Gary Brooker - Piano, vocal
BJ Wilson - Drums
Robin Trower - Guitar (vocal)
Chris Copping - Bass, organ, synth
Keith Reid - Words
Left, the 1971 cover; above, the cover of the 2001 limited edition CD re-release of Broken Barricades, by Christine Ayre.
Producer: Chris Thomas
'Cellar full of diamonds, turret
full of gold …'
Ah, changes! Many of our most beloved groups throughout rock history have gone through membership (and stylistic) changes, with varying degrees of success. Procol Harum is a great example: a band that survived rather well, despite the early loss of several key members: Matthew Fisher (organ, occasional piano and guitar) and David Knights (bass) in 1969 after A Salty Dog, and Robin Trower (guitar) after this, the album in question. The key to Procol Harum’s long-term survival was simply this: co-founders Gary Brooker and Keith Reid remained for every recording and concert since. But when Fisher departed, his distinctive Hammond organ playing and classical / baroque pop (“that sound”), which had permeated Procol’s early singles and first three albums, went with him. His (and Knights’s) very able multi-tasking replacement, Chris Copping, tended to emphasise his bass playing over the organ, and the two post-Salty albums (Home and this one) tended to feature that, Rob Trower’s bluesy electric guitar sound, and Gary’s piano. This was their so-called Blue Period or alternatively ‘Procol Harum-Phase 2’ (or ”3” to be more precise), in which the organ, when used at all, tended to be used more as background colour. When Trower departed to go solo, the impact, while significant, was perhaps felt less keenly, as his various replacements filled in seamlessly and tended to play in his style.
Broken Barricades (hereinafter: BB) was Procol Harum’s fifth album, the second with Copping, and first in the UK with Chrysalis Records (where they signed in late 1970) after the expiration of their contract with EMI/Regal Zonophone in the UK (they stayed with A&M in North America, with whom they had signed a five-album deal, starting with Shine on Brightly and ending with Edmonton). BB was performed by the same band as that on Home: Gary Brooker (piano/vocal), Chris Copping (bass and organ, Robin Trower (guitar), BJ Wilson (drums), and of course non-performer Keith Reid (words), all (save Reid) formerly at various times with the Paramounts from Southend-on-Sea. Apparently Chrysalis (which also had Jethro Tull as their label standard-bearer since the late 60s) had high hopes for commercial success with BB, but the album never went higher than #32 on the Billboard 200 (US chart) and #41 on the UK albums chart – not bad, but short of everyone’s expectations. Their new label, who had been convinced that Procol would be their Next Big Thing, were reportedly quite disappointed. Patrick Humphries, in his liner notes to the Salvo edition, mentions that the year of its release also produced albums by Yes, Pink Floyd, Caravan (!), Jethro Tull, ELP, the Moody Blues and Led Zeppelin – keen competition indeed! He also avers that “despite the competition, with [BB], Procol were, as ever, in the vanguard.” I’d agree they were with some of their previous (and subsequent) work; with this album, I’m not so sure.
I was still selling records at International Music in Montreal in 1971, and I remember well the release of BB that summer; I remember being particularly struck by the beautiful die-cut outer sleeve (since 1967 and Sgt Pepper’s, album cover art had evolved to become as important as the musical content within). The original LP cover (the one on the left, above) was dark blue/black, fading downward to grey, and showed just the faces of the four performing members (left to right: Brooker, Copping, Trower, Wilson) through the face-outlining die-cuts. Upon opening the flap, we see the full shot, showing the musicians’ heads, torsos and parts of their instruments – their names and instrument credits are printed at the very bottom. The back has a ‘negative’ head-and-shoulders shot of wordsmith Reid; below are the song listings and the remaining production and design credits (including tape-op Chris Michie credited with “comic relief”). Inside the die-cut flap are reprinted the lyrics of four of the five Brooker-Reid songs. (I had lost my copy years ago, and I was fortunate to find an original (I think) Canadian pressing with the die-cut sleeve.)
By contrast, the cover of the no-frills 2001 CD re-release (above right) by Gazza Records – Gary Brooker’s company – is a beautiful spare design by Christine Ayre in plain blue-purple with simple lettering, no pictures. Inside the fold-over insert card are printed the musician and producer credits and the lyrics of the same four Brooker-Reid compositions, as in the original cover design. There is also an explanatory statement: 'Since its limited release on CD in the eighties, Broken Barricades has been the most elusive of Procol Harum’s studio albums and this special edition is in response to that demand.'
