Walking into the wooden clad Royal Festival Hall it was exciting to see the vast quantity of chairs and stands on stage to herald a gargantuan performance in celebration of Procol Harum’s 50th year.
After the full orchestra and the English New Chamber Choir took their places, Gary Brooker, in a black velvet jacket, sat behind the piano and lead the band into Shine On Brightly, the title track to their 1968 album. Their second single from the previous year, Homburg, came next and with no shortage of back-catalog to choose from, the sold-out auditorium was treated to a sprinkling of Procol Harum through the decades with Brooker personally introducing each track whilst injecting his own brand of humour to the proceedings.
“Of all the albums I’ve ever made, this is one of them,” he said of the forthcoming album, Novum, as he strapped on his accordion with Sam Brown and two fellow ukulele players joining the band on the stage for new song Neighbour.
With a little confusion evident at the end of the song he announced: “there will now be an intermission” and whilst walking off missed a step resulting in a nasty face-first fall, which saw Brooker remain laid out for several minutes before being lifted backstage causing deep concern.
An extended break, new shirt, bandages and hat later, Brooker returned to rapturous applause and a standing ovation, a measure of the regard his fans have for him.
“Sorry for the delay, I’ve got a broken hand and broken head,deliver” he said briefly not dwelling on the incident and continued into another worthy up-tempo new song I Told On You.
Procoldelivers theatrical & epic songs of many elements. Their soundscapes transport the listener to a deeper realm the songs greatly benefitting from the increased numbers onstage, all executed perfectly by David Firman, the expressive conductor, clearly delighting in his role.
Brooker’s broken hand forced a couple of minor intro tweaks but apart from the bandages, you’d never have known. In fact, his voice is as powerful as it ever was, incredible in a man of his years.
“Do you know what, we’re been going 50 years this year?” he said with a wry smile, a great achievement in itself.
New track, Sunday Morning, was a heart-warming standout from the yet-to-be-released new album but it was, of course, Procol Harum’s first single A Whiter Shade of Pale, as exquisite as it is emotional, that brought the night to a standing rapturous close.
In a time when even rave culture is embracing the power and majesty of the classical orchestra, it’s refreshing to see the original symphonic rockers still at the top of their game.
The Set List:
Shine On Brightly (from Shine On Brightly, 1968)
Homburg (single, 1967)
Grand Hotel (from Grand Hotel, 1973)
Toujours l’amour (from Grand Hotel, 1973)
Sympathy for the Hard of Hearing (from Gary Brooker’s solo album Lead Me to the Water, 1982)
A Salty Dog (from A Salty Dog, 1969)
In Held ‘Twas in I (from Shine On Brightly, 1968)
Neighbour (from Novum, 2017)
I Told On You (from Novum, 2017)
Man With a Mission (from The Prodigal Stranger, 1991)
Whaling Stories (from Home, 1970)
Conquistador (from Procol Harum, 1967)
Into the Flood (from German-only single, 1991)
Sunday Morning (from Novum, 2017)
A Whiter Shade of Pale (from Procol Harum, 1967)