Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale 

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Goldmine Magazine, 6 October 1989

Michael P Dawson on 'The Great Lost Procol Harum Album'


It's a real delight to find a Procol magazine article that really knows its Harum onions! The author of this piece is an American composer, also known as Biffy the Elephant Shrew, and his website bears testament to his Procol commitment. Since his article was written, of course, much of the material he recommends for the 'Great Lost Album' has surfaced legitimately on the Westside re-releases and on the Repertoire series. What we have not yet seen, of course, is the 'Diaspora' album that was requested in the Redhill Souvenir Programme, which would contain the lost songs like A Robe of Silk, You Better Wait and so forth. It was heartening in March 2002 to hear Keith Reid declare [here] that Gary had been toying with this concept though whether it will ever progress beyond toying we cannot at the moment say. However to Michael's article


Few songs are so easily recognizable from the very first note. A staple of oldies stations to this day, its status as a '60s classic was reaffirmed in the '80s by its appearance in the 1983 film The Big Chill and the more recent New York Stories. It starts with that familiar organ line, a rich, doleful melody, and the words "We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels 'cross the floor..."

A Whiter Shade of Pale, the first [sic] fruit of the songwriting partnership of pianist/singer Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid, became the signature tune of their band, Procol Harum. However, this article will explore the other side of the Procol Harum coin: those tracks that never appeared on the band's albums, including live recordings and alternate takes released in various countries. As will be shown, there are enough oddities in Procol's catalog to fill an album, what we will call The Great Lost Procol Harum Album.

In the wake of the massive success of Whiter Shade, which topped the European singles charts at the same time Sgt. Pepper was dominating the album charts, Brooker and Reid set about assembling material for an LP while recruiting a permanent Procol Harum lineup. Retaining bassist David Knights and organist Matthew Fisher, Brooker called on two old friends from his previous band, the R&B-oriented Paramounts: guitarist Robin Trower and drummer BJ (Barrie) Wilson to replace original Procols Ray Royer and Bobby Harrison (neither of whom [sic] had actually placed [played?] on Whiter Shade). Thus constituted, the band recorded Procol Harum, an album full of Reid's macabre wit set off by Brooker's soulful voice.

Those early sessions produced a number of extra tracks. Lime Street Blues (recorded with Royer and Harrison) was issued in May 1967 as the B-side of Whiter Shade and can be heard on The Best of Procol Harum. Two tracks recorded in October 1967 are trickier to find: Seem To Have The Blues (Most All The Time) and Monsieur Armand appear only on the British Rock Roots compilation, issued in 1976. The former is a Paramounts-style stomper, while Monsieur Armand is in fact an early version of Monsieur R. Monde from the 1974 LP Exotic Birds And Fruit. Still unreleased [now available here] is the 1967 version of Pandora's Box, which was re-recorded in 1975 for Procol's Ninth.

Like any self-respecting British underground group of the day, Procol appeared on the BBC's Top Gear, and a version of A Whiter Shade of Pale recorded for that program was recently released on the album 21 Years of Alternative Radio One.

Procol's second single was Homburg, a song very similar in mood to Whiter Shade. Homburg has been issued only in mono in the US, but several European releases feature a stereo mix. Particularly interesting is 1971's The Best Of Procol Harum, released on England on the Fly label. This collection contains not only the stereo Homburg but also a stereo mix of Conquistador with a heavily reverbed vocal, the only track from the first LP to be available in true stereo (Procol Harum was issued in mono and rechanneled stereo only). The Fly Best Of was reissued in 1972 as A Salty Dog on MFP. Neither of these albums should be confused with the A&M albums with the same titles! Also, the stereo Conquistador in question should not be confused with the live version, readily available in stereo worldwide.

The second Procol album, Shine On Brightly, appeared in 1968. The opening track, Quite Rightly So, was issued as a single, backed with In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence (available on The Best Of Procol Harum). A Norwegian single features, besides a different B-side, an alternate take of Quite Rightly So with a few different lyric lines (see here). (Since the Norwegian single was actually pressed in Germany for export in Norway, it may be that the German release, and possibly others, also has the alternate take. Pressings from the US, England, Italy and Belgium all use the album version.) In Italy, a single was released of "Shine On Brightly" sung in Italian under the title Il Tuo Diamante. Oddly enough, the B-side is also given an Italian title, Fortuna, even though it is merely the instrumental Repent Walpurgis from the first album. Someone by the name of Dossena receives a writing credit, presumably for supplying the Italian title!

Several of the songs on the 1969 release A Salty Dog were augmented by interesting orchestral arrangements, an avenue that Procol would continue to explore to great effect. The title track was issued as a single in the U.K., backed with Long Gone Geek, a hard-rocking romp which eventually surfaced in the US on The Best Of Procol Harum. A live version of A Salty Dog can be heard on The First Great Rock Festival Of the Seventies: Isle of Wight/Atlanta Pop Festival, a triple album released by Columbia in 1971. This stripped-down, group-only performance contrasts with the version from Procol's 1972 live album, which is replete with orchestration and sound effects.

