Procol Harum

the Pale

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PH: an Italian outlook: Part II

Enzo Caffarelli, translated by Niels-Erik Mortensen

This is part II of Niels-Erik's translation of a long and fascinating Italian sleeve-note. Part I is here

Gary Brooker, the indisputable band leader: it should be his voice - among the best in Europe - that gave strength and tension to the words of Keith Reid, the bespectacled poet half inside, half outside the band, the author of the extravagant, nightmarish and surrealistic lyrics.


People Come, People Go
Speaking of the internal affairs, from '69 and onwards, the musicians disagree with each other concerning the musical path to walk. Especially two opposite tendencies seem to have emerged between Matthew Fisher and Robin Trower. The former is devoted to classical music and far from the rock-blues as should be shown on his later solo efforts. The latter being transformed by experiencing Hendrix, a lover of distortion and experiments, of high volume amplification and of elementary blues. After the album Home, which revealed the eternal discord, the guitar became predominant.

Incidentally, 1970 is the year where Deep Purple leaves the big orchestra and becomes matadors of the Hard-rock. Matthew Fisher leaves and so does Dave Knight [sic], both to take up producing new groups. Their station is filled by one single person, Chris Copping, born on 29 August 1945, the last remaining original ex-Paramount to join the rest. He alternates on bass guitar and organ.

The four-piece-band (Brooker-Trower-Copping-Wilson) records Broken Barricades in 1971, the title thus bridging the gap between rock, classical and folk music. However, the original spice of the first productions is lost at this point. For the first time [sic], Trower composes three pieces evading the monopoly of the Brooker-Reid team. Some titles such as Luskus Delph or the title track Broken Barricades are purely sweet and melodic, while Simple Sister and Memorial Drive represent the more rockish trend. Procol Harum changes recording company too, passing over to Chrysalis, the English butterfly label which in a short time had become one of the most prestigiousroken Barricades also marks the group's absolutely lowest popularity, and soon afterwards Robin Trower decides to leave. He is replaced by Dave Ball who is much younger than the others (30 March 1950). When two persons have a quarrel, the third can be content. And this third is Gary Brooker who can resume his place as the undisputed leader of the band who by the end of the same tour is the protagonist of a tour with a symphony orchestra. Thus the band's live album, with a symphony orchestra. Thus the band's live album, In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, recorded on 18 November at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton, a city in the Canadian state of Alberta. Brooker arranges the parts for the orchestra and the Da Camera Singers which accompany them. These are the ones entrusted with this expansion and improvement. Lawyer Wally Heider's Mobile Studio, the most famous live recording equipment in North America, follows the group supervised by producer Chris Thomas.

Organist Copping runs the risks of the harpsichord, the least one could expect of a group with classical ambitions. The bass is in the hands of a new participant, Londoner Alan Cartwright, born 10 October 1945, who has already played with Freddie Mack, Sweet Water and Every Which Way, the latter one of three bands formed in the wake of the Nice disbanding. Shortly afterwards, Dave Ball hands over the guitar to Mick Grabham, a lover of English and American folk who had already played in Plastic Penny and Cochise.

Among the former members Trower was to achieve the greatest successes. Following a brief period with Jude - singer Frankie Miller - he forms the Robin Trower Band, a trio based on the guitar-bass-drums triangle that became famous with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Cream. Still in full activity to this day, Robin's band has recorded none less than ten albums.

Procol Harum photographed in 1977. After Something Magic, the 'Latin cat' disappeared into total silence: the five lads would never again perform together, neither in concerts nor in studios.

However, Procol Harum continues down their street. The live album would serve to put the band back in the important circuit of English Romantic and symphonic rock music. Conquistador, one of the band's very first songs which was reintroduced in Edmonton, reaches the top slots of the English charts: the same thing happens to A Whiter Shade of Pale, re-issued in 1972. It is also the time for an anthology bringing together the quintet's greatest successes including those initially only available on 45´s such as Homburg and In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence and other re-issues introduced by Cube Records, the label of the fly, which has acquired the rights to the older Procol material.

