! At the end the audience is helping to sing refrain. It's heavenly!

At the following number Dave Bronze is playing bass, Pete Solley sitting at the piano and the master standing at the mike in the middle of the stage. Relaxing Dream in Every Home makes us five minutes pass more pleasantly. If it would be Phil Collins' piece, no doubt it would be a hit! At the end the audience is helping to sing refrain. It's heavenly!

Sharp sounds of The Devil Came from Kansas destroys this mood. This is a noble hard rock number of late sixties. After that another surprise: A Rum Tale. Have any of readers ever heard this piece live? Matthew shows off on his Hammonds and twenty odd year old Matt 'Baby' Pegg plays his bass as he wouldn't have done anything else in his life since born. And then totally unexpected The Thin End of Wedge. I will learn later from Mick that he wanted to play this piece that night. We can hear ghastly yapping of guitar, the theatre is full of sounds of peril as though transferred from demonic Witkacy's dreams. Thunderous ovation. Brooker announces humorously. He is relaxed and makes cutting but friendly remarks to his mates. Beautiful and very sad Strangers In Space gets everyone in a mood of moaning synthesisers. I can feel slowing down of time and bitter reflection coming to my mind. That's the ballad No 1 of the night. Piggy Pig Pig and we are admiring Mick's play on guitar but also pig like sounds effects. Next is This Old Dog which reminds me a bit Led Zeppelin's Hot Dog. Pete Solley on electric violin and Chris Copping on acoustic guitar, stamping his foot hard. And finally ... A Whiter Shade of Pale, Jubilee song, evergreen from 1967! Excitement among the audience and band members. Gary is in a fantastic mood, Fisher squeezes his Hammond and the rest is tuned perfectly. The song is played in all four verses.

End of part one. Gary announces break and plays a retro tune on his piano.

The break is a short beer session. People are relaxed and happy, and thirsty. After the break the band is offered a birthday cake on which earlier, in the buffet I put incidentally my plate with a salad. But the music is still most important. A strong accent: nostalgic and spiritual Homburg and hard rock Bringing Home the Bacon prove that Procol Harum mean more than just rock legend. This is still one of the best rock groups in the World. In a few minute music titled Cerdes (Outside the Gates of) the band gives the essence of rock blues. Drive and beauty together. And after that the long time expected Grand Hotel. The musicians play like in their best years, the sound is clear, sharp and wide spread. Festival of hits is going on: Shine On Brightly and Conquistador. In these two master pieces the band shows the synergy of beauty and animal strength.

Mick tells a Italian joke and then Brooker reads wishes received from Keith Reid being in New York. It's fantastic, warm and friendly. Gary says: ... here we are one big family. Let's enjoy the evening! Matt Pegg playing last quarter of hour double bass takes advantage of short break and furtively snips beer. Then a fresh version of A Salty Dog brings the audience nearly to ecstasy.

Suddenly the lights get dimmed and Brooker, having sound of whirring synthesiser in the background, starts to recite Glimpses of Nirvana from the suite In Held 'Twas In I. Applause. I am sure it's a joke but Douglas Adams, stage frightened, carries on recitation of Keith Reid's monologue. Then after 'Twas Teatime at the Circus and Matthew Fisher with a acoustic guitar shows up in the middle of the stage singing In the Autumn of My Madness. I can't believe my ears and eyes. In Look to Your Soul a beautiful solo of Mick Grabham and dramatic voice of Brooker flood into our souls. We are hovering in the space on wings of nostalgia and Nirvana. Just then I thought of BJ Wilson, a phenomenal band's drummer who died 1989. In sound of playing drums I could hear for a while deliria strike flowers laid at the podium of the drums has been devoted to his memory. And then the great Grand Finale crowns this magnificent suite. It is repeat of Edmonton from 1971 and I have this luck to hear it live! Incredible emotion and standing ovation. Is this the end? The audience's clapping furiously and stamping to call the band back on the stage. A few minutes later they are back and last time that night play again Bielszy Odcień Bladosci. We are singing together with Brooker '... turned a whiter shade of pale', and many of us have tears in eyes. These are amazing and unforgettable moments but the end has to come. The end. The end of the gig but fortunately not the end of emotions.

In foyer a lot of people crowding. Musicians sign autographs. Keeping tape recorders in hands we are running together with my Polish mate, Mac, living now in England, to Gary Brooker. Elbowing our way we finally manage to get to Procol's leader. We show him a black-white snap from Gdansk street made by Mac in 1978.

'Gary, do you remember where and when it was?'

The master is looking at curiously and wrinkles. Franky comes up to help the puzzle.