Before the recording of the next album, Fisher and Knights were relieved of their duties. They were replaced by one musician, one-time Paramounts bassist Chris Copping, who doubled on organ (Reid also contributed some uncredited keyboard assistance on Home). Aside from non-performing member Reid, Procol Harum now consisted entirely of ex-Paramounts. The albums produced by this lineup, Home and Broken Barricades, did not produce any rare spinoffs, unless one counts the horribly sped-up U.S. single version of Simple Sister (presumably a mastering error) or the Procol Harum Lives promotional album, which includes a 15 minute interview bookended by brief, boozy singalongs of Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner and We'll Meet Again. [more about this rare album]

Robin Trower's prominent contributions to Broken Barricades marked his last hurrah with Procol. Song For A Dreamer, Trower's Hendrix tribute, gave an indication of the direction his solo career would take. Meanwhile, Procol reorganized itself once again, bringing in Dave Ball on lead guitar and Alan Cartwright on bass, leaving Copping free to concentrate on organ. This lineup recorded the album Procol Harum Live In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, which marked a major comeback for the band and supplied a hit single with the revamped Conquistador. The British edition of this single is backed with an otherwise unavailable live Luskus Delph.

The commercial success of Procol Harum Live guaranteed a heavy promotional push for the follow-up album, which coincided with a change of labels in the U.S. from A&M to Chrysalis and the addition of new lead guitarist Mick Grabham in place of Ball. The album, Grand Hotel, appeared in 1973 and found Procol gently lampooning their highbrow/classical image by donning top hats and tails for the cover. Every one of Grand Hotel's nine songs was released as a single in either Europe or America. A live version of the title track was released on the album Over The Rainbow, an album issued to commemorate the closing of England's Rainbow Theatre. This album also includes a performance by Frankie Miller of his Brickyard Blues with backing by Procol.

The 1974 release Exotic Birds And Fruit is a good, solid Procol Harum LP, generally lacking the cathedral-like sound of the early days, but still a rich and elegant listening experience with a tang like champagne. The leadoff track, Nothing But The Truth, was issued as a single, backed with an otherwise unavailable rocker, Drunk Again.

Both Exotic Birds And Fruit and its follow-up, Procol's Ninth, saw the band reaching back to 1967 in search of leftover material (Monsieur R. Monde on the former, Pandora's Box on the latter). Procol's Ninth added to this the band's first recorded cover versions (Lieber-Stoller's I Keep Forgetting and the Beatles' Eight Days A Week) plus two songs about the inability to write (Typewriter Torment and Without A Doubt). Brooker and Reid were obviously having creative difficulties. Not surprisingly, no non-LP B-sides came from this period. However, the following year, Procol tackled two classical warhorses and issued the European single Adagio di Albinoni backed with a brilliant interpretation of Strauss' Blue Danube, thus neatly evading the necessity of coming up with original material. By 1977, Procol managed to scrape together enough material to fill one last album, Something Magic. This album found Cartwright departed, Copping reverting to bass, and Pete Solley joining as organist. The album also featured Grabham's first songwriting contribution to Procol - in fact the first non-Brooker original since Trower left - The Mark Of The Claw. The album had many fine moments, especially the eerie Strangers In Space, but the side-long The Worm And The Tree was weak both musically and lyrically. Also a bit weak was the instrumental Backgammon, issued as a B-side to Wizard Man.

Procol Harum officially called it a day in 1979 [sic], but the long shadow cast by their greatest hit remains. Brooker can be seen performing A Whiter Shade Of Pale on the video of the 1982 Prince's Trust Gala concert from London. BJ Wilson continued to perform Whiter Shade as a part of Joe Cocker's stage band. More recently, Matthew Fisher, who sang "Please don't make me sing that song again" on his first solo album, turned up on a syrupy version of Whiter Shade performed by new age pianist David Lanz.

This article has shown, however, that Procol Harum was far more than a one trick pony. Procol was a band with many sides, and in their music the solemn rubbed shoulders with the absurd, the mystical with the earthy. They produced complex, panoramic art-rock, but never forgot their roots - many a Procol concert ended with a string of rock 'n' roll chestnuts like Great Balls Of Fire and Matchbox. Aside from 11 fine albums (including the indispensable Best Of), Procol has left us 14 rare tracks for our imaginary Great Lost Procol Harum Album. Procol Harum may be best known for only one song, but it is a rewarding trip to follow them - to quote the title of one of their lesser known songs - Beyond The Pale.

Thanks, Marvin, for finding and transcribing


More Procol history in print at BtP


 

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