“… most elusive”? Yes, it certainly had been. BB had been largely forgotten over the years – perhaps explaining the apparent lack of interest in re-releasing it for nearly thirty years! It may have been seen as an album from a period of transition between their classic period and the triumphant Live Edmonton album, and therefore somehow less worthy of (commercial) attention, if not respect. Mobile Fidelity had released it, in 1987; its availability was short-lived; it was quickly withdrawn and has since become a collector’s item. A pre-Gazza review refers to an old release the reviewer was able to track down (the label is not mentioned) which had, as bonus tracks, the original singles A Whiter Shade of Pale and Homburg, of all things. Possibly this was to remind new fans (at the time) that Procol Harum was that band!
The lack of notes in the Gazza was no loss, really, as the original LP didn’t have any either; neither were there bonus tracks, mastering information, simply the main production and composer credits listed on the insert and repeated on the back of the CD tray. Obviously, a good master must have been available, as the Gazza sounds very well indeed: very little compression, and the CD has a bright, open, transparent sound. There may or may not be tape hiss (hard for me to tell; since I suffer from tinnitus, there’s always tape hiss!). Since BB’s availability on CD had been so “elusive,” this release had apparently been made available for fans – it doesn’t have wide distribution even now, although it’s still available here.
In any event, the Gazza was a good stop-gap until Repertoire eventually released BB to the “mainstream” two years later (also without bonus tracks, but with a good liner note by Chris Welch); it, too, went out of print, and didn’t re-emerge until Salvo’s major re-release campaign starting in 2009. The Salvo also sounds well, and adds four very welcome and interesting bonus cuts. The booklet from the Salvo release is quite beautifully executed, with high quality colour reproduction, lots of pictures and posters; in short, what we’ve come to expect from Salvo. Patrick Humphries’s liner notes are well written and comprehensive, with many interesting tidbits: for example, who knew Power Failure was later covered by Leo Kottke? And Humphries highlights the fact that three of the album’s eight tunes were actually co-penned by Trower, showing “… him working towards a new sound of his own.” He also relates a story of Procol gigging in (presumably West) Germany with Hendrix just two weeks before the latter’s death: Trower, an avowed “King Jimi” Hendrix fan, was reportedly incensed by the crowd’s negative reaction to Hendrix’s choosing not to play his “… hits [with the expected] guitar pyrotechnics, which Hendrix felt he had grown out of.” Brooker amusingly recalled that Trower “… went bloody wild … and was ready to punch out six thousand Germans!” Go, Rob!
The digital transfers for the Salvo release were done “from analogue tape” (note: no mention of the tape being an “original master” – meaning it probably wasn’t) and Nick Robbins remastered the CD. (Side note on another credit: I was taken aback by a mention on all the Salvo releases: “Project management for Salvo – Chas Chandler” – I originally did a double-take, but eventually realised it was not the legendary Animals’ bassist and Hendrix’s manager/producer, as he had died prior to the Salvo releases. Different Chas, obviously).
BB was Chris Thomas’s second album with Procol Harum in the production chair (after Home) and his first recording at what was to become his preferred studio. He was obviously starting to get comfortable with the band; he went on to produce three more including the highly successful live Edmonton album.
There are interesting and detailed analyses of each of the songs at BtP (each of which is linked, below); I don’t feel I can really improve upon them, but I do offer a few brief personal impressions:
Simple Sister – their best-ever blues-rock guitar song, right up there with Whisky Train from Home. A masterpiece and probably the best-known song on the album, as it was a minor hit. In the tradition of Wish Me Well, Long Gone Geek, Juicy John Pink, this one shines, and remains in their concert repertoire, for obvious reasons. Contains the seldom-reproduced (in concert anyway) piano solo bridge from Brooker.
Broken Barricades – Some Moog synthesizer (a relatively new thing in 1971, and probably a new toy at AIR Studio (ostensibly “sneaked in” by Thomas, according to the Salvo liner notes), plus a bit of organ, nice understated drum ‘soloing’ at the end. The “long fade” bonus track (Salvo) of this song is rather wonderful, as it provides essentially more time for BJ’s drum soloing over the main song riff in waltz-time, and at the end there is an unexpected and delightful time signature shift before the final fade-out. (Speaking of waltz-time, there’s a story that, back in 1968 when Joe Cocker was recording With A Little Help From My Friends for his first album (produced by Denny Cordell, ex-Procol Harum), the original session drummer couldn’t play in that time signature, so BJ (who could … well-known by Cordell) was recruited to sit in.)
Memorial Drive – another good rocker, with electric as well as acoustic piano, Free-ish (Paul Kossoff) guitar licks. This is the first of three Trower compositions on the album. Those doubting Trower’s ability on guitar (is there anyone?) are referred to this song.
Luskus Delph – with strings and French horns accompanying delicate piano – with a rather, ahem, lusty theme (while some songs from the Home album were about death, this was about … life, shall we say?). A minor tune in their overall repertoire, in my view. Fun, though … turns up again as a live bonus track on the Salvo Edmonton – the B-side to the “comeback” single Conquistador from that concert.