'Oh, how young you looked, Gary!'

Gary smiles and says, 'Only you are always the same. It was in Poland, wasn't it? Late seventies? Perhaps Poznan?'

'No, I don't think so! It must be Gdansk, isn't it?'

The puzzle has been solved. I am showing a last year copy of Tylko Rock with some articles on Procol Harum.

'Can you recognise?'

'Yes, I can remember.'

'You have many fans in Poland and there are quite often articles about you in the best Polish rock magazine ...'

Gary does not let to finish: 'Yes, I have got this copy as well as translation of your review for the Barbican concert. It's fine. Thank you.'

All I can reply is: 'I was in seventh heaven.'

Gary is staring straight into my eyes and asking: 'You wrote "I was in paradise ...!", so where were you tonight?'

I am astonished by this question and can only answer: 'Tonight? Tonight I came back in time ... It was gorgeous!'

The crowd is pushing, so Mac is asking:

'What about you nearest plans?'

'I think I'll go sleep (laugh).'

'Well, but in music sense ... I think I'll play a bit more with Jack Bruce and the rest. Then I promised to play on a wedding church ceremony, and perhaps a few things more. And I'd also like to write a few new pieces.'

Mac responds: 'It would be great, your fans are waiting.'

'I know that and will try not to fail.'

'Gary, when will you play in Poland?'

'Perhaps tonight?'

We congratulate again and Franky calls everybody for a drink in my hotel (!). We are making a photo with Matthew Fisher and dash to our hotel.

The hotel bar is already packed and despite late hour we manage to get our beer. Matt Pegg has got his and sips it with evident satisfaction. He's a nice lad, son of ex-Jethro Tull bassist. After a while I meet Gary again. We are queuing together trying to get another beer. We exchange our views on selection of beers available and I reckon Gary must be a beer lover, same as I am. Holding our pints together with my friend we are coming up to Chris Copping.

'It'd be difficult to recognise you.'

'Yeah, time has been merciless to my hair. It's a long time since I parted Procol and left for Australia,' answer Chris.

'However, your way of stamping your left leg didn't leave any doubt to me that there's real Chris Copping!'

'Yeah, this thing remained.'

'Did you come here to England just for this gig?'

'Yes, although I visit this country from time to time, and have my family here.'

'Do you still play professionally?'

'No, not more, but I still love to play for my pleasure.'

'Do you know you have always been for me the most important musician of Procol Harum, next to Gary and BJ?'

Chris is quite surprised and asks: 'Why?'

'Because you played quite a long time with them and are a sort of universal musician playing organ, bass or guitars ... besides, I like your way playing Hammond.'

Chris looks around suspiciously and asks silently:

'Isn't Matthew here around?' (laugh)

But famous Procol's organist didn't come for a drink ...

We also talk to Alan Cartwright who reminds me Van Morrison rather than ginger hair hippie of 70. He looks very quiet and tells me that he remembers very well Procol's gigs in Poland back in 1976. He appreciated Polish fans. We talk then briefly to Mick Grabham and shoot a snap with him. My friend congratulates him telling he was the best guitarist in Procol's history according to him. Mick accepts it though looks a little embarrassed by this praising. We meet and talk to other fans, finally realising it's 3 o'clock in the morning. Time to go to bed.

Return to Poland was not very joyful. 30 years of Procol Harum passed like one single day. Will I ever have another chance to see them live? Nobody can answer this question now. My consolation was that on the bus young people grabbed my walkman to listen to Procol's music. Nobody heard of them but when a teenager girl told me suddenly, 'Gosh, what a brilliant music!', I got really feel better.

Many thanks to Mirek (see illustration) for sending this brilliantly observant and joyous piece to 'BtP'. He adds: ' Surely you'll find some mistakes that for participants of the Procol Party can be striking but you have to know I've written it for the big-circulated and commercial magazine. Tylko Rock is the best rock magazine in Poland and their journalists make interviews with the bigger rockmans in the World. After my report from Barbican Hall editors said me: ' are too pompous, exalted! There are also other bands than Procol Harum in The World.' You see I did must make allowance for them.

My most important mission was to show 30th Procol Party for all readers of Tylko Rock ! I think I acquitted oneself of it. My best thanks to Mac Gajda from Derbyshire for his assistance in dealing with Brits, and to my Mum for her understanding. In my opinion Mac translates very precisely and excellent. Moreover he is the author of this reportage too. His help was indispensable for make it and no thanks don't do his contribution in our mission. I am aware of it isn't so good as every original English paper, nevertheless I hope you'll be enjoying during reading it.


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