After six years the group's image between evolutions and limitations is not that of a band under a firm leadership, but certainly of a conscious mix of minor and significant influences, of a lucid and clear pop music formula without concessions to fashion or preconceived forms. All in all, the image is that of a group who using some new brilliant ideas is quickly able to return to the top of the music business thus appealing to the interest of both the audiences and the critics.

This occurs in 1973 where the quintet in February of that year presents itself through numerous concerts in Italy, too. For those interested in instruments the following are used: Gary Brooker plays a Steinway Grand Piano, Copping a Hammond L 100 organ with a Lesley 720 speaker, Grabham a Gibson Les Paul 1959, Cartwright a Fender Precision bass and Wilson a Ludwig drum kit with Avenis [sic] Zildjian cymbals. The disc to arrive this spring is called Grand Hotel, almost being a concept album, ie one single theme [sic] as was modern. This is accomplished tastefully and cleverly with a shot of obsolescence, of déjà-vu, of antiquity not unlike the efforts of the dandy, decadent personalities as Bowie, Mott the Hoople and Roxy Music who at that time make it big. This seventh Procol Harum LP is supported by the imaginative stories of a large hotel: Grand Hotel had been a famous film of the Thirties [1932, actually] starring Greta Garbo and John Barrymore which opens and concludes with the illustrious words: 'People go, people come', adapting perfectly to the band's story.

Drummer BJ Wilson. He joined Procol Harum in 1967 just after the famous and incredible success of A Whiter Shade of Pale to fill in [sic] for Bobby Harrison.

The sleeve is eloquent, too. Keith Reid is the bespectacled maître d' who serves the lyrics on a silver tray while Gary, Chris, Mick and Alan pose as high-ranking clients dressed in top hats, tails and bow tie standing in-between mirrored walls and velvet drapes, baroque ornaments and white stucco. The Grand Hotel is Procol Harum themselves, an impressing and solemn construction of classical structure in which a prevalent lyric mood reigns with a decadent and moderate sensuality. As you will recall, Brooker was the only original guest, the others joining him little by little. In the Grand Hotel you find a certain French flavour in titles as well as in words: a French female singer is even guest-starring. A small booklet containing drawings and lyrics helps understanding the meaning of the collection.

In contrast to previous works, there are no radical changes, although the classical reminiscences and the rock images are flavoured with popular references to the typical fin-de-siècle dances of the early 20th century, thus creating a slight operetta-like atmosphere. Worth mentioning among the most impressive of this collection are: Toujours L´Amour, A Rum Tale, A Souvenir Of London and For Liquorice John.

One year later (1974) a new and much expected album arrives with a picturesque sleeve and the peculiar title, Exotic Birds And Fruit, ie the objects of the reproduced painting (peaches, grapes and stuffed parrots) of the early 17th Century painter Jacob Bagdani [sic] which might be a souvenir brought home from the walls of the Grand Hotel. Neither tangos nor mazurkas, neither top hats nor tails are found here, but further reflections on an exclusive rock theme. Only a few compositions bear traces of this particular Mitteleuropa culture with its inspiration from the Parisian lounge lizard or the Berlin expressionist that constitutes the ideal background for songwriting during this period.

The quite pleasant Beyond The Pale is introduced by a small organ [sic] (the hurdy-gurdy) [sic!!] and follows gypsy-like patterns. As Strong As Samson proves the pedal steel guitar of guest BJ Cole, a virtuoso on the instrument who played together with Mick Grabham in Cochise. Fresh Fruit is an ironic and funny track almost in Country-style; New Lamps For Old is a melodic ballad with clear American traces; Butterfly Boys an unsophisticated rock song.

Exotic Birds And Fruit is a secondary work that does not rouse the same interest as Grand Hotel and marks to Procol Harum the phase of decline. Seeking a reintroduction the band play a special card on their ninth album in succession, the Ninth: they call in as producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, two old foxes of American rock with hundreds of recordings behind them, including those of Black artists (especially The Drifters and The Coasters) as well as those White. The team also compose a song, I Keep Forgetting which fits like a glove to Brooker's black-inspired voice and to the musical arrangements.

Closing the disc, one finds a Beatles-song, Eight Days A Week, written by Lennon & McCartney back in 1964. This is quite unusual for a band that has always written their material themselves. Nevertheless the record offers a solid and perhaps a bit worn Procol Harum, the thrifty style, the breaks, Brooker's great voice and the unmistakable pathos. The band marks out it steps.

