"Hello, Mr. Grumpy speaking. Why is it that these ageing yester-stars of rock think they can get away with sitting on their backsides for year after year and then, when they need a bit of cash to repaint their houses stone gray, they haul themselves out of their comfy reclining chairs, do a concert or two, then hold out the money collecting tins as they reel out yet more live CDs, DVDs, T-shirts and other paraphernalia relating to the event. What happened to good old honest hard work? What happened to writing a few new songs and releasing a studio album? Have they run out of ideas, these people? They've just become their own "tribute bands", relying on fans' good nature and bottomless pockets to support their degenerate old age. Why don't they just leave it to the younger guys, or to those not too tired to rock? It's an absolute..."
"Hey, Grumpo, give it up and just tell us about the album will you?"
"What?! Bah! Oh, alright then..."
In August 2006 Procol Harum played a couple of open air shows with the Danish National Concert Orchestra and Choir in Denmark's Ledreborg Castle. The two shows were culled for a DVD and this CD: the DVD has 15 songs from the show, the CD only the 10 listed below. Missing from the CD version are "Butterfly Boys", "The VIP Room", "Simple Sister", "An Old English Dream" and "Whaling Stories".
So, what can one say about Procol Harum, a truly classic band on the way to its fiftieth anniversary, that hasn't been said before? Why are they not an even bigger name than they are, that's the one thing that perplexes me. Sure, everyone's heard of the iconic "Whiter Shade of Pale", but not many of those can see beyond that song, which is a great pity because the band's back-catalogue is full of classic songs – on each of their albums I think. Perhaps their tempo has always been a tad stately; perhaps they never really rocked out enough to win them the mass audience they deserved; they were caught in a murky no-man's land between progressive, rock and pop. And sure enough, much of their music merges perfectly with symphony orchestras; a fact they have demonstrated amply many before, for instance with the fated 1972 release Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
This album is up there with that Edmonton performance. The Danish orchestra are excellent and the arrangements are superb; the chorus puts in a stirring performance and again its arrangements are highly effective. The sound quality is stunningly good for any live recording, let alone for an open air performance. And the music itself...well, you know that the music itself is perfect, there's really no improvements that could be made other than to ask for more!
As I said before, it's a shame that many people can't see past "Whiter Shade of Pale". It's rendition on this CD is exemplary – incidentally, probably for the first time on disc it's credited to Brooker/Reid/Fisher and, perhaps as a dig at Fisher following the litigation between the two, Brooker starts the song with an orchestral arrangement, rather than the Hammond, which is reserved for the bridge! – but even so the songs sticking most in my mind after a couple of listens are "Homburg", "Conquistador" (one of my all-time favourite songs) and, in particular, "Nothing But The Truth".
A couple of less well known songs are included in the CD running order – "probably to tempt the poor long-suffering fan", interjects Mr. Grumpy – both merging in well with the established classics. "Into the Flood" was written for the 1992 Edmonton reunion and "Sympathy for the Hard of Hearing" (the pick of the two) was originally a 1980s solo Brooker piece.
What more could one possibly want? Well, the extra tracks on the DVD I guess – "I'd better go and buy that too, quickly!", says Mr. Grumpy – there's some rocking belters on there and "Whaling Stories" is more than a match for "A Salty Dog". Still, whichever way you look at it, it's an excellent album! Why not the 5 stars then? I'm in a grump, that's why!
1) Grand Hotel (7:02)
2) Something Magic (4:00)
3) Homburg (5:04)
4) Fires (Which Burnt Brightly) (5:44)
5) Nothing But The Truth (3:51)
6) Into the Flood (5:54)
7) A Salty Dog (6:38)
8) Sympathy For The Hard of Hearing (7:23)
9) A Whiter Shade of Pale (6:54)
10) Conquistador (5:09)