"To last ten years you've got to give people something else," says vocalist Gary Brooker, "from what has become expected." Procol Harum fans who expected to spot Chris Copping on the stages of the band's Tenth Anniversary whistle stops got something else in the gauntly handsome form of ex-Elton John bassist Dee Murray. An old friend of lead guitarist Mick Grabham, Dee agreed to play the stateside leg of Procol's tour when the exhausted Chris Copping collapsed before a Sunday show overseas.
"Chris couldn't take the pace," admits Procol's spirited drummer BJ Wilson, "and Dee is helping us out." Permanently? "Dee is ideal," continues Gary. "He can play songs the way I wish a Procol Harum bassist would play. The only problem with Dee is that unlike us Londoners, he lives in L.A., and they haven't made leads that long yet!"
For the past six weeks, though, the new lineup, which includes organist Pete Solley, has worked out fine. "I'm very happy with the way it is now," smiles Gary, "with Pete and with Dee. They've added new facets. Stage interaction is really good."
Which it is. Instead of playing the formal keyboard duets which thoughts of Procol usually conjure up, the manic, velvet-clad Pete Solley trades deft flourishes on his Farfisa organ and ARP and Crunar synthesisers with Gary's fleet-fingered acrobatics on the Fender Rhodes and nine-foot Steinway Grand. The results are evident in songs like the shadowy Strangers in Space.
Was Pete or the band behind the added electronics? "I thought for a long time that we should have these things," Gary explains, "but it's really up to the individual who's performing on the instrument. Pete is well into making music on anything - give him a violin and he'll pick it up and play it." In the course of Procol's generally uptempo set, Solley does just that on such new numbers as This Old Dog. His haunting organ lends whatever size hall Procol plays the sunken-cathedral ambience of the deepest recesses of the Paris Opera House. Silhouetted against a crimson backdrop, Dee and B.J. fill out the bottom on The Unquiet Zone, the most modal, gothic number Pete has gotten his keys on.
Crowds from San Francisco to Vancouver to "the Big Lemon" are eating the show up. "The Lemon" is Gary's playful nickname for the mid-May site of the Tenth Anniversary show, the climax of a hectic tour which began in Europe last January. "New York's always been good for us," remarks Gary on the fittingness of celebrating Procol's Tenth [why not the millennium?] here at the Palladium.
When the birthday announcement came, the crowd erupted ecstatically, the promoter sent a candlelit cake out on stage, and Procol soared giddily through five encores [I don't remember 5 encores] plus its May '67 evergreen A Whiter Shade of Pale.
Later, Procol reflected on a career that seems to be taking an upswing [if only!] not only through the presence of Pete and Dee but also thanks to the guidance of writer Keith Reid and new personal manager Nick Blackburn. While the band looks more striking and is sounding tougher than it did in its more ethereal phases, it isn't about to fall back on its Britishness and go on playing Simple Sister till brain damage sets in.
"There's no prestige gained now from just being English," asserts Brooker. "A lot of people don't know the national origin of Fleetwood Mac." Eager to enlarge its following, Procol has mounted an assault upon giant U.S. arenas on doubleheaders with bands like Foghat, as well as doing stunning outdoor showcases in the Mid-Atlantic region. The band's current Warner LP, Something Magic, was recorded at Miami's Criteria, Procol's calculatedly anti-isolationist studio choice.
"Things have been a lot more organised under Blackburn's direction."
Does Procol have signposts to its future? "We're working on new songs," says Keith. "What we do next is much more concerned with direction than with what we'll do for a bass player." Procol listens closely to commercial American records these days and has been in the States partly to "absorb what goes on round us."
Thanks, Marvin, for finding, transcribing and commenting
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