Power Failure – more very 70s-sounding driving guitar, another (and more famous) drum solo from BJ, which is terrific and unusually understated (for the time, unlike most drummers), with cowbell! BJ shouts “Rubbish!” (indicating his opinion of such things) near the end of some dubbed-in crowd noises at the end of his solo, followed by some good Hammond sounds from CC. This is one of the few drum solos by anyone where I haven’t felt compelled to take a pee-break. Also, it convinces me that BJ Wilson was perhaps the greatest of all rock drummers … nay, not merely a “drummer”. He was a percussionist. Interesting story from the Salvo liner notes: The song was actually inspired by a real-life ‘Power Failure’ during a Procol gig, as Gary told Chris Welch: “Being professionals, we know exactly what to do… As soon as the electricity goes off, the drummer starts a solo… Our drummer just keeps going until the power comes back!”
Song For a Dreamer (subtitled King Jimi on the Salvo bonus track instrumental version): Trower on vocals (not credited, but obvious) – his affectionate tribute to his recently-deceased hero Jimi Hendrix, very Electric Ladyland-sounding (1983…A Merman I Should Turn to Be, anyone?), lots of guitar and vocal in-and-out phasing and other effects. A heartfelt tribute, no doubt.
Playmate of The Mouth – good pun! Great-sounding, slightly (possibly deliberately) out-of-tune, and treated, upright piano intro with trombone chorale (very New Orleans-style horns, sounding to me like it could have been arranged by the late, great Alan Toussaint), great Trower riffing throughout. This was one of the first songs they recorded at George Martin’s new AIR studio with its wonderful acoustics. I wonder: who were the horn players? Were they from the Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble, who were often used by Sir George on his productions (eg McCartney’s Wanderlust on his Tug of War album).
Poor Mohammed – Trower on vocals (again, not credited) – more understated cowbell – and a rare (for Trower) slide guitar solo. Context note: how differently this song might have been received had it been done more recently - it doesn’t show “poor Mohammed” in the best light, does it?
Overall, Broken Barricades was a very good, sometimes excellent, album, despite any earlier misgivings. Home was probably better, overall – each had the odd weak spot - but the two albums reinforce the fact that Robin Trower had come into his own as Procol’s lead guitarist. Matthew Fisher’s departure had allowed guitar to replace organ as the band’s dominant ‘sound.’ But, despite receiving composer credit for three of BB’s eight songs and touring with them after the album’s release into 1971, Trower felt the call to go it alone, thence to record several successful albums (the first three of which were produced by none other than Matthew Fisher). Two of them made it to the US Top Ten, something Procol themselves could claim only once (with Edmonton) – it was, after all, the era of hard rock (Zeppelin, Mott the Hoople, Deep Purple) and the “guitar-star.” Trower had supposedly never felt he’d been a good fit in Procol Harum, even though his contributions to the first five albums (plus the brief 1990s reunion) were obviously significant and successful. When original members Ray Royer and Bobby Harrison were sacked in 1967, he and BJ Wilson had been asked to join; Trower is supposed to have said at the time: “I'd heard A Whiter Shade of Pale and liked it, but felt they really didn't need a blues guitarist. Still, Gary knew my style from the days when we'd played together in the Paramounts, and I told him I hadn't changed... and didn't expect to.”
I have listened to both the Gazza and Salvo releases with renewed appreciation; although BB has often been underrated (which word I dislike – it’s not often thoughtfully used in the Procol context by so many, possibly including me), it’s always interesting and, as usual, very well executed. As with Home, I like and appreciate it more, a lot more, than I used to. For many fans (certainly including me), the “rockier, harder-edged” sound and approach of the “Blue Period” had taken a little getting used to after the acknowledged brilliance and uniqueness of ‘The First Three’; the change was largely the result of the (forced) reinvention, and the albums that followed Barricades, (Edmonton and Grand Hotel, with new guitarists) reflected yet more re-thinking, but at the same time returning somewhat to their “classic” sound.
For those interested, the out-of-print Gazza version remains available at the BtP Store, while the Salvo CD (and equivalent double LP on Let Them Eat Vinyl – great brand-name!) are also still available, at Amazon (preferred Amazon links here – a few cents go to BtP if you link to buy).
Bottom line: I had forgotten just how good this album is, as I (admittedly) hadn’t listened to it in years. Farewell to the excellent Mr Trower and to the “Blue Period”: Broken Barricades was an understated but hard-rocking brilliant follow-up to Home, and remains a highly recommended “near-forgotten” classic. You can’t go wrong with either CD release (I haven’t heard the new double LP, but I hear it’s very good): fitting, somehow, as July of this year will mark the 45th anniversary of Broken Barricades’ release on LP and tape.
© Peter Bourne, July 2016