Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Melody Maker's 'Band Breakdown'

Keith Reid

This is the section on Keith Reid from the Melody Maker's two-page Procol Harum spread from March 1973 

There's no explicit bond between the songs on Grand Hotel, yet lyricist Keith Reid recognises an implied connection between them.

"Talking about the words, they were all written by one person at one time so they're all about how I felt about different things during one particular period. The style, and the growth period I've reached, carried through into all the songs."

Tying the songs together then, Keith, it looks like you've spent the past year over-eating and going to the doctor.

"Well, eating and drinking too much and not going to the doctor enough, as a matter of fact."

He makes no differentiation between self-expression and simple expression in composing only between good writing and bad, of which he thinks there's an awful lot these days.

Self-expression is no bad thing, he says look at Graham Greene, whose obsession with his Catholicism worked because he always had something interesting and illuminating to say about it.

But surely Keith's own lyrics don't give much away about himself? "On some songs, they do if you remember Crucifixion [sic] Lane, from the Salty Dog album, that was a picture of me and how I was feeling at that time. As it happened, the song went under the carpet and didn't work out well. But a lot of them are personal expression, of what I'm about."

Keith is neither a particularly disciplined nor prolific writer. "I don't write many songs ... certainly not one a week. I wish I was disciplined."

The way he works with Gary Brooker is quite unusual, and stems from the beginning of their partnership, when Keith gave Gary a bunch of 12 or 15 lyrics and Brooker went away to set them to music. Now, they still work that way, never meeting to collaborate during the creation of a song. The writing of words and then music are entirely separate processes.

"It's pretty difficult for two people to work together so apart and yet combine so successfully. Often I write something and give it to him, and with no changes at all it suits a piece of music that he's already written. It's an unconscious empathy and it happened right from the start."

There are never any alterations to the lyric once Gary has received it: "He's never even suggested any edits or changes. On one occasion he came up with some music and asked me to put words to it, but that's not something I do very well.

"It takes me a long time to write. It's not often I get the kind of ideas that trigger off a song. But when I get an idea, if it's a good one, it doesn't take me long to write the song.

Again unusually, he considers that his words must make sense on paper before he delivers them they must look and sound right when they're read, not just when they're sung.

"That's where I part company with everybody else my words must work on paper as well as on the record. I couldn't possibly do it any other way.".

One thing he seems sad about is that no other artists ever seem to try their own version of the songs he and Gary write, apart, of course, from innumerable middle-of-the-road cover versions of Whiter Shade of Pale.

"There are writers, which is what I think we are, and there are writer/performers, people like Dr John, whom we love, but who can get away with a wrong word in a song by singing it in an appealing way.

"Now no-one could ever do Dr John's songs as well as he does, but a good singer with a good arranger and producer could do just as good a job on any of our songs as we do. People try them from time to time, but I haven't heard a good one yet. Take Salad Days though, from the first album: I think that would be great for anyone who sings other people's material, like Rod Stewart or Joe Cocker or Richie Havens. I'd love to hear one of them try it."

More from the Melody Maker's two-page Procol Harum spread from March 1973 | See also this similar piece

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