Procol Harum – Beyond These Things
Phil Jackson's Procol Harum retrospective is intended to introduce newcomers to the band's music following the elaborate cover of In Held 'Twas In I by TransAtlantic. Read his introduction below, and follow the numerous links to other regions of BtP that you may not have visited in quite a while!
In Held 'Twas In I — Roine Stolt on Procol Harum
‘I read the news today, oh boy!’ It was sometime at the end of last year as winter began to tighten its grip that I read the unlikely story of a modern day progressive rock supergroup – Stolt (Flower Kings), Morse (Spock’s Beard), Portnoy (Dream Theatre), Trewavas (Marillion) – was this possible?
Even more impossible was the news that they were to record In Held 'Twas In I – could this be true?
No, surely not, somebody wake me up before I start to believe these crazy stories!
You see. I have been obsessed by Procol Harum since I was fifteen and have lived the past thirty years harbouring an enormous sense of injustice that Procol did not receive the recognition they so richly deserved.
I asked the Flower King himself, Roine Stolt, about this recently and he assured me I wasn’t dreaming:
"We did cover In Held 'Twas In I at Mike Portnoy’s request. That was one of the first things he mentioned when asking me to join the project. He said something like, "There is one obscure prog item no one knows about that I’d like to bring to the table. I can send you a tape."
Portnoy was quite assured that no one had heard this piece. Well, Neal Morse and Pete Trewavas had not but:
"You can imagine that it felt rather cool to reply – Mike, I played that LP (Shine on Brightly) to pieces when I was twelve back in ’68. I love it! Of course, I have it on CD."
The fact is that the first LP Roine bought at the age of 11 was – Procol Harum’s first LP! (It cost him 29 Swedish kronor – about £2.00. I think I paid 37 shillings and six pence for it so maybe I got a bargain. I actually have a mono Regal Zonophone copy still – anyway I digress. Back to Roine.)
"I already had A Whiter Shade of Pale being my favourite single: even my mother liked it!"
"Also Hendrix – I bought Shine on Brightly the same week it was released in Sweden – it was even better!"
"My brother Pierre bought A Salty Dog. It was worth it just for that song alone. The intro gave us both the chills. No one had done a song with a better string arrangement. Then I kind of drifted towards other bands. My friends didn’t understand the greatness of this band. I was alone on this island."
"I’d say Rob Trower’s guitar playing was an early influence as well as Hendrix. Whaling Stories I heard on TV – it was amazing again with impressive chord structures. I guess I’ve picked up a lot on what they did in that period. Gary Brooker’s voice is one of the best in rock, the drumming of BJ Wilson was also an important colour of the band – totally unique with cool tom fills – plus they had the Hammond organ! AWSoP got me into this lifelong love affair with Hammonds!"
"Procol Harum’s music was cool and intelligent. Imagine I was just 12 years old and into Repent Walpurgis, my favourite from the first album. This was HEAVY music in my opinion. That Steinway and Hammond still give me the chills."
I asked Roine about Keith Reid’s lyrics. He admits he didn’t really understand them – who did? However, they sounded "cool and a bit mystic. I liked that."
"Grand Hotel was maybe the last "great album" by the band. The title song again is an amazing collaboration with a symphony orchestra. Yes, I’d say Procol Harum together with the Beatles and maybe a slice of Hendrix and Vanilla Fudge shaped my love for progressive and symphonic rock music. Later came the Doors, Crimson, Zappa, ELP, Yes and Gentle Giant."
I suggested that I could hear Procol influences on certain Flower Kings numbers, for example Whaling Stories on the opening track on Stardust We Are.
"I guess you are right. The Flower Kings would have sounded different if there was no Procol Harum."
It is not only Roine Stolt who acknowledges the massive influence Procol had on the development of progressive rock music.
Paul Stump in his The Music’s All That Matters: A History of Progressive Rock (Quartet Books) talks warmly of the Baroque chordal developments of Matthew Fisher’s Hammond organ and the 'extravagant but not unnecessarily decorative nature of Robin Trower’s insistent guitar’.
Ed Macan, leader of Hermetic Science and author of Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture (Oxford) puts the contribution of Procol Harum to popular music into perspective:
"The Moody Blues, Procol Harum and The Nice while considered proponents of psychedelic music by their contemporaries actually represent a proto-progressive style, a ‘first wave’ as it were of English progressive rock." (p.23)
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