An even whiter shade of pale
Published Wednesday, August 18, 2010 8:17AM MDT
Procol Harum - CTV Edmonton
Since 1957 the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton has played host to performers from across the globe, but on Thursday November 18, 1971 something magical occurred in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,000 people.
At the time, progressive rock band Procol Harum had achieved great success thanks to their 1967 hits A Whiter Shade of Pale and Conquistador. Four years later, with a number of personnel changes and a handful of hits that failed to live up to those on their debut album, the band was looking for an opportunity to do something different.
Looking for a follow-up to their last album Broken Barricades, Gary Brooker and the rest of Procol Harum were intrigued by an invitation from then ESO general manager Bob Hunka to appear with orchestra and choir in Edmonton (something the ESO had done the previous year with Toronto-based band Lighthouse).
As one of a handful of musical acts whose music lent itself to full-blown symphonic backing (Deep Purple, Emerson, Lake and Palmer or King Crimson to name but a few), Procol Harum, like many other rock bands knew that capturing the energy of a live performance on tape was a huge challenge.
U.K. journalist Mark Plummer detailed the band's storied trip into history on a cold November night in a 1971 article from Melody Maker magazine.
Plummer wrote that despite difficulties with Canada Customs, battles with the musicians' union and a series of last minute rehearsals that weren't quite as good as they hoped, the group still had high hopes for the recording.
However the true nature of this special gig soon became clear on the afternoon of the performance, when Brooker and the band determined they would need to sell 120,000 albums just to break even. Having played with an orchestra only once before in Stratford, Ontario three years earlier, the band knew this performance had to be something special.
Once the curtain rose and the music began, all the challenges the band faced to get to that point faded away.
Mark Plummer describes the atmosphere of the Jubilee Auditorium as electric. "It's very possible that the same show moved to London would have been little more than just a gig," wrote Plummer.
Music writer Bruce Eder of allmusic.com describes the performance captured that night as "a bold and expansive, richly orchestrated re-consideration of earlier material."
Last word on that fateful night goes to writer Peter Greenberg's account of the celebrated night, "It was an evening of uncompromised symphony and intellectual rock. And it was great."
Fast forward 39 years, the ESO has announced a historic reunion.
On November 9 at the Winspear Centre, nearly 40 years later, Procol Harum reunites with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The ESO conducted by William Eddins, along with the Da Camera Singers take one last blast-to-the-past bringing a historic evening back to life for the very last time.
A previous reunion in 1992, on the 20th anniversary of releasing the album Procol Harum Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, was a resounding success.
In a news release, band found Gary Brooker recalled that the crowd at the 1992 show was so welcoming that the band played their hit Conquistador four times.
Tickets for the historic performance are available now to ESO season subscribers, with ticket sales to the general public starting Tuesday August 17.