Nearly two years passed until the next album should arrive. And for the last time. In the meantime, Alan Cartwright has left the band. This time, the jolly Copping moves to the bass, and once again a new organist / pianist [sic] arrives: Pete Solley, previously of Chris Farlowe's Thunderbirds, Paladin, Snafu and numerous minor British groups, is to introduce the synth to the band, a hitherto avoided Procol Harum gadget.

The 1977-album is entitled Something Magic, presenting as the main course the suite which occupies the entire side two, The Worm And The Tree, a kind of legend or allegory that opens [sic] with these words: "Although from a great tree a small worm may grow / That eats it with poison and tortures its soul / The worm can be killed yet the tree be not dead / For from the roots of the elder a new life will spread". The suite is in three movements (Introduction-Menace-Occupation, Enervation-Expectancy-Battle and Regeneration-Epilogue), the structure of which bears resemblance to the similar long experiment from Shine On Brightly nine years earlier. With a certain deep sadness, life and death are recurrent features in Keith Reid's lyrics. Nonetheless it is a surprising record with lights and shadows exactly conjuring up those images the lyrics want to evoke.

For the group the time now runs out to remedy any limitations or to fill out defects. No official announcement is issued subsequently, no manifesto of new career plans: the five just slowly detach one by one, giving up the possibility of meeting in a recording studio or on stage. At the end of the 70s, however, Procol Harum has ceased to exist. Gary Brooker reappears in 1979 as a soloist with new songs and a completely new accompaniment and produced by George Martin (yes, arranger and deus-ex-machina for The Beatles), the lyrics being provided by several authors, especially by Pete Sinfield (of King Crimson and the English records by Premiata Forneria Marconi). Keith Reid writes one single song for his friend Gary, (No More) Fear of Flying, which actually is the title of the entire collection. Superfluous to say the album reminds you of Procol Harum: to demonstrate this - if such is needed at all - it is enough to point out that Brooker with his voice and piano was the core and protagonist of the band that gave us A Whiter Shade Of Pale.

Enzo Caffarelli

A Whiter Shade Of Pale, A Salty Dog and Grand Hotel, those are the fundamental stages of Procol's career: The third [sic] LP from 1973 is in fact the last important peak of their career.


are the years in which Gary Brooker, Keith Reid and almost any other member of the group are born.


début of The Paramounts in Southend with singer and pianist Gary Brooker including other musicians later to join Procol Harum in a second round.


A Whiter Shade Of Pale is written and to record the song, a band is hastily put together - Procol Harum. On the eve of the first LP, two band members are substituted. The song sells millions of copies all over the world.


After Homburg and the first LP, Shine On Brightly (Il tuo diamante) and the second LP arrive. But neither of them stir up the same commotion as the very first track.


A Salty Dog re-establishes the position of the group. The US and Canadian audiences are the most appreciative.


Within the band artistic differences are found. Bass player Dave Knight [sic] and organist Fisher leave. Guitarist Robin Trower advocates the changes towards the rock sound of Home.


The last recording with Trower, Broken Barricades, also marking the worst popularity crisis for the band. In November, recordings are made at a concert in Edmonton with a symphony orchestra.


The live album relaunches the band which returns to the charts along with re-issues of older songs such as A Whiter Shade Of Pale.


In February, the quintet (Brooker, BJ Wilson on drums, Chris Copping on organ, Alan Cartwright on bass and Mick Grabham on guitar) completes a long Italian tour. In the spring, Grand Hotel becomes the last important peak of Procol Harum's career.


Without any line-up changes the group attempts an encore with Exotic Birds And Fruit, which however does not possess the same strength as the previous LP.


The band's ninth album constitutes a new phase, as the production is no longer on English hands, but is given to the two New York champions, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.


The band's last disc, Something Magic. An official announcement of the disbanding is never given, but the five members should never more return to the stage or to the recording studio. Robin Trower and Gary Brooker are the only ones to pursue solo careers.


Many thanks to Niels-Erik (a Dane) who translated this from Italian into English

More features at BtP Part I of this article

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