"As far as Brooker was concerned, In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra represented the culmination of long-held musical ambitions. And yet the making of this crucial album hung on a knife-edge of uncertainties. Would the pairing of a raucous rock band and a highly sophisticated orchestra work? In the event, it was heart-warming, as Brooker recalls. "It had been an ambition of mine to work with an orchestra, but it was not one that Robin Trower was happy about. In the summer of 1969, when we released A Salty Dog and Dave Knights and Matthew Fisher were still in the band, we got invited to play at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada with an orchestra. The organizers had been inspired by our recording of A Salty Dog and the only thing that I could think of doing for the concert was a song off the Shine On Brightly (1968) album. I call it a 'song' but it was in fact one side of the LP, called In Held 'Twas In I which was about twenty minutes long."
"Gary wrote an orchestration and choir parts for the piece and they had to play very quietly because of the accompanying acoustic instruments. Their powerful guitarist had to play through a tiny amplifier called A Little Giant and Robin wasn't allowed to get any louder. It was frustrating for him, but a delight for the composer. Says Gary: "It went off magnificently and the orchestra was splendid. The cast of the Shakespeare Festival formed the choir and there was a terrific atmosphere. This was before Deep Purple did their 'Concerto' with an orchestra. After that, word got round and we were invited to do another concert, this time with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. But Trower did not want to play with an orchestra again. Perhaps it was too restrictive and he couldn't get his sound, which is fair enough. But as soon as Trower left Procol Harum and the Orchestra said 'Come up and play', we said 'Yeah, fine.' The concert came at the end of a tour. Robin left and Dave Ball joined on lead guitar. We also had Alan Cartwright on bass, so we were a five-piece band."
"The concert was due to be held at the Jubilee Auditorium in Alberta, Canada on August 6, 1971 with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Da Camera Singers. Gary orchestrated a few of the band's best pieces in readiness, but left out their most famous hit, if only to prove their was more to Procol Harum than A Whiter Shade Of Pale. "It was mostly stuff that we'd already played and there was no new material. In Held 'Twas In I took up quite a bit of the evening and we also played A Salty Dog and Simple Sister, which didn't go on the album. I wonder what happened to that! Must be a lost tape there. We also did Whaling Stories from our fourth album Home. I thought that was a suitable Procol piece with plenty of colour and change."
"A week before the concert Gary began to think that this unique 'one off' event should be recorded for posterity. Procol's US record company A&M gave their blessing and top recording engineer Wally Heider was dispatched with his mobile recording truck from Los Angeles to Alberta to tape the show. Meanwhile, on the plane flying from London to Edmonton, Gary suddenly realized they didn't have one fast tune in the planned programme. "We had five albums worth of material to chosse from and I thought we could do Conquistador. It was a song about the Spanish horse warriors...well it's not really...but they're mentioned. So I thought up this new arrangement and wrote it on the 'plane. I finished it off in the hotel room. It was quite simple – an intro and a bit in the middle. The rest just followed what the band had played. I wrote it all out as quickly as I could and it was given to a copier to provide the parts for the orchestra. We never had a chance to rehearse it, because they wouldn't let our gear through the Canadian customs. We ended up doing the rehearsal with half a drum kit and a rehearsal amplifier. Our own gear was lost."
"They were a lot friendlier up in Stratford. We eventually had three hours rehearsal but that was it. We never did rehearse Conquistador. Remember, this was a full symphony orchestra that had never played with a rock band before. One of the violin players was wearing a crash helmet in order to cut down the volume. We had one rough rehearsal, just took a look at the parts and then we had a quick rehearsal in the hall on the day. By the end they were getting the idea." Then came the concert, and when the classical musicians saw the reception they were getting from the fans...they were delighted."
"Gary adds "The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra had never had such a response to anything they'd ever played before. They suddenly realised they were having a good time! The crowd in the hall that night was from all over North America. It was a stressful time for me because I wanted to make sure everything was right. I had a terrible fight with the conductor the first night I met him. It could have all gone pear-shaped. But people loved it. I remember Rita Coolidge was in the audience and she was crying her eyes out at the end of In Held 'Twas In I. In fact the entire audience was gripped by the atmosphere and the piece reached such a climax...well you just had to be there. You couldn't have imagined the scene."
"It was a great delight when Conquistador was a hit single as well and got to Number 16 in the US Billboard chart in June 1972 and to Number 22 in the UK in August. It was also Number 8 in Holland and 29 in Belgium. Says Gary: "The fidelity of that recording is quite strange. Your ears have to adjust to it for a moment. It was quite hard to record the whole album and it wasn't absolutely perfect. These days you could make an amazing recording if you played 'live' with an orchestra and choir. We didn't have the technology then. We were only a few years on from the introduction of 4-track. We were trying to put all this onto tape and it was hard. It was never totally manageable, even on multi-track. It has quite a strange sound and we were lucky that Conquistador did so well as a single, because it was odd. You wouldn't have expected a 'live' orchestral rock single to be in the Top Twenty, even in 1972." - Chris Welch, Liner Notes
Procul Harum In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra Track Listing:
2. Whaling Stories
3. A Salty Dog
4. All This And More
5. In Held 'Twas In I
I. Glimpses Of Nirvana
II. 'Twas Teatime At The Circus
III. In The Autumn Of My Madness
IV. Look To Your Soul
V. Grand Finale