Review: Gary Brooker Heroic As Procol Harum Triumph

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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. (Main image: Bert Saraco, Express Image Photography).

50 years after the release of their first album, and 40 years to the week since the group were on what proved to be the final tour of their first incarnation, Procol will release their 13th 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 mouthwatering for the group’s fans in that they were accompanied by a large orchestra, conducted by David Firman, and a choir led by choir master 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 ‘Sympathy For 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 annouced 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’re indebted to the Beyond the Pale website for relaying the information from Gary’s wife that, after a visit to A&E, he was found to have broken the fifth metacarpal in his hand and won’t be able to play for six weeks, but is generally fine. We wish him a swift recuperation before the band take to the road again in May.

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  1. Susan Resor

    March 4, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    I have always wanted to see them live. I almost cried when I saw the video, with orchestra, of them performing Salty Dog! I may never get to see them live living in Slidell, LA but, they have given me great joy of which I thank them for. Rock on!

  2. Simon Jones

    March 4, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    All this and More…..A grand location, stunning orchestra and choir, and a band performance of outstanding quality and emotion. I bought Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra on release…And waited some 45 years to see them live….Well worth the wait.!!! Hope you are quick to recover from your fall Mr.Brooker….Homburgs off to you for performing so well.

  3. Bert Saraco

    March 4, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    Great review – and Procol Harum deserves at least 10 decades-worth of praise heaped on them! Love the top group photo, but it would look a lot better with my photo credit under it!! I took the photo in Tarrytown, NY.
    – Bert Saraco / Express Image Photography

    • Paul Sexton

      March 6, 2017 at 9:54 am

      Glad you liked the review, Bert, and very happy to add the credit.

  4. Rick

    March 5, 2017 at 1:07 am

    First saw Procol Harum in ’68 & I was sold. Twin Baby Grand Piano’s & ‘Shine on Brightly’ was the album they played. They rank in my top 5 & they have never gotten the recognition they deserved here in the States. P.S. As an after thought the Kinks don’t get the recognition they deserve either.

  5. Craig Carty

    March 5, 2017 at 2:28 am

    A classmate invited me to come over to his house and listen to a new album he had just purchased. I was amazed by the unusual cover and even more so as I listened to Shine on Brightly for the first time. Well, my classmate and I became best friends and attended many Procol concerts in the Detroit area over the years. Sadly, 3 months before his 50th birthday he passed away. I think of Tom whenever I listen to Procol Harum and wish that we could have made it to a concert for this special anniversary!

  6. Peter Bourne

    March 5, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Good review, Agree with Bert Acknowledge Your Sources!! Also, I thought it was David Firman conducting orchestra and choir, not Guy Protheroe. I wasn’t there, so I could be wrong 🙂

    • Paul Sexton

      March 6, 2017 at 9:58 am

      Thanks, Peter. Photo credit now added, and you’re quite right, it was David Firman leading the orchestra, but Guy was choir master.

  7. Roland

    March 5, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    It would be nice to see a credit (Bert Saraco, Express Image Pictures) for the photo at the top. Nice review, though. Latest news about Gary Brooker’s condition:

  8. Roland

    March 5, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    It would be nice to see a credit (Bert Saraco, Express Image Photography) for the photo at the top. Nice review, though. Further news about Gary Brooker’s condition:

    • Paul Sexton

      March 6, 2017 at 9:57 am

      Many thanks, Roland, credit and medical update duly added! Glad you enjoyed the review.

  9. Marty Brynildsen

    March 8, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Get well wishes to one of my all-time favorites. A fan since 1967, I’ve been fortunate to catch the group, here in the States, on several occasions. It was quite a jolt hearing of Gary’s tumble. Relax, Gary…and prepare to ‘shine on’ again for your many followers who appreciate good music.

  10. David

    March 13, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    My wife and I traveled from Minden, Louisiana USA to see this concert. I have wanted to see Procal Harum for years and with this venue, a full choir and orchestra I could not resist.
    Many thanks to Gary for returning to complete the second set and the great show they all gave us.
    Best wishes for a speedy recovery Gary and I hope to be able to see PH again in the future.

  11. Chris Breen

    May 6, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    Looking forward to seeing them this Monday in Manchester

  12. Nigel Williamson

    May 8, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Edinburgh May 6th Procol Harum pure joy – fantastic show Homburg, Strong as Samson, Conquistador and a rousing performance of A Whiter Shade of Pale highlights of a great evening.

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