For Procol Harum, it isn’t merely a chance to rewire their songs with an orchestra and a choir, but to present their music in the way that perhaps mainman Gary Brooker long dreamt about being able to do.
The band always sounded as if they were composing for a full orchestra, but had to put up with the constraints of the rock medium.
Here, though, it’s a band unleashed, not just embracing the moment but revelling in the freedom. Nowadays, many bands collaborate with an orchestra. What usually lets them down is that there’s no connection between the two disparate disciplines. That doesn’t happen here. The BBC Concert Orchestra interact seamlessly with the band, and it all sounds so organic, you forget how much rehearsal time must have been put in by all concerned to get to this high a standard.
Recorded for a Radio 2 Friday Night Is Music Night broadcast, the set inevitably concentrates on the more well-known songs from Procol Harum’s near 50-year catalogue. It begins with Homburg, and immediately you can tell how grandiose this performance will be.
Grand Hotel and Fires (Which Burn Brightly) soar, before the band are left to their own devices for Missing Person. However, this allows guitarist Dave Colquhoun (a last-minute replacement for the ailing Geoff Whitehorn) the chance to show his chops, and considering how little time he’s had to acquaint himself with the material, he’s a revelation.
The first set ends with A Salty Dog, dedicated to the memory of the recently departed Alvin Stardust, Jack Bruce, as well as to the absent Whitehorn. But a technical fault in the recording means the second set begins with the same song. The joys of being recorded by the Beeb!
It’s no surprise that the standout is A Whiter Shade Of Pale, stunningly embellished by the Crouch End Festival Chorus, and a reminder of why this song is timeless and still sends shivers down spines.
Astonishingly, though, this isn’t the climax, because An Old English Dream and The Blink Of An Eye build it all to a shuddering crescendo. And Conquistador is a colourful encore conclusion, leaving people so in awe, there appears to be a millisecond of stunned silence before an outbreak of rapturous applause.
Without doubt, one of 2014’s most charismatic shows.