Procol Harum

the Pale

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Grand Hotel

Online in the South China Morning Post here

Grand Hotel, Procul [sic] Harum

Procul Harum, who scored one of the biggest hits of the 1960s with A Whiter Shade of Pale, are still performing, although now reduced to two of the original members – that is if you count, as the band always has – non-performing lyricist Keith Reid.

The other remaining founder is his songwriting partner, Gary Brooker, whose soulful vocals and skilful blend of blues, R&B and classical influences have largely defined the band's sound. The two of them wrote A Whiter Shade Of Pale and the hit follow-up Homburg.

No subsequent singles performed as well, although a live version of Conquistador made No 16 in the US in 1972. However, their albums sold solidly for more than a decade, particularly in America, where Grand Hotel became the highest-placed chart entry of their studio recordings, somewhat behind their biggest hit album overall, Procul [sic] Harum Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, from which the Conquistador single came.

Encouraged, perhaps, by that success, Brooker and Reid came up with some of their strongest songs for Grand Hotel, including the title track, and Bringing Home the Bacon, which was their set opener for many years. Key members of the early incarnations of the group had left by the time Grand Hotel was recorded, including organist Matthew Fisher and blues rock guitarist Robin Trower, but the Grand Hotelline-up turned out to be one of the band's best and most durable. It comprised guitarist Mick Grabham, multi-instrumentalist Chris Copping on organ, Alan Cartwright on bass, and on drums the redoubtable BJ Wilson.

Wilson, who died in 1990, was a much in demand session player as well as a Procul [sic] Harum member. He missed the opportunity to perform on A Whiter Shade of Pale, but was the drummer on Joe Cocker's With a Little Help From My Friends, and turned down an invitation from Jimmy Page – who also played on that single – to join Led Zeppelin.

Lavish cover art and overarching concepts were very much in vogue in 1973 – Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and The Who's Quadrophenia were released the same year – but despite all the photography of the band members with long hair, top hats and tails, the Grand Hotel theme was not extended beyond the title track. Prog rock was at its zenith in 1973, but by the standards of Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer and a few others, Procul [sic] Harum were relatively down to earth – and worked much more effectively with orchestras, as they occasionally do to this day. The strings and horns were deployed sparingly on Grand Hotel, except on the title track, and the album consists mostly of strong rock songs with the signature Procul [sic] Harum piano and organ dominated arrangements. It has worn well.

People occasionally wonder about the origin of the band's name, which like many of Reid's lyrics sounds as though it should mean something portentous, but actually doesn't. It was the name of a friend's Burmese blue cat.


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