Procol Harum

the Pale

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A Note on Gary's Composing

Anthony Rowat

The BtP Team's recent exhaustive opus on the complete PH canon includes a comment about Gary's orchestration of Butterfly Boys which really got me thinking (or re-thinking): perhaps there is a battle inside Gary between his music and Procol Harum music; if we think of Gary as a composer, then PH music represents (to a certain extent) a subjugating of his muse to the muse of Keith Reid (I have often considered PH a doppelganger for KR). Writing for PH inspired the flowering of Gary's talent, but perhaps also a delimiting in that the job was to provide music to illustrate / amplify Keith's consciousness. Gary finally flew the coop in 77, but has been drawn back in (like Pacino in Godfather 3?). Really, Gary and Keith probably said all that they had to say in the context of Harum by 73 when they wrote the pieces for Exotic Birds ; since that, it just hasn't been there (IMHO, though you may well disagree). But what has interested me since that time is Gary's composing (and lack thereof). In the performance of A Salty Dog from the boot Chamber Music Extraordinaire Gary and the band repeat the delicate little figure that is played by pizzicato strings on the record, but they play it twice as long and effect a further development of it; an extension, if you will, that thrills me. I have often further elaborated this extension in my mind, bringing it back to the re-entry of the vocal; what impresses me is that it is essentially modular composing, which may well be Gary's forte in composition.

Another example: The development section in Simple Sister, which has always been my favourite piece of Gary music. I think also of the ending of New Lamps and the development aspects of, say, No More Fear of Flying and The Worm and the Tree. The first time I noticed this different kind of composition creeping in (different from PH songs) was on Grand Hotel, which was the album (I think) that signalled the beginning of the end for PH. In parts such as the lick on Bacon (again modular), the end of Robert's Box, the Legrande section on Fires, etc., there was a new style coming in which was perhaps at odds with the aesthetic of the band, and which might represent Gary's muse raising its (pretty) head. After recognising this, I backtracked looking for further evidence and found it in the lick in Conquistador, parts of In Held, Salty Dog, Sister, Broken Barricades (now there's real modularity!) and many others. You can of course extend this argument forward into the Gary solo albums, especially Lead Me to the Water, which has always seemed to me to be Gary's "Declaration of Independence" from Keith's words and from the style required by writing for PH. Accordingly, Ninth and Magic would represent attempts on Gary's part (and Keith's) to rescue the sinking ship, but an impossible task if indeed they had already said what they had to say by 1973. Oddly, when I purchased Exotic in the summer of 74 (I delayed since the bitter disappointment of Hotel) when I listened to Lamps I thought "Well that's it then - they're saying goodbye". To my mind the only crucial song released after that was Pandora, and that was of course written in '66 or '67.

If there's been a disappointment for me since '74, it's a) that they released Ninth and Magic, and b) that Gary hasn't been composing very much. The biggest disappointment for me has been that Gary (who may well be a very talented modern composer) has only (to my knowledge) done two pieces of "serious" composing in many years: the ballet and the brass piece. Perhaps he is composing, but secretly; but perhaps he, like Sibelius, has abandoned composing, albeit for different reasons; maybe Gary doesn't have any faith in any kind of public response. But doesn't a real composer have to compose, regardless of any predicted type of response? This is my disappointment, for I feel that Gary has perhaps given up, and I believe he has a real, rare talent, so sorely needed to be in the world (in a public way).

And what got me restarted on this musing has been the BtP team's incredible musical and lyrical writings, which are so inspirational; it seems every day they hit a new peak, and the Exotic writings have really inspired me. Their often perfect choice of words is really quite remarkable, allowing me to listen to the music in a fresh new way; once again, I'll say this is the most important thing the site has ever done!

Finally, it was the team's fantastic observation on Gary's orchestration (re-composing?) of Butterfly that got me thinking that a) he's quite a composer, b) he's a great orchestrator, and c) he has not been fulfilling the demands of his muse, unless he's been doing it in secret (and I dearly hope he has).

In other words, the idea of a concert of new instrumental works by Gary excites me a lot more than a concert by PH, even though I dearly love PH and would have flown to Europe in a heartbeat and volunteered as a roadie for the 2001 European tour (if I only had had the time and money)!

Thanks, Anthony

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