Sunday, July 13, 2014

PROCOL HARUM WITH THE NAC ORCHESTRA JULY 10TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Everyone should be reminded on a regular basis that they are exactly where they should be in their current position in the cosmos. This writer experienced that very sensation in glorious technicolor on Thursday night. Having mixed up the start times of the acts for the evening, I rushed to the festival grounds, only to arrive well ahead of schedule, though just in time for Procol Harum.

Quickly securing a spot up front, the next hour brought an almost indescribable joy that I am still drawing upon days after the event.

Lee Hayes' Vox Choir and the NAC orchestra flanked the group as they strode onto the Bell stage. Gary Brooker looked the proper English gent/elder statesman as he took his seat at the piano. Acknowledging the applause with a polite wave, he led his mates into "Homburg".

Before the superlatives flow, it's worth pointing out that the orchestral accompaniment was designed to provide the exact feel of their uniformly excellent album, Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, which was originally released in 1972. Having spun my vinyl copy at top volume many times, I could not believe my luck in being parked directly in front of the real thing.

Brooker is still possessed of a soulfully powerful voice, which soared over the collected instruments with great ease. Complimented by a perfect sound mix, the lovely melody of the opener was akin to crepuscular rays breaking through the clouds. "Simple Sister" came next, with strings and choir pushing it to another level. In a moment of self-depreciation, the singer/keyboardist talked of a time when his group, "rode in style to gigs, dined on the finest food and drank expensive wine. Now it's McDonalds and the bus." With that, the opening strains of "Grand Hotel" filled the air. Far from having a soporific effect on the adoring crowd, the beauty of the augmentation to the five piece band band was actually uplifting.

All hands on deck, we've run a float,
I heard the Captain cry.
Explore the ship, replace the cook,
Let no one leave alive...


Almost on cue, a pair of gulls floated above the stage as a note perfect rendering of "A Salty Dog" began to take shape. Majestic in execution, the epic tale from the pen of wordsmith Keith Reid came across quite literally as the music of vast horizons. Nothing short of a convoy of arriving UFOs could have prepared the audience for what followed. In place of the familiar Hammond organ intro to "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was the orchestra, faithfully reproducing this classic piece. When Brooker stepped in to sing the opening lines, the crowd erupted. This treatment was a masterstroke in arrangement, brought home forcefully when the quintet joined and steered the song back to more familiar territory.

As exhilarating as this was, Procol Harum saved the best for last.

With heartfelt thanks to all who had given their time and attention, Mr. Brooker raised his head, nodding toward the NAC conductor to strike up the startling wall of sound that heralded the closer, "Conquistador". Rounding out an impeccably timed set with an unbridled explosion of energy, the concert grounds were held in the grip of something magical that a more stripped down group of players would not have been able to match. Simply put, this was nothing less than the aural equivalent of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", specially crafted by a very ambitious rock group and delivered with class to astonished group of Bluesfest attendees. Despite witnessing some very fine talent through the past week, this was far and away the most memorable show for me.

Grand in scale and substance, Procol Harum's presentation was by far the most ambitious undertaking of all.

Important to note that picture used here is the work of talented photographer, Mark Horton. His eye for detail is astounding and his photos have been featured in top publications around the world. Check out ehlistimages for more examples of his